It’s in my DNA

Hello Folks!

As a Palestinian, I always imagined that my ancestral history was coloured with the many territorial conquests of what is often defined as the Middle East. I’ve always wanted to do one of those DNA tests that tell you where you’re “really from.” But those things can be quite pricey and anyone who knows me knows that I’m living on a pinch these days. Now, somehow, don’t ask me how because I don’t remember, I found out about this free study called Genes for Good that is being done through the University of Michigan. I filled out a couple of surveys and questionnaires about myself and they sent me a spit kit. It was kind of icky, but I got through the spit kit experience and mailed my sample in. Being a free test and all, they did warn me that it would take months to get my results back. There are tons of participants, so it only makes sense. You can’t argue with free, am I right? This week, I finally got my results. The results are a tad general and I’d be interested to get some more specific results, but I’m satisfied and intrigued to learn more about my history.

Here I am. This is me:


I did have the option to request the raw data, which I did. I received it, and while they did give me some instructions on how to read it, I can’t seem to make sense of it. Maybe I can learn more about myself through this raw data, but I could use some help trying to break it down. Any suggestion? Drop me a line at if you have any grand ideas or some user-friendly data software suggestions.

Or just get in touch because now that you know a little about me, it’d be cool to learn a little about you too.

Peace and Pistachios,



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Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture


Cultural programmes intern (Arabic-speaking) Internship posted by: Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Posted on: February 29, 2016

Cultural programmes intern (Arabic-speaking)

Internship posted by: Minority Rights Group International (MRG)

Posted on: February 29, 2016

Internship description

Deadline for applications: 9am – 17th March 2016 (interviews to take place on 21stand 22nd March 2016)

Minority Rights Group International is looking for an Arabic-speaking intern to work on its Cultural Programmes Department. This is a unique opportunity to gain insight into cultural programmes mainly in the Middle East and North Africa region on the project “Drama, Diversity and Development”.

You will work on areas such as network opportunities research, creation of databases, and supporting the team on administrative tasks. You may also be required to help plan trips or events and liaise with grantees (from London office). You should be completely fluent in both Arabic and English. The post holder will learn about arts grant giving in a human rights context – this post will suit those working in participatory human rights methodologies and in project management.

You should also have interest in issues affecting minority rights, some vocabulary in expressing cultural activities, and good administrative skills. We also welcome ERASMUS candidates.

Tasks would include:

  • Administrative support to the project team: this includes but it is not limited to organise meetings, plan trips, filing documents, process financial documents and draft narrative reports or fundraising applications.
  • Translation of relevant documents from Arabic into English and vice versa.
  • Keeping a database.
  • Research on issues related to the programme.

Essential skills / qualifications:

  • Fluent in English and Arabic (mainly reading and writing skills).
  • Excellent analytical skills.
  • Administrative work experience.
  • Ability to work to deadlines.
  • Understanding of human rights.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Ability to work on own initiative (some of the team members are based overseas).
  • Teamwork skills.
  • Some experience in project management.

Desirable skills / qualifications:

  • Fluent in French.
  • A relevant translation degree or previous experience in this sector.
  • Understanding of minority rights and minority communities in the Middle East and North Africa region.
  • Understanding of using cultural activities such as street theatre.

The intern would work at MRG’s offices (London – UK) minimum 2/3 days a week, for a minimum period of 3 months.

How to apply

If you would like to apply, please send your CV and a brief cover letter explaining how your experience matches the skills outlined in this advert, and indicatingwhen you are available to start, how many days a week you could work, and any other information that you think is relevant to

Please write the title of this post and your name on the subject of your e-mail.

You will need to have permission to work in the United Kingdom.

MRG covers travel expenses (up to 8GBP) and lunch (up to 6GBP) for the days you work from the office.

Start date: ASAP



54 Commercial Street, London, United Kingdom

Other Details

Application deadline
March 17, 2016
Owner’s areas of focus

50 Bucket List Goals

What’s on your bucket list?

I have an ever long and ever changing/shifting bucket list. And it seems fitting to reassess my life goals in light of the new year. Here are just a few wants on my list. Some are simple, some are more challenging.

  1. Have my book published

  2. Write another book 

  3. Get funding for a PhD

  4. Get into a PhD program that is right for me

  5. Learn to surf

  6. Get healthy

  7. Go to a dinosaur museum

  8. Be an extra in a movie or show

  9. Learn to spearfish

  10. Own a home and piece of land where I can have lots and lots of animals like donkeys, horses, llamas, lambs, dogs, cows and more.

  11. Adopt and/or foster children tulsa-adoption-attorney
  12. Get a job that allows me to travel and pay off my student loans

  13. Get lasik

  14. Get laser hair removal
    The laser emits an invisible light which penetrates the skin without damaging it. At the hair follicle, the laser light absorbed by the pigments is converted into heat. This heat will damage the follicle.
  15. Start a nonprofit

  16. Take horseback riding lessons

  17. Have friends

  18. Become more flexible

  19. Fly first class

  20. Make someone’s wish come true d760991e995d83172de94452f2319e06
  21. Go cliff jumping Woman_cliffjumping_3307605b
  22. Hang out by a serene waterfall

  23. Name a star dCVnPp3
  24. Have my own private plane and/or helicopter

  25. Be in the fashion industry

  26. Learn to dive

  27. Go scuba diving

  28. Befriend an elephant

  29. Have one of my plays produced

  30. Have someone illustrate a comic book based off of one of my stories

  31. Have one of my stories turned into a film

    images (1)
  32. Learn to draw
  33. Live in a castle

  34. Learn to sew

  35. Go Ziplining zipline-adventure-in-whistler-photo_7325314-fit468x296
  36. Publish a cookbook

  37. Own a car

  38. Dance in the rain

  39. Hang glide

  40. Go to a haunted house

  41. Throw a themed party mall-birthday-party-1
  42. Go through a corn maze cornmaze2009
  43. Witness a miracle

  44. Take singing lessons

  45. Take kickboxing lessons

  46. Learn to knit

  47. Learn to ride a bike

  48. Go parachuting

  49. Swim with dolphins

  50. Meet Harry Styles, cut off some of his hair and sell it on ebay for millions so I can afford to fund my bucket list.  harry-styles-loud-shirt-coffee-los-angeles

Wish List


There is nothing casual about civilian casualties

Are you a Daily Mail reader? I won’t lie, I usually read the Daily Mail for a laugh. Some of these stories they come up with… they’re just interesting and chuckle-worthy to say the least. I do, however, know that I should never read an article concerning a serious matter on the Daily Mail website. But alas, I torture myself every time and even worse, I always scroll down to the comments section to read the vile things people feel so confidently typing, but rarely say in person.

Some of the worst things I’ve read include:

Comments about how “Real” refugees shouldn’t have phones- Many refugees are fleeing war. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have possessions. Cell phones are no longer a first world standard. Get over it because I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of refugees don’t have these fancy contracts and money to spend speaking hours on the phone.

Comments about how “real” refugees shouldn’t be allowed to wear makeup- First of all, I saw the video this ignoramus was commenting on and the woman did not have makeup up. She was and is naturally gorgeous. Perfect contours, skin and thick eyebrows. She’s prettier than all of us put together. That comment was pure jealousy. Plus, considering everything these refugees have been through, so what if she gets to put on a tiny bit of makeup. She deserves to feel beautiful and like her normal self after the torment of fleeing her country and home.

Comments about how refugees are only in it for the benefits- You know what benefit they really want. The benefit of life!!! I can’t entertain that nonsense.

Comments about how Syrians should fight for their country- This is the silliest comment of all. Syrians have been fighting for their country for years. They’re not only fighting against ISIS, you know. They’re fighting against the Assad regime and the US and Russia and the whole list of countries that have been striking Syria. What weapons do these innocent civilians have that they can use against a whole world? The numbers don’t add up. The worst part is so many refugees are children. Do we really expect children to fight? Because if we allowed that the Daily Mail commenters would comment about how child soldiers are wrong.

Comments about how refugees desire to continue their education makes them economic migrants and not refugees- You realize that these people have had their entire lives come to a complete halt. They’ve literally been sitting around starving and waiting to die. A whole generation of young Syrians is growing up illiterate and unable to do basic math or know much about anything other than war. These refugees aren’t coming over just so they can take advantage of university education. No, if they could have stayed in Syria and continued their education they would have. But there are no teachers left in schools in Syria because there are no schools left. The schools that are left get used as shelters and makeshift community centers.

