President Barack Obama told the United Nations today that the world should respond to the wave of anti-American attacks and outrage across the Middle East by looking at the “deeper causes,” not security, and fight anti-Islamic rhetoric. It was similar to the response he published eleven years ago, as an unknown state senator, in response to the original 9/11 attacks, in which he called for Americans to understand the “sources” of anger against the U.S. and emphasized standing up to “bigotry” against those of “Middle Eastern descent.”
In both cases, Obama refused to use the word “terror” or “terrorism” to describe the attacks.
Obama wrote in the Hyde Park Herald of Sep. 19, 2001:
We need to step up security at our airports. We must reexamine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks. And we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction.
We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent…
Today, Obama made many of the same points in the UN General Assembly:
If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put more guards in front of an embassy or to put out statements of regret and wait for the outrage to pass. If we are serious about these ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis, because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common.
Today we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers. Today we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our united nations….
At time, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.
For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.
So, once again, security measures to stop terrorism–the unnamed threat–are insufficient to address the real problem, which is our universal failure to understand each other, especially the West’s failure to respect Islam. There are some changes–Obama’s UN speech is less concerned about security, and shows more faith in the tolerance of his fellow Americans–but the overall message is the same.
Four years in office have have not convinced Obama that radical Islamic terror is a unique evil.