Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’re enjoying the festivities surrounding the end of Ramadan. Eid Mubarak! When my friend Imam Syed Naqvi invited me to speak to you tonight, I was honored to have the opportunity. I commend you for your desire to engage in the political process and develop plans to move your interests forward.
Before I share with you some of the efforts of the U.S. Government to promote human rights and combat hatred of all kinds, let me talk a bit about you and me. I stand here today as a first generation American Jew, and I am speaking to the Shia leadership of the country. Most people would look at us tonight and wonder what we had in common to discuss. They would be surprised to learn how much we share.
First and foremost, we are Americans, and share the pride and love we have for this country, our Constitution, and what America stands for in the world.
Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll showed that Jews and Muslims in America share common values – whether on domestic or international issues. We share an immigrant experience. Jewish immigrants, who arrived in multiple waves of immigration, mostly visibly in the late nineteenth century, often used education as a means of gaining a foothold in America and of finding a way to contribute to our new country. And the study shows that Muslims are taking a similar approach. Muslims and Jews have the largest number of degrees of higher education among all religious groups in the U.S.
While we Jews and Muslims may have highly educated communities, we also have fears about perceptions that others hold of our traditions. According to a recent report, Muslims and Jews are more likely than adherents of any other tradition to conceal our religious identity. Sixty percent of Muslim Americans polled say they experience prejudice against Muslims. The fact that Muslims experience prejudice here in America concerns me, as an American, as a Jew, and as a U.S. government official. Later in this discussion, I will explain how I incorporate that concern in my own work.
Jews and Muslims share so many experiences in the U.S. As small religious minorities, each under two percent of the population, we experience marginalization. But because both of our communities focus on education, we have been able to develop new opportunities for our next generations. We both share a drive not only to make America our home, but to attain a prominent role and make a major contribution to this newfound homeland. We share remarkable parallels, and to move forward with collaborations will help both of our communities reach those goals.
Let me share with you some of the efforts the United States Government is making with governments, international organizations, and civil society, and encourage your engagement to help educate the US and the world about Muslims.
I am so honored to serve as the President’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. I am charged with monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and combating such intolerance. But the truth is, I am in the relationship building business. I am here today because it is imperative that we work together. I stand for rights of all peoples, regardless of ethnicity or religious background. We share the same mission: to combat hate and intolerance to create a more peaceful and just world.
First, I’d like to share with you my work on combating anti-Semitism, including how I frame the issue in my discussions overseas and here in the United States and why it is important that we talk about this issue. At the same time, it is very important for me and others to talk about prejudice and anti-Muslim sentiment as well. So I will also tell you about my work in helping combat anti-Muslim sentiment, which I believe must be a part of all of our discussions about religious freedom and human rights.
Over the past year and a half, I have been tracking anti-Semitism around the world, and have witnessed its alarming presence and growth. While I am troubled by the rise of global anti-Semitism, I am also troubled by the rise of all hate and intolerance, especially hatred of Muslims. We must all join together, regardless of our backgrounds and faiths, to combat hate.
Through weekly monitoring of anti-Semitic incidents, I have observed six global trends. Traditional forms of anti-Semitism are passed from one generation to the next, sometimes updated to reflect current events. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property and the desecration of cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti. There are still accusations of blood libel, which are morphing from the centuries-old accusations by the Church that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood for rituals, to accusations that Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories continue to flourish, such as supposed Jewish control of the U.S. media and the world banking system, or that Jews were involved in executing the September 11 attacks. The centuries-old Czarist forgery called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion continues to be a bestseller throughout the world, and taught to religious students as truth. Simply put, it is the lie that won’t die. This kind of “old fashioned” anti-Semitism is alive and well today.
A second phenomenon is Holocaust denial, which is espoused by religious leaders, heads of State, such as in Iran, and academic institutions; it is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. Last summer, when I met Imam Naqvi, it was on a trip to combat Holocaust denial. We and seven other Muslim leaders, two of whom had been Holocaust deniers, visited the Nazi camps of Dachau and Auschwitz.
When we arrived at Dachau, Germany’s first concentration camp, the imams were overcome with the pictures they saw and immediately went to the ground in prayer at the sculpture commemorating the six million Jews exterminated. At that moment, I knew I was watching history being made. All of the passers-by, tourists, and docents stopped in their tracks to witness their spontaneous prayer. Auschwitz was overwhelming for all, and—for some—it was transformational. We walked amidst ash and bone fragments from the 1.5 million Jews exterminated there – solely because of who they were. We were facing the fact that unfettered and unanswered hatred can indeed create an Auschwitz. All the imams had their own catharsis there, and together, they produced a historic statement strongly condemning Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.
In this statement, Imam Naqvi and his fellow leaders stated that: “We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where over twelve million human souls perished, including six million Jews.
We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics.
We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction.
We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity. With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth.”
Now, a year later, we continue to stand together for truth. These imams have been urging colleagues and schools to join their statement. Some are planning to take their youth on the same trip, to become witnesses to history, to teach the power of hatred, and the power that condemnation can have to stop hatred.
A third, disturbing trend is Holocaust glorification, which can be seen in parades honoring soldiers who fought in the Waffen SS, which glorifies Nazism under the guise of fighting the Soviets and obscures their roles in the Holocaust. There are also calls for another Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone chilling.
A fourth concern is Holocaust relativism, where some governments, museums, academic researchers, and others conflate the Holocaust with other terrible events that entailed great human suffering, like the Dirty War, the Soviet regime, or the ethnic cleansing in the Baltic. I am not trying to diminish the many other terrible horrors human beings have inflicted on others in this past century alone. However, the danger of conflating all dark chapters of history is that we then diminish each of them, and fail to learn the lessons each one has to teach. It also allows us to avoid acknowledging the damage done to each particular group. We then don’t teach how each manifestation of hatred happened or learn from those contexts, the horrid regimes and atrocities.
The fifth trend I’ve observed is the increasing tendency of blurring the lines between opposition to the policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism. I want to be clear – criticism of policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But it crosses the line when Israel is demonized and blamed for all the region’s ills; or when it is held to different standards than any other country; or when Israel is delegitimized, denying its right to exist.
While anti-Semitism thrives everywhere, I am particularly concerned about it in the Middle East. Our reports indicate that anti-Semitism increases in official state-sponsored media following developments in the Middle East peace process or in response to Israeli policy-making. Anti-Semitism is also a real problem in textbooks used in several countries in the region, which preach intolerance and hate against Jews, against Shia, and other religious minorities of the area, and are distributed around the world, in places as far off as Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The sixth trend we are seeing is the growth of nationalistic movements which target ‘the other’ – be they immigrants, or religious and ethnic minorities – in the name of protecting the identity and ‘purity’ of their nation. We have seen that movie before.
