No, Mr. President, Values Are Not Universal

ANTALYA, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 16: US President Barack Obama holds a press conference on day two of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit
ANTALYA, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 16: US President Barack Obama holds a press conference on day two of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit on November 16, 2015 in Antalya, Turkey. (Photo by Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In the immediate aftermath of Friday's horrendous tragedy in Paris, President Obama made a statement in which he condemned the violence as "an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share."

These words could not be more misguided, and represent the key failure of his administration.

If anything, the devastation in Paris highlights that there are no shared values of humanity. Rather, there are competing value systems that are so at odds with each other that what happened in France -- while unthinkable to a majority of the world's population -- is seen as a victory by a sizable and growing number of people.

As a queer activist, I have been particularly horrified by the values around gender and sexuality espoused by many religious extremists around the world. It is patently false to suggest that even the more moderate views that I have around these topics -- for example, that men are not superior to others -- are somehow "universal." This idea is violently opposed, and its inverse brutally imposed, by many.

In fact, even here in the U.S., many values that I consider core to my existence and to that of my fellow queer siblings are hardly universal; they may not even be the majority view. It would be lazy activism, if it is activism at all, for people like me to sit back and think that deep down everyone believes what I do, and that I do not have to fight for my basic liberties and bodily integrity. Even if we feel safe ourselves (which we should not), we should never be so complacent as to not speak out against worldviews that lead to the persecution of the less fortunate.

So what values is Obama alluding to as being universal? The basic humanity of others? This is a value to which ISIS and others like them are not only opposed, but in fact represent an existential threat.

In his endless quest for political correctness and to prove that we can find consensus if we search hard enough, Obama has expressed with the most striking clarity yet his failed worldview and chief political strategy. It is a strategy that has impeded him in virtually every policy-making arena into which he has entered during his seven years as president, from reforming the healthcare system to bringing relief to immigrants.

It is a dangerous ideology for anyone who opposes extremism to adopt. For those of us who are queer, who are feminist, and who believe in human rights, we put ourselves in grave danger if we accept the premise that we do not have to fight for our values -- both for ourselves and for those around the world who are oppressed because of their gender or sexuality. It is intellectually dishonest, it is feckless, and it will fail.

We must be deliberate about how we articulate and defend our values, or else we might as well not have them. In his refusal to recognize this, Obama has stood for virtually nothing and accomplished as much. It is a core and unforgivable failure of leadership, and it is a stunning disservice to those whose lives were shattered by the brutality of Friday's attacks.