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Remarks at Iftaar Dinner

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
November 29, 2001

Well, good evening again, ladies and gentlemen.  Ramadan Kareem.  Welcome to the State Department and thank you for sharing your Holy Ramadan Iftaar with us this evening.

I don't know about your table, but at my table I learned a great deal.  (Laughter.)  I have discovered that my Arab American Muslim friends do not hold anything back, and we had good conversation.  And I leave here with many ideas of ways we can follow up the spirit of this evening with additional conferences, with additional meetings. 

And I just thank you all for coming on relatively short notice, and it's a great pleasure to welcome you in these beautiful diplomatic rooms of the State Department.  For those of you who have never been here before, we consider this a very special floor and we are delighted to share it with you this evening.

Our gathering this evening, the Department's third Iftaar in as many years, is a powerful reminder that America is a nation of nations, made up of people from every land, of every race and practicing every faith.  Our diversity is not a source of weakness; it is a source of strength, it is a source of our success.  We are a country of countries, drawing from every country in the world and contributing to every country to the world. 

And every American brings a unique mix of talents and abilities to our national melting pot.  Some make high-profile contributions, visible to all.  But many, many more distinguish themselves in quieter ways that never make the headlines.  But the result is here for all of us to see, as a result of our collective contributions, the world can see America, the greatest country in the world, a country of countries, a country of different faiths and cultures.

Since the tragic events of 11 September, we have all come to appreciate even more the quiet heroism of people of all faiths, living their lives, going to work, loving their families and each other, building their communities and worshiping their God.

Sometimes daily life turns into public heroism.  Never more so than on September 11 and the days following, when hundreds of fire fighters and police officers and others risked and too often gave their lives to help others.

We are honored to have three of these quiet heroes of September 11 with us this evening.  Adil Almonpaser is an officer in the intelligence division of the New York City Police Department.  (Applause.)  At great personal risk, Officer Almonpaser -- am I getting better?  (Laughter) -- helped rescue victims from the rubble and ensure the security of Ground Zero.  And we salute you, sir.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Idris Bey is a New York Fire Department emergency medical technician.  On September 11, Mr. Bey was at Ground Zero, saving lives and helping the wounded.  Mr. Bey.  (Applause.)

Imam Izak-EL Pasha is resident imam of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz and Muslim Chaplin for the New York Police Department.  In addition to his many good works in his community, Imam Pasha has been on 24-hour call, as he has tirelessly consoled family members of victims, counseled rescue workers and organized memorial services.  Thank you so very, very much.  (Applause.)

I must pause and say these are my New York buddies--(laughter)--because I'm a New Yorker and we've talked about what it was like to be a resident of Harlem and growing up in that community, and so glad to see the work that you're doing there and all of your colleagues.  So these three fellow New Yorkers of mine, it's a great pleasure to be able to have you here this evening and also to honor you.

And I know that when I honor you, I speak for all Americans when I say we thank you for your devotion to duty, to your fellow man and woman and to life, your devotion to life.

My friends, in the aftermath of September 11, we have also responded vigorously to the plight of millions of Muslims in Afghanistan.  This day, and every day of Ramadan, let us turn our thoughts to those among the Afghan people who were able to break their fast today, thanks to the assistance the international community has provided them.  We are proud that our country, the United States, has long been the most generous donor to the Afghan refugees. 

But short-term relief is not enough.  So we are working with the international community and the Afghan people to help them rebuild their country.  We are also working with the United Nations to help the Afghans form a new government, one that represents all geographical and ethnic backgrounds and will allow the refugees to return home--and a new government in Afghanistan that will respect the rights of women to participate in that government.  (Applause.)

Let me say that while we are fighting this campaign, while we are watching the battles day by day on our television sets, my colleagues and I here in the State Department, President Bush and his assistants in the White House, every single day we get together and we take a look at the future, beyond the military campaign.  We take a look at what the needs of Afghanistan will be.

And I can say to you that the President and everybody in this Administration are committed to doing what is necessary for the humanitarian relief of the suffering Afghans.  But, beyond that, we will not walk out.  We are committed to rebuilding that society and giving all of those people hope--not just hope, but the reality of having a better life for themselves and for their children.  That is our commitment.  (Applause.)

Ramadan is a time of prayer and fasting for followers of the Muslim religion.  This year, it is also a time of reflection for all Americans.  Less than three months after the tragedy of September 11, we were all examining our lives and reaffirming the importance of family, faith and country.  In fact, this year marks the first Ramadan for many non-Muslim Americans who have been made aware of the great significance of this period for the first time in their lives. 

But there remains much ignorance and confusion about Islam, and that presents an opportunity for those of us who are not Muslim to learn from those of you who are.  I hope that all of you here will seek out opportunities to talk with non-Muslims throughout your communities about your faith, to help all of us learn from, understand and appreciate one another, and that you will encourage others in turn to talk to you about their faith.

And I heard some wonderful stories at my table about how you are doing that, reaching out to Christians and Jews, and letting everybody know we are all--we are all creatures and children of a benevolent God and we must come to understand that to love one another is being faithful to our God.

I was very moved by some of the conversations that we had at our table, as we talked about discrimination, we talked about profiling, as we talked about how we have to be sensitive to each other and to be sensitive to the diversity that we all represent.  This touched me deeply because I am a minority.  I have been profiled.  I will never forget my background; I will never forget what those who came before me did so that I could be in this position today.

And so I just want to let all of you here this evening know that, as I continue to do my work as Secretary of State, and as I reflect on what we have to do as a nation to move forward, and how we have to get beyond this crisis, I will always be sensitive to the issues that have been raised this evening with respect to profiling, with respect to discrimination. 

And I assure you that President Bush is equally sensitive to these issues.  I think he has demonstrated that sensitivity by his visits with Muslims, by him going to religious sites, by his sensitivity throughout this entire period to the feelings and aspirations of all Muslims.  And I think you have also seen that in the First Lady and what she has done.  And I know that I can say to you tonight with absolute assurance that this Secretary of State and all of my colleagues here assembled this evening will give that same sensitivity to this cause.  (Applause.)

So I thank you all for joining us this evening.  I hope you have enjoyed being with us, and I wish you a safe journey back to your homes. 

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

Released on November 29, 2001

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