There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.
More broadly, the events of the last two weeks speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy. Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue. Nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks, or the hateful speech by some individuals, represents the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims– any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans.
However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism. It is time to marginalize those who – even when not resorting to violence – use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.
That brand of politics – one that pits East against West; South against North; Muslim against Christian, Hindu, and Jew – cannot deliver the promise of freedom. To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag will do nothing to educate a child. Smashing apart a restaurant will not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an Embassy won’t create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together: educating our children and creating the opportunities they deserve; protecting human rights, and extending democracy’s promise.
Understand that America will never retreat from the world. We will bring justice to those who harm our citizens and our friends. We will stand with our allies and are willing to partner with countries to deepen ties of trade and investment; science and technology; energy and development – efforts that can spark economic growth for all of our people, and stabilize democratic change. But such efforts depend upon a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect. No government or company; no school or NGO will be confident working in a country where its people are endangered. For partnership to be effective, our citizens must be secure and our efforts must be welcomed.
A politics based only on anger –one based on dividing the world between us and them – not only sets back international cooperation, it ultimately undermines those who tolerate it. All of us have an interest in standing up to these forces. Let us remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of extremism. On the same day our civilians were killed in Benghazi, a Turkish police officer was murdered in Istanbul only days before his wedding; more than ten Yemenis were killed in a car bomb in Sana’a; and several Afghan children were mourned by their parents just days after they were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul.
The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained. The same impulses toward extremism are used to justify war between Sunnis and Shia, between tribes and clans. It leads not to strength and prosperity but to chaos. In less than two years, we have seen largely peaceful protests bring more change to Muslim-majority countries than a decade of violence. Extremists understand this. And because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They do not build, they only destroy.
It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past. We cannot afford to get it wrong. We must seize this moment. And America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future.
The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt – it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women – it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons. The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s resources – it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs; workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the men and women that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, and that is the vision we will support.