It is clear from these trends in anti-Semitism and incidents I’ve reported on in the past 18 months, coupled with reports of rising levels of anti-Muslim sentiment, that hate is destabilizing. The recent murders in Norway are another example of how unchecked intolerance and hate contribute to violence.
In an effort to combat hatred and turn it around, my colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and I launched a virtual campaign called 2011 Hours Against Hate, focusing on youth, using Facebook and twitter. We are asking young people around the world to pledge their time to volunteer with people who may look different, pray differently or live differently from them. For example, a young Jew might volunteer to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a Russian Orthodox at a Jewish clinic, or a Muslim at a Baha’i food pantry. We want people to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. It’s about mutual respect and taking action to advance acceptance, pluralism, tolerance.
Farah and I have already met with thousands of students and young professionals in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Spain, countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. Young people want to DO something, and this has given them an outlet. More recently, Farah and I met with youth and interfaith leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon, discussing ways to increase tolerance and understanding among different religious groups. We have already surpassed our goal of 2011 hours pledged against hate, with over 12,000 hours pledged from all over the world, and stories and videos posted to the Facebook page. Check it out at 2011HoursAgainstHate, and become part of this movement.
In the Department of State, the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, monitors and reports on religious freedom issues in general, including the rising hatred of Muslims. The Department of State also actively advocates for religious freedom for people of all faiths, and for protection of religious minorities of all faiths. To this end, the U.S. Government has made Muslim engagement a priority as we have sought to engage international and national Muslim leaders and communities; strengthen tolerance education; encourage political, religious, and civil leaders to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment; train government officials to recognize anti-Muslim rhetoric; and foster a dialogue about religious tolerance and cooperation.
As I mentioned earlier, civic engagement is a way to amplify the image of Muslims at home and abroad. Over the course of this weekend, I imagine you will discuss and brainstorm how greater Muslim engagement in the political process will help build a more just and sustainable democracy. Democracy is, of course, more than voting. Democracy is what we see here today: a plurality of ideas, voices, and individuals working to strengthen the rights of individuals. Civic engagement is essential, with advocacy to protect fundamental rights like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom to assemble and associate with whomever you want.
In addition to engaging in politics, coalition building is, in my experience, integral to delivering and spreading one’s message. Diversity makes democracy work. In a democracy, even the most vulnerable have the opportunity to raise their voice and issues onto the national stage. Through coalition building, dialogue, and cooperation on efforts like 2011 Hours Against Hate, we can engage in national conversations that confront intolerance and hate. We need to use one voice to publicly condemn anti-Semitism and hatred of Muslims.
As I mentioned at the beginning, joining in partnerships and coalitions is an effective way to condemn and confront all forms of hate. Your partners can be governments, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and the media. Building partnerships and building bridges among ethnic and religious groups helps change a culture from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding, from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity, from hate to tolerance.
Also it is good to work with international organizations, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which provided influential leadership to pass Resolution 16/18 at the UN Human Rights Council. This resolution, “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against, persons based on religion or belief,” strengthens our efforts to combat hate while promoting religious diversity, tolerance, and the protection of human rights.
Another international organization, UNESCO, established a network of like-minded cities interested in fighting intolerance, racism, discrimination, and xenophobia called the “International Coalition of Cities against Racism.” UNESCO recognized the need to partner with policy-makers on a local level to implement and promote tolerance policies, creating regional coalitions around the world.
This past March, European and American politicians came together at the European Parliament to discuss racial equality and inclusion at a conference focused on the issue of political inclusion of ethnic minorities in the United States and Europe. Discussion centered on adopting an EU-US Joint Strategy on Racial and Ethnic Equality and Inclusion to combat racial discrimination as well as promote political participation and inclusion of minority groups living in Europe and the United States.
The Chair of the OSCE, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, appoints three dedicated special representatives to Muslim, one to Jewish and one to Christian communities, to ensure that the needs of our communities throughout Europe and beyond are being addressed.
These efforts by our government and others underline how hard individuals and organizations are working together globally to combat hate and promote tolerance and inclusion using virtual campaigns, conferences, developing and sharing materials, and discussing best practices. We all share in a common humanity. The things that I want for myself and my children are no different from what you want for yourself and your children: safety, good health, security, a good education, dignity, and the ability to reach our full potential. And as people of faith we want to improve the lives of the least, the last, the lost.
We must fight to achieve and maintain these human rights. We must continue to engage with elected officials and hold them accountable for ensuring our human rights, our freedom of religion, our human dignity. We must continue to educate our communities and opinion leaders about ourselves and about what it means to live in a tolerant, democratic society. We must engage in the political process to ensure that it represents a plurality of voices and individuals. This process is always hard work and sometimes even messy, but it will spread a message that says that discrimination and intolerance have no place in any society.
It is inspiring to stand here among you and to see your commitment to achieving change. I hope this conference will spark innovative and effective ways to partner with government officials and other members of civil society to make your voices heard. I look forward to working with you in the future as we all work together to repair this fractured world.
Good evening, everyone. And let me thank you, Strobe, for that introduction and for your many years of friendship. It is such a pleasure for me to join you at this first U.S.-Islamic World Forum held in America. His Highness the Amir and the people of Qatar have generously hosted the Forum for years. And as Strobe said, I was honored to be a guest in Doha last year. And now I am delighted to welcome you to Washington. I want to thank Martin Indyk, Ken Pollack and the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution for keeping this event going and growing. And I want to acknowledge all my colleagues in the diplomatic corps who are here tonight, including the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, the Foreign Minister of Jordan, and the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Over the years, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum has offered the chance to celebrate the diverse achievements of Muslims around the world. From Qatar – which is pioneering innovative energy solutions and preparing to host the World Cup – to countries as varied as Turkey, Senegal, Indonesia, and Malaysia, each offering its own model for prosperity and progress.
This Forum also offers a chance to discuss the equally diverse set of challenges we face together – the need to confront violent extremism, the urgency of achieving a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the importance of embracing tolerance and universal human rights in all of our communities.
And I am especially proud that this year the Forum is recognizing the contributions of the millions of American Muslims who do so much to make our country strong. As President Obama said in Cairo, “Islam has always been a part of American history,” and every day Americans Muslims are helping to write our story.
I do not need to tell this distinguished audience that we are meeting at an historic time for one region in particular: the Middle East and North Africa. Today, the long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity for lasting change, a real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed.
Now, this raises significant questions for us all:
Will the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa pursue a new, more inclusive approach to solving the region’s persistent political, economic, and social challenges? Will they consolidate the progress of recent weeks and address long-denied aspirations for dignity and opportunity? Or, when we meet again at this Forum in one year or five years or ten, will we have seen the prospects for reform fade and remember this moment as just a mirage in the desert?
