News

USIS Washington File

12 November 1999

Text: Amb. Milam Speech to Pakistan American Studies Conference

(Calls for help to dispel misconceptions about Islam in America)
(2500)

In remarks to the American Studies Conference in Pakistan November 5,
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan William Milam said misconceptions about
Islam in America are damaging to the Pakistani-American relationship.

He called on the audience -- "the professionals who have been trained
(or are being trained) to educate your compatriots about America,
about its literature, culture, history and system of government" -- to
help dispel these negative and erroneous images of the U.S.

Milam said that in a recent poll of a sample group of Pakistanis on
their views of several different countries, including the United
States, "the U.S. was perceived by at least 30 percent of the sampling
as posing 'a major threat to Islam.' One might be tempted to chalk
this up to the misconceptions of the less-well educated, except that
46 percent of the better-educated respondents shared this view," he
said.

The treatment of Muslims living in the U.S. is certainly not a source
of the perception that America is anti-Islamic, Milam asserted. He
pointed out that "the Muslim community in the U.S. numbers some 7
million and is thriving" and that there are more than 1,200 mosques in
the U.S.

The Ambassador stressed that there is no "clash ... between America --
or the West -- and Islam.... The fight ... is against pariah states
and terrorists, not against most governments or people, and certainly
not against Muslims, or Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, and so on.

"The United States will relentlessly pursue the countries or
organizations that commit aggressive or terrorists acts, no matter
what their nationality or religious faith, and no matter where they
are, be it in Afghanistan or Ireland or Mexico," he said.

"America and Islamic Pakistan have similar value systems despite their
cultural divergences," Milam said, and "if we -- and I mean primarily
you, those responsible for teaching the Pakistani people about America
-- can build upon this common base, we can soon eradicate all the
erroneous perceptions held by the people of both countries."

The Ambassador suggested that "we focus on what we have in common and
fortify the academic, commercial, cultural, and political ties that
bind our two nations. Especially in regard to religion, let us focus
on the values that unite us -- and there are plenty of them -- rather
than indulge in empty theories about the clash of civilization
conjured out of thin air."

Following is the text of Milam's remarks:

(begin text)

ISLAM AND AMERICA

William B. Milam
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan
Presented to the American Studies Conference
Islamabad
5 November 1999

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Rais, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very
much for the invitation to speak to you today. I fondly recall my
address to this same conference last year, my first public appearance
in Pakistan as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan.

I initially expected to be away on business today, which is why I
suggested that my deputy, Michele Sison, speak to you. But I am a big
believer in what you -- as educators -- do to fortify the
Pakistani-American bilateral relationship, and when I found out that I
could be with you after all today, I was very pleased.
My apologies to Dr. Rais, who may not be so pleased because of the
logistical difficulties I have caused him in preparing the program for
today's sessions.

Often, as diplomats, we are called upon to formulate new policy --
that's a lot of fun -- or to reinvigorate old policy and push it in
new directions. But today I would like to try to do something we are
perhaps not always so good at, and that is to follow up on an ongoing
issue, in this case the important dialogue we began at this conference
last year, on Islam and America. You may remember that the address I
delivered last year was entitled "Islam in America," and I recall that
you had a panel -- as I see you do again this year -- exploring the
issue.

Follow-through is always a good management practice, but I will admit
that I am at least partly motivated to return to this topic by two
things: 1) recent events in Pakistan; and 2) the results that have
just been released from a recent opinion poll in Pakistan. I believe
these two things are integrally related, and I will explain why as we
go along.

The poll queried a sample group of Pakistanis on their views of
several different countries, including the U.S. I would understandably
have liked to see a more positive overall view of the United States
emerge from the results, but what most concerns me is the fact that
the U.S. was perceived by at least 30% of the sampling as posing "a
major threat to Islam." One might be tempted to chalk this up to the
misconceptions of the less-well educated, except that 46% of the
better-educated respondents shared this view.

