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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > November

Remarks at State Department Iftaar

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 5, 2003

2003/1130

(6:00 p.m. EST)

As-salamu alaikum and welcome to the State Department and I want to thank each of you for sharing your blessed Ramadan Iftaar with us this evening. For Muslims throughout the world, Ramadan is a time for reflection, renewal, and the celebration of family and community. So we gather here this evening to show our respect for Islam and demonstrate our solidarity with Muslims in America and all across the globe.

As Muslims break the fast this day, let us take a moment to remember the men and women of all faiths, everywhere, who are struggling to build a better future. Let us hold a special place in our thoughts for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who are helping them emerge from decades of despair.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the third time I have been privileged to host an Iftaar at the State Department. I have also attended the Iftaars hosted by President Bush at the White House. At all of these meals, and on other occasions during my government service, I have had the opportunity to learn much more about the great religion of Islam.

I have learned about Islam as a religion of peace and caring, a religion that teaches values we all share, such as tolerance, justice, and respect for human dignity.I have learned about Islam as an inspiration to millions of Americans and over a billion souls throughout the world. I have learned about how Islam’s rich civilization and traditions have shaped this country and brought benefits to all mankind. Most of all, I have learned about Islam as an enduring religion, providing hope and meaning to new generations.

It is with an eye to the new generations that I am particularly pleased to welcome the Fulbright scholars and high school exchange students who are here with us here today. There are a number throughout the room, but I wanted to pack my table with nothing but young people tonight, and so I especially welcome the young high school students and Fulbright scholars at my table as representative of so many other young people who are here in the United States learning, but above all, teaching us as they complete their education.

So a round of applause to all of our young people here.

(Applause.)

Young people are the bridge to a better future, a future we all dream about, a future in which Muslims and Christians, Jews and Hindus, Buddhists and people of all faiths work together to end strife, to lift our brothers and sisters out of despair, and build a world where respect for the sanctity of the individual, the rule of law, and the politics of participation grow stronger day-by-day.

Our history has taught us the value of reaching across faiths, creeds, and cultures to achieve such dreams. Indeed, our ability to break bread together across faiths, as we are doing today, is a potent example of the diversity that is the heart of the strength as a people that we enjoy. Ours is a diversity in action, not theory. Any one of us can walk out the front door of the State Department tonight and within a few moments, you can be at a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, or any of a large number of different kinds of churches. America’s remarkable diversity is ensured by a form of government that values the role of religion in our lives, while keeping the hand of government out of our faith. It is predicated on open borders that allow goods, services, information, ideas – and people – to flow freely.

Our relations with the Muslim world are enriched when we can host Muslim visitors, attract Muslim students, and welcome Muslim businessmen. However, in the post-9/11 world, as you all know, we had to ensure that, as we honor our commitment to openness and diversity, we had to do it in a way that was consistent with our needs for security. That’s not easy. It's always a difficult balance.

As you all know, in an effort to strike the right balance between openness and security, the Department of Homeland Security instituted a system last year called the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System. “NSEERS,” as we call it, was an important step in learning how to protect our homeland. But we are not standing still. We understand the difficulty that it has presented to people wanting to visit, wanting to come to this country. We understand that it is still imperfect, and we are working on a better long-term solution, which we call “US-VISIT.” We want you to come. When fully in place, US-VISIT will replace NSEERS and, we firmly believe, will help ensure that all visitors, of all faiths and all backgrounds, are received here with dignity and with humanity. For at the end of the day, it is dignity and humanity which bring us together for this blessed meal. It is dignity and humanity that unites us as human beings. From Detroit to Doha, from Mostar to Mombasa, from Karachi to Kuala Lumpur, and all around the world, it is dignity and humanity that gives us hope for a brighter future.

So thank you again, on my behalf and the behalf of all of my State Department colleagues present, for honoring us with your presence on this evening. Ramadan kareem. Thank you.


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