USAID Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at USAID's Interfaith Iftar

For Immediate Release

Friday, May 31, 2019
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

 

May 30, 2019
Ronald Reagan Building Washington, D.C.

As Prepared

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN:  The observance of Ramadan is a chance to reaffirm universal values; our interfaith Iftar brings together multiple faiths to share this celebration and demonstrates USAID's unwavering commitment to religious freedom and pluralism.  We gather for this Iftar because we share the universal values that Muslims reaffirm through their observance of Ramadan, and to demonstrate our support for the free, safe, and open practice of all faiths.

Religious liberty and freedom is an inviolable principle of our country, and has been since America's very founding.  Growing intolerance and hostility towards religious minorities is increasingly threatening these long-cherished values.  While freedom of worship is not universally protected around the world, we can be proud of how it remains a core element of what it means to be an American.  At USAID, we are uniquely positioned to make a difference.

Welcome everyone, thank you everyone, and allow me to humbly wish you all a Ramadan Kareem.  As we begin, I'd like to thank Samah and her team for all their hard work in organizing the evening.

Ramadan is a time of deep spiritual reflection.  Through the daily fast, people redirect their attention away from their immediate needs and instead focus on community, compassion, and supporting those in need.  There is a beauty to the logic: in coming closer to others, we also come closer to our Creator.

The fast, of course, is broken with an Iftar.  I remember my first Iftar well. It was at a Muslim orphanage on the islands of Zanzib.  I remember sitting next to my son, then 14, under a mango tree, under the stars, with people we didn't previously know, but then bound together through a need to honor something much larger, much greater than themselves. We were at once family. As we are here tonight.

An Iftar is not a time for politics, national or international, and yet we inevitably reflect upon such worldly things because they sometimes intrude upon the very freedom that allows us to gather as we do tonight.

Simply put, there are too many places where men and women must be afraid to show their faith.  Religious liberty and freedom of worship are inviolable principles of our country. They are at the heart of what makes us America.  They are, after all, what brought Pilgrims to our shores in the first place. Thomas Jefferson felt so strongly that he enshrined freedom of worship into law in a newly independent Virginia when he drafted the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom."

French historian and political writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the mid-19th century, "Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other."

Sadly, recent events have made painfully clear that we cannot take these freedoms for granted as there is a growing intolerance and hostility towards religious minorities.

The tragic church bombings in Sri Lanka, the shootings at a New Zealand mosque, the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, each of these is an affront to all of us.  Each one is a reminder of the need to be vigilant. Even worse, intolerance and oppression of minorities' faiths have effectively become official policy on some shores.

In Burma, government security forces attempted to ethnically cleanse the country of its Rohingya population, prompting 750,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.  Most of those left behind have been forced to live in what can only be described as prison camps.

Since Russia illegally took control of Crimea, the Tatars have faced ever-greater repression and harassment.  It's increasingly difficult-and dangerous-for them to practice their culture, speak their language, or observe their faith.

And in China, 11 million Uighur Muslims have been brutally suppressed, with authorities forcing many into so-called "re-education camps."

Abraham Lincoln once said, "I feel sorry for the man who can't feel the whip when it is laid on the other man's back."  When it comes to protecting and advancing religious freedom, the U.S.-and our Agency in particular-must lead with conviction, courage, and clarity.  We should speak up when that whip is "laid on the other man's back," regardless of his particular faith.

USAID is uniquely positioned to make a difference and stem the rising tide of intolerance.  To promote interfaith dialogue and reconciliation, to foster inclusivity and tolerance, and to uphold citizen-centered, citizen-responsive governance.  I'm proud of the support we've provided to persecuted religious minorities, and I'm encouraged by the new partnerships we've formed, and will continue to form, with faith-based organizations.

And I'm proud to be hosting this Iftar this evening, to bring the USAID family together, in this season of reflection, and this moment of celebration.  Across the faiths, we stand for religious liberty and human dignity-it is the way we honor our Creator and reaffirm His creation.

Thank you again for coming everyone; have a blessed meal, and Salaam-peace be upon you all.

Last updated: November 12, 2019

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