Much of the talk after the massive march for free speech in Paris this weekend was the absence of President Barack Obama with other world leaders. It was an embarrassment for our country and slap in the face to the French. Instead, the Administration sent Jane Hartley, one of its bundlers turned diplomats who were given a major appointment for raising money for the President. Even though Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris that very day, he did not even stick around to march with other leaders. The Administration is now admitting that it blew it but there is a mystifying lack of basic competence and foresight at the White House at such moments. Rather than attend the rally, Obama stated in town for a photo op with the San Antonio Spurs. It was a shameful image to leave with French. This was not the only such controversy over who was present and who was not.
In what is an astonishing was the outburst from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the appearance of Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. The French had asked Netanyahu not to attend but he insisted that he would be there. The French then arranged for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to attend as well. Erdogan however, lashed out at Netanyahu for “daring” to attend an anti-terror solidarity march as a leader of “state terrorism” against the Palestinians. He demanded that Netanyahu “give an account for the children, women you massacred.”
Many civil libertarians could ask for the same account from Erdogan who has rolled back on civil liberties, particularly free speech and free press rights in Turkey. For Erdogan to attend a free speech rally is like seeing former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad march at a gay rights rally.
Erdogan’s appearance only deepens the question of what the French are marching for in a country that has led the effort to regulate and curtail speech, including years of threats directed against the victims of these acts.