SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good evening, everyone. And I have to say I’m tempted after you’ve heard the extraordinary eloquence of Rashad and Nadia to just say enjoy the rest of the evening, because what can I add to that? (Laughter.) Thank you both so much.
And I also do want to start, even though this is a celebration, with what both of our friends referenced, and that is the horrific events in Texas. I suspect most of you have had the same reaction. I have to tell you it’s really hard to look at the images on TV of these children, 10 years old, each with their own story, each so vibrant, each with so much ahead of them, and as a parent, as I suspect many of you are, you put yourself in the place of their parents, and it’s unfathomable. It’s just unfathomable.
So I know we all have them in our hearts, and I hope – you said something very beautiful about the need to recommit ourselves to empathy. I hope that that part of the spirit of Ramadan is something that we can take from this evening and every evening, and think about that, think about that in our own lives. It’s so important.
But this is a celebration, and I really want to say to everyone welcome, assalamu alaikum, a belated Eid Mubarak to you and your families.
This is the first reception that we’ve had in this storied room, the Benjamin Franklin Room, since COVID. The very first. (Applause.) And I am very happy to be back here and I’m very happy to be back here with all of you. I think it’s very fitting.
Now, a little bit of history: Benjamin Franklin, of course, was our nation’s first diplomat. He charted the Gulf Stream. He pioneered electricity. He authored the very first treaty of the United States. He helped forge a new ethos of self-government. And he did virtually none of this while sober. (Laughter.) I know that’s not going to be a problem for us this evening, but I’m not sure what lesson to draw from that. But I’m thinking very hard about it.
To all of our distinguished guests, including members of our diplomatic community, thank you so much for being here. Religious and civil society leaders, friends, family, thank you for joining us this evening.
There was an extremely young guest here a few moments ago who I was particularly eager to meet who may have left the room briefly, but it’s wonderful to see – oh, yes, there you are. How old are you? How —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Her. (Laughter.) Ah, wonderful.
PARTICIPANT: That’s my daughter.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So we see the incredible sweep of this community, and I’m – it’s wonderful that you’re here as well.
And a big thanks to start to our colleagues at the Office of International Religious Freedom for getting us all together tonight, for organizing this reception, and Rashad, especially to you for your leadership, which has been extraordinary.
Just over the past few months, Rashad and his team have helped drive our foreign policy priorities forward, traveling, for example, to Bangladesh to meet with local Rohingya refugees; to Mauritania, where they met with government and civil society leaders across Africa to discuss shared efforts to protect religious minorities; most recently to Saudi Arabia, to participate in a forum with religious leaders across multiple faiths to advance interfaith cooperation.
Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with the head of the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, where we together are doing more and more around the world, something that I’m very pleased and proud of.
I also want to extend a welcome to our Muslim colleagues here from across the State Department, and I see a few of you in the room. President Biden has made it a priority to build a federal government that actually reflects our country, and this for me is an absolute priority. And it’s not an act of charity; it’s not only because it’s the right thing to do. It’s because it’s the smart and necessary thing to do. We are operating in an incredibly diverse world, and the idea that we would not bring our greatest strength – our own diversity – to those efforts makes no sense. It would be to penalize our foreign policy.
So we are working every day to build a State Department that reflects the country that we’re here to represent and to take advantage of what is really our greatest competitive advantage in the world. And I’m reminded of that every single day, as I get to witness the many contributions that Muslim colleagues here in the department, both at Main State and posts around the world, are making to our foreign policy. I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful to each and every one of you for helping advance America’s interests and values around the world.
It’s an honor to host each of you here at the State Department for Eid Al-Fitr. Eid is a celebration of so many of the values that we hold dear as Americans and as members of this institution: love of family, the pursuit of peace, a commitment to justice. Throughout Ramadan, those of you celebrating acted on those values as you visited loved ones, you gave donations to those in need, you deepened your connections with your communities. Tonight, we have a chance to celebrate those values and celebrate the many contributions of Muslims and Islam to the United States.
As Rashad said, respect for religious freedom is a core American value. It goes to who we are. It’s as old as this country itself.
As you get a chance to walk through these rooms, the Diplomatic Reception Rooms this evening, you will notice that they are named for some of our founding fathers, many of whom long ago affirmed the United States respect for Islam and other faiths, including John Adams, including Benjamin Franklin, including Thomas Jefferson.
President Jefferson hosted the very first White House iftar more than two centuries ago, when, one night, he asked that dinner be served at precisely sunset because he knew his guest, the Tunisian envoy to the United States, was observing Ramadan. That’s how far back this goes.
Supporting religious freedom isn’t just one of our deepest held values. It is also, like our diversity, absolutely essential to our national security.
We know that when people are discriminated against because of their religious beliefs – whether in their education, in their careers, in any other part of their life – they can’t make their fullest contribution to their communities’ success, entire countries become worse off. And when governments violate this basic human right, it ignites tension, it sows division, which can – and indeed often does – lead to violence, to conflict, to less stable societies.
Today, we continue to see governments, armed groups, individuals persecute people because of what they believe, including Muslims, around the world.
In Burma, the regime continues to commit atrocities against Rohingya, among other religious and ethnic minorities. You all know this is not new. In March, I determined that Burma’s military had committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya. (Applause.)
And by the way, some of you may have heard the case that we made at the Holocaust Museum in laying out what is being done, what was done, what continues to be done to the Rohingya. And I really commend to you the extraordinary exhibit at the Holocaust Museum that – I’m not sure if it’s still on. I hope it is. But it shows the entire trajectory of this genocide, these crimes against humanity. It shows how it starts with seemingly small things, and then builds and builds and builds. And we see this story in other parts of the world. It’s an incredibly powerful warning to us, as well as testimony, evidence, about the fate of the Rohingya. And so if the exhibit is still on, I really urge you, if you’re here, to go and take a look. I think it will resonate very powerfully with so many of you.
And of course, in Xinjiang, China, authorities continue to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs as well as members of other religious and ethnic minority groups. We will continue to do everything we can to spotlight the human impact of these crimes. Just to cite one example, our embassy in Paris recently, a few weeks ago, did this when they heard from two Uyghur activists at their Iftar dinner – and we will work to hold accountable those who are responsible.
As we gather tonight, we remember the many Muslim communities worldwide – including Uyghurs, including Rohingya – who can’t gather with loved ones to celebrate religious holidays because of this persecution.
This department, this administration, will continue to speak up for the rights of Muslims and people of all faiths, including through venues like the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, a network of nearly 40 countries dedicated to advancing freedom of religion and belief around the world. Next week, we’ll actually release our annual International Religious Freedom Report. This offers a comprehensive review of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories.
And this report, in my judgment at least, is an incredibly powerful document. The fact of shining a light on abuses, on persecution, doing it in a fact-based way, and having the imprimatur of the United States Government behind it, can have in and of itself a very powerful effect.
Through our diplomatic posts and our bureaus, we will continue to engage with Muslim communities in the United States and worldwide, so that we can uplift and support the tremendous contributions that they’re making every single day.
We see you as diplomatic, religious, civil society leaders, as our partners in these efforts, because you’re doing the work of strengthening your communities every day. And as Rashad said so well, I can’t begin to overstate the impact and the importance of civil society both in the work that you do and the fact that you hold us in government to account as well.
To name just a few examples: some of you are welcoming and helping resettle Afghan refugees across the country, including Dr. Hashimi. Some of you are Afghan refugees who served as translators, aid officers, locally employed staff in our embassy in Kabul, and we are so lucky and fortunate to have you here in the United States. (Applause.) Still others are helping their communities cope with COVID-19, including by providing mental health support.
Many of you are serving in large institutions, some of you are serving in small nonprofits, but there is a common thread, a common thread that that weaves its way through your work. It’s simply this: You’re each contributing to a stronger, kinder, more prosperous country for all of us.
Together, your efforts are a clear manifestation of the spirit of Eid – a spirit of service, a spirit of charity, a spirit of equality, a spirit of inclusion. So, simply put, to each and every one of you: Thank you for your service and thank you for being here tonight.
Now, we are simply the meager opening act – (laughter) – for what is really ahead of us. We have some young performers from the Virginia-based ADAMS BEAT Choir with us this evening, so I’m going to stop talking and we are really going to start a show. So here you go. And again, thank you. Eid Mubarak to everyone. (Applause.)