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2012 Pentagon Iftar

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon Library and Conference Center, Washington D.C., Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thank you very much, Major, I appreciate your kind introduction.   I’m honored and pleased to be able to be here at this Iftar Dinner.  I want to acknowledge the ambassadors that are here and thank them for the very important role that they play in representing their country’s interests here.  I want to particularly welcome Congressman Ellison.  It’s great to see you, and an honor for us to be able to host you here.  And I want to acknowledge all of those who are here this evening that are part of this community.  We are a family here at the Pentagon, and you are a part of our family.  We appreciate the opportunity to be able to sit with you and for this evening be able to share your faith.

I‘m pleased that there are many senior government officials from the Pentagon and from the Department who are here and who participate in this dinner.  My thanks, in particular to the Pentagon’s Chaplains Office for the role that they have played in putting together this evening and for maintaining a very important interfaith sanctuary for the Pentagon, for this Department, and for this community.

We’re grateful to be able to host this Iftar Dinner at the Pentagon and share in one of the great traditions of the Muslim faith.

We’re also able to affirm one of the fundamental principles of our country – our ability to freely practice our chosen faith and to be able to worship our God wherever we are. 

Ramadan is a time for Muslims around the world, in this country, and in our military to reflect, to gather with friends and with family, and to focus on their faith.  This year, Ramadan is observed during the heat and long days of summer, so, when that happens and it starts to get late, I’m sure you’re no doubt hungry.  In my own cultural tradition as an Italian-American, I know not to stand between a hungry crowd and great food, so I’ll try keep this short. 

I am, as many of you know, the son of Italian immigrants.  And my parents came to this country like millions of others.  And they came in the early thirties.  They had very little money in their pocket, they had no language ability, they had few skills.  But they came those thousands of miles to this land. 

I often used to ask my father, “Why did you travel all of that distance to come to a strange land?”  They came from a poor area in Italy, but they had the comfort of family.  “Why would you leave all of that and travel those thousands of miles to come to this country?”

My father said that the reason was, “Your mother and I believed that we could give our children a better life.”  And I believe that is the dream that all of us have for our children and hopefully their children.  That we can give them a better life.

In this country, my parents knew that they could find the freedom to be able to not only hold onto their faith, but to pass their faith on to their children and so my brother and I were raised as Catholics because my parents had a deep faith in Catholic religion.

Like millions of others – including Muslim Americans – my parents were drawn to this country because they knew they would have the freedom to practice their faith.  Because they knew if they worked hard, they would have the opportunity to be able to succeed.  Because they believed that if their children could get a good education and enjoy equal opportunity, that ultimately they could enjoy a better life than they did.

Our Constitution guarantees those freedoms and those values.  People from across the world have come here to embrace those freedoms and those values.  Embrace their faith and embrace their diversity.  Our nation and our military are indeed stronger because of the service and sacrifice of people of all faiths, including Muslim Americans. 

The 9/11 attacks took the lives of innocent Muslims and people of all religions.  During the decade of war that has followed those attacks, I am grateful that Muslim Americans have been fighting for America on the front lines.  They have sacrificed a great deal for our country.  On behalf of all Americans, I thank them and thank all of our troops for their service and for their sacrifice. 

We are able to enjoy the blessings of liberty because of their willingness to put their lives on this line for this country.  So, as we take part in this Iftar let us celebrate a great religion.  Let us also be mindful of those serving in our military and also their families.  

Let us give thanks for living in a country founded on the principles of freedom of religion, tolerance, and mutual respect.  Let us give thanks to those who have fought and died for those freedoms.  Let us give thanks for all of those who have come to this country, passed by the Statue of Liberty, in order to enjoy those freedoms.

Let us give thanks, most of all to God, for the blessings that he has given all of us. Ramadan Kareem, thank you all for being here tonight and may God bless you.  

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