The last time the Obama administration had reason to mention Charlie Hebdo it was to condemn a series of cartoons the magazine had released in Sept. 2012 satirizing Islam.
And though President Obama offered support for Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, upon news that Islamic gunmen had stormed the publication’s Paris headquarters, killing 10 journalists and two police officers in order to “avenge the Prophet [Muhammad],” the statements criticizing the satirical magazine’s content two years ago indicate a pattern of thought with regards to free speech and free expression within the Obama administration — at least when it comes to Islam.
Obama’s first such critique came on Sept. 9, 2010, when he responded to Florida pastor Terry Jones who planned to burn copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
“If he’s listening, I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values,” Obama told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “This country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.”
“I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan.”
The next year, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo criticized another attempt at free speech.
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” the embassy said in a statement released on Sept. 11, 2012 after protesters there had scaled the walls of the embassy and stolen a U.S. flag in protest of a 14-minute mini-movie called “Innocence of Muslims,” which many Muslims believed was offensive.
The infiltration of the embassy in Cairo came at around the same time that militants stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were murdered.
The Obama administration initially blamed that attack on “Innocence of Muslims” as well.
Days after the attack, the White House reportedly contacted YouTube to request that the video sharing website remove copies of “Innocence of Muslims.”
As The Federalist’s David Harsanyi notes, the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan paid for an aired an advertisement showing both Obama and then-Sec. of State Hillary Clinton condemning the video.
“We absolutely reject its content and message,” Clinton says in the ad.
That’s the wrong stance to take, Harsanyi argues in his essay.
“The producer of this pointlessly inflammatory video was well within his rights to mock any religion he chose however he pleased,” Harsanyi wrote. “So the statement irresponsibly perpetuates a false notion about how free speech works around here. Neither The Embassy of the United States in Cairo nor the president of United States has the power to apologize for your views on religion.”
Obama himself criticized the exercise of free speech in a Sept. 25, 2012 speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Obama said at the event. “But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.”
“It’s 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.'”
It was during this period that the White House made its first mention of Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine had published several cartoons satirizing the Islamist political movement, causing the French government to temporarily shut down schools and embassies ahead of expected terrorist attacks.
“We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the prophet Muhammad, and obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this,” then-White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters during a press briefing on Sept. 19, 2012.
“We know these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential be be inflammatory,” Carney said. (RELATED: White House Slams French Cartoons, Amid Election-Time Threats From Islamists)
In his statement Wednesday, Obama offered sympathy for the families of the victims which included the 10 journalists and two police officers.
He said that the terrorists — who, according to reports, told witnesses they were part of al-Qaida — “fear freedom.”
“But the one thing that I’m very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a belief — a universal belief in the freedom of expression, is something that can’t be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few,” Obama said in the statement.