Now, these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers. In fact, here in Washington we’re struggling to thrash out answers to our own difficult political and economic questions. But America is committed to working as a partner to help unlock the region’s potential and to help realize its hopes for change.
Now, much has been accomplished already. Uprisings across the region have exposed myths that for too long were used to justify a stagnant status quo. You know the myth that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights; the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict; and, most pernicious of all, the myth that Arabs do not share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity, and opportunity.
Today’s new generation of young people rejects these false narratives. And as we know and as we have seen, they will not accept the status quo. Despite the best efforts of the censors, they are connecting to the wider world in ways that their parents and grandparents could never imagine. They now see alternatives, on satellite news, on Twitter and Facebook, in Cairo and Tunis. They know a better life can be within reach – and they are now willing to reach for it.
But these young people have inherited a region that in many ways is unprepared to meet their growing expectations. Its challenges have been well documented in a series of landmark Arab Human Development Reports, independently authored and published by the United Nations Development Program. These reports represent the cumulative knowledge of leading Arab scholars and intellectuals. Answering these challenges will help determine if this historic moment lives up to its promise. That is why this January in Doha, just weeks after a desperate, young, Tunisian street vendor set fire to himself in public protest, I talked with the leaders of the region about the need to move faster to meet their people’s needs and aspirations.
In the 21st century, the material conditions of people’s lives have greater impact on national stability and security than ever before. It is not possible for people not to know what is happening beyond their own small village. And the balance of power is no longer measured by counting tanks or missiles alone. Now strategists must factor in the growing influence of citizens themselves – connected, organized, and often frustrated.
There was a time when those of us who championed civil society or worked with marginalized minorities or on behalf of women, or were focused on young people and technology, were told that our concerns were noble but not urgent. That is another false narrative that has been washed away. Because these issues – among others – are at the heart of smart power – and they have to be at the center of any discussion attempting to answer the region’s most pressing questions.
First, can the leaders and citizens of the region reform economies that are now overly dependent on oil exports and stunted by corruption? Overall, Arab countries were less industrialized in 2007 than they were in 1970. Unemployment often runs more than double the worldwide average, and even worse for women and young people. While a growing number of Arabs live in poverty, crowded into slums without sanitation, safe water, or reliable electricity, a small elite has increasingly concentrated control of the region’s land and wealth in their hands. The 2009 Arab Development Report found that these trends – and I quote – “result in the ominous dynamics of marginalization.”
Reversing this dynamic means grappling with a second question: How to match economic reform with political and social change? According to the 2009 Global Integrity Report, Arab countries, almost without exception, have some of the weakest anti-corruption systems in the world. Citizens have spent decades under martial law or emergency rule. Political parties and civil society groups are subject to repression and restriction. Judicial systems are far from either free or independent. And elections, when they are held, are often rigged.
And this leads to a third and often-overlooked question: Will the door to full citizenship and participation finally open to women and minorities? The first Arab Human Development Report in 2002 found that Arab women’s political and economic participation was the lowest in the world. Successive reports have shown little progress. The 2005 report called women’s empowerment – and I quote again – a “prerequisite for an Arab renaissance, inseparably and causally linked to the fate of the Arab world.”
Now, this is not a matter of the role of religion in women’s lives. Muslim women have long enjoyed greater rights and opportunities in places like Bangladesh or Indonesia. Or consider the family law in Morocco or the personal status code in Tunisia. Communities from Egypt to Jordan to Senegal are beginning to take on entrenched practices like child marriage, honor crimes, and female cutting. All over the world we see living proof that Islam and women’s rights are compatible. But unfortunately, there are some who are actually working to undermine this progress and export a virulently anti-woman ideology to other Muslim communities.
Now, all of these challenges – from deep unemployment to widespread corruption to the lack of respect and opportunities for women – have fueled frustration among the region’s young people. And changing leaders alone will not be enough to satisfy them – not if cronyism and closed economies continue to choke off opportunity and participation, or if citizens can’t rely on police and the courts to protect their rights. The region’s powerbrokers, both inside and outside of government, need to step up and work with the people to craft a positive vision for the future. Generals and imams, business leaders and bureaucrats, everyone who has benefited from and reinforced the status quo, has a role to play. They also have a lot to lose if the vision vacuum is filled by extremists and rejectionists.
So a fourth crucial question is how Egypt and Tunisia should consolidate the progress that has been achieved in recent months.
Former protesters are asking: How can we stay organized and involved? Well, it will take forming political parties and advocacy coalitions. It will take focusing on working together to solve the real big problems facing both countries. In Cairo last month, I met with young activists who were passionate about their principles but still sorting out how to be practical about their politics. One veteran Egyptian journalist and dissident, Hisham Kassem, expressed concerns this week that a reluctance to move from protests to politics would, in his words, “endanger the revolution’s gains.” So he urged young people to translate their passion into a positive agenda and to use political participation to achieve it.
As the people of Egypt and Tunisia embrace the full responsibilities of citizenship, we look to transitional authorities to guarantee fundamental rights such as free assembly and expression, to provide basic security on the streets, to be transparent and inclusive.
Unfortunately, this year we have seen too many violent attacks, from Egypt to Iraq to Pakistan, that have killed dozens of religious and ethnic minorities, part of a troubling worldwide trend documented by the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report released this past Friday. Communities around the world are struggling to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and tolerance of unpopular views. Each of us has a responsibility to defend the universal human rights of people of all faiths and creeds. And I want to applaud the Organization of the Islamic Conference for its leadership in securing the recent resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council that takes a strong stand against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief, but does not limit freedom of expression or worship.
In both Egypt and Tunisia, we have also seen troubling signs regarding the rights and opportunities of women. So far women have been excluded from key transitional decision-making processes. When women marched alongside men through Tahrir Square in the early days of the revolution, they were part of making the change that Egypt was seeking. When they recently walked again through the square to celebrate International Women’s Day in their new democracy, they were met by harassment and abuse. You cannot have a claim to a democracy if half the population is left out.
And we know from long experience that building a successful democracy is a never-ending task. More than 200 years after our own revolution, we are still working on it. Because real change takes time, hard work, and patience – but it is well worth the effort. As one Egyptian women’s rights activist said recently, “We will have to fight for our rights… It will be tough, and require lobbying, but that’s what democracy is all about.”
In a democracy, you have to persuade your fellow citizens, men and women alike, to go along the path that you wish to take. And we know that democracy cannot be transplanted wholesale from one country to another. People have the right and responsibility to devise their own government. But there are universal rights that apply to everyone and universal values that undergird vibrant democracies everywhere.
