Remarks at Ceremony in Honor of Special Representative to Muslim Communities Shaarik Zafar
Secretary of State
Well, Shaun, thank you very much for a warm and generous introduction. Good morning to everybody. Assalamu alaikum. Honored to be here with you this morning, and thank you so much for coming to join us on this really, frankly, exciting occasion. It’s my opportunity to be able to welcome and announce at the same time our new Special Representative for Muslim Communities, Shaarik Zafar. And – yes. applause. (Applause.) And I’m especially happy to welcome his parents – his mother, Kausar, and his father, Humayon – thank you – and his wife, Aiysha, with their lovely two children, their daughters, Sophia and Aliza. Thank you. Ladies, thank you for being here. (Applause.)
When Shaarik started drafting the U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, he began with two words: “Religion matters.” We’re making that a mantra here at the State Department in our foreign policy, and I see it every single day. And I particularly see it in my multiple engagements in the Far East and South Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Sahara Africa.
Let me be really clear as a starting point for today’s conversation: The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murderers, when we saw Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who left home in Florida in order to tell the story of brave people in the Middle East – we saw him brutally taken from us in an act of medieval savagery by a coward hiding behind a mask.
For so many who worked so long to bring Steven and other Americans home safely, this obviously was not how the story was meant to end. It’s a punch to the gut. And the United States Government, I want you to know, has used every single military, diplomatic, and intelligence tool that we have, and we always will. Our special operations forces bravely risked a military operation in order to save these lives, and we have reached out diplomatically to everyone and anyone who might be able to help. That effort continues, and our prayers remain as they always are, with the families of all of the hostages who remain trapped in Syria today.
Now barbarity, sadly, is not new to our world. Neither is evil. And I can’t think of a more graphic description of evil than what we witnessed yesterday and before that with James Foley and what we see in the unbelievably brutal mass executions of people because of their sectarian or religious affiliation. We have taken the fight to this kind of savagery and evil before, and believe me, we will take it again. We’re doing it today, and when terrorists anywhere around the world have murdered our citizens, the United States held them accountable, no matter how long it took. And those who have murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria need to know that the United States will hold them accountable too, no matter how long it takes.
I want to emphasize – (applause) – but here today, what is really important – and I want to take advantage of this podium and of this moment to underscore as powerfully as I know how that the face of Islam is not the butchers who killed Steven Sotloff. That’s ISIL. (Applause.) The face of Islam is not the nihilists who know only how to destroy, not to build. It’s not masked cowards whose actions are an ugly insult to the peaceful religion that they violate every single day with their barbarity and whose fundamental principles they insult with their actions.
The real face of Islam is a peaceful religion based on the dignity of all human beings. It’s one where Muslim communities are leading the fight against poverty. It’s one where Muslim communities are providing basic healthcare and emergency assistance on the front lines of some of our most devastating humanitarian crises. And it is one where Muslim communities are advocating for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the most basic freedom to practice one’s faith openly and freely. America’s faith communities, including American Muslims, are sources of strength for all of us. They’re an essential part of our national fabric, and we are committed to deepening our partnerships with them.
We’re making these efforts to unite religious communities a core mission here at the State Department. That’s what Shaarik is leading as our Special Representative to Muslim Communities. That’s what Ira Forman is leading as our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. And that’s what David Saperstein is leading; when confirmed, he will be our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. And that’s what my friend Shaun Casey is doing in his special job in order to have a faith – interfaith office here at the State Department itself.
Now people ask me why. Why now have we made this such a mission at the State Department? Why elevate our engagement at a time when world events to some people seem so hopelessly divided along sectarian lines? And the answer is really very simple: It’s a delusion to think that anyone can just retreat to their own safe space, not when people of all faiths are migrating and mingling as never before in history. The reality is that our faiths and our fates are inextricably linked. And that is profoundly why we must do this now, because they are linked.
Our fates are inextricably linked on any number of things that we must confront and deal with in policy concepts today. Our fates are inextricably linked on the environment. For many of us, respect for God’s creation also translates into a duty to protect and sustain His first creation: Earth, the planet. Before God created man, He created Heavens and Earth. Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid down in scriptures, clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth. And for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God.
Our fates are also inextricably linked in promoting economic opportunity and justice. When you look at the world today, there are whole countries where there are 60 percent of the population under the age of 30, 50 percent under the age of 21, and 40 percent under the age of 18. We know that all of these young people in today’s interconnected globalized world, with the media that’s available to them – just look at the numbers in sub-Sahara Africa of young people walking around with smart phones. They don’t have a job, they don’t have an education, but they’re connected. And we know that all of them are as a result demanding opportunity and dignity.
We also know that a cadre of extremists – nihilists, people like ISIL – are just waiting to seduce these people into accepting the dead end. And when people don’t have a job, when they can’t get an education, when their voices are silenced by draconian laws or by violence or oppression, we’ve all witnessed the instability that follows from that, from the lack of dignity and respect for the human person. To meet the demands of these populations for dignity and opportunity, frankly, requires new and creative partnerships. That’s why Shaun is here. That’s why we’re here today. We need to reach beyond government to include religious leaders and faith communities, entrepreneurs, civil society groups, all of them working together to invest in a future that embraces tolerance and understanding, and yes, even love.
Our fates are also inextricably linked in the fight for pluralism. We know beyond any doubt that the places where people are free not just to develop an idea, but to debate different ideas, those societies are the most successful – not occasionally, but always. It’s not just a lack of jobs and opportunity that give extremists the opening that their recruitment strategies need to exploit. They’re just as content to see corruption and oligarchy and resource exploitation fill the vacuum so they can come in then and prey on the frustration and anger of those young people who were denied real opportunity.
Make no mistake: When you go back and study the major faith traditions, there is one thing that really does leap out at you. I was privileged a number of years ago to speak at an interfaith event at Yale University between a group of – a significant group – some 70 or so evangelicals from across the country, including Dr. Robert Schuller and others, and then a group of mullahs, imams, grand muftis, who had come from around the world to join together in this discussion of interfaith initiative. And I remember then, as I sort of thought about my comments and what to talk about, how it leapt out at me that there is a commonality in the Abrahamic faiths particularly, but in all faiths and in all philosophies of way of life and thinking, even Native Americanism or Confucianism and others, and that is every single one of them contains a fundamental basic notion of the Golden Rule – the importance of charity, compassion, and human improvement.
When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law,” he replied: the first “you shall love the Lord your God” and second “you shall love your neighbor as yourself…In everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
What prophets was Jesus talking about? He was talking about Moses, or Moshe, or Musa. He was talking about Abraham, or Avraham, or Ibrahim. And ultimately, he was talking about Shalom, Salam: Peace.
As the Talmud says: In Roman times, a nonbeliever approached the famous rabbi, Rabbi Hillel, and challenged him to teach the meaning of the Torah while standing on one leg. Without missing a beat, holding up one foot, Hillel replied: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to another. That is the whole of the Torah… the rest is commentary.”
The Prophet Muhammad said of loving your brother, “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”
Buddhist scriptures teach us to “treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” And Hinduism proclaims, “This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Our faiths teach us that we are more than the sum of our differences. We share a moral obligation to treat one another with dignity and respect. And I am so proud that at the foundation of everything that this Department and that our foreign policy tries to do are those fundamental values.
Today, we need to draw on that common faith and what must be our common hope to work for peace and put our universal commitments and universal beliefs into action. That’s the road ahead, and I am privileged to share that road with Shaarik and with all of you. Thank you. (Applause.)