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Obama, Yudhoyono differ on freedom of speech, Syria

Publication Date : 27-09-2012


Global disagreements on defamation of religion are set to continue after US President Barack Obama said the "Innocence of Muslims" video was a form of "freedom of speech", a statement that contradicted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's view on the same issue.

Obama, who was the second head of state to address the first day of the General Debate session of the UN 67th General Assembly after Brazilian President Dilma Vana Rousseff, said the video was "crude and disgusting" and had "sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world".

"Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well," Obama went on, in a move to ease global rage directed at his country following the circulation of the video.

A few weeks ago, US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other US Department of State employees were killed during an assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, by an angry mob apparently in a protest against the US-made film, which ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.

Despite Obama's view that conflict and violence could surface as a result of the publication of such a "blasphemous act", the US President said his administration could not ban such a video.

"The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. In the US, countless publications provoke offense. As the President of our country, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day and I will always defend their right to do so," Obama said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Obama's remarks contradicted the view of Yudhoyono who addressed the assembly about two hours after Obama's speech.

Yudhoyono talked up Indonesia's cultural and religious diversity. He later called for mutual respect and understanding among peoples of different faiths.

He further called on all UN member states to adopt an international instrument to prevent such "blasphemous acts" from reoccurring, because, "although initiatives are undertaken by states at the UN and other forums, the defamation of religions persists."

Obama said he understood the stance of Indonesia and many other countries.

"I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognise that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond?" Obama said in a defence to his previous argument.

On the bloodshed in Syria, both Yudhoyono and Obama also conveyed different approaches to bring the ongoing war to an end.

While Obama insisted that ending the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be the only way to reach peace in the Middle Eastern country, Yudhoyono set aside the issue of the future leadership of Syria and pushed for immediate measures such as the deployment of UN peacemaking troops.


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