One lesson learned by transitions to democracy around the world is that it can be tempting to fight the old battles over and over again, rather than to focus on ensuring justice and accountability in the future. I will always remember watching Nelson Mandela at the luncheon he hosted after his inauguration as president welcome three of his former jailors. Because to him, they were as important as any king or president or prime minister who was there, because when he was powerless, when he was imprisoned, they treated him with dignity. They looked upon him as a fellow human being. It helped him to move beyond what he had suffered. He never looked back in anger, but always forward in hope.
The United States is committed to standing with the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and the region to help build sustainable democracies that will deliver real results for people who deserve them. We want to support the aspirations that are so important. On this our values and interests converge. History has shown that democracies do tend to be more stable, more peaceful, and ultimately, more prosperous. But the challenge is how we get from where we are to where we want to be.
So the fifth question for us as Americans is: How can America be an effective partner to the people of the region? How can we work together to build not just short-term stability, but long-term sustainability?
With this goal in mind, the Obama Administration began to reorient U.S. foreign policy in the region and around the world from our first days in office. We put partnerships with people, not just governments, at the center of our efforts. The Administration moved quickly to respond to recent events and to affirm the principles that guide our approach. The President and I have spoken about this on a number of occasions, most recently just late afternoon today. And I know that the President will be speaking in greater detail about America’s policy in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks.
And we start from the understanding that America’s core interests and values have not changed, including our commitment to promote human rights, resolve longstanding conflicts, counter Iran’s threats, and defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies. This includes renewed pursuit of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months. Neither Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state nor the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians can be secured without a negotiated two-state solution. And while it is a truism that only the parties themselves can make the hard choices necessary for peace, there is no substitute for continued active American leadership. And the President and I are committed to that.
We believe our concerns are shared by the people of the region. And we will continue working closely with our trusted partners – including many in this room tonight – to advance those mutual interests.
We understand that a one-sized-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time. As I have said before, the United States has specific relationships with countries in the region. We have a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future. But we have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing them. Violence is not and cannot be the answer. A political process is – one that advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain. And we have raised our concerns publicly and directly with Bahraini officials and we will continue to do so.
The United States also strongly supports the people of Yemen in their quest for greater opportunity, their pursuit of political and economic reform that will meet their aspirations. President Saleh needs to resolve the political impasse with the opposition so that meaningful political change can take place in the near term in an orderly, peaceful manner.
And as President Obama has said, we strongly condemn the violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian Government over the past few weeks. President Asad and the Syrian Government must respect the rights of the Syrian people, who are demanding the freedoms that they have long been denied.
Going forward, the United States will be guided by careful consideration of all the circumstances on the ground and by our consistent values and interests, but also by something else: We believe in this region. We see no reason that it cannot be among the most progressive, prosperous, peaceful, successful regions in the world. When we look at other regions in the world that have undergone change – sometimes violent, sometimes difficult – we see no reason why this region cannot succeed.
And wherever we can, we will accelerate our work to develop stronger bonds with the people themselves – with civil society, business leaders, religious communities, women, and minorities. We are rethinking the way we do business on the ground with citizens, and we want the citizens themselves to help set the priorities. For example, as we invest in Egypt’s new democracy and promote sustainable development, we are soliciting grant proposals from a wide range of local organizations. We want new partners. We want to invest in new ideas. We are exploring new ways to use connection technologies to expand dialogue and open lines of communication.
As we map out a strategy for supporting transitions already underway, we know that the people of the region have not put their lives on the line just to vote once in an election. They expect democracy to deliver jobs, sweep out corruption, extend opportunities that will help them and their children take full advantage of the global economy. So the United States will be working with people and leaders to create more open, dynamic, and diverse economies where there can be more inclusive prosperity.
In the short run, the United States will provide immediate economic assistance to help transitional democracies overcome the early challenges – including $150 million for Egypt alone.
In the medium term, as Egypt and Tunisia continue building their democracies, we will work with our partners to support an ambitious blueprint for sustainable growth, job creation, investment, and trade. The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation will provide up to $2 billion to encourage private sector investments across the Middle East and North Africa – especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. And we look forward to working with Congress to establish enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia that will support competitive markets, provide small and medium-sized businesses with access to critical low-cost capital. Our Global Entrepreneurship Program is seeking out new partners and opportunities. And we want to improve and expand the Qualified Investment Zones, which allow Egyptian companies to send exports to the United States duty-free.
To spur private sector investment, we are working with Partners for a New Beginning, an organization led by former Secretary Madeleine Albright, Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola, and Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute. It was formed after President Obama’s Cairo speech and includes the CEOs of companies like Intel, Cisco, and Morgan Stanley. These leaders will convene a summit at the end of May to connect American investors with partners in the region’s transitional democracies, with an eye to creating more jobs and boosting trade.
Under the auspices of Partners for a New Beginning, the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity is building a network of public and private partners and programs to deepen economic integration among the countries in North Africa. This past December in Algiers, the Partnership convened more than 400 young entrepreneurs, business leaders, venture capitalists, and Diaspora leaders from the United States and North Africa. These people-to-people contacts have already helped lay the groundwork for cross-border initiatives to create jobs, train youth, and support start-ups. And there will be a follow-up meeting later this year in Morocco.
For the long term, we are discussing ways to encourage closer economic integration across the region, as well as with the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world. The Middle East and North Africa are home to rich nations with excess capital as well as poorer countries hungry for investments. Forging deeper trade and economic relationships between neighbors could create many, many new jobs. And across the Mediterranean, Europe also represents enormous potential for greater trade and investment. If we were to reduce trade barriers in North Africa alone, just that one act could boost GDP levels by as much as 7 or 8 percent in Tunisia and Morocco, and it could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in new wealth across the region every year.
The people of the Middle East and North Africa have the talent, they have the drive, to build vibrant economies and sustainable democracies – just as citizens have already done so in regions long held back by closed political and economic systems, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe to Latin America.
Now, it won’t be easy. There are many, many obstacles. And unfortunately, Iran provides a powerful cautionary tale for the transitions underway. The democratic aspirations of 1979 were subverted by a new and brutal dictatorship. Iran’s leaders have consistently pursued policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home. In Tehran, security forces have beaten, detained, and in several recent cases killed peaceful protesters, even as Iran’s president has made a show of denouncing the violence against civilians in Libya and other places. And he is not alone in his hypocrisy. Al-Qaida’s propagandists have tried to yoke the region’s peaceful popular movements to their murderous ideology. Their claims to speak for the dispossessed and downtrodden have never rung so hollow. Their arguments that the only way is violent change have never been so fully discredited.
Last month we witnessed a development that stood out, even in this extraordinary season. Colonel Qadhafi’s troops turned their guns on their own people. His military jets and helicopter gunships had unleashed a rein of terror against people who had no means to defend themselves against the assault from the air. Benghazi’s hundreds of thousands of citizens were in the crosshairs.
