The following statement by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is reprinted with permission from State Magazine.

As I approach the end of my fourth year as Secretary of State, I want to highlight briefly a topic that has increasingly merited our attention, and that is the need to improve mutual understanding between the United States and the diverse communities and nations that comprise the Islamic world.

The United States has no interest in the "clash" with Islam that some commentators have predicted. On the contrary, we have very substantial interests--ranging from stability to development to support for the rule of law--that we hold in common with most Muslim-majority states.

This gives us a compelling stake in working together with these nations where and whenever possible. Unfortunately, such cooperation is sometimes hindered by the perception that America is hostile to the Muslim faith or indifferent to the fate of those who practice it.

As representatives of America, we must explain our policies to Muslim audiences overseas in ways that engage their attention, respect their beliefs, and demonstrate understanding, but which also rebut those who distort our motives or unfairly judge our actions.

This poses one of the great challenges to our public diplomacy. We must get across the message again and again that U.S. policies are designed to promote peace, prosperity, justice, and respect for international norms. Our policies are not based on, nor do they make, distinctions based on religious faith.

When we support peace in Bosnia or Northern Ireland, condemn human rights violations in Chechnya or Burma, or encourage democratic change in Iraq or Serbia, we are motivated by principle, not enmity or support for a particular religious belief or tradition.

This truth, and the facts behind it, should be stressed repeatedly in the public remarks we make, the articles we write, the interviews we give and the meetings we conduct.

In addition to correcting the record about what America does, we must also convey clearly who Americans are. In this connection, I applaud the efforts public diplomacy teams are making to spread the word about how much Muslim-Americans are contributing to U.S. security, prosperity, and diversity. Reports on "Islam in America" can be accessed through the World Wide Web in several languages. Equally vital are the international exchanges and people-to-people programs we conduct with Muslim-majority nations.

America at its best has an extraordinary story to share. So, in a different way, does Islam--a faith that honors consultation, cherishes peace, and has as one of its fundamental principles the inherent equality of all who embrace it.

Although the State Department's primary responsibility is to represent America to the world, describing the world to America can also be an important element of our job.

There is great value in conveying to domestic audiences the vital distinction between one of the world's great religions--Islam--and the images that linger of extremist political acts committed in the past by certain Muslim individuals and groups.

Nothing could be less consistent with American principles than to judge the many by the actions of a few. Moreover, many widely held assumptions about the tenets of Islam--for example, regarding the status of women--are simplistic or wrong. If we want Muslims to understand America, we should encourage Americans to learn more about Islam.

At the same time, we must be sure to include in our discussions the growing number of Americans who are also Muslims. This group varies widely in background and interests but is in a unique position to strengthen cross-cultural ties.

Last December, during Ramadan, I hosted Muslim-American leaders at an Iftaar dinner in Washington. Our Department has established an ongoing roundtable discussion with Muslim-American representatives. The President's Interagency Council on Women consults regularly with Muslim-American women on how to support greater political and economic participation for their counterparts around the globe. And in our recruitment, we actively encourage young Muslim-Americans to apply for the Foreign Service, as part of our overall effort to promote diversity within the Department.

In developing our relationships with Muslim-majority nations in the future, as indeed with all nations, we must ensure both that we understand and that we are understood. It is inevitable that we will have disagreements. But those differences will be both less frequent and less dangerous if we have explored every opportunity to erase harmful stereotypes, build trust, and create a strong record of cooperation.

In this way, we can hope that the new century will be renowned not for the clashes of civilizations once forecast, but for the progress of civilization upon which all our futures depend.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad