Remarks by the Deputy Secretary of Defense
The Honorable Gordon R. England
Islamic Society of North America
1 September 2006
Friends, fellow Americans, people of faith - Good afternoon! Thank you to Dr. Louay Safi for the kind introduction, and a special thank you to Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdulla, and Dr. Ingrid Mattson, for your leadership and for the invitation to join you at this Islamic Society of North America conference.
Thank you also for the pleasant lunch, and the opportunity to dialog with the Society’s leadership. It was most beneficial to share ideas and values.
It is a profound honor for me to be here with you today, representing all the men and women in the United States military, and all the civilians who serve America in the Department of Defense and throughout the US Government.
In every generation, patriotic citizens of America and of our friends and allies have stepped forward to defend freedom and liberty. I want to take a moment to thank all military veterans, and all those currently serving. We owe them a profound debt of gratitude.
The themes of this conference – “faith, family and community” - are, in many ways, the very foundation of this great Nation. These basic values of daily life are the building blocks for the high and noble ideals of freedom and liberty that this Nation has proclaimed since its birth. The Declaration of Independence, written during the throes of the American Revolution, declares the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
In 1941, when the Nation was again under threat – this time from the forces of fascism - President Roosevelt spoke with hope of a world founded on four essential human freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.
Certainly all of us - everyone at this Conference - have benefited from these fundamental freedoms. Freedom creates opportunity. Freedom is the bedrock that has allowed so many of us here today to build successful careers – as doctors, lawyers, professors, business executives, government workers and many others.
Over the course of America’s history, many people have made great sacrifices to protect and defend this precious freedom, for your benefit… and for mine.
On the 7th of December, 1941, I was four years old. As a kid in Baltimore during World War II, I still remember the blackouts, the civil defense wardens, the ration stamps, and the newsreels at the local theatre.
In my neighborhood, there was a grass-covered square where four to five streets came together, and where we kids used to play. One day in 1945, workers came and put up a sign that said, “Francis Callahan Jr. Square”. The Callahan family lived right there on the square. Their son, Francis Callahan Jr., had been killed at Iwo Jima, so they named the square after him.
The reason I mention these experiences is that the courage of our military in those days, and the will and determination of the United States and our allies and friends, made the life I’ve lived possible – and all of your lives, too. It was freedom that triumphed in World War II.
When the war ended, people felt entitled to a period of peace, but history didn’t cooperate. Rather, freedom again found itself threatened, this time by communism – in Korea, the first bloody battle of the long Cold War.
In those days, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The history of free men is never written by chance, but by choice – their choice”. During the Cold War, the political leaders of the free world made the choice to stand together. They disagreed about many things, but they chose to put security – and freedom and liberty – first. And the shared will and commitment of the United States and our friends and allies won the day for liberty.
After the Cold War ended, most people again expected a peace dividend. Instead, on 9/11, terrorists turned civilian airlines into guided missiles, and killed 3,000 people of 60 different nationalities. Do you know why terrorists killed 3,000 people that day? I’ve concluded that the reason they killed 3,000 was that they didn’t know how to kill 30,000, or 300,000 or 3 million.
But they would have if they could have -- and they are still trying.
The terrorists who threaten us know no national borders. All who love liberty and freedom are fair game for their brutality and aggression. Terrorists, with their distorted ideology, are intimidating countries, and regions, and religions and peaceful people throughout the world. No nation is immune. No people are immune. These terrorists offer no hope for the future – rather, theirs is a bloody campaign against societies that do not fit their narrow view. This is the fundamental challenge of our time.
Just like WWII, and just like the Cold War, once again, the course of history will be decided by the choices people make – whether the terrorists’ path of violence or the far better path of peace, development … and freedom.
It’s also a time of choice for the nations of the world. America – and our key partners – are choosing to help lead the way toward greater freedom in parts of the world that have known far too little of it.
President George W. Bush has said, “We will act boldly in freedom’s cause”. This is not the time for America to pull back from the world. This is a time for America’s bold leadership and for international cooperation and resolve.
While military action against those extremists who do others harm is a necessary part of that resolve -- it is not sufficient.
Another important part of the solution is clearly demonstrating, and making known in no uncertain terms, that there is no contradiction between the peaceful religion of Islam and America’s values and principles. Muslims – an integral part of the fabric of America – are successful in building careers, raising families and strengthening their communities. You, my friends, are the shining example for the rest of the world.
One way that you can make a profound difference in the fundamental struggle of the 21st century is by ensuring that your voice is heard.
You can help bridge the cultural gap both here in America and abroad. I challenge the Islamic Society of North America to be even more active in reaching out to others, and sharing your values, beliefs, and experiences. America wants you to be more involved.
Reaching out to people around the world, understanding their concerns, offering partnership and support, and extending the promise of freedom, is a noble mission, and it is a mission that involves all of us. At the national level, America builds important relationships through a variety of mechanisms such as security cooperation arrangements and Free Trade Agreements – like the ones we have with Australia, and Chile, and Bahrain, and Jordan, and Morocco.
At the personal level, Americans build relationships through business partnerships, and international scientific conferences, and academic and cultural exchanges – the kinds of things many of you do daily in your professional lives.
As the Holy Qur’an says, “O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other”. Accept this challenge to reach out more aggressively, to extend freedom and opportunity, and to build a stronger and more interconnected world.
Yesterday, I went to Walter Reed Hospital with Ambassador Samir, the Ambassador of Iraq to the United States. We visited the severely wounded, many of whom had lost arms or legs in their commitment to a free Iraq. The Ambassador went to Walter Reed Hospital to express his appreciation for their service to the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, not all of our service men and women come home.
One person who reached out but did not come home was Ayman Taha, a Berkeley graduate, a budding academic economist, and a native of Sudan. A few years ago, he decided to take a break from his graduate studies to join the US Army Special Forces. He was patriotic, he believed in the mission, and he wanted to serve. His unit was deployed to Iraq.
Earlier this year, Ayman was preparing a cache of munitions for demolition, when it exploded, and he was killed. His father was a Ph.D. who worked for the World Bank, and what he said afterward was profound: his son was a devout Muslim, who believed that “the message of Islam is very simple – to believe in God and do good deeds.” America is grateful to this remarkable family for their service and sacrifices, and their faith in God and in this great Nation. They are very much like the Callahan family of Baltimore --- of my youth.
President George W. Bush has said, “There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.”
Today we have the opportunity to draw on our own strong faith, our families and our communities, to help extend the promise of hope and freedom to others.
It is not enough simply to appreciate the blessings of liberty. As President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
This may be the defining moment for future generations. We all share the responsibility to participate in the noble cause of extending the promise of freedom. This is not a time to be timid. Rather, this is a time to make your voices heard. Making your voices heard is important and necessary to defeat the terrorists’ distorted ideologies.
I do thank each of you and your families for your patriotism, for your commitment to your own communities, and for what you do every day to leave a more peaceful and prosperous world for our children and grandchildren.