Remarks at a Reception in Honor of Eid al-Adha

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Delegates Lounge
Washington, DC
October 16, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Shaarik, thank you very much for the introduction. Thanks for your leadership, and assalamu alaikum to all of you. Thank you, and also a late Eid Mubarak. I will tell you I’ve been having lots of phone conversations with your foreign ministers or your prime ministers or one official or another who have been at the Haaj as they’re talking to me, and they found time in between to be able to have a conversation, and I was very grateful for that. And I hope those of you who had a chance to partake in that found it as rewarding and as personal as it is supposed to be. It’s a pleasure to be able to welcome everybody here, and it’s really a pleasure for us in the State Department to have a chance to be able to celebrate Eid-al-Adha, even though we’re late – and that’s because of my schedule.

I was just in Cairo, as you know, where a terrific $5.4 billion was raised in order to help rebuild Gaza, and we could not have emphasized more times how critical it is not to rebuild it so it is destroyed again. It is imperative that we find a way to get back to the negotiations for what everybody knows is, in the end, the only way to go forward that makes sense. And the alternative is in so many ways difficult.

But what we’re trying to do here in the State Department – and Shaarik is a part of that mosaic that we’re putting together here. We have the first faith-based office; we have the office reaching out to the Islamic world. And when he started drafting our national strategic approach as a leader of a faith community, he began that strategy with two words: “religion matters.” And he’s made it his mission to reach out to faith communities to solve global problems, whether it’s been at the White House or at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and I couldn’t be more pleased that he has joined our efforts here at the State Department as the Special Representative to Muslim Communities.

I’ve often said to people that if I went back to college today, I would at least minor, if not major, in comparative religion – and a lot of other things that I didn’t major in, I might add – because I have found in my journeys through the world over these 29-plus years as a senator and now in the year and a half, year and three-quarters I’ve been Secretary of State, there is no place in the world where in one way or the other it isn’t affecting an outlook. And even in places where people are nonbelievers or people have a different philosophy rather than one of the major religions of the world, there are themes and currents that run through every life philosophy, every single approach, whether it’s Native Americanism or Confucianism or – you can find that there’s been this passage through history from the scriptures – from the Qu’ran, from the Torah, from the Bible – that all come together, and even from other places, where they’ve been incorporated and inculcated through the sermons and preachings and teachings of religious leaders. And we know this today.

So tonight, what we’re really doing as we celebrate late but nevertheless celebrate Eid al-Adha, is that we are celebrating sort of the meaning and importance of sacrifice and devotion in our lives. And, of course, the Jewish religion just went through its holiest moment of the year with Yom Kippur, which is also a moment of huge introspection and re-evaluation. Eid al-Adha is a special time for charity and compassion and for prayer and reflection. And during this period of time, as you all know, you’ll find everybody practicing it in their own way wherever it is that they are in the world. Young girl somewhere in New Delhi praying outside of a mosque, or kids or adults in Pakistan, girls singing songs and painting their hands with henna, or Shiites in the holy city of Najaf or fellow Shi’a celebrating Eid-e-Ghorban in Iran. They’re all these derivatives that all come the very same thing. And that’s the spirit of Eid. And in a sense, this is a moment that really shares with us a common sense at an important time about the sense of possibilities that we’re looking at in the world today.

So we all know – I look around, I see a lot of very familiar faces here, and I thank so many members of our diplomatic corps for being here with us today – this is a difficult time. It’s a very complex time, and there are many currents that are loose out there that have brought us to this moment. The extremism that we see, the radical exploitation of religion which is translated into violence, has no basis in any of the real religions. There’s nothing Islamic about what ISIL/Daesh stands for or is doing to people.

And so we all have a larger mission here. And obviously, history is filled with that. I mean, you go back to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe and other periods of time, Protestants, Catholics, others who have fought. It’s not new to us. Tragically, it’s more prominent because media is more available today, the messaging is there, everybody is more aware on an instantaneous basis of what is happening. And of course it’s exploited by people who engage in this.

So – but it’s still complicated, and for other reasons. We’re living at a point in time where there are just more young people demanding what they see the rest of the world having than at any time in modern history. And when you have 65 percent of a country, as you do in many countries in the Middle East or South Central Asia or elsewhere, in north Horn of Africa, that are under the age of 35 – 65 percent – and 60 percent under the age of 30, and 50 percent under the age of 25, you are going to have a governance problem unless your governance is really addressing the demands and needs of that part of the population. And I don’t care who you are or what kind of government you have, nobody is impregnable with respect to those demands and those needs, and they have to be responded to at some point in time.