I bring this up with you today, not because I have the slightest
reason to believe that you share those views -- in that sense I am
truly preaching to the choir -- but because I want to make you aware
of the problem and enlist your help in solving it. You are the
professionals who have been trained (or are being trained) to educate
your compatriots about America, about its literature, culture, history
and system of government. Despite all your efforts, however, these
negative and erroneous images of the U.S. persist, and I believe they
are damaging to the Pakistani-American relationship.

What are the sources of this perception that America is anti-Islamic?
Certainly the treatment of Muslims living in the U.S. is NOT one of
them. As I pointed out last year, the Muslim community in the U.S.
numbers some 7 million and is thriving. There are over 1,200 mosques
in the U.S., and we were fortunate enough last year to have a
wonderful exhibit at the American Center, entitled "Designed Mosques
in North America," which showcased some of the Muslim architecture
that is transforming America's cityscapes. If you missed it, let me
encourage you to visit the U.S. Embassy home page and check the link
entitled "Islam in America." We have downloaded many of the
photographs from the exhibit there and have also compiled a wealth of
information detailing how American Muslims practice their faith. There
are copies of the U.S. Embassy home page and the "Islam in America"
home page on hand to help those of you interested find the URL's on
your computers at the university or at home.

In addition to the exhibition, the American Center arranged for two
American Muslims of note to visit Pakistan last year, Abdurahman
Alamoudi, the former President of the American Muslim Foundation, and
Dr. Azizah al-Hibri of the University of Richmond. Both shared the
view that some of the most exciting scholarly work being done today in
Islamic studies is being carried out in the U.S., and praised the
freedom that American Muslims have to practice their faith.

Ironically, American academia may bear some of the responsibility for
this strange notion that the U.S. is anti-Islamic. It was an American
professor, Samuel Huntington, who initiated the debate about the
"Clash of Civilizations" in his now-famous treatise by that same name.
I don't think much of this theory. The country I represent, the U.S.,
is itself a society where different cultures have mixed and blended
for two hundred years now -- not always without some rancor and
conflict -- but the history of our country demonstrates that people
can learn to get over their differences and live together peacefully
and harmoniously.

I believe that the primary source of erroneous view that America is
anti-Islam is a perception -- exacerbated by negative propaganda --
that Islam is a monolithic force and that hostility toward one Islamic
country or group is hostility toward all Islam. Nothing could be
farther from the truth.

Because the U.S. resists the predations of an aggressive, hegemonic,
international pariah such as Saddam Hussein does not mean that we are
hostile to Islamic nations such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal,
Mali, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, to list a few only, not to mention
Pakistan. In fact most Islamic States are our friends. Because we
oppose all terrorist organizations, as their primary method of
operation is to wreak violence on innocent people, including terrorist
groups that purport to be acting in defense of Islam, does not mean
that we are hostile to all Islamic organizations. We have no quarrel
with the many that are not terrorist and eschew violence and
terrorism. We are as strongly opposed to the provisional wing of the
IRA or the Red Guards as we are to Osama bin Laden and his
organization, Hamas, and Abu Nidal.

The clash then is not between America -- or the West -- and Islam; it
is between America -- joined by all those who believe in liberal,
open, peaceful societies that serve and protect human dignity and
human values, human rights, civil rights, eschew violence as a way of
settling disputes, and believe in the peoples' right to rule
themselves -- AND those few countries and organizations that prey on
their own people or their neighbors and/or use violence against
innocent people to make political points -- be these points valid or
invalid.

The fight, therefore, is against pariah states and terrorists, not
against most governments or people, and certainly not against Muslims,
or Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, and so on. The United States will
relentlessly pursue the countries or organizations that commit
aggressive or terrorists acts, no matter what their nationality or
religious faith, and no matter where they are, be it in Afghanistan or
Ireland or Mexico.

