The Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities was created shortly after President Obama made his historic speech in Cairo in June 2009. With a vision to broaden and deepen the way we engage across nations and communities – the Obama Administration has remained steadfast in its commitment to building partnerships based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
From Entrepreneurship Summits – and we look forward to the next one in Malaysia this fall – to polio eradication – as you may be aware, the victims of polio are most numerous in Muslim majority nations – to education for women and girls from Argentina to Zanzibar, the Department of State is working at every level to explore what is possible and to seed ideas that will grow into lasting change.
I feel privileged to have traveled to 80 countries and to speak with young Muslims in every corner of our planet – engaging with them on a people to people level – and listening and catalyzing the ideas of youth through programs like Generation Change and Viral Peace. With 62 percent of all Muslims in the world under the age of 30, the ideas of these young people are real, important and promising. I often talk about the fact that there is a youthquake happening around the world, and many in this room tonight are partly responsible for shaking things up!
When I was a young girl growing up in Massachusetts, I would often see then-Senator Kerry on TV – or on the front page of the Boston Globe. I would read about his career, his commitment to the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but also to the people of the world. I could not have imagined that I would have the privilege of calling him my boss – or, in fact – of introducing him at his first Iftar here at the Department of State.
I first met then-Senator Kerry on what I call The Last Day of Normal – September 10, 2001, the day before the tragedy of 9/11. Together with his friend and colleague, Senator John McCain, he was awarded the Christian Herter Award at a ceremony at Boston’s Copley Plaza Hotel.
The award, which honors individual contributions to international relations, was named after Christian Herter, a Boston native, the 59th Governor of Massachusetts and Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. Fitting, isn’t it?
In his speech in September 2001, then-Senator Kerry said: “public office isn't a platform to brag that you don't have a passport, it brings with it a responsibility to use that passport and be America's eyes and ears around the globe; American leadership is more than a slogan, it is an ability to make the world better if you're willing to work at it.” And my boss is working at it in so many ways, one of which is the power to transform through mutual respect and dialogue.
Throughout his public life, Secretary Kerry has focused on building bridges and finding the common ground with world leaders. For him, interfaith dialogue – or the act of reaching out to other faiths in partnership and friendship – is not just a slogan or sound bite, but a solemn obligation. He has called on the Abrahamic faiths to find new meaning in the old notion of their shared descent and to acknowledge our shared humanity, because that is the key to securing peaceful solutions to many areas of conflict in our world today.
Secretary Kerry has also been a champion of international religious freedom. Fifteen years ago, he joined his colleagues in the United States Congress to pass the International Religious Freedom Act, the law that mandates the preparation of the State Department’s annual religious freedom report. Today, Secretary Kerry continues to make sure that religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.
As we open the fast tonight and share bread together, we are sitting in a room with the best of what America is: people of all faiths respecting the diversity of America.
Thank you for all the efforts you are making to find ways to work together and to keep communities strong.
And thank you, Secretary Kerry, for providing the leadership that this important vision deserves.
Please join me in welcoming Secretary John Kerry.