Now, in the past, when confronted with such a crisis, all too often the leaders of North Africa and the Middle East averted their eyes or closed ranks. But not this time. Not in this new era. The OIC, the GCC issued strong statements. The Arab League convened in Cairo, in the midst of all of the commotion of Egypt’s democratic transition to condemn the violence and suspend Libya from the organization, even though Colonel Qadhafi held the League’s rotating presidency. The Arab League went on to call for a no-fly zone. And I want to thank Qatar, the UAE, and Jordan for contributing planes to help enforce it.
But that’s not all. The Arab League affirmed – and again I quote – “the right of the Libyan people to fulfill their demands and build their own future and institutions in a democratic framework.” That is a remarkable statement. And that is a reason to hope.
All the signs of progress we have seen in recent months will only be meaningful if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace this spirit of reform, if they work with their people to answer the region’s most pressing challenges – to diversify their economies, open their political systems, crack down on corruption, respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities.
Those are the questions that will determine whether the people of the region make the most of this historic moment or fall back into stagnation.
The United States will be there as a partner, working for progress. We are committed to the future of this region and we believe in the potential of its people. We look forward to the day when all the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa – in fact, all around the world – have the freedom to pursue their own God-given potential. That is the future that all of us should be striving and working toward.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
Thank you, Strobe [Talbott], for that very nice introduction. And let me extend my congratulations to you on your new job as president of this great institution. Your own long record of service, public service, and intellectual contributions to the public debate have made their marks on policy, and I know that’s something you’re going to continue to do here at Brookings.
In my last job, at SAIS [School for Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University], I wasn’t supposed to say nice things about this place across the street. But now I can, and it’s something I’m delighted to do, especially since Brookings is doing something very important with this series, which is trying to put September 11th and its aftermath into context.
And I know that there are some, including quite a few in the back of the room, who have come here this morning with great expectations—big hopes that I’ll put at least one topic into context. Now on that score, you’ll be happy to know that I plan to take bold, preemptive action. Now that seemed to get your attention.
I refer to my boss, Donald Rumsfeld, who did a masterful job of putting so much into context in his press briefing on Tuesday, especially when he said about that particular regime—I’m sure you can guess which one—he said and I quote, “It has not been playing tiddly winks.”
If you missed Tuesday’s briefing, you missed one of the all-time great briefings. Now they’re all great, but he was in especially fine form on Tuesday. And knowing that there would be a few media folks here today, I decided to ask Rumsfeld himself for a few pointers. So this morning, before I left, I said to him, “You handle the press pretty well. Is there anything I should keep in mind over at Brookings? There might be a few media types around, you know.”
And he said, “Whatever you do, don’t try to be hard-hitting, witty or clever. In other words, don’t try to be like me. Just be yourself.” I could see he was warming to the subject. His hands were getting animated, and he said, “Here’s how you deal with the media. Begin with an illogical premise and proceed perfectly logically to an illogical conclusion. After all, they do it all the time. But if you do it first, they’ll be eviscerated.”
Now some of you may not know, but “eviscerated” is the famous word that passed the lips of one of our distinguished Marine generals who had the Taliban stomped a few weeks ahead of their time. To that, my hard-charging Marine colonel military assistant quickly added, “Well, we Marines may not know how to spell ‘eviscerated,’ but we sure know how to do it.”
In the vein of people who know how to do things well, I must say I cannot think of a more inspiring time to be part of America’s national security team than right now. It is a distinct privilege to serve with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld. The American people have every reason to be both proud and appreciative of how that team is pursuing both this nation’s noblest goals and its fundamental security objectives.
And that gets me to the point of my speech today. Even if I don’t talk about a particular regime today—and I’m not going to—I know that most of you in this audience will still listen to what I have to say and take it seriously. And that is really why I appreciate this particular crowd. And that is why I’m going to ask you to bear with me through a speech that is a little longer than usual, but which addresses some issues that are extremely important and I think may be in danger of being missed. And if any of you are just waiting until I get to that other subject, you might as well leave now.
Today, just a week shy of the first anniversary of the attacks, it is appropriate to take the opportunity to go beyond the headlines, to get some altitude and some perspective on the situation we face today. On that Tuesday last September, there was one American who looked on the aftermath of the attacks from a very great altitude—literally—from a vantage point some 250 miles above the earth’s surface. Aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Frank Culbertson and his Russian crew members could clearly make out the plume of smoke that wafted from the World Trade Center. Later, they could see a black shroud envelop the Pentagon. A day later, Culbertson reflected that even from space, he could clearly observe a dramatically changed world beneath him.
Meanwhile, here on earth, Shafeeq Ghabra, a Palestinian and a professor of political science at Kuwait University, was directing Kuwait’s public information center here in Washington that September 11th. Three weeks before, he had visited the World Trade Center with his seven-year-old son and taken photos there. Looking back on the attacks, on a distance of almost a year, he observed last week in The New York Times that a small number of Muslims killed a much larger number of Muslims in New York City.
Each person’s view of what happened that day—an American in space and an Arab Muslim here in America—in its own way captures a fundamental truth: What happens in the United States cannot fail to have its impact on the rest of the world. It certainly was no mistake that the World Trade Center, a symbol and hub of America’s economic dynamism, was a target. And when the American market was damaged, shock waves reverberated—and rumble still—around the world.
But the attacks also shined a searchlight of truth on the real intentions of the terrorists. For as Shafeeq Ghabra pointed out, the terrorists seek to target not just America, but Muslims and Islam by attacking the ideals of tolerance, justice and openness that are the aspirations of millions of Muslims around the world, as well. If the terrorists are successful in destroying these ideals, East and West alike will suffer. As I’ve been pointing out to audiences since that day, the terrorists target their fellow Muslims, upon whom they aim to impose a new kind of violent tyranny—a tyranny that pretends to be based on Islam but which owes more to the totalitarian impulses of the 20th century than to the great religion that the terrorists are attempting to hijack. The hundreds of millions of Muslims who aspire to modernity, freedom and prosperity are just as much on the front lines of the struggle against terrorism as are we.
Nowhere was this struggle more evident than Afghanistan, where totalitarian brutality imposed by the Taliban offered sanctuary to terrorists with their own radically backward and chauvinistic distortion of Islam.
The United States and its coalition partners mobilized against that grave threat and we now fight a war on terror.
This is a war that we will win. But we also must fight the much larger war that was exposed last September, and this is a war too that we must win. This larger struggle is part of another dimension of the war, a dimension that President Bush addressed in his State of the Union message, but one, in my view, that does not get emphasized enough. That larger war we face is a war of ideas, a struggle over modernity and secularism, pluralism and democracy and real economic development. In his State of the Union message, President Bush declared that in this fight, “America will lead,” he said, “by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. We have a greater objective,” the President said, “than eliminating threats and containing resentments; we seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.”