I am especially eager to lay to rest the myth that the U.S. is hostile
to Islam and Islamic peoples, and I hope as specialists on American
Studies I can rely on your support. I won't claim that America's
foreign policy record is unblemished and without mistakes, but I can
categorically refute the notion that we allow religious considerations
to determine that policy. As a multi-ethnic society which has
enshrined Freedom of Religion in its constitution, that is simply
impossible.

The values I outlined earlier on which all liberal, modern societies
agree I believe are shared by Islam: freedom, tolerance, respect for
human and civil rights, respect for others' views. Sometimes in our
past, all of our countries have departed from some of those values;
but always there is some great man acting in the face of traumatic
events who brings us back to them.

In America such a transformation came from Abraham Lincoln -- who I
personally believe is the greatest American. Lincoln redefined
America, set it on the path it follows today, restored the full range
of its values, made it a new country.

This is epitomized by his Gettysburg Address, the most revolutionary
and startling statement in our history, and only 272 words long. It
took Lincoln only about three minutes to deliver the Gettysburg
Address, yet its impact remains profound and fundamental 136 years
later. Let me quote from Garry Wills' well-known history:

"Lincoln is here (in Gettysburg) ... to clear the infected atmosphere
of American history itself, tainted with official sins and inherited
guilt. He would cleanse the constitution. ... He altered the document
from within, by appeal from its letter to the spirit. ... The crowd
(in Gettysburg) departed with a new thing in its ideological luggage,
that new constitution Lincoln had substituted for the one they brought
with them. They walked off, from those curving graves on the hillside,
under a changed sky, into a different America. Lincoln had
revolutionized the Revolution, giving people a new past to live with
that would change their future indefinitely.

Lincoln does not argue law or history. ... He makes history. He came
to change the world, to effect an intellectual revolution ... he
called up a new nation out of blood and trauma."

"He called up a new nation out of blood and trauma." Could there be
any better description of the birth of Pakistan or of the historical
legacy of its founder Quaid e Azum, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. And Jinnah, I
am told, found inspiration in Lincoln.

Quaid e Azum endeavored, as Lincoln did, to set out a vision for the
traumatized, divided, fragile nation he did so much to create. This
was not a new vision as I understand it -- as Lincoln's vision of
America was not new -- but a restatement of fundamental tenets of his
religion. In his defining speeches of August 11 and 14, 1947m he is
said to have set out a vision of an Islamic state, tolerant,
equitable, compassionate, and free from nepotism, and corruption.

I am not a scholar, and I do not wish to engage in debate with
scholars on the nature of Islam, or any other religion. But it seems
clear to me that the principles that Jinnah laid out for his newly
created country in August 1947 are the same principles that Lincoln
laid out for his war-torn, ravaged nation in November 1863 to bring it
out of the national nightmare of civil war and to transform the
terrible legacy of slavery into an authentic nation of free people.

Neither of these two great men lived long enough to give the visions
they enunciated full shape and impetus. Both their nations have at
times drifted from those visions and struggled to return to them. Now
we have come to another break, another discontinuity in Pakistan
political history, which at the same time is another opportunity to
move back toward the vision of its founding father.

Their two visions, so compatible, so profound, are a firm foundation,
I believe, to continue to build a rich mutual understanding between
our two nations and our two peoples. They demonstrate that America and
Islamic Pakistan have similar value systems despite their cultural
divergences. If we -- and I mean primarily you, those responsible for
teaching the Pakistani people about America -- can build upon this
common base, we can soon eradicate all the erroneous perceptions held
by the people of both countries.

And this is what I would like to propose for our relationship with
Pakistan. I would like to suggest, as I did last year, that we focus
on what we have in common and fortify the academic, commercial,
cultural, and political ties that bind our two nations. Especially in
regard to religion, let us focus on the values that unite us -- and
there are plenty of them -- rather than indulge in empty theories
about the clash of civilization conjured out of thin air.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State.)