Comments about how “we” should bomb “them all”- That is an incitement of terror and makes you complicit in murder. Just putting that out there, you horrible human being. I have no problem with seeing ISIS and Assad terrorist thugs get blasted off this earth, however the legal thing to do would be to capture them and try them in a court of international law, in which they would be found guilty and live a long and tortuous life in maximum security prisons. But there is nothing casual about bombing an entire city, killing innocent civilians and calling them casualties.

Comments about how everyone in Raqaa is an ISIS terrorist and that if they weren’t they would have left- Yes, Raqaa is an ISIS headquarter. Yes, ISIS controls the city, but is everyone there a supporter of ISIS, no? But to openly oppose it would leave you dead or tortured. Why don’t people leave? They don’t have the money. Sure smugglers could get you out, but where would you go? The smugglers will take all your money, risk your life and leave you penniless on a raft in the Mediterranean or in the desert on the way to a desolate refugee camp or in some other destroyed part of Syria.

Comments judging refugees for being separated from their families- Seriously? Is this the Olympic category for most vile comment made? Because if it is, you win. People get separated from their families in all sorts of ways that most people would find inconceivable. But it happens all the time. Talk to anyone whose family has been through a war or some sort of catastrophe: I can guarantee you that a majority of people will tell you they have at least one family member that ended up alone or separated from the rest.

Comments about how refugees have “such nice tents”- This dude commented on how her tent was so nice that she couldn’t possibly be a “real” refugee and that she probably has all this money stashed away. How deep in the dirt is your head exactly? Much of this type of supplies has been provided by aid workers, charity organizations and normal human people with hearts that donated much needed goods, such as tents. Do you want to live on a tent on a street corner when it’s raining and cold? No, especially since winter is nearing. You’re just a horrible person for thinking this

Comments stating the run of the mill stereotypes- The long list of racial slurs, insults, and stereotypes that I won’t humor by listing. You know the type orientalist rubbish that is slanderous, libel, disgusting and horrible filth, but Facebook won’t take it down because they’re too worked up taking pictures down of women’s bodies.


My conclusions: Firstly, humans are awful. I don’t know how people can be awful. I doubt most of these hateful commenters could handle  day in the life of a refugee. If you really think “we don’t owe them anything,” then you clearly have no idea how complicit our governments are in making Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the world, the situation that they are in today.

Secondly, we haven’t learned from history one bit. These comments– ugh just look at some of the things people said during WWII about refugees. Please and compare those comments to now.

And lastly, I can’t be the only one who sees comparison in 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq with the Paris Attacks and the subsequent bombing of Raqaa.

Civilians, particularly children are innocent and pay the highest toll in wartime situations. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know what the answers to terrorism, racism, discrimination and bigotry are. Offhand I would say education, but we all know the world isn’t that simple.

All I want is for people to think for 30 seconds before they type these horrible comments. I pray your ignorant minds become enlightened with knowledge, wisdom and empathy.


REMARKS: Secretary of State John Kerry At Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies




Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release


October 15, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry At Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies

October 15, 2015

Bloomington, Indiana

SECRETARY KERRY:  Thank you very much.  I accept the nomination.  (Laughter.)  You have twice welcomed me by standing up, and I am deeply appreciative.  I will caution you all to remind you that Winston Churchill once said that the only reason people give a standing ovation is they desperately need an excuse to shift their underwear.  (Laughter.)  I know you had a much more noble concept in mind.  (Laughter.)

President McRobbie, distinguished members of the board of trustees, and distinguished senior faculty and ladies and gentlemen, thank you, Mr. President, for your very kind words.  Thank you for hosting us today.  Thank you all for coming.  And I am particularly appreciative of President McRobbie’s outstanding leadership of this great institution. 

Hello to all of you.  Thank you so much for coming.  Thank you, those of you up in the nosebleed section sitting up there.  I feel that with the size of this group I should have brought my guitar.  (Laughter.)  I’m doing the wrong thing here.  But I appreciate everybody taking time on a very, very busy Thursday.  Life today is always busy, so I’m always appreciative when people take a moment to think about our country, think about the world and the direction we’re going.

For me it is very, very special to get out of Washington and to come here to IU and visit truly one of the finest public universities in America.  Your campus is beautiful.  I landed amidst all the corn of Monroe County Airport.  (Laughter.)  There was a period in my life where I was measuring my life by the height of the corn.  I learned that art.  Your faculty here is absolutely first-rate; your students brilliant – or so they tell me – (laughter); and you are above all a global university with academic partnerships on every continent; and you live in what may well be the number one sports state in our country – with the notable exception of Massachusetts.  (Laughter.)  See, I am a risk-taker.  (Laughter.)

I love the history of your school; I really do.  And IU is tops at one activity that I have followed and participated in all of my life, and that is cycling, which I love and do pretty well at except when I fall and break my leg, which I don’t recommend.  (Laughter.)  I understand that the Little 500 is the marquee event of what you call “The World’s Greatest College Weekend.”  (Cheers.)  And if I remember correctly – which is very doubtful – I think I enjoyed my share of those kinds of weekends a long time ago.  (Laughter.)

But as you know, when you need it, your memory can play tricks on you.  For example, I have managed to completely forget that when running for president in 2004 I was crushed in Indiana.  (Laughter.)  I don’t even think Larry Bird voted for me.  (Laughter.)  But it’s a good thing that I am resilient, and if I hadn’t lost – by the way, did you notice the segue in the president’s introduction?  He said, “And he was the nominee for president in 2004, and then he” – he didn’t say lost, he just said – (inaudible).  Very gentle, very gentle – I appreciate it.  (Laughter.)  I won’t go into it.  (Laughter.)  But if I hadn’t lost, folks, I wouldn’t be Secretary of State and I wouldn’t be taking on what I believe is one of the greatest jobs in the world.

Speaking of good things, I want to congratulate everybody here who played a part in conceiving of and developing your new School of Global and International Studies.  It’s phenomenal.  I just learned there are 70 different languages being taught – 70 different languages being taught, and you have an extraordinary number of Chinese and other students here on campus, truly international.  It underscores why this conversation today is so important, because you can’t function in today’s world without understanding the connection.  I have said many times, from the day I was nominated, that foreign policy is economic policy and economic policy is foreign policy.  And today it’s more integrated and the world is more integrated than ever before – to some people’s chagrin, as we will discuss a little bit today.

But the opening of this school is really in keeping with this university’s very proud tradition, which Dr. McRobbie noted, of helping to explain the world to America and America to the world.  And yes, as he said, we do have to understand each other.  And to do that,dr. mcrobbie you have to listen – not just talk and particularly not shout.

You are very, very lucky, also – two people who have been already introduced twice, but I want to say two word – a word or two about two foreign policy pathfinders who are involved in this endeavor.  Senator Richard Lugar and I served on the Foreign Relations Committee together.  He was my chairman, and I had the pleasure of working with him.  And Representative Lee Hamilton, who I also worked with – together, they were among the two most trusted figures in Washington, D.C., which I know today may sound, to some, like faint praise.  (Laughter.)  But it is not.  They were also and they remain deeply respected throughout and beyond our country for their wisdom, their patriotism, and their many legislative accomplishments.  And their careers are exactly what true public service is all about.   And I thank them – and I know you join me in thanking them – for their extraordinary example of a lifetime.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

And as for Lee Feinstein, I will only say that you’re all going to find out what those of us who know your new dean learned a long time ago:  He is a very smart guy.  He is a very good guy.  And he is exactly the right person to blaze a path for an institution such as your new School for Global and International Studies.  I congratulate him and I commend all those students who are here for discovering what I hope your professors will agree is a legitimate excuse to skip a class.  (Laughter.)

The truth is, I really couldn’t personally think of a more appropriate place to visit than here.  After all, it is the heart of America.  You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care about international affairs.  And I expect many of you are already thinking about what your own future roles might be in shaping a better world.

We are living in extraordinarily complicated times.  I am, as many of us on the podium here I suspect are children of the Cold War, but also children of a victory in that Cold War and of an enormous transition.  And we are witnessing forces that for years were tampened down by dictators and by the Cold War itself.  And all of those forces have now been released into a clash with modernity – also tinges of failed governance and radical religious extremism mixed in just to stir the pot even more. 