Don’t forget that what is happening now in Syria started with young people going out and demonstrating for jobs and for opportunity and for dignity and respect. And when they were met by clubs and repression, their parents went out to defend them. They joined in and said, “No, don’t do this to our kids. We want this.” And then they were met with bullets. And that’s what has brought this incredible, chaotic moment where we now have 10 million people or so displaced – a million and a half in Lebanon, million and a half in Turkey, a million and a half-plus or more in Jordan – and internally, huge population displaced. And Eid actually speaks to that, because this is a moment of charity. This is a moment when Ibrahim is celebrated for not slaying – for being willing to slay his son in order to provide for people and to prove something.

And so we have to stop and think about that in the context of this challenge that we face today. I think that it is more critical than ever that we be fighting for peace, and I think it is more necessary than ever. As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL coalition, the truth is we – there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to. And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity, and Eid celebrates the opposite of all of that.

So what we need to do is recognize that we need to build peace through specific partnerships. One partnership is specifically the effort to try to drive towards this peace, to have a compromise, to find a way to create two states that can live together side by side, two peoples, with both of their aspirations being respected. I still believe that’s possible, and I still believe we need to work towards it. We also need to figure out how – and I think what’s happening in Iraq is an interesting beginning of that, where Daesh has kind of drawn a line and made people stop and think, and Sunni and Shia are beginning to realize there’s a common problem out there and there is a way to try to work together. And the new government gives a breath of fresh air to that possibility that that could happen.

In addition to that, we remember that lots of countries are making sacrifices in the spirit of Eid-al-Adha right now with respect to the refugees that they’re taking in, with respect to the emergency food programs they’re engaged in, the emergency aid. So this is really a moment to reflect deeply on how we will deal not just with the manifestation of the symptom, which is what the violence and the extremism is, but with the underlying causes which go to this question of governance and corruption and a whole issue of how you meet the needs of people.

And that’s where our partnership has to be not just for peace but for prosperity, shared prosperity, where everybody has an ability to be able to find a job, get the education, be able to reach the brass ring, and it is not just reserved for a privileged few.

And finally, we have to build a partnership for sustainability of the planet itself, and that brings us to something like climate change, which is profoundly having an impact in various parts of the world, where droughts are occurring not at a 100-year level but at a 500-year level in places that they haven’t occurred, floods of massive proportions, diminishment of water for crops and agriculture at a time where we need to be talking about sustainable food.

So I think this is an important moment, and that’s why we’ve launched a lot of different initiatives like the Malaysia initiative, the Beehive Initiative at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. And that’s why I’m going to Jakarta day after tomorrow to be there for the inauguration of a man who was elected president in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, in large part because of his commitment to good, honest governance. And that’s why we’re engaging in private sector efforts to help the young Syrian refugees. And in many places we see the desert increasingly creeping into East Africa. We’re seeing herders and farmers pushed into deadly conflict as a result. We’re seeing the Himalayan glaciers receding, which will affect the water that is critical to rice and to other agriculture on both sides of the Himalayas. These are our challenges.

So it’s a good moment to come together. I’ve talked longer than I meant to. Shaarik is going to have the chance to say a few words. I need to run to another meeting, which I hope you will forgive me for doing. But I just hope that the meaning of this moment can over this next year, by all of us in a cooperative and respectful way, mutual respect, without anybody asserting that they have a better way or a better answer, but listening to each other, that we can work together in a good spirit to be able to address these concerns. The world is looking to all of us. We are the leaders. We have this opportunity in this moment to try to make a difference. And it is imperative that every single one of us make every effort to listen to each other, to do everything in our power to be able to have an impact. And I’m confident that in the days ahead we can.

I just spent a number of hours in negotiations. I was with Lavrov talking about what we can do to change things between Russia and the United States, with Foreign Minister Zarif of Iran, where have a very tough negotiation that affects a lot of you in this room. And believe me, we are mindful of that, and we will continue to work, however, to try to find a fair and thoughtful way that achieves all of our goals. And I think we can look with pride at a young Muslim girl, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who’s shown such courage in her effort to try to fight for rights and to stand up and improve a lot of other people. And that’s part of what we should reflect on as we think about the meaning of this particular celebration.

So I really thank you for coming tonight. I wish I could stay and talk through the evening. It would be much nicer than the meeting I have to go to. (Laughter.) But I can’t and so, again, Eid Mubarak belatedly, and I wish all of you well as we work together going forward. Thank you all, and God bless. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)