Part of building that just and peaceful world that the President envisions lies in the next steps that we must take in that larger struggle, for what we have before us is less a clash of civilizations, as some have theorized, than a collision of misunderstandings between the Muslim and Western worlds.
I acknowledge that my view on the subject of East and West, one that has been shaped by more than two decades of personal experience, is decidedly optimistic. But that does not mean that I can’t see a truth that we must confront today. So let me be clear: There’s a dangerous gap between the West and the Muslim world, and we must work to bridge that gap and we must begin to do so now.
Part of bridging that gap is helping to expose the lies at the heart of the terrorists’ methods and convincing their potential followers that theirs is a blind alley leading to defeat and ignominy. Part of exposing that blind alley, though, is to offer a better alternative, the alternatives of liberty and justice, as President Bush has said, fundamental pillars of a just and peaceful world.
When it comes to certain countries and individuals around the world, we may be a very long way from that better alternative, but that is all the more reason why we need to start working to bridge that dangerous gap now. The arena where we will most readily be judged in how we narrow the gap is Afghanistan, and that is one of the reasons why it is so important that we succeed there. As we look at Afghanistan 11 months after the war on terrorism began, we see, quite, frankly, a mixture of good news and bad news, but some of the bad news, I think, has been exaggerated and is in danger of drowning out the fundamentally remarkable news: Afghanistan has been unbelievably transformed for the better in less than a year. There are still a great many problems that remain to be solved, but that is hardly surprising in a country that has suffered from 23 years of civil war and brutal invasion.
Our challenge is to preserve what has already been achieved and to build on it to help the Afghan people establish a peaceful, just and prospering society. We can’t expect to solve all the problems of the last two and a half decades overnight—and there are many problems—and we are quite attuned to the existing challenges. But on the whole, I would say that over the last 11 months there has been much more good news from Afghanistan than bad.
The Afghan people have been liberated. The Taliban regime is out of power, and along with large numbers of al Qaeda, they are killed or captured or dispersed and on the run. That fact alone has paved the way for other significant developments, some of which are transforming the landscape in that war-torn region, both literally and figuratively. Early last September, the U.N. was warning that more than 5 million Afghans, some of whom were surviving on cattle feed, grass and insects, were facing death from famine without international help. It’s worth noting that even before last September, the United States was the largest contributor to humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and when military operations began last October, humanitarian efforts were an integral part of our military missions from the very beginning. The U.N. World Food Program, supported by the U.S. government, provided 575,000 metric tons of food to almost 10 million Afghan people, including record amounts of food during the bombing campaign. Today the picture is vastly different. Famine has been averted and refugees are returning in unexpectedly, indeed, record large numbers. That success itself presents a new challenge. The returning refugees will place new strains on a still tenuous food supply this winter. But we are no longer worried about widespread starvation.
In support of the great work being done by USAID and the United Nations, our soldiers have pitched in, and along with Afghan labor, have built some 50 schools. That alone means that 62,000 more children, boys and girls, youngsters whose first lessons taught them that the sound of gunfire was a natural part of life, can now go to school and learn new lessons, dream new dreams. And that is certainly one of the most far-reaching ways we can help these young Afghans build their own better world.
A Ministry of Women’s Affairs is up and running, in itself a counterpoint to the old regime as stark as anything that might have been imagined just a year ago. And President Karzai recently promoted Afghanistan’s only remaining female air force parachutist to the rank of general. Farmers have returned to their fields, and with the help of U.S. seed programs, crop production has increased some 82 percent over last year.
So as the social infrastructure gets slowly rebuilt, so too does the political framework. In another encouraging development, the Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, elected Hamid Karzai president of the two-year transitional government in a process based on traditional principles of representation, ethnic balance, accountability and legitimacy. One senior adviser to Karzai said that for the first time in more than 20 years, the people of Afghanistan are acquiring a voice. But now we must empower the Afghan government, whose ministries are weak and whose governmental coffers hold less than a third of what their modest budget requires. And we must reinforce President Karzai’s popular mandate with enough resources to fulfill promises to the Afghan people.
The crucial factor in sustaining representative government in Afghanistan is, first and foremost, sustaining a stable and secure environment in which such a government can gain a firm hold and ultimately flourish. The United States is deeply engaged with the Afghan Transitional Authority and the international community on this task to include training the Afghan National Army, which our soldiers consider one of their most important tasks in Afghanistan today. The recently graduated battalions of the Afghan National Army represent a critical first step toward the formation of a true national security force, along with police and border guards. We’re also taking immediate steps to improve security in particular regions of the country by having people from the State Department in some of the provincial areas team up with our Special Forces to help encourage harmony among the regional leaders and between regional leaders and the central government. Our people can help mediate disputes, smooth over conflicts and play an unheralded but pivotal role in supporting Afghanistan’s political equilibrium.
Security, although far from perfect, is far better than it was just a year ago. The International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, under the able leadership of first the British and now the Turks, has played an important role in this regard. It’s important to remember that the original business of the ISAF was to prevent that capital city, the capital of all Afghans, from being dominated by a single ethnic group, a development which, in the mid-1990s, contributed significantly to the rise of the Taliban. ISAF has been accomplishing that mission successfully, and one of our most urgent tasks is to identify a new lead nation to take over when Turkey’s commitment to that role expires in December of this year.
We’re also considering the possibility that ISAF could play some useful roles beyond Kabul if ISAF could be enlarged. We do not oppose ISAF expansion. I think there are some benefits that could possibly come from using ISAF in ways outside the capital that might include patrolling, training the Afghan National Army in regional locations along with police and border forces, and assisting with the new Afghan army national battalions as they are deployed.
We welcome and support these developments and encourage the international community to provide the leadership and resources necessary to make it happen. But while we consider the possibility of a new and larger role for ISAF, our highest priority must go to sustaining ISAF in its current mission.
We must also help reconstruct a stable economy. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of economic assistance not just for the economy, but for security and political stability as well. The more resources that flow through the country and through Kabul, the more readily we can ease discontent and increase everyone’s stake in their new institutions. Once a major transit point along the fabled Silk Road, Afghanistan can once again become an important hub for regional trade. That can only happen through the resourcefulness of the Afghan people, which exists in abundance; with adequate roads, which clearly must be rebuilt; and with international economic assistance, which we also need in abundance.
Through the leadership of the State Department, we secured pledges of substantial economic assistance at the Tokyo donors conference early this year. Having said that, our biggest single concern now is that the economic aid is not coming through at the levels pledged in Tokyo. Quite simply, some of the donors are not giving their fair share. In fact, only a little more than 30 percent of the $1.8 billion pledged for the first year has been delivered so far. Most of that money was needed for humanitarian assistance projects, with many Afghans still waiting for real reconstruction to begin.
As cash only trickles in, the potential for risks promises to grow. Winter approaches, and for those refugees who return from Pakistan and Iran—and I mentioned earlier it’s a record number, some 1.6 million, the largest return of refugees in modern history—their gamble on the pledges of the international community could mean disaster. But it should not. The United States is now the predominant supporter of the multilateral relief and recovery effort, and we’re glad to lead the way, but we can’t do it alone. So, to those who have promised their support, I offer the college student’s familiar plea: Send money now! Looking ahead, another reason why this assistance is so important is that, as I suggested, over time it will help create the kind of incentives that can bind the country together, giving regional leaders a stake in the system and gradually building national institutions. That is essential to stabilize and strengthen Afghanistan’s legitimate national institutions.
We support President Karzai and the Afghan Transitional Authority, and we continue to look for ways to help Afghanistan build a secure and unified country. Our emphasis is on helping Afghans establish the means to provide their own stability and security. Our mission in Afghanistan is one of liberation, not occupation. We know very well that we have a huge stake in Afghanistan’s success. We remember the steep price that we had to pay when Afghanistan was a failed state. Having come this far and done so much, we must not walk away.
As the situation in Afghanistan improves, it’s encouraging to note that there have been some important positive developments in other parts of the Muslim world as well in the last couple of months, and I refer specifically to Turkey and Indonesia. Although these developments haven’t grabbed the headlines that the arrest of individual terrorists or the uncovering of new plots typically garner, they could prove in the long run more important for building a lasting peace.
In the same way that we must acknowledge what’s wrong if we want to progress forward, it is equally important to recognize what’s right. That recognition itself is a way to encourage true progress and further accomplishment.
A country that occupies one of history’s great strategic crossroads has, through a recent series of reforms, put itself at a historic crossroads as well. Last month, Turkey’s Parliament adopted some truly groundbreaking reforms. Turkey addressed broad political reform by granting television, radio broadcasting and education rights in Kurdish and other regional dialects. It also broadened freedom of expression, stiffened penalties for illegal migration, changed its death penalty statutes and recognized the jurisdiction of European supranational bodies.
Turkey’s economy minister rightly summarized those reforms as “a huge mobilization in favor of Europe.” Should Turkey be allowed to join the EU, it will, in fact, be a mobilization in favor of us all. Through the years, Turkey has been one of America’s most steadfast allies, quickly offering support after the attacks last September, including ground forces in Afghanistan. And, today, Turkey carries out another tough responsibility as a leader of that International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, following Britain’s initial six-month tour. But Turkey’s leadership goes far beyond its role as soldiers and peacekeepers. Turkey’s aspiration to join the European Union is one that should be welcomed by all people who share the values of freedom and democracy.
I know that our European friends may grow weary of having Americans tell them about the importance of bringing Turkey into the EU, but especially in the light of Turkey’s latest reforms, what is at stake is more than just a technical process of EU accession. It goes back to that point about the struggle of ideas, for in the long run, the way to defeat extremism is to demonstrate that the values that we call Western are indeed universal, to demonstrate that the benefits that we enjoy, the benefits of free and prosperous and open societies, are available to all Muslims as well.
Never has our stake in Turkey been greater. Turkey offers an important model to the Muslim world as it embarks on its own road to representative government. As the great American scholar of Turkish history Bernard Lewis has observed, Turkey’s experience shows the entire Muslim world that democracy is difficult but also that it is possible.
History attests that fashioning and sustaining democracy and free markets is a difficult undertaking. In the West, it took centuries. But Turkey charted its course through the 20th century with enormous courage and determination. Now it is positioning itself for the 21st century. Its historic commitment to modernity and moderation deserves support and vindication.
America and Europe can bolster Turkey and help it continue to succeed. In so doing, we amplify the message that Turkey’s success can send to the rest of the Muslim world and indeed to the developing world as a whole. This is a model worthy of emulation.
Indonesia is another important example of a country seeking to build a democratic government based on a culture of inclusion and participation, even in the face of its extraordinary diversity and enormous economic obstacles.
And like Turkey, Indonesia has chosen to take some bold steps forward. In fact, in the last year alone, Indonesia has arguably made more progress toward democratic reform than its entire 57-year history. Indonesia’s highest legislative body recently passed a series of amendments to its Constitution that further solidify its democratic transition, including one provision that provides for an early end to the privileged position of the military in the parliament.
But as important as the amendments that were passed is an amendment that was rejected. Although some religious parties pressed to have Islamic law, or Shari’a, be recognized in Indonesia’s national law, the national legislature rejected that proposal and rejected it overwhelmingly. In so doing, they confirmed the powerful belief in religious tolerance that is shared by the great majority of Indonesians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, in the country that has the largest Muslim population of any in the world.
In a visit to Indonesia last month, Secretary of State Powell praised Indonesia’s support for the war on terror, which has been significant. And he also encouraged Indonesia to step up the pace of legal reforms, reforms which will not only contribute politically, but will help economically by encouraging investors. His visit helped move our two nations closer to normal military-to-military cooperation, a step that ultimately will pave the way to more effective dealing with the threats posed by terrorists. Secretary Powell and Indonesian leaders, including President Megawati, discussed how the Indonesian armed forces can improve not only military effectiveness, but their professionalism, through reforms to safeguard against human rights abuses. That would be the aim of our cooperation.
My three years in Indonesia as ambassador gave me a unique opportunity to study and appreciate that remarkable country, its people, its rich cultures, and most importantly, its tradition of tolerance. That experience, and experiences before and since, have strengthened my appreciation of the fundamental common ground between East and West. Many people do not realize that Indonesia’s Muslim majority is the largest in the world. But even many who know that fact do not realize that Islam is not the state religion, that the state accords equal status to the five major religions of its people. There is every reason to believe and to hope that Indonesia, with its own traditions and culture, can move forward, because when people are free to work and keep what they produce, they work hard and organize creatively. And if we are serious about opposing terrorism, we also must be serious about helping Indonesia in its quest for a stable democracy and a stable country.
But finally, while we wage the war on terror, we must also be mindful of that larger war, the struggle against enemies of tolerance and freedom the world over. One tool we have in this struggle is our ability to reach out beyond governments to people and to individuals. We must appeal to broad populations, especially those voices struggling to rise above the din of extremism, voices that tell us the Islam of Mohammed is not the religion of bin Laden and the suicide bombers.