And we all know now that there are bad non-state actors.  Almost all the violence as we look back at the 21st – of the 20th century – not all, but almost all – was state on state, when I might comment – and it’s not meant to suggest that any loss of life is acceptable – but far more lives were lost and lost on a regular basis in the course of the 20th century than we are witnessing in terms of trends, even with the violence we see, in the 21st century.

In recent days, we have, however, seen an eruption of tragic, outrageous, and unjustified attacks on innocent civilians who were simply trying to go about their daily business in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.  And it is important that we all remain deeply concerned about this recent violence.  We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians, and there is absolutely no justification for these reprehensible attacks.  And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend its existence.

It is critically important, though, that calm be restored as soon as possible.  And we, the Administration, will continue to stress the importance politically and privately of preventing inflammatory rhetoric, accusations, or actions that could lead to violence.  I expect to be traveling to the region in the coming days, and we will remain very closely engaged in order to support efforts to stabilize the situation.

We are also committed to the people of Afghanistan as they strive to build a more stable, secure, and prosperous country. 

And just a few minutes ago, while you were sitting here waiting for me to come out, President Obama went out publicly to announce that the United States will retain 5,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2016.  This decision is the result of an extended process of review designed to ensure that our fundamental interests in that country and in the region are protected.  Our continued military presence there is essential to give the new government of national unity the support that it needs to implement reforms and defend its population against violent extremists who seek to impose their will.  And it is important to us as Americans who understand what happens when you don’t have governed spaces anywhere and the vacuum is filled by extremists.

I have spent many hours with President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah, and I know that they are both patriots, determined to hold their country together and to consolidate the gains that have been made in such areas as education for girls.  When we went in 2001, there were about a million kids in school, none of them girls.  Today, there are about eight million and almost half of them are young women, girls, going to school.  (Applause.)  There’s been an extraordinary growth in the delivery of health care and representative governance.  And President Obama’s announcement today will help to protect our country as well as to help Afghanistan on this road to recovery. 

But the challenges posed by the attacks in Israel and the West Bank and by the situation in Afghanistan, of course, are not the only signs of turbulence on the global scene. 

Because of new technologies, we may find partners and competitors, allies and adversaries, literally anywhere on Earth.  Each day, there are more people in the world putting additional pressure on limited natural resources, on the challenges of governance itself.  Big chunks of the Middle East and Africa are torn by violence, creating a record flow of refugees.  The age-old problems of nationalist ambitions and religious extremism are testing the resilience of the rule of law.  And the devil’s marriage of technology and terror prompts us to fear that the 13th century battles will soon be fought with 21st century weapons.

Now, to some, all of this may lead to the temptation that in my younger days we called “tuning out.”  After all, why worry about what seems beyond your control? 

So let me blunt.  The complications of this era are neither reason nor excuse to duck our common responsibilities.  On the contrary, it is precisely because of the complexity of this world that we are required to tackle the hardest challenges and live up to the magnificent legacy that we inherited.  If that doesn’t sound easy, my friends, it’s because it isn’t. 

In fact, it will require from us the same qualities of optimism and ambition that transformed the United States from a wilderness into the most remarkable democratic society on the face of the planet.  Because in the midst of uncertainty, I have come to know one constant:  We are a nation of doers, conceived in a revolution against the world’s then-leading empire.  We have survived the burning of our capital, the disgrace of slavery, a devastating civil war, a Great Depression, two global conflicts, prolonged military confrontations in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf, a superpower rivalry, four presidential assassinations, and terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, Boston, and a lot more. 

And yes, we are not perfect.  No one is.  But we are resilient and we are as strong, I think, as we have ever been.

And as we look ahead, we seek not simply to address the immediate crisis of the day.  Our strategy is to lay the groundwork for solutions that will strengthen the community of nations for decades to come.  To succeed in that, we must mobilize the help and the support of allies and friends across the globe because we can’t do it alone.  No nation can.  We have to make the use of – the best use of every single foreign policy tool, from multilateral institutions to the selective and sometimes necessary use of force.  We have to take into account the transformative impact of new technology, a world in which people are connected 24/7 every day.  More people in poor countries still have smartphones than they do have access to running water or electricity.  We need to uphold democratic principles and strengthen the rule of law.  And we have to always be willing to invest in American leadership not because it feels good, but because it makes a difference – sometimes all the difference.

And I believe that we can do all of this – and so does President Obama – with many reasons for great confidence in our capacity and in the road ahead.  Now, there is a perception among some – and some argue it, even some running for president – that we should pull back, turn inwards, don’t have to worry about the rest of this.  Some suggest that the world is increasingly chaotic and even falling into disorder.  Well, I disagree.  Despite the many challenges that we face, as I travel the world and as I talk to foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, people all across this planet, I don’t sense an unraveling of the global fabric; I see a world that in critical areas is actually increasingly coming together.  

Now, let me give you four quick examples that underscore this:  A trade agreement that represents 40 percent of the global economy; a potential climate accord that will require contributions from every nation; a nuclear agreement involving Iran, which the president mentioned, and six very different global powers that came together to help achieve it; and a counterterrorism coalition of more than 65 members, nations all, that carries with it the hopes of good and decent people everywhere.

Each of these initiatives is distinct in purpose, but each requires both American leadership and the strong support of partners and friends.  Each is a product of principle and pragmatism, embodying both what we should do and what we can do.  And each will have an impact that extends beyond the headlines of the day.

First, the arena of international economics and trade.  Earlier this month, our negotiators finished work on one of the most significant trade agreements in history – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – or TPP, as it’s referred to.  This is a big deal, literally, encompassing countries all around the Pacific Rim.  And why should you care?  Why does it matter to Indiana and every other state in the country?  Well, Indiana is not exactly a Pacific state.  But focus on the fact that Indiana’s three leading trade partners are Canada, Mexico, and Japan, and all of them are part of TPP. 

So Indiana’s exports, which are already at 35 billion, will likely increase under this agreement.  And it isn’t just big corporations that are going to benefit.  More than 4,600 Indiana companies export to TPP countries and some 80 percent of those firms are small or medium-sized firms.  In fact, Indiana exports support more than 187,000 jobs across our country.

Now, we should remember that 19 out of 20 of the world’s consumers live beyond the borders of the United States of America.  You’re not going to grow if you just sell to yourself.  You can’t just sell to yourself.  And in a marketplace, a free market – which we believe in – that’s obviously antithetical to everything we believe in.  If we are going to keep building our prosperity – and we must – we have to keep opening and expanding overseas markets.  That’s pretty simple math.

So the TPP is definitively a plus economically.  But it’s more than just another trade agreement.  It is a genuine breakthrough in bringing disparate nations together to raise the international standards of labor and environmental norms.

It is a struggle – this is a struggle, really, that goes back to the dawn of the Industrial Age, when union organizers and muckrakers argued that profits not be wrung from the sweat of exploited and underage workers.  And the reformers said that the global trade ought to be something more than a competition to see which country could pay its workers the least and trash the environment the most.  And they said we ought to aim higher than that.  Well, guess what?  That’s exactly what we did. 

Let me be clear:  The TPP is not your parents’ or your grandparents’ trade agreement.  This is something new.  Consider that every participant in the TPP has to comply with core environmental and labor standards.  Every member has to refrain from using underage workers and unsafe workplaces.  Every one has to ensure that state-owned companies compete fairly with those that are privately owned.  Every one has to fight trade-related bribery and corruption.  Every one has to respect intellectual property.  And every one has to keep the promises that they make, because those promises are clearly enforceable within this agreement. 

Now, I know there are some who hear all of this and say they still don’t want any part of it.  They may still yearn for the good old days when many if not most people worked in one job in one town for their entire careers.  I sympathize.  I too have affection for the past because that’s where I grew up.  But it’s not where I live now, and it’s not where any of us are headed.

Last week I saw a letter in The New York Times written by a gentleman right here at Bloomington.  And he wrote that Congress should both reject the TPP, and I quote, “rethink globalization.”  (Laughter.)  Rethink globalization?  Now, just how are you going to do that?  (Laughter.)  The most powerful country or person on the planet can’t stop globalization.  Globalization is driven not only by technology, but it is driven also by the aspirations of people around the world for an opportunity for a better life.  The truth is that globalization doesn’t come with a reverse gear or an emergency brake.  A thousand different factors drive the jobs market and the process of adapting to it can be very painful.  But it just doesn’t do any good to deny reality.

