In a key speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, President Obama said Muslims are most persecuted when it comes to extremism, and highlighted violence against Muslims as a great danger to world peace.
"Let us remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of extremism," Obama said in his remarks. "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 10 Yemenis were killed in a car bomb in Sana'a; several Afghan children were mourned by their parents just days after they were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul."
Obama's remarks drew both praise and criticism from pundits on both sides of the issue. One of those who fell on the latter side of the debate was RedState.com's Erick Erickson, who tried to make the case that Obama was placing the defense of Islam above that of Christianity.
"In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly today the President of the United States declared that the future does not belong to practicing Christians," wrote Erickson. "Already, the media and the left are in full denial, probably based on their general lack of understanding of theology. This would have been a gaffe had Mitt Romney said it. But with Barack Obama, he's just speaking bold truths. His bold truth declares that the future does not belong to practicing Christians."
However, David Swerdlick who writes a column called "The Rumble" in the Daily News, fired back, criticizing Erickson's analysis.
"RedState's Erick Erickson is a sharp analyst who drives the political conversation every day – he's a must-read for anyone following politics – but I'm afraid that today he's going out of his way to either misunderstand or misinterpret President Obama when he blogs that the President 'declared that the future does not belong to practicing Christians,' just because he said this to the UN General Assembly earlier today:
"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."
Swerdlick maintains he has no desire to discuss the theology issues surrounding the controversy, but is defending Obama's central theme that he says boils down to "Dear Middle East, tolerance is a two-way street, so don't forget to look both ways – sincerely, America."
Still, others feel the president's comments tilted too far to the tolerance side, especially after highlighting the importance of America's "freedom of speech" foundation and giving other countries a free pass for their intolerance.
"I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that," said Obama. "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 we respond. And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence."
Brett Schaefer, in an article titled "Obama's Miss at the U.N.," in Wednesday's National Review Online, suggested that the president's remarks "ignore reality," and that while most consider the recent violence in the Middle East "unjustified," it was certainly not "mindless" given the amount of information that has surfaced indicating the attacks were pre-planned and coordinated.
"The recent violence is unjustified, but it is not mindless. The rioters know why they are acting violently; it is often deliberate and coordinated," wrote Schaefer. "They believe it serves their goal of suppressing speech through intimidation. And it is too often tolerated or even supported by governments whose 'particular understanding of the protection of free speech' allows for blasphemy laws, bans on hate speech, and other restrictions."
Erickson ended his column by expressing the same concerns as Schaefer but also reminded the president that the administration spent $70,000 last week in Pakistan denouncing the same video that he defended as freedom of speech.
"Just words, Mr. President? You say 'there is no speech that justifies mindless violence,' but all last week you condemned a ridiculous video trailer for a movie that does not exist. Your government ran advertisements in Pakistan denouncing the video. What of free speech, Mr. President? Last week you were saying the violence was understandable given the offensive film and this week you are trying to claim it was mindless."