Secretary of State John Kerry hosted an iftar dinner last night at the State Department accompanied by a rambling speech that likely irritated those who had been fasting for Ramadan all day.
“I know that Washington being sort of a little bit further north – try this in Boston or even further north, you wait till later. But I know the sun sets late, so we figured it would be a heck of a lot better to have an Iftar here at the State Department than to have a Suhoor,” he said in reference to the pre-dawn meal.
“Every single one of you were invited here because you are all doers. You are all active. You’re all engaged. You’re all involved in trying to make the world a better place, and you’re all involved in reaching out to other people and practicing, if not your faith, certainly practicing the best tenets of how human beings can live together,” Kerry continued.
“And we are celebrating the holiest month of the Muslim calendar year, Ramadan. It is a time for peaceful reflection and for prayer. It is a time for acts of compassion and charity. So to all of you tonight, and to the millions of American Muslims across our land, and to the many more around the world, Ramadan Kareem.”
Kerry said it was “fitting” to hold the iftar feast in the Benjamin Franklin Room, “because Ben Franklin was really our first formal diplomat.”
“And he was also among the earliest proponents of religious freedom in our country. He wrote in his autobiography, ‘Even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service,’” Kerry added. “To find a pulpit at one’s service, to profess one’s faith openly and freely, that is really a core American value. And I’m proud to say, as all of us are who are American here, that it is enshrined in our Constitution, and hard fought for. And it has been at the center of our story, our national story, since the 1600s, when a fellow by the name of John Winthrop, who happened to have been my great grandfather eight times removed, led a ship full of religious dissidents across the Atlantic to America in order to seek the freedom of worship.”
Though he said America “didn’t always get it right.”
“In my home state of Massachusetts, John Winthrop and Puritans overreached, and people ran away from Salem and from other places to found New Haven, Connecticut, and found Providence, Rhode Island, named Providence after wandering a year through the woods in the winter in order to escape from persecution. So we didn’t always get it right,” he continued.
Kerry then took a swing toward climate change, saying “our great faith traditions” need to work together on “our obligations to one another: partnerships for peace, for prosperity, for our people, and for the future of our planet.”
“For many of us, respect for God’s creation in almost every scripture really demands and translates into a duty to protect and sustain God’s first creation. Our response to climate change ought to be rooted in a fundamental sense of shared stewardship of the earth that emerges from that tradition,” he said. “We must also obviously strive to forge a partnership for peace, and there is no religion, no philosophy of life – whether Hinduism, Confucianism, Native American tenets – nothing that doesn’t talk about peace and the responsibilities of each human being to another.”
“I’ve just returned, as many of you know, from the Middle East, and I can tell you the need for lasting peace and security between Israelis and Palestinians, between Sunni and Shia, between so many different minorities and so many different people has never been greater than it is today.”