I am very, very pleased to welcome you all to the Department of State. And as many of you know, we had a similar Iftaar Dinner here last year for the first time, and tonight we continue what I hope will become a tradition that lives on for many years to come.
I want to really make very clear how important Assistant Secretary Koh has been in all the endeavors he credits me with, because he has been the one that has conceptualized the issues, discussed them, pushed for them, articulated a vision. I think one of the smartest things I ever did was to persuade him to come here and talk about the embodiment of human rights. Harold, without you, a lot would not have happened.
The month of Ramadan and the daily fast are powerful reminders for Muslims of the centrality of God and of the potency of the message conveyed through the Prophet Muhammad. For us all, they are a demonstration of virtues cherished by all great religions-kinship and faith, charity and humility, and discipline and worship.
For Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, this holiday season is a time for reflection and honoring our traditions and beliefs. We all take pride in the past, but we are united as well by our hopes for the future. And this is natural, because it is part of our shared and ancient heritage.
Until Abraham, humans were resigned to a life without progress, constrained by the unceasing cycles of nature. And that is why Abraham's bold journey into the unknown was an unprecedented act of faith that, at God's direction and with God's help, the future could improve upon, not simply mirror, the past.
Today, we are not often asked to pull up stakes and trek thousands of miles, but we are compelled by our convictions and responsibilities to serve justice, promote peace, and, in the words of the Qur'an, "forget not kindness" among ourselves.
In these tasks, we will do better if we pull together, and we will do best if the actual and potential contributions of all Americans, including Muslim Americans, are fully recognized. I am pleased that since last year the State Department has inaugurated a new website entitled, "Islam in America." Its purpose is to help people everywhere learn more about the positive force that Islam has become in American life and about the growing role of Muslim Americans as they are there to play a role in ensuring the security, prosperity, and freedom of our land.
Equally vital are the international exchange and people-to-people programs we conduct with Muslim-majority nations. These efforts bring distinguished Muslim visitors to our shores to exchange views and promote understanding.
In addition, President Clinton's Interagency Council on Women consults regularly with Muslim American women on ways to support greater political and economic participation for their counterparts around the globe.
We are strongly encouraging young Muslim Americans to apply to the Foreign Service as part of our overall effort to attract talent and promote diversity, and we have had a lively discussion at my table on that subject.
This past September, I devoted my column in the State Department's official magazine to the importance of involving Muslim Americans more fully in discussion about U.S. foreign policy. I chose to focus on this because I have often found myself in discussions about the relationships between the American and the Islamic world, and I find that people tend to talk as if these were two entirely different entities-us and them-an attitude I simply don't share. After all, where in such a conversation is there space for the six million Americans who embrace Islam, and just where do they fit in?
The answer to me is obvious. You belong at the table along with everyone else who has a stake in how our policies are shaped and how well they succeed. Together, during the past few years, we have made an important beginning in providing that answer, not only through these dinners but also through religious freedom roundtables, open forums, conferences, and seminars. We have established and expanded a dialogue, but obviously much more remains to be done. It is vital for Muslim Americans to know and have access to American policymakers. It is even more vital to become policymakers.
So I want to congratulate the many in this room who have helped to motivate and educate and register voters so that Muslim participation in our democratic institutions will continue to grow. Although I can't comment on specific issues or cases, I can say that you are right to object to illegal discrimination and racial profiling when that occurs. You are right to pursue legal remedies when you perceive injustice on such matters as secret evidence. You are right to work with leaders from other religious traditions in promoting tolerance among faiths within our own country. And you are right to raise questions when you have concerns about U.S. foreign policy, because we need to hear your priorities and views, as we do those of every American.
Of course, the United States doesn't have a political policy towards Islam or any other faith. Our foreign policy is based on our national interests and not on attitudes towards any particular religion or community. Moreover, after four years as Secretary of State, it will not surprise you that I believe there is a lot to be said for U.S. foreign policy.
I am proud of our efforts to support peace and prosperity and freedom around the globe. Under President Clinton's leadership, we have strengthened our alliances, managed key relationships well, and tried to shape a world economy that will benefit the many, not just the few.
We have done much to stop proliferation, combat AIDS, relieve Third World debt, and improve the lives of women and girls. In the quest for peace, we have not only succeeded, but America has made a huge difference for the better in places such as Northern Ireland and Korea, Bosnia and Kosovo. And it is no accident that President Clinton will leave office with America more secure than ever before in my lifetime, in a world more free than at any point in history.
At the same time, there have been some painful disappointments, most particularly in the Middle East, where we have all been witness this fall to a season of sorrow. We have learned again that violence begets only more violence, and been reminded that those who suffer most are the innocent, including children such as 12-year-old fifth grader from Gaza, Muhammad al-Durrah.
And that is why, despite the recent shocks, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have given up. The pace may have changed, but the goal has not. And the United States today welcomed the return to Washington of senior negotiators from the two sides, and we will strive to help them restore the momentum to their search for peace.
In a few days, the appearance of the new moon will signal an end to this holy month of Ramadan, and let up hope that the new crescent will also auger a new spirit of reconciliation in the Middle East and South Asia, Chechnya and Afghanistan, and wherever tensions are high and dangers are great.
Let us pray that democracy succeeds in lifting people's lives in Nigeria and Indonesia, and that Iran is able to chart its own course based on what the majority of its people want. And let us vow to assist the Iraqi people in their search for an end to isolation and repression brought on by a leader they never elected and don't deserve.
I look around this room and I think of the diverse paths we have traveled. We are different in country of origin, race, occupation, gender, age, customs, philosophy, and faith. Our experiences are as broadly varied as life itself. In many respects, we are not the same, and yet the fundamental values we hold most dear, although sometimes differently expressed, are similar. We all yearn for a world where the habits of peace are established, the dignity of all is respected, and the basic needs of every man, woman, and child are met.
We are, moreover, each an inheritor and trustee of American democracy. We each believe in the creative power of free people working together to create a future better than the past. We are doers, and like Abraham 4,000 years ago, we believe in mankind's capacity to lift itself up through faith in each other and belief in God's power.
I want to thank you all for being here, for braving the inclement weather and joining us here tonight. This dinner is already one of my favorite traditions and one of the events I will miss most when I begin my new life. I hope that the friendships that have begun here will grow, and that the acquaintances renewed here will blossom, and the paths we take from here will cross many times in years to come.
Good night, and Ramadan Kareem.