Now, what does make sense, my friends – and it does – is to mitigate globalization’s downside.  It is to tame the worst instincts of unbridled capitalism and to have the kind of standards and regulations mutually arrived at that protect people against abuse and exploitation.  It is also to make sure that we give every young person the chance to go to college by making an all-out commitment to lifelong learning, by providing support for entrepreneurs, by investing in infrastructure, and by backing institutions like the Ex-Im Bank that help American firms to compete more effectively all around the globe.

That is why the Obama Administration is leading in each and every one of those areas I just listed.  And despite concerns about globalization, polls show that most Americans view foreign trade as an opportunity, not a threat.  And here’s the reason:  You’ve all seen those duty-free stores at the airports, right?  Well, America is pretty much one big duty-free shop.  Seventy percent of U.S. imports cross our borders tariff free.  But that’s not the case with all of our trading partners.  In fact, America’s exporters face a wide range of high tariffs in many TPP countries. 

And that’s why we have so much to gain from a deal that will eliminate over 18,000 foreign taxes on Made in America products – a deal that will help our manufacturers, our farmers, and small businesspeople to compete and win in fast-growing markets all around the globe. 

And what is more, the TPP matters for reasons far beyond trade.  The Asia Pacific includes three of the globe’s four most populous countries and its three largest economies.  Going forward, that region is going to have a huge say in shaping international rules of the road on the internet, financial regulation, maritime security, the environment – many other areas of direct concern to the United States of America, to each and every one of you.

And remember that in our era economic and security issues overlap, as I mentioned.  You can’t lead one and lag on the other.  By voting for this trade agreement, Congress can reinforce the message that the United States is and will remain a leading force for prosperity and security throughout the Asia Pacific.  And that will be welcome news for our allies and friends; a huge boost for stability in a region; an important step, vital to our own wellbeing; and really good news for companies and workers here in America’s Midwest.

Now a second critical area where the world is coming together is actually closely related to the first, and that is the challenge of the global environment – specifically climate change.  And here, believe me, I have heard the deniers and the naysayers for years; we all have.  For a long time, we’ve been listening to their wild theories and their lame excuses:  “Well, we’re not scientists.  So how can we have an opinion about climate change?”  I’ve heard that from United States – sitting United States senators. 

Well, here you are learning and practicing critical thinking in a university.  Are you telling me that the fact that you’re not a scientist means you can’t say that the Earth spins and that clean air is better than dirty air?  (Applause.)  You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know that 14 of the 15 warmest years ever recorded have taken place in this century, which is only 15 years old.  To question the science is an excuse, and there is no time left for excuses. 

The scientific debate may have had legitimacy once upon a time, but it is over.  And let me tell you, there is nothing uniquely liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, American or foreign about wanting to preserve the health of our planet.  And all you have to do is read the scriptures to understand that.  We are all affected because we all share the same fragile home. 

When I first began working on this issue in the 1980s – when I was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, we were working on acid rain, but later in the ’90s in the Senate we had trouble getting people to buy in – the big industrial nations and the big developing ones who were at odds about who had a responsibility to do what and when and how soon.  And a lot of people believed that curbing greenhouse gas emissions was not going to bring – was – it was not going to be good for the economy; it was going to bring their economies to a screeching halt.  And finally, you had a lot of people believing simply what they wanted to believe, that climate change was something for future generations to worry about, not their own.  But now, because of the mounting science and the realities we are experiencing on the ground, people realize none of those objections ever really added up and we have, I think, moved beyond them.

If you’re 29 years old today, the facts are pretty undeniable.  Because if you’re 29, you have never lived with a month – not one month — that was cooler than the average of any month in the last century.  Every year announced is the hottest year.  We keep beating the hottest year.  And this July was the hottest month in recorded history.

And while we can’t trace every particular storm or drought to climate change, there is no denying the record number of extreme weather events that we are already witnessing.  In southeast Brazil, they’re suffering through the worst drought in 80 years.  In California, the worst drought in a century – plus wildfires.  In Malawi, record floods.  In the Arctic, whole villages are in danger.  We were just up there with the President recently, pointing out what is happening with permafrost thawing and the release of methane and the other challenges.  We’re seeing villages in danger of sea level rise.  In the South Pacific, entire island nations are at risk.  Changes in air and water temperatures are affecting the migration patterns of birds, butterflies, and fish.  And we are also starting to see desertification and storms affect the migration patterns of people, and we will witness climate refugees – and already are – in our lifetimes.

And by the way, we’re spending billions – I think we spent more than $100 billion in the last few years just to deal with the damages coming from all of this rather than to invest in new energy, alternative energy, and ways of mitigating and avoiding the damage in the first place.

The good news is that while all of this was happening, something else has been taking place.  First, more people are realizing that over-dependence on carbon-based fuels is a loser environmentally and economically.  Sure, there are still those who claim you can’t afford to transform our energy mix, but the reality is we can’t afford not to. 

We are on the cusp of whole new industries, whole new applications in wind and solar, energy-efficient vehicles, conservation, bio-fuels.  Scientific cooperation and technology-sharing agreements in those fields have become a major part of our diplomacy.  It’s even a big issue in the Middle East, where countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are – Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who built their countries on oil, are making major investments in a regional assets other than petroleum.  It’s called sunshine.  So let’s be clear: Curbing climate change is not only an environmental imperative; it is a chance to tap wellsprings of innovation that will enable us go green and put something green in our wallets at the same time.  To do good and to do well at the same time is not a bad political equation.

To be honest, when I became Secretary of State, I was told that climate change was not likely to be a promising area for diplomacy.  And China was a big part of the reason, because we had been completely opposed to each other at the last global meeting on climate in Copenhagen, and China was leading the charge of 77 nations to say your responsibility, not ours.  China and the United States are now the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, just shy of 50 percent of all the gases.  But earlier efforts at cooperation were nonstarters.

So shortly after I was sworn in in that February date that the president mentioned, I think I went to China in late March, early April.  And I had called them two weeks earlier, called my counterpart and said, “Look, here’s what we need to do.  We need to come together.  We’ve got to find a way to work on this.  And when I come, I have a plan.  We’re going to lay it down, and let’s see if we can do this.”  I proposed the start of regular, formal discussions with China that could break down the barriers and begin to build up our capacity to work together, and laid out every aspect of the issue in a systematic way. 

Last fall, I visited – I invited the Chinese state councilor to my hometown of Boston to talk about what more our nations could do together in order to tackle the problem.  And then in January, after we’d laid the groundwork, President Obama went to Beijing for further talks.  The result was a spectacle that few expected: The American and Chinese presidents standing side-by-side in the Great Hall in Beijing to announce their nations’ respective – their agreement to announce their nations’ respective greenhouse gas emissions targets for the years to come. 

The substance mattered.  It was a dramatic moment of transformation, where China and the United States joined together, and it took away the excuse from less-developed countries.  And the symbolic breakthrough of this coordination was bigger than many of us maybe even anticipated.  Since then, every major economy in the world and 150 nations have come forward with their own set of targets or, in the case of India, unveiled a plan to make massive new investments in alternative energy. 

In just two months, representatives from around the world will gather in Paris to approve what I hope will be by far the most ambitious agreement on global climate ever reached.  And hopefully, it will send a signal to the marketplace. 

Now, there are still many issues to be resolved, but the momentum is building.  And skeptics argue that even a strong agreement is likely to fall short of what is needed.  The answer is yes, it is going to fall short of what is needed.  This is going to prove to be the best that we can achieve at this moment, but it’s going to elicit extraordinary buy-in at the grassroots level around the world. 

Mayors – we just had an event in Washington with former mayor Mike Bloomberg and bringing mayors from around the world together to show what can happen at grassroots levels to move where federal governments are unwilling to move.  And if what we agree to in Paris is considered the least that we must do instead of the most that we can do – in other words, if we treat it like a floor and not a ceiling – then we can continue right on doing more as the technology begins to lower the prices and as businesses begin to make investments that are different in how they power their business, in how people run their communities, because they see that is the future.

In recent months, we have made big inroads in mobilizing urban and provincial governments worldwide to set their own targets.  And the private sector and civil society are treating this challenge as one that we have to meet.  I think anything less would be a felony against the future.  There is a generational responsibility here. 

And the United States leadership has been fundamental and essential in bringing together seven nations to conclude this historic agreement the president mentioned with Iran to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Now that agreement was reached in July, and it will go into effect in three days.  Let me explain briefly why that is so important. 

Two years ago, when our formal negotiations began after we were working on the margins to see if there was a way to come together and have a serious discussion, Iran had a large and rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium, and they were building a heavy water plutonium reactor that was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.  They had, under a previous administration, refused – there was an inability to be able to come together in a discussion at a time when Iran had only 164centrifuges.  When we began our discussions two years ago, they had 19,000 centrifuges.  Experts told us that Iran could, if it chose to, obtain enough fissile material for a bomb in as little as two months. 

But under the agreement that we reached in July, every single one of Iran’s potential pathways to a bomb is blocked – specifically its uranium pathways, its plutonium pathway, and its covert pathway.  Due to massive cuts in its uranium stockpile – which they agreed to – and reductions in their enrichment capacity – which they agreed to – Iran’s so-called breakout time is stretched out from two months to twelve months or more for at least a decade or more. 

And because of the unprecedented monitoring and verification requirements that are part of the agreement, we will know if they try to cheat.  And after that 10-year period, there’s still a 15-year requirement, there’s a 20-year requirement, there’s a 25-year requirement, and there’s a lifetime requirement.  And if at any time, during which we are always allowed inspections and verification, if they were to try to cheat, we will know.  Our intelligence community and Energy Department are convinced we will know.  And we will be able to re-impose sanctions, or if necessary, stop them by other means. 

Now, as a result, Iran has every reason to live up to its obligations – just as it has, by the way, throughout the negotiating process, because we actually struck an interim agreement to begin with that tested their bona fides and required them to roll back their program, and they’ve already done that over a two-year period.  So make no mistake – the most fundamental provisions of this agreement, including the IAEA inspections and protocols, have no expiration date whatsoever.  They are forever.  That means that Iran will be prevented and prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon forever. 

Now, this agreement came together as a result – (applause).  This agreement came together as a result of tough diplomacy that extended over two presidencies, and we began with sanctions but sanctions were a means, not an end.  Only by direct negotiations with support from a broad array of partners – including Russia and China, by the way – were we able to convince Iran’s top officials to accept the severe limits on their nuclear program.  And we are moving now to the implementation stage, and it is essential that we will maintain our vigilance, our unity of approach, and our common purpose.  Now, the Middle East remains a deeply troubled place, but every problem in the region would be made much worse if countries were to move towards nuclear weapons.  The Iran agreement is the best way to ensure that this possibility is foreclosed now and for all time.  And every nation in the region – including our key allies – is safer because of this agreement.

Now, there’s a fourth, final challenge I just want to mention that may well be the defining challenge of our generation, and that is the fight against international terrorist organizations.  Country after country, from the Maghreb in Northern Africa through the Middle East to South Central Asia and into Asia, have populations with millions of kids, millions of young people.  In many cases, these countries are 65 percent if not 60 percent under the age of 35, 30; 50 percent under the age of 21; 40 percent under the age of 18.  And if these kids do not get a chance at education and they have no opportunity because of corruption and bad governance and their states are failing, we will feel it.  Already we know this from ISIS and al-Qaida and other entities. 

So the United States has, under President Obama’s leadership, taken the lead in building more than a 65-member coalition to take on ISIL.  And we are working every multilateral fora to engage states, civic organizations, NGOs, faith-based groups, in the fight against violent extremism.  As I speak, not a single country sponsors or endorses the kind of vicious and indiscriminate violence perpetrated by such groups as Daesh/ISIL in the Middle East, or al-Shabaab in East Africa, or Boko Haram in West Africa.  And the reason is that opposition to international terrorists and repugnance at their actions has become a powerful unifying force.  And that is as it should be, because these terrorists are so depraved they give new meaning to the word “evil.”  Their crimes go way beyond theft and destruction.  They are smuggling and extorters.  They destroy ancient cultural treasures.  They attack schools, and by the way, by attacking those ancient treasures, attack all of history and all of culture and all of our values.  They butcher teachers.  They kill people because of who they are, what they believe.  A Jordanian pilot burned alive, beheading innocent journalists, abducting boys to turn them into killers, literally auctioning off terrified girls in modern-day slave markets complete with notarized sales contracts, and using the term “marriage” to describe what is actually systematic rape – and rape used not just as an instrument of war, but as a way of life.

These terrorists would like the world to believe that all of this is being done in response to God’s will.  Well, to use a diplomatic term of art, that is complete and utter garbage.  The breakdown of regional order coupled with Daesh’s ability to manipulate social media have obviously enabled it to recruit and occupy some territory.  And what they appeal to are these minds that are left out there, people who don’t feel they have an alternative opportunity. 

Now, none of that means they’re going to succeed in the long run automatically.  Leaders of Daesh claim to be creating a pure Islamic state.  But the reality is that their values are not Islamic, their state is a fiction, and they have nothing real to offer anyone except destruction and death and “live my way exactly as I tell you to.”  I believe Daesh is doomed to fail.  But it has the ability to inflict immense suffering between now and when that failure is fully realized.

So we must therefore hasten its decline, and we are.  The 65-member U.S.-led global coalition to counter Daesh has only been in place for a year.  People forget that.  Fourteen months ago, it didn’t even exist.  But we’ve already accomplished a lot.  Together with our local partners, the coalition and the United States have launched thousands of airstrikes, forced Daesh to change how it conducts military operations, forced them underground, impeded its command and control, rescued a religious minority on Sinjar Mountain, driven the terrorists from the critical border town of Kobani, liberated the city of Tikrit where we saw 100,000 Sunni be able to return to their home in Tikrit which was occupied by ISIL previously.  We’ve protected Baghdad, secured the Turkish-Syrian border east of the Euphrates River, and we’re working on the west.  And the coalition continues to strike Daesh targets in both Iraq and Syria, degrading its leadership and putting it under more pressure than ever before.

Meanwhile, our allies are taking a more active role.  And President Obama recently gave a green light to sending higher quantities of ammunition and other aid to our partners on the ground.  In Syria, we see a chance to increase pressure on Daesh from more than one direction, especially if Russia makes good on its commitment, repeated many times, to help.  The point we have made to the Russians, however, is that it would be totally self-defeating to the point of farce to try at the same time to prop up Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime, which seems to be precisely what Moscow wants to do.  And I have reminded the Russians the Syrian civil war began because Assad responded to peaceful youth demonstrations, part of the Arab Spring, by sending in thugs to beat people up.  And when the parents objected to how their kids were treated and they turned out to protect their children, the regime responded by firing bullets.

Having made peaceful change impossible, Assad made violence inevitable and thereby paved the way for Daesh to emerge.  The fact is that to this day, Assad and Daesh feed off of each other because the cruelty of each drives the desperate into the arms of the other.  And this cycle of horror has to stop.  Almost a quarter of Syria’s population has been forced to flee the country.  The international impact is absolutely heart-wrenching. 

I met with some of these refugees in Berlin a few weeks ago.  And the United States has proudly contributed more than 4.5 billion in aid, and President Obama has just pledged an additional 400 million.  We’ve also increased by sixfold the number of Syrian refugees that we will welcome to America. 

But the reality is there will be no end for the refugee crisis until there is an end to the conflict itself.  That is and has been our goal.  (Applause.)  And I literally leave tomorrow morning to go abroad to begin conversations that will take us through the next weeks to see if we can find the way to do that.  That is why we have supported human rights monitors and war crimes investigations.  We’ve pushed hard for humanitarian access.  We work closely with a broad array of opposition groups.  And we have provided equipment and training to moderates.

We also led a successful international effort to eliminate Syria’s declared inventory of chemical weapons.  Remember that.  People forget that.  The President gets criticized because he didn’t drop a couple of bombs for 10 hours, but that wouldn’t have gotten rid of the chemical weapons.  But because he was ready to do it and announced he was ready to do it, we were able to strike a deal with Russia and we got all of the declared chemical weapons out of Syria – the first time in the history of human conflict that weapons of mass destruction have in total been taken out of a country while that conflict is going on.  Imagine if we hadn’t done that and Daesh got those weapons.  (Applause.)  Imagine the devastation that the terrorists would have at their fingertips if they’d gotten ahold of an entire arsenal of sophisticated, lethal chemical arms.

Now, to find a way out of this hell, we have to change the political order of battle.  This is basic, and it begins with a crystal-clear understanding that the choices between Assad and Daesh is no choice at all. 

What does that mean?  It means that we have to bring together all who oppose both despotism and terrorism, and the way to do that is through a diplomatic process that gives hope to every Syrian who wants to marginalize the extremists and put in place a government capable of uniting and leading the whole country.

For Russian leaders, the choice is clear.  They can join in supporting a plan to drive Daesh back and create room for a more unifying set of Syrian leaders, or they can invest their arms and prestige on behalf of a dictator who is despised by the vast majority of his countrymen and hated throughout much of the region.  Whatever Russia does, the United States will continue to support a future for Syria that rejects both terror and tyranny and that seeks instead to end the killing and build a more stable and inclusive future.

So I come to you today to describe an America that is more engaged in more parts of the world, with more initiatives to bring about change and more development efforts, than in any time in American history. 

In Europe, we are standing firm with Ukraine. 

We’ve led the charge against Ebola, and just recently it was announced, after the predictions of a million people dying by last Christmas, that those countries are Ebola-free. 

Due primarily to the leadership of America and its partners – not just now, but over the course of decades – a child born today, girl or boy, has a far better chance than a child born at any previous time to survive infancy, to get the nutrition needed to grow up healthy, to attend school, to have a basic medical care, and to live to the age of 70 or more.

In recent years, the world has cut in half the percentage of people living in extreme poverty.  And with U.S. contributions showing the way, we are making steady progress towards the first AIDS-free generation in more than 30 years.  (Applause.)

Closer to home, President Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba following a breach of some 54 years. 

We’re also helping Colombia to negotiate an end to its 50-year war with the rebel group FARC, one of the longest-running conflicts on Earth.

In the Asia Pacific, we have embarked on a historic shift in approach that reflects the rising importance of the region, reinvigorating our traditional alliances and developing a relationship with Beijing that includes frank discussions on almost every single topic.

Now, no one makes all of this work more possible than the young men and women who are on the front lines every day protecting America’s interests.  And they deserve, whether in uniform or out, our eternal gratitude for the risks that they take.  I know – (applause) – I am privileged to see them at work all the time, and I see people in our diplomatic outposts who are literally putting their lives on the line for our country, many in lands of widespread poverty and insecurity. 

And they don’t just go abroad to sit behind barriers and talk to each other.  They go because they want to be the voice on the other end of the phone when Americans who are traveling get in trouble.  They want to help our businesspeople establish contacts that can create jobs.  They want to show that the United States cares when journalists or human rights workers or democracy advocates or religious groups are persecuted.  And they want to sit down with foreign officials to plan how our nations can best help each other now and in the future. 

Remember, leadership isn’t just a button that you push in a time of emergency.  Leadership must be backed by resources and it can’t be sustained on the cheap.  Ask any pollster, and she will tell you that the average American believes we spend as much as 25 percent – some even say 50 percent – of our national budget on foreign aid.  In fact, my friends, aside from Defense Department, everything we do in diplomacy, all of our USAID, all our development work, all of our diplomats, all of our outreach is one penny on the dollar, one dollar on a hundred dollars spent.  I repeat: one dollar out of every hundred.  And most of that money is devoted to helping other countries help us – by safeguarding nuclear materials, countering terrorism, defeating international crime syndicates, assisting U.S. travelers, and so on.  When we cut back on these funds, we make it harder to defend our citizens and harder for America to lead.  We are hurting ourselves.

So to all those of you here who are thinking about a future, I invite you to come and join us.  Join the State Department.  Apply to the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.  Contact the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Enlist in the Peace Corps.  Or participate in one of the many partnerships the State Department has forged with diaspora communities, faith-based groups, and students such as yourselves.  I ask you a simple question:  Would you rather spend the next 40 years complaining about the world or would you like to try to improve it? 

Your country needs you.  (Applause.)  We need you, and we need you in all your diversity.  Because if there is some stereotype in your mind about what a diplomat is supposed to look like, please forget it.  I guarantee that no matter what your personal background might be, we have people in high positions who have a huge amount in common with you.  The reason is that our country has no greater diplomatic asset than this: the culture and creed of virtually every country on the planet is represented somewhere within the population of the United States of America.  We are an idea – not a bloodline, not an ideology – but an idea that all people are created equal.  And I urge you to find the specialty that suits you most and become part of America’s team.

In closing, I share, very quickly, a story that underscores the difference that each person can make, and those of us of my generation grew up with a deep belief in our ability to change things.  That’s what the ’60s and ’70s were about.

In April of 1968, three days away from Indiana’s presidential primary election, our country was divided as never before by an – no, I can’t say “as never before,” obviously, the Civil War – but certainly through the 20th century.  And we were divided by the war in Southeast Asia – where, at the time, I was serving in the Navy, as President McRobbie said.  America was also deeply split by social tensions here at home.  The mayor of Indianapolis spent most of that April 4th – his 36th birthday – arranging security for a presidential candidate, Senator Robert F. Kennedy. 

And the sky had just begun to grow dark when the mayor was informed late that afternoon that at a motel in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated.  The police worried that they would not be able to protect Kennedy if he went ahead with his scheduled speech before a crowd not yet aware that a great civil rights leader had been killed.  Kennedy was determined to proceed.  He stood on a flatbed truck at the corner of 17th and Broadway and began by telling his listeners what they could not bear to hear.  There were sobs of anguish and gasps of disbelief.  And the news hit the country like a hammer.

But Kennedy spoke that night not of violence and bloodshed but of compassion and love.  He acknowledged the agony that many in the audience were feeling because of the assassination of such a great African American leader by a white man.  He mentioned the killing of his own brother, also by a white man.  And then he said:  “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”  And he asked the people of Indianapolis to pray, and to dedicate themselves, in the words of an ancient poet, “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” 

The city’s mayor wrote later:  “It was one of the most remarkable moments in history, a magnificent statement to a shocked group of people.”  The mayor saw Kennedy back to his hotel, and then spent the next days himself reaching out on street corners, in church basements, and on television trying to keep the fabric of the community he loved from unraveling.  He succeeded.  In Indianapolis, unlike many U.S. cities that month, there were no riots, no destruction, no eruption of hate.  The reasons for that included Senator Robert Kennedy, a Democrat, and a Republican mayor who had been on the job for just three months: Richard Lugar.  (Applause.)  

So my friends, Robert Kennedy also gave one of the great speeches that inspired me in South Africa when he talked about how each of us can make a difference, that each time a man or woman strikes out against injustice or works to improve the lot of others, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope which, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. 

I hope that you will leave here inspired and driven by that goal of bringing people together but on a broader canvas. 

I hope we will go out of here with the purpose of creating an ever-stronger global community, open to all, demanding of each, intimidated by none; a community not of governments alone but of people from all walks of life and from all countries bound together by a shared faith in the freedoms of thought, speech, press, and religion; a community committed to peace, respectful of nature and its limits, and dedicated to upholding the fundamental dignity of every human being.

Thank you for the privilege of being with you.  (Applause.)


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REMARKS: Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein At the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom


Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release


Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein

At the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom


Press Briefing Room

Washington, D.C.

October 14, 2015

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  I want to thank the Secretary, not just for his remarks; he made a number of commitments of support for this work when I came on, and he has more than fulfilled those commitments.

The Annual International Religious Freedom Report provides an important opportunity for the United States to highlight an issue that continues to be a foreign policy priority for the Administration, documenting how, where, and when the universal right of freedom of religion or belief was violated or protected in every corner of the world.

Through the immense effort of countless State Department officials, particularly our knowledgeable and tireless staff of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington, as well as dedicated staff in each one of our embassies across the globe, the 2014 report maintains the high standards of objectivity and accuracy for which we strive.

A little over a year ago, I stood at a podium next to Secretary Kerry here in this room when he announced my nomination for the position of Ambassador-at-Large, and during my 10-month tenure I have been gratified by the support from both the Secretary and the President in implementing so many of the priorities I identified in my confirmation hearing and my swearing-in speech.  We have since increased the number of staff in my office, allowing us to expand our country monitoring work and better address a variety of issues – from the importance of religious freedom and countering violent extremism to the terrible global impact of blasphemy laws.  Simultaneously, we have expanded foreign assistance programs that strengthen religious freedom. 

