I have come today with full knowledge that like all human institutions and all human beings we Americans have made mistakes in our relations with the Muslim world — and I remind you that two years ago from this venue, our former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, made one of the most forthright and honest declarations in diplomatic history of those past transgressions.
I have come today as a person of color with a partially Muslim background but as chief executive of the most powerful nation in the world to remind you not only that we have ties that transcend politics and economics, but that I am a living symbol of past U.S. iniquities and our American ability to attempt to remedy those with a free conscience and free will.
I have come, too, to right a record so badly distorted by our opponents and enemies in the face of often hysterical and ill-informed declarations by some of your leaders and by much of your media and — alas — your religious spokesmen.
I have come to repeat, as I have repeatedly said elsewhere, the United States of America is not at war with Islam, a world religion with more than a billion followers in a wide variety of doctrinal versions and a broad array of cultures. But to the contrary, for more than a hundred years, my country has helped in the effort to move your stagnant and pre-modern societies into the world of economic abundance, extension of human liberties, to give the peoples of the ummah a better, a freer, a fuller life.
But I come to remind you that in the history of modern terrorism, most of the terrorists have been Muslims speaking they say for Islam, and it is the duty of every Muslim who opposes their actions to speak up and join the worldwide effort to subdue a war against the innocents as well as our American military.
I remind you that it was my countrymen with the most noble intentions who built modern universities in your world in an effort to open the doors to new ideas and modern technology which had transformed our own societies over the past 400 years. Ironically, the universities we founded and funded in Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt became hotbeds of Arab nationalism, opening their doors not only to world culture but often — alas! to the most inflammatory and illogical anti-Western agitation.
I remind you, as the Pope did in his controversial lecture two years ago, that such conflicts of ideas — I repeat of ideas — are the essence of the modern world, which despite its failures, its wars of destruction and its inequities has given more people a greater and longer life to seek happiness than any other civilization in history.
I remind you, too, that my country has been in the forefront of bringing this new world to you believers in Islam. It was Western, largely, American, technology which drilled into your deserts and provided you with the untold riches which have produced the gleaming cities of the Persian Gulf. When a few of your unelected leaders chose to steal that property we alone had created, we not only permitted it but found rationalizations that while you were putting a new tax on the world economies, we would peacefully accept your assertion that our technology and our property was yours because it was on your land and we did not want to maintain it by force and offend your sensibilities.
I remind you that it was the President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in his Four Freedoms address in 1941 enunciated the basis a new claim to free yourselves of two hundred years of European colonial domination. It was the United States which led to the enshrinement in UN documents of new goals of freedom and economic progress, which were the beacon of light and hope for many of the leaders of your oppressed peoples. It was my country, from Indonesia to Algeria, which was constantly at the forefront in advancing the cause of local anti-colonial nationalisms.
I remind you that the U.S.A. was the principal sponsor of the United Nations, an effort to give the smallest of your nations an opportunity to express their views of world affairs and assert their sovereignty. If, so often, the UN has failed us and you, it has not been for want of trying by my country which has maintained throughout its existence most of the UN budget and contributed some of our finest talent to pursuing its goals.
I remind you that since the end of World War II, not only have our commercial activities brought new vistas of opportunities to your peoples, but we have over and over again contributed — much of it voluntary small contributions by individual Americans — to your welfare. The U.S. has been there to aid the survivors in calamity after calamity, natural and manmade, whether it has been an earthquake in Pakistan or a tsunami in Indonesia or pouring billions in Palestinian welfare or the refugee camps of Darfur.
I remind you that we have spent literally untold billions on aid programs for your economies. If much of this has been squandered, the responsibility lies as much if not more with you in the way you have chosen or not chosen leaders to administer that aid. Here in Egypt alone we have given you more than an average of $2 billion annually since 1979 in an effort to improve your economy and stabilize your often volatile political world. That transfer of resources, probably as much as anything else, for better or for worse, has permitted the number of Egyptians to double over the same period of time to its present estimated 86 million without the kind of violent explosions we have known elsewhere in the history of population surges.
I remind you, perhaps even more important, that tens of thousands of our young people have volunteered hundreds of years of their young lives to help you to learn to dig wells or raise chickens or play basketball or learn to use mosquito nets against malaria, sometimes, quietly, transforming sections of whole societies, from Morocco to the Philippines.
I remind those of you who see U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan as aggression against Islam of why they were undertaken and what they have achieved — despite all the bloodshed and suffering, not least by our young Americans. In Iraq, we overthrew one of the bloodiest dictatorships in human history, a regime that had willfully destroyed literally hundreds of thousands of its own countrymen, which had deliberately pursued a course of discrimination against one wing of Islam that has brought and continues to bring untold bloodshed throughout the Islamic world. In Afghanistan, we overthrew a regime which had retreated into the barbarity of ancient times, which treated one half of its population as virtual animals reserved for childbearing and menial work and which invoked a code of law as savage as any jungle society.
I remind you that from our earliest encounters with the Muslim world — our two wars on the Barbary Coast only a few years after the founding of our nation — Americans have more often than not been on the side of freedom and improvement of the lives of your people. Most recently it was American power which removed the possibility of nuclear weapons from the hands of mad dictator in Libya who your own leadership has more often not welcomed into your rulers’ counsels. It was, after all, American intervention, again for better or for worse as only history will tell, which created the Muslim-majority ministates of the Croat-Muslim federation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
I remind those of you who use the Israeli-Arab conflict — as the Arab regimes have done for six decades—as a pretext for your antagonism toward the U.S., the Western world, generally, and Israel, that it could have been assuaged long ago. It was the spokesmen of the Arab world and Islam which refused the proposed second Palestinian partition in 1947. It was the Arab/Muslim world which rejected the two-state solution which now seems to be in vogue and is the basis of American policy in the area. And that was done even after the U.S. not only condoned a partition of the old League of Nations Mandate state but has invested billions of dollars in maintaining Jordan, hopefully, as something better for Palestinian Arabs who make up the majority of its population. Nowhere is the double standard you apply to your own beliefs and ours more obvious than in your failure to recognize that more than a million Arabs, mostly Muslims, live in Israel in freedom and relative prosperity but your leadership now says no Jews should live in the ancient homelands of their people in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank[.
I have come, finally, not to apologize for what we as Americans have done in the past toward and in the Muslim world, but to tell you that we are ready with a balanced appreciation of that past, to go forward with new steps to continue and improve the dialogue and our individual and mutual actions. I am proud of the American record of its relations with Islam with all its blemishes.
May God in whom we Americans as Christians, Jews and Muslims for the most part believe, and you in your faithfulness to tenets of a peaceful Islam, bless us all, and as you say, insha’allah.