On Tuesday, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson seemed to agree with President Barack Obama’s less than full-throated defense of free speech at the United Nations the week before. Responding to a question about the President’s comments, Eliasson said:
[W]e should recognize that you have this gift given to us by the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights, but it also implies some type of responsibility to use that in such a way that you don’t cause situations; […] . So you have to have to keep in mind, yes, this is the basis for, I hope, most of the countries in the world — the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, since this is in the Universal Declaration — but that this also is a privilege that we have, which in my view involves also the need for respect, the need to avoid provocations, in a world where we have enough of contradictions and hatred; but that when you respond to the provocations, and actually those who wanted to provoke had succeeded with the violence and the results of the violence.
Shorter version: He believes in free speech as long that speech that doesn’t offend certain groups. That’s not merely a different version of free speech; it is the opposite of free speech; it is a heckler’s veto. Free speech means you don’t have to ask other people’s permission to say what you want.
As Brett Schaeffer and Steven Groves point out, Eliasson’s troubling answer shows that President’s Obama’s own comments (i.e., “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”) have damaged the cause of free speech at the United Nations and around the world. They have only encouraged UN bureaucrats who seem to believe that the rights of American citizens are granted only conditionally by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rather than protected unconditionally by the U.S. Constitution. [The Foundry, October 4]