I am convinced that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims have no use for the extreme doctrines espoused by groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban. Very much to the contrary—they abhor terrorism; they abhor terrorists who have not only hijacked airplanes, but have hijacked one of the world’s great religions. They have absolutely no use for people who deny fundamental rights to half their population or who indoctrinate children with superstition and hatred. In winning this larger struggle, it would be a mistake to think that we are the ones to lead the way. But we must do what we can to encourage moderate Muslim voices. This is a debate about Muslim values that must take place among Muslims. But it makes a difference when we recognize and encourage those who are defending universal values.
And when we give them moral support against the opposition they encounter, we are, indeed, helping to strengthen the foundations of peace. When Egypt sentenced human-rights campaigner Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years in prison for his efforts to promote democracy, President Bush expressed concerns about Dr. Ibrahim’s case directly to President Mubarak. As you know, we also recently turned down requests for additional aid beyond the Camp David accords because of that issue. And the State Department will continue to press our concerns with Egyptian authorities.
When the American and noted Muslim Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani spoke at a State Department-sponsored panel on terrorism in January of 1999, he addressed what he called “the authentic traditional voice of Islam, which is moderation and tolerance and love and living in peace with all other faiths and religions.” And he went on to caution that there was, at that time, an imminent threat of catastrophic terrorist attack on America — on American soil by Islamic extremists. Following his message, some Muslim organizations here in the United States publicly condemned him for what they called “false and defamatory allegations” and organized a boycott against him. But learning tolerance and progress — these are qualities that we espouse but that the extremists today consider subversive.
In that same article I mentioned at the beginning, Kuwaiti political science professor Shafeeq Ghabra described studying here in the United States, when he’d been influence by the anti-American slogans popular at the time. But Ghabra’s American professors surprised him with their tolerance. And “tolerance,” he wrote, “even without accepting the other view, does have a moderating power on people and permits for the repetition of the cycle of understanding. Tolerance breeds tolerance. As a professor of political science at Kuwait University,” he says, “I practice my old professor’s technique on my own fundamentalist students.”
This past Tuesday, an Egyptian-born resident of the United States reflects in The New York Times on what we might call the dangerous gap between her view of Islam and that of her fellow Egyptian, Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers. Mona Eltahawy’s Islam embodies tolerance and acceptance of others — a view that questions why Atta, allegedly in the name of Islam, was filled with such hatred. She writes of the debate here in America about the relationship between Islam and modernity and notes that she is “saddened that such a debate has not taken off with equal vigor in other parts of the world. But, Eltahawy concludes, “that debate must continue, for,” as she puts it, “only by reclaiming our own voice can we silence the zealots.” In his State of the Union message, President Bush spoke powerfully of the brave men and women who raise their voices to advocate the values of “human dignity, free speech, equal justice, respect for women, and religious tolerance.” They are out there, as we have seen. The system will progress only when we all become truly serious about supporting and encouraging those voices, abroad and here at home.
I have spent a good deal of my career, more than two decades, thinking about East and West, and my experience has convinced me that we share a fundamental common ground. It is on that ground that we can build the ancient dream of peace and freedom, prosperity and security, a dream that we share. On this ground, we can build a better world, one that proceeds on a path from crisis to opportunity.
And a year after the horrific attacks on America, we can affirm this truth: The single greatest threat to peace and freedom in our time comes from terrorism. So this truth we should also affirm: that the future does not belong to the terrorists; the future belongs to those, no matter what their creed, who dream the oldest and noblest dream of all—the dream of peace and freedom. The future belongs to those who labor with courage and commitment to build a better, peaceful and tolerant world.
Thank you. [Applause.]
QUESTION: “We have a growth of Islamophobia in the US. Is this part of what Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American History?” Is it something more?
SPECIAL ENVOY ROSENTAHAL (with Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Chris Seiple, and Imam Akbar Ahmed): Our history as a nation has been one of continually trying to keep faith with our rights and values as we have become one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth – and one of the most religious. It hasn’t been easy, and we are not perfect. Our history has seen the public execution of Quakers in the mid 17th century in Massachusetts. We saw the expulsion of Mormons from Missouri in the mid 19th century. We have seen profound anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism in the 19-20th centuries. There were attacks on African American churches during the civil rights movement, and harassment felt by Muslims after 9/11.
But as a country, in every generation, concerned citizens and principled leaders have worked hard to right our wrongs through legal mechanisms, pro-active government outreach, responsible education, coalition building among diverse religious communities – to build a more perfect union, from the many – one.
As President Obama said at the Iftar at the White House in August, “Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the U.S., from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan – making it the first Iftar at the White House over 200 years ago.”
Muslim contributions to the US are too long to catalogue because they are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities – Muslims are successful in business and entertainment, in the arts and athletics, in science and in medicine. Muslims hold senior leadership positions in our government, and there are two Muslim members of Congress, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson.
Again as the President stated in August “our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are”.
But this program is to discuss the reality the country is now facing and how do we expand the Judeo-Christian Paradigm. Is there a growing sense of paranoia in the US? I don’t really know. But I do know that it remains extremely difficult to entertain real discussion of differences and multi-culturalism. But we must make the effort. We must understand one another so we can move forward together for the sake of our communities, our nation, and our diverse and increasingly interconnected world. History tells us that especially during economic downturns, scapegoats tend to be named, fear of the ‘other’ is more pronounced, and unfortunately hatred is stoked.
What we are seeing now is not just anti-immigrant sentiment with Muslims. Almost all immigrant communities in any country face integration challenges, but the experience of Muslims now is different because of 9/11. If for instance two immigrants could come from India to the US at the same time and in the same socio-economic status, one Hindu and one Muslim, no one would ever ask the Hindu to prove that he or she is a “moderate Hindu”. While deeply troubling and unfortunate – it is a reality. And I believe discrimination and prejudice need to be called out and condemned.
When Americans view Muslims with suspicion just because they are Muslims, this must be challenged. Our country was founded on the precepts that all human beings have inherent dignity and rights and that they are innocent until proven guilty. This is being turned on its head in the Muslim intolerance we are seeing.
People may hold bad ideas and intolerant thoughts, and may express them. But we hope others will use their right to freedom of expression to condemn and confront such bad speech.
And as bad as some of the statements and proposals against Muslims may be, the appropriate way to address bad speech is with other speech, and so it is gratifying to see religious and other opinion leaders condemn such behavior and insist on a civil discourse around religious tolerance.
And as intolerant as some of the statements and proposals against Muslims are, it is important – and gratifying to see religious and other opinion leaders condemn such behavior and insist on a civil discourse around religious tolerance.
So even in the face of all this – I am optimistic. The story of Islam in America is a story of progress, of success, of thoughtful writings, and of coalition building. So I believe the paradigm is already changing, the table is already expanding, and the messages of hate are being challenged. And this program is a good example of that.