I’m also deeply appreciative of President Obama’s and Secretary Kerry’s support for the appointment of Knox Thames as special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia; I’m delighted that he’s able to be with us today.  Knox will build upon our already intense efforts on behalf of these minorities over the past year, including our work to protect Yezidis in those early days and weeks on Mount Sinjar in Iraq and the Assyrian Christian communities of the Khabur River area of Syria.  Knox will help guide the U.S. Government-wide efforts to promote conditions in these countries that will allow members of displaced minority communities to be able to return home.

Since January, I’ve also worked to build deeper partnerships with foreign governments to advance religious freedom as these global challenges require a global response.  Thanks to the leadership of my Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we have forged an intergovernmental contact group bringing together likeminded nations to devise common strategies to promote and protect religious freedom for all.

Now, during my tenure I’ve noticed certain enduring truths.  In many countries, religious freedoms flourish; people are free to choose their faith, change their faith, speak about their faith to others, teach their faith to their children, dissent from religion, build places of worship, worship alone or in fellowship with others.  In such societies, denominations and faith groups organize as their leaders and members see fit.  Interfaith cooperation flourishes, religious communities contribute significantly to the social welfare and serve as a moral compass to their nations.

Yet in far too many countries people face daunting, alarming, growing challenges on account of their beliefs.  In countries where once proud traditions of multi-faith cooperation, positive coexistence was the norm, we have witnessed growing numbers of religious minorities being driven out of their historic homelands.  And in too many countries, prisoners of conscience suffer cruel punishment for their religious beliefs and practices.  This report gives a voice to all those around the world who are seeking to peacefully live their lives in accordance with their conscience or religious beliefs.

In the pages of this report, we strive to put a human face on this incredibly important human right that touches so many people across the globe and remains central to the identity of the American people.

A number of trend lines stood out in this year’s report.  The first one, the Secretary has already mentioned, is the single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge, and that is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction. 

In both Iraq and Syria, Daesh has sought to eliminate anyone daring to deviate from its own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam.  Targets include non-Muslims, Shia, Sunnis alike.  It has displaced individuals from their homes based on their religions or ethnicity.  Similarly, Boko Haram has killed thousands in both indiscriminate violence and deliberate attacks on Christians and Muslims who oppose its radical ideology.  It has subjected the peoples of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to unspeakable acts of terror, sexual violence, abductions, and fatal attacks on places of worship.

Secondly, the impact of blasphemy laws and apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and in a number of others – as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from offense.  The United States uniformly opposes such laws which are used to oppress those whose religious beliefs happen to offend the majority.  Such laws are inconsistent with international human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we will continue to call for their universal repeal.  The existence of such laws has been used in some countries as pretext to justify violence in the name of religion to create an atmosphere of impunity for those resorting to violence and/or leads to false claims of blasphemy.

Third, repressive governments routinely subject their citizens to violence, detention, discrimination, undue surveillance, for simply exercising their faith or identifying with a religious community.  We see this dramatized by the plight of countless numbers of prisoners of conscience.  We remain deeply committed to seeing such individuals freed everywhere in the world.

In my travels to Vietnam, I saw firsthand how religious groups are forced to undergo onerous and arbitrary registration process to legally operate.  As Vietnam considers amending its religion laws, we stand with the country’s religious communities in calling for the easing of such restrictions.  And in Burma, Ambassador Bennett of Canada and I spoke out forcefully together against a series of discriminatory laws banning interfaith marriage and restricting conversion.

Many governments have used the guise of confronting terrorism or extremism to broadly repress religious groups for nonviolent religious activities, or by imposing broad restrictions on religious life.  Russia continues to use vaguely formulated anti-extremism laws to justify arrests, raids on homes and places of worship, and the confiscation or banning of religious literature.  Tajikistan bans people under age of 18 from participating in any public religious activities, supposedly on the ground that exposure to religion will lead youths to violence.  Chinese officials have increased controls on Uighur Muslims’ peaceful religious expression and practice, including instances of banning beards and headscarves. 

And a word about China:  During my visit in August, I found that despite widespread, continuing government abuses and restriction, many places of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing.  In areas of the country where the government’s hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operating homeless shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens, made highly positive contributions to the wellbeing of their society.  We’ve urged the Chinese Government to use that as a model of what can work nationwide.  But far more often restrictive policies still stifled religious life, preventing Chinese people from experiencing such benefits.  This reality has only been exacerbated by the growing crackdown on human rights lawyers in China, including those seeking to work within China’s legal system to enhance religious freedom.  And this does include Zhang Kai, a peaceful, respected, Christian human rights lawyer who was detained just prior to a meeting with me and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

A fourth trend is the role of societal violence and discrimination, that which emanates not from the government itself but from other societal groups.  And the question is:  What does the government do to try and ameliorate the conditions that lead to such violence, and what does it do to protect harassed minority communities?  In Europe, many governments are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks such as those in France, Belgium and Denmark, along with increased anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim actions and sentiments.  As hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others have fled into Europe in recent weeks, we urge governments to uphold their obligations for humane treatment of refugees and ensuring that individuals do not face harassment or discrimination on account of their Muslim faith.

Now, despite these many challenges detailed in our report, we also see governments and individuals working to improve their communities and societies.  Following the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February, thousands of people of different faiths formed in Denmark a human ring outside the synagogue where the murder occurred.  In September of 2014, Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional court ruled part of the country’s problematic religion law unconstitutional, a decision we hope will ease registration requirements for minority religious groups and enable members to engage in peaceful religious activities more freely.

After years of growing religious tensions and violence in Sri Lanka generated by hardline ethnic Buddhist groups, a new government has taken office and staked out a much more tolerant view of religious diversity.  Since that time, some of these tensions have noticeably eased. 

In closing, while the challenges are daunting, we are deeply inspired by the work of countless religious communities, civil society organizations, and individuals around the world working alongside us to ensure that their governments live up to their international commitments to protect freedom of religious and belief.  We dedicate our work to their struggle and continue to fight for a world in which every individual is free to live out the core of his or her conscience.

I’m now happy to answer any questions.

MR TONER:  Any takers?  Go ahead, David.

QUESTION:  You’ve sketched out a number of things that are going badly and a few things that are going well.  Is it possible to look at a global trend?  Are things better than they were when you took office or worse, globally?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  If you look at the Pew reports that I believe are a year behind our reports, over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that are – that have serious restrictions on religious freedom.  And of course, as both the Secretary and I pointed out, the escalation of the violence perpetrated by non-state actors, often in the name of their interpretation of religion, is a new phenomenon that has really escalated in the last 18 months.  So on that level, there are trends that are deeply troubling.

At the same time, if you look and for – just take one example in Europe, and you look at the acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim activity that took place, across Europe leaders of the different countries and civil society leaders and religious leaders have all spoken out condemning these acts, taking steps to help prevent these acts, standing in protection of minority communities with many governments deploying either police or militia to protect endangered minority communities.  And we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.

So it’s hard to give you the sum between the dangerous and the encouraging parts of it.  This report doesn’t make those kinds of judgment.  It just states in facts what is happening in each and every country. 

MR TONER:  Barbara.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up the China situation, have the Chinese Government responded in any way to your questions about the detention of this Zhang Kai, I think his name is?  And also, what are the circumstances of the people who were detained around the same time?  And sorry – finally, how do you explain that balance or that kind of mixed message between religious – a certain amount of religious freedom or expression, but on the other hand increasing restrictions, especially when you were actually there?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  So let me clarify what the situation was.  At the very end of our time in mainland China, these detentions took place.  One was of somebody – someone with a human rights legal background who had met with us to give the analysis that that person brought to bear on the subject, who was detained the next day in house detention. 

About 10 of the people from the community of Wenzhou – now that, I’m sure, many of you have read about.  That’s a community where there’s been an escalation of efforts to take down crosses from a few hundred churches, to dismantle some churches in Wenzhou.  And we wanted to meet with people there.  We were denied permission to actually travel there, but we were allowed to go to the capital of that province.  And that group of people – including three human rights lawyers, four pastors from the area, three or four other activists, a group of about 10 people – were all detained. 

Several of them have been released.  Several of them still face the possibility of charges.  And with Zhang Kai, who really is one of the most respected human rights lawyers in China, someone who has argued over and over again that they have to work within the legal system of China in order to win these battles and has proved very skilled at doing that, representing a range of religious groups, he and I believe one or two or the others are still in locations where we’re not sure where they are.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  And on – our human rights bureau has reached out in all their encounters.  We’re trying to talk about these problems in a structural level.   We have continued to ask questions.  We will continue on this.  And we hope that we will get answers.

Just on one foot – again, the report doesn’t make the judgments about why these disparity of experiences, these encouraging signs and these deeply discouraging signs, live side by side in the same country.  It just sets out the facts and allows you folks to provide the interpretation. 

MR TONER:  Nicole.

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this, Mr. Ambassador.  The report talks about a wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe in 2014 that crossed the line into anti-Semitism.  And I’m wondering if you could explain to us how you defined where that line was.  What constituted anti-Israel action or sentiment versus anti-Semitic?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  We actually have a very brief paper on that.  If you’d like, we can provide that to you.  But just very quickly here, criticism of the public policy of any nation – Israel, the United States, China, a European nation, African nation, Asian nation – no matter what the nation is, that’s appropriate.  That’s part of the free marketplace of ideas and discourse. 

Where it has often crossed the line is when groups try to argue that Israel is an inherently illegal state and doesn’t have a right to exist as a Jewish state here and takes actions to de-legitimize those fundamental rights.  It comes – it’s right on the cusp of that line when it holds one country to different standards than it would hold any other country.  Normally we think of that as the denial of rights to a person that are given to other similarly situated people, or the imposition of obligations on a person not applied to other people.  We normally think of that as racism.  And this, in the minds of many, feels that when it steps over that line, that it constitutes anti-Semitic activity and not just anti-legitimate discourse about Israel’s policies.

MR TONER:  In the back.  Michele.


QUESTION:  Hi, how are you?  When you look at what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, would you describe that as a war on Christians?  What more could the U.S. do to protect communities like that or to help resettle people here?  And then finally, what would you tell Russia about Bashar al-Assad’s record on protecting minorities in that country?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  That’s a broad range of issues.  Let me try to do this quickly, working backwards.  The – Assad’s record is absolutely clear.  We have made that clear to the world.  I think there’s overwhelming consensus in the global community about the horrific abuses of human rights that the Assad regime has been engaged in.  And so Russia’s intervention doesn’t change what our message on that has been.

In terms of bringing people here, the President has announced an expansion in the number of refugees that we will be taking in.  It is presumed a number of those will include – of the expansion will include people from that – will include people from that region.

We have worked vigorously on the issue of protecting the minority communities.  ISIL is certainly targeting the Christian community, but is also targeting the Mandaeans, the Shabak, certainly the Yezidis that explicitly said it wanted to wipe out here.  So it is trying to decimate and eviscerate the presence of those very communities here.  And we know that if there’s going to be a possibility to bring them home, we know what the ingredients are going to be.  I’ve spoken on this publicly to a number of the major Christian groups who are concerned about this, but also the groups that are concerned about the – in meetings with the Yezidi, the Shia Muslim groups from the area who are affected by this as well.

That is, we need to sustain them where they are in place at a condition that they’re going to be willing to stay – mostly in Kurdistan – until ISIL’s presence is removed.  And we clearly need to remove ISIL’s presence for them to return home.  That means there have to be schools for their kids, there has to be better health care, there have to be job opportunities for their kids who are graduating school, et cetera.  And the United States is the lead factor in providing that kind of humanitarian aid.

Secondly, there needs to be a security system when they return home in which they can trust, because a lot of that trust was breached when ISIL came in.  And they need their own – the right to have their own effective defense forces that have to be integrated with the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.

Third, there has to be a restorative justice, a transitional justice system.  People go back to their communities; some of their former neighbors have taken over their businesses, their homes.  There has to be a system that will fairly adjudicate that and hold people responsible who assisted ISIL.

Fourth, at a macro level in Iraq, there has to be a change in the governance structures that allow those minority groups to have a real role in shaping the future of the country.  Prime Minister Abadi has made clear that that is his intent.  We see some of that represented in appointments that he’s made, and the United States is working with the Iraqi Government on that day in and day out.

And finally, there has to be an internationally engaged plan on the economic rebuilding so that people will have a sense of hope for the future.  We know what those ingredients are.  The United States, often together with the UN or other nations, are working on planning in this.  And that’s very important because if it were – we waited until ISIL was pushed out, it would leave a vacuum that chaos would potentially descend.

And so we know what needs to be done.  We’re working on those things – and pushing very hard – that will benefit the Christian community.  I mean, think about it.  There’s been a Christian community there for 1600 years.  Across the Nineveh plain, church bells have pealed for 1600 years.  Today they are silent.  And we are not going to rest until people have a right to live out their religious lives back in their home communities in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER:  A couple more questions.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On North Korea and on religious freedom and human rights in North Korea, in North Korea they detained many of the religions and the pastors for past years, then they are still in prisons.  So how – would you please tell us:  How many U.S. citizens still in the North Korean prisons?  Can you guess how many U.S. citizen pastors or religions or whatever citizens?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  First, as you know, Korea remains a country of particular concern for us.  It is one of the worst violators of human rights in the entire world.  We have talked about that over and over again.  The countries of particular concern who were this past year continue this year.  I think everyone knows that list – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Secondly, we continue – we don’t have direct relations, so we continue through international partners and by mobilizing these international coalitions to put continuing pressure for North Korea to ease its restrictions on religious freedom and to let every one of those prisoners of conscience – and there are far, far too many, and they often face brutal conditions in the prisons – to go.

And finally, the United States Government is always working, day in and day out, to ensure that its citizens who are imprisoned unjustly without due process and for the exercise of fundamental internationally protected rights are allowed to go free, and/or encounter a judicial system that does provide due process and fairness.  We do that as best we can through the international contacts with North Korea going on every day on an ongoing basis.

The question of how many, I actually don’t know the answer to.  The specific cases we can’t comment on.  American privacy laws protect us from – protect them from allowing us to talk about their situation, and they’re not in a position to give us authority and permission to do that.  So we can’t comment on the individual cases.


QUESTION:  In your outreach to countries to address religious freedom concerns, do you ever get pushback from governments who may view the idea of religious freedom as a Western concept?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  We do, and it has been somewhat of a growing phenomenon.  Here – we therefore make it clear over and over again we are not trying to impose the standards of Western countries, of countries of any particular majorities – religious majorities – here, or American, European standards on any of these countries.  Almost all of these countries we’re dealing with are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Article 18 is quite clear about a robust application of religious freedom.  We regard these as internationally protected rights, and it is within that guise that we deal with it.

Let me just point out, however, that we respect the varied traditions of people up to the point it violates those international norms.  We try to engage with them on their terms to find ways to address what concerns they might have about defamation of religion, about attacks on religion, about the questions of what religiously would be – would constitute blasphemy by finding non-legal ways to deal with that.  The passage of UN Resolution 1618 is a prime example of that.  It enjoyed the support of the OIC in passing it.  It looks at non-penal ways to address some of these questions. 

And we have set up a very effective training program drawing on the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department, and the State Department.  Working with other experts around the world, we’re out in other countries doing training programs about this, and the countries – it’s been a handful of countries we’ve done a test run on, and now we’re going to be expanding this in a much more global reach.  It’s one of the things that I’m focused on doing.  And that’s where we engage people where they are and try and bring them in ways to address their concerns within international legal norms.

MR TONER:  Really, last few questions.  In the back there and then Nicole.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador, for your time.  The Syria Catholic patriarch last week said that Christians in the Middle East feel like the West has abandoned them.  How do you respond, and how can this report help in their crisis right now?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Sometimes there are competing truths – two things that are absolutely true here.  There is a robust effort of the developed world – of the democratic world, excuse me – to help protect the Christian communities.  They are – all of the efforts that we’re doing in terms of supporting the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees, of Iraqi refugees; of working with the Government of Iraq in the lines – along the lines that I was talking about in the international community manifest that.  Day in and day out there isn’t a single day that we are not doing more and more.  The – bringing Knox Thames, such a respected advocate of religious freedom – for those of you who don’t know Knox, he had been the director of policy and research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, widely respected in the field – who hit the ground running when he came on just within the last couple of weeks, he’s going to be working side by side with me and with our international counterparts and with every arm of our government that is doing programs, working on defense training and work with countries in the area here (inaudible) the intelligence communities, all of the human rights work that we’re doing here, to help really strengthen the work on behalf of these minorities. 

That’s one reality.  I mean, I could talk for hours about what is being done, the programmatic work that’s being done – