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Hughes: "3 Faiths, One God" Film and Discussion

Remarks at "Three Faiths, One God" Film and Discussion

Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Washington, DC
April 27, 2006
(12:00 p.m. EST)

Well, good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us. I want to welcome our members of our distinguished panel and our guests here today. We're very fortunate to have with us today the producers of the documentary, "Three Faiths, One God," excerpts of which we'll be seeing in just a few minutes.

We thank Gerald Krell, his son Adam, and Meyer Odze for being here with us today. With us also are some of the outstanding individuals that are featured in this documentary. Rabbi David Rosen, President of the International Jewish Committee, thank you for coming. We're also delighted to have two individuals who are familiar to us here at the State Department because they've given so generously of their time to many of our programs over recent years, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed of American University and a speaker who gets rave reviews wherever we send him around the world -- I wish we could clone him -- Imam Yahya Hendi, the Chaplain at Georgetown University. And both he and Ahmed Akbar* speak for us and get wonderful reviews from audiences around the world and it's a real treat to have them both with us today.

*Akbar Ahmed

I'm also pleased to welcome the distinguished Reverend Clark Lobenstine of the Interfaith Conference of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area to our panel. And a special thanks to Barry Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, who will be moderating our panel discussion.

This is the second in a series of interfaith dialogues my office has sponsored here at the State Department. We hope they will increase the knowledge and understanding of our own employees as they engage in public diplomacy across our world and we hope that this kind of interfaith dialogue becomes an example and a model that other employers and other communities across our country will emulate.

Faith plays a critical role in the lives of many people across our country and across the world. It's important, I think, that we recognize that as we work to foster a sense of common interests and common values between Americans and people of different countries, cultures, and faiths. As a government official, I represent people of many different faiths and those of no faith at all. I think it's very important, in a diverse society, as we seek to understand and respect one another, that we recognize that faith is a powerful force in very many people's lives, both here at home and across the world. Of course, in America, we have the separation of church and state and that means the state does not impose any religion. It does not mean, I don't think, that those of us in government should never talk about something that is, again, so important and so precious to many people across our world.

I attended a very interesting briefing yesterday by executives of the Gallup Organization, which has been involved in very extensive polling across the world, including in a number of Muslim countries. Asked whether religion is an important part of their personal life, people in Muslim countries overwhelmingly said yes. And the executives of the poll said it's very important that we understand that. Significantly, a significant majority of Americans say yes as well and that's something that people across the world don't always understand about our country, that faith is important to many of our fellow Americans.

Significantly also, asked by Gallup what the United States can do to change attitudes about America in Muslim countries, the number-one overwhelming response was to show respect for people of faith. We have an opportunity today to examine the historical connections of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, to talk about the similarities as well as genuine differences and try to better understand and respect each other.

Throughout history, as you well know, religion has sometimes been used and, I would argue, misused, as a source of division, even as an instrument of oppression or attempted justification for terrible crimes. Today, we confront a violent extremist ideology that seeks to misuse religion to divide people and impose political tyranny through acts of terror. Just two days ago, the world once again witnessed another horrible act of hate against innocent Egyptians. Scores of people going about their everyday lives were blown up by people who have such hate that they are willing to turn their bodies into bombs.

Killing yourself and trying to kill as many other innocents as possible in the process is not a legitimate tenant of any religion and voices from our diverse faith communities, such as those represented here today, are often the most powerful and most credible voices to deliver the message that our different faiths call on us to work for peace, life, and hope; not destruction, terror, and death.

The people in this room, as government employees, religious leaders, leaders of grass-roots organizations, and as those who care a great deal about these important issues can play a very important role in promoting greater interfaith dialogue and understanding. You can help us make it clear that no political grievance or goal, no matter how legitimate, can ever justify the taking of innocent life. You can help ensure that our diversity is not something we merely tolerate, but something that we celebrate and respect. And as we promote interfaith understanding, we must also promote the bedrock on which it stands, freedom of religion.

As Under Secretary of State, one of my strategic imperatives is to make sure that America continues to offer a positive vision of hope and opportunity to people across the world. And that is rooted in our values, our fundamental values and our belief in human freedom. We promote the rights of free speech and assembly, free press, rule of law, limits on the power of the state, rights for women and minorities, and one of the most important freedoms of all, often called the First Freedom, the freedom to worship as one chooses or not to worship at all. These freedoms should be the rights of all people everywhere and they are enshrined in international instruments such as the universal declaration of human rights, which America strongly supports.

I thank you again for being here and applaud the producers and panelists for their efforts. I'm inspired by their commitment to promote peace and understanding not just through their words, but also through their actions. Now with input from the producers, we today have selected -- we don't have time to show you the full documentary, but we have selected four segments that address themes that we thought were important and interesting for our discussion today, including interfaith dialogue, the commonalities within the Abrahamic faiths, post-September 11th reflections on countering terrorism and extremist ideologies, and a look at where to go from here.

Then following the showing of the excerpts, our Assistant Secretary, Barry Lowenkron, will open up the discussion for some discussion among the panelists and then for your questions. So sit back and enjoy. You are going to be seeing some excerpts from the documentary, "Three Faiths, One God." Thank you.



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