USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick Remarks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

Remarks

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR GLICK: Thank you, Nancy, so much.  And welcome everyone today to the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.  I want to add my voice to the chorus and say how wonderful it's been to see such a great and diverse turnout for this event.  Religious freedom may not make the 6:00 p.m. news very often, or even ever, at least in Western society, but over the long arc of recorded history, it is humanity's profoundest longing and our most enduring struggle.  It may be honored more in words than in actions, but the vision of genuine freedom of conscience is at the very center of human experience.  Contemplated in its first and broadest sense is surely what we in the United States call the first liberty because as it was noted in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, mankind's endowment with both conscience and reason are self-evident proof of human dignity, which is the basis for all human rights.  

Ambassador Brownback has called this event the largest of its kind ever, and I know that the RSVPs so exceeded expectations that we had to open up a second stage at George Washington University.  That tells me that there's more going on here than just a passing fad in the hallways of public policy conversation.  

This sounds more like an early rumble of a broad social movement getting off the ground and gathering steam, ready to burst forth out of circles of activists and into mainstream social consciousness.  And it's very exciting to be part of it.  Let me offer a word of appreciation for those small circles of activists, the vanguard of this campaign, many of whom have been fighting on the lonely frontlines of battles for much of their careers.  These battles have often been not only solitary but fought under difficult and dangerous circumstances to preserve individuals' rights to worship and practice their faith.  I'm pretty sure that describes a lot of people in this room.  The fact that your labors may have gone underappreciated in the past does not diminish their importance and essential contribution to getting us to where we are here today.  You are the early heroes of a new uprising of historic proportions and great movements tend to remember their early heroes and champions.  You might even make the 6:00 p.m. news.  

The protection of the right to practice religion freely is a critical democratic value in any society.  Those rights are threatened in many countries and by no means only in what we sometimes refer to as the developing world.  One of our primary roles at USAID is to promote this fundamental freedom in partnership with governments, NGOs, civil society, implementing partners, and communities of faith.  In addition to promoting religious freedom, many of your organizations also play pivotal roles in meeting basic human needs around the world.  Some of you support USAID in our mission of helping countries progress along their journeys to self-reliance.  We help them to build both their commitment to self-reliance and the capacity to get there as we work toward the day when foreign aid is no longer necessary.  Usually, we define the success or failure of those efforts in economic terms like education levels, the status of women, the availability of health care, and the capability of a country to plan and finance its own development.  But I imagine that most of you would also include a country's commitment to religious freedom as an indicator of self-reliance.  

This aligns closely with our discussion here today because while the nuts and bolts of traditional development work may not rise to the spiritual level in and of themselves, they are tremendously important in our ability to do our jobs and they matter a great deal to our beneficiaries, because as Gandhi put it, "There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."  Most of the world's great faiths take seriously our tangible human needs, and certainly place a responsibility to help alleviate the suffering when we are in a position to do so.  To Jews today, the term tzedakah refers to charitable giving, but the biblical term originates and definitively means righteous behavior and it's often paired with justice.  In Jewish tradition, which inspired the Judeo-Christian values of philosophers from Montesquieu to Adam Smith to our own founding fathers, supporting the needy is not just a matter of charity but a requirement of righteous behavior.  So, that's a big part of what we're focused on atUSAID right now.  We're focused on our moral responsibility to help countries become self-reliant.  In order to do so, we're working hard to broaden the base of support within groups under a New Partnerships Initiative.  That initiative designed to lower the barriers to be eligible to receive our funding.  This way it can be more accessible to organizations with smaller staffs.  

I don't mean only faith-based organizations, of course.  As a federal agency, our job is to find whoever is best qualified to get the job done.  But it's no secret that very often faith-based groups best fit that description.  In fact, the practical reality is that faith-based organizations are indispensable to most community-mobilization efforts.  Given your unparalleled networks, historic relationships, and grassroots experience in troubled areas, there is no substitute for your ability to get to and operate in places where we as a government agency often simply cannot.  

Let the economy in general the development sector benefits from robust competition of ideas and approaches and worldviews.  It also benefits greatly from the nimbleness, fresh thinking, and innovations that are often characteristic of small organization.  So, how then exactly does the issue of religious freedom overlap with our work at USAID?  How do we help protect the rights of people to practice religion freely in a democratic society?  What is our role to promote this fundamental right in parts of the world where religious freedom is under threat?  How do we work with the faith community and other communities of conscience to do this important work?  Here's where the rubber really hits the road.  In addition to our development aid, our agency, and the rest of the humanitarian assistance sector, which includes many of you, are the ones who end up being called on to try to mitigate the disasters that inevitably flow, following the breakdown of societies along sectoral and religious and tribal lines.  

Along with many of you, we're the ones helping the beleaguered Rohingya survive in camps in Burma and Bangladesh and supporting so many other victims of religious oppression around the world, from the Sahel to the Balkans.  We're working hard to preserve the fragile communities of religious minorities in areas like the Nineveh Plain in Northern Iraq, which were utterly flattened five years ago while ISIS controlled their territory and terrorized their populations.  These are just a couple of examples along with too many others of the trampling of the fundamental right to practice one's faith.  That right continues to be trampled in more parts of the world, both developed and developing.  We need to work with all of you to help promote the fundamental right to worship a couple of weeks ago I had the honor to sit with Nadia Murad, a courageous young Iraqi Yazidi woman, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with victims of genocide, mass atrocities, sexual slavery, and human trafficking after her own personal experience of having six family members murdered by ISIS in the infamous Sinjar Massacre and then being held herself in sexual slavery.  

