Here are two quotes from two world leaders. See if you can guess the speakers.
Leader #1: "Any action that is provocative [and] offends the religious thoughts and feelings of any people, we condemn. Likewise, we condemn any type of extremism. Of course, what took place was ugly; offending the Holy Prophet is quite ugly."
Leader #2: "The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt ... The future must not belong to those who bully women ... The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country's resources ... The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."
The first quote is from Iranian dictator and Islamist radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Piers Morgan's CNN program. The second quote is from President Obama at the United Nations.
The message is the same. Both speakers equate nasty rhetoric with violence. Both suggest that slandering the "Prophet" is off limits. And both fundamentally misunderstand what free speech is all about.
We understand why Ahmadinejad doesn't value free speech -- he's the dictator of a fundamentalist nation, a cardboard cutout propped up by the mullahs. But President Obama is an elected leader of the freest nation on the planet, the country most responsible for the rise of free speech around the globe. How could he get up before the world's foremost international body and treat exercise of free speech as equivalent to violence?
And that's what Obama most certainly did. Just to clarify his statements, he quoted Mahatma Gandhi, surely the unwisest wise man of the 20th century: "Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit."
Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many types of intolerance. Intolerance of murder is not a form of violence; it's a form of morality. Intolerance for Islamism isn't a form of violence; it's a form of freedom. Violence is a form of violence. Intolerance without violence or compulsion is a form of free speech.
But President Obama lives in a world of words. His presidency is marked by his worship of his own rhetoric; he's said repeatedly that his worst mistake as president is a failure to communicate with the American people, as though his actions are secondary to his mellifluous statements. Obama believes that words drove Muslims to murder our ambassador in Libya, storm our embassy in Tunisia and burn American flags in Cairo. He thinks that words and actions can be equated.
So too does Ahmadinejad. He feels that a Danish cartoon caricaturing Mohammed and the riots that followed are two sides of the same coin. He believes that every word against Islam is the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theater.