Obama: True Democracy, Real Freedom is Hard Work
In what would perhaps be his last major foreign policy speech before the November election, President Barack Obama opened his remarks before the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday by paying tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens who was killed recently in Benghazi, Libya when the U.S. Consulate came under attack.
Mr. Obama said:
“The attacks on our civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Libyan government and the Libyan people. And there should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice. I also appreciate that in recent days, the leaders of other countries in the region – including Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen – have taken steps to secure our diplomatic facilities, and called for calm. So have religious authorities around the globe.
But the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded – the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.
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 those ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of this crisis. Because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart, and the hopes we hold in common.”
Mr. Obama reminded that notwithstanding the progress made toward democratization around the world in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Malawi, among others, “true democracy – real freedom – is hard work.”
“And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot. Nelson Mandela once said: “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.
In other words, true democracy – real freedom – is hard work. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent. In hard economic times, countries may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.
Moreover, there will always be those that reject human progress – dictators who cling to power, corrupt interests that depend upon the status quo; and extremists who fan the flames of hate and division. From Northern Ireland to South Asia; from Africa to the Americas; from the Balkans to the Pacific Rim, we’ve witnessed convulsions that can accompany transitions to a new political order. At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of faith, 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 how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others.”