You heard her speaking, and her personal story is equal parts humbling and inspiring.  She is also the very embodiment of the interdependence of society's economic development and its treatment of minority communities of faith.  Ms. Murad and I discussed how prior to her own experience, indeed, before she was born, Jewish Iraqis had been violently forced from their homes in Iraq to such an extent that an ancient part of the country's cultural and religious landscape is now essentially extinct.  There is no longer a significant Jewish community in Iraq, a land in which some of the most significant Jewish scriptures were originally scribed.  There is no longer a significant Jewish community in Iraq, a community that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands because the Iraqi government terrorized its Jewish population and forced them to flee, not just their homes and businesses, but the country of their birth.  

This, I'm sorry to say, is the role of the canary in the coal mine, which Jews all over the world have played for thousands of years, from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the pogroms of Tsarist Russia to much of the Middle East and to a resurgent and violent anti-Semitism raging from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Paris, France and beyond.  To borrow a phrase from an American commentator, "The tremors of anti-Semitism are an unfailing sign that a society is in grave danger."  Now, Ms. Murad fears that the same fate that befell the Jews of Iraq could befall her own people as thousands of Yazidis were killed and hundreds of thousands more were driven by ISIS from communities they had lived in for generations.  

Similarly, Christians in that same historic area of Nineveh once counted more than a million,  today, barely a quarter of them barely remains.  Although, ISIS has been militarily defeated, Iranian-backed militias continue to harass and deter those seeking unable to return to their homes.  What a tragic further loss that would be in a part of the world that so desperately needs the leavening influence of divine perspectives and models of peaceful coexistence.  How else can the most rudimentary forms of business and commerce take root; and what hope is there for sustainable economic development and growth without a viable private sector?  Little hope of progress indeed, anywhere that armed groups threaten people from returning home.  

In conjunction with economic and humanitarian aid that USAID has provided to northern Iraq after ISIS, Ms. Murad advocates for a broad-based security settlement to protect ethnic and religious minorities there, so that displaced residents can feel safe coming home.  This is all part of a comprehensive agenda to support these communities that is a top priority of the Trump Administration.  Northern Iraq is far from unique.  In fact, one of our key roles is helping to preserve the ancient but increasingly fracturing minority communities of faith all around the world.  It's more than development aid; it's a duty to history, and in many cases like Northern Iraq, the windows of opportunity are closing.  USAID and our sister agencies in the U.S. Government are working tirelessly to promote religious freedom in extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.  You know or have heard many of the stories.  The Russian Federation banned Jehovah's Witnesses as extremists.  Mosques have been attacked from Quebec to New Zealand.  Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and San Diego make headlines when worshippers are gunned down in prayer.  And of course, China's Uighurs are being reeducated by the millions in prison camps notorious for torture and worse.  

National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman has described the treatment of the Uighurs as a series of more military, political, economic, and surveillance programs that constitute the most comprehensive system of population control and oppression anywhere in the world today.  We must address such crises with urgency and perhaps with something stronger than urgency.  We all seek to shame the Chinese Government into stopping its postmodern cultural genocide of the Uighurs.  That is a cancer of the first order, but as donor countries, we are hardly free of illness ourselves.  

America's racial and religious tensions are played out for the world to see every day from the streets of our cities to the halls of Congress.  In Europe, each news cycle seems to bring new reports of swastikas painted on Jewish graves and violent personal attacks motivated by nothing more than the sight of a Jewish man wearing a traditional skullcap, known as a kippah.  This is in Europe today, the continent where 6 million of its citizens were brutally murdered by their neighbors simply for being Jews.  The world was silent then.  We cannot afford to be silent today as religious communities of Jews, Christians, Yazidis, Muslims, Sikhs, and others are victimized often by their own fellow citizens.  These realities should inoculate us against any kind of arrogant assumption that the developed world, however one defines that term, has moved past some stage of history.  We will never move completely and irreversibly past this potential for sectarian violence as long as we remain the flawed creatures that we are.  Thomas Jefferson is often credited with saying that, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."  That is the hard reality we face today.  We must remain vigilant.  More recently Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, said, "The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference."  We must not be indifferent.  

This brings me back to the metrics I mentioned earlier which we use at USAID to help measure the ongoing progress and sometimes regression of a country on its journey to self-reliance.  As you might expect, a country's designation as self-reliant has a very practical definition: a country's ability to plan, finance, and implement solutions to solve its own development challenges.  Our key analysts have broken this down into a number of areas, like the depth of the country's commitment to democracy, the openness of its economy, and the quality of its education and health care systems.  But we should also take into account a country's ability to protect its minority communities effectively.  Those could be religious minorities, ethnic minorities, tribal minorities, racial minorities, or others.  

When a country protects its most vulnerable populations, it is exemplifying the practice of democracy.  If you look at your programs, you'll see that I was asked this morning to address the conceptual question of how freedom of religion intersects with the journey to self-reliance.  There are countless ways of saying that, of course, some of which I have touched on today, but sometimes a simple question demands a simple answer.  So, I'll say it again.  If there's one thing that I would have all of you take home from here today, it is this: no country can ever be considered to be genuinely self-reliant without effectively safeguarding the fundamental rights of its religious minorities.  This is a critical democratic value in any society.  The fact that this type of protection is threatened in many parts of the world only encourages all of us to redouble our efforts.  USAID's role to promote this fundamental right is in partnership with all of you.  That's a high bar.  But in the eyes of history, one could make a strong case that it's the only bar.  Our U.S. Government programming should reflect it.  How could we settle for anything less?  

So, once again, welcome.  You have a very full day ahead of you, and one I believe will bear the fruits of many new friendships and illuminating discussions.  And I thank you very much for having me here today.

Last updated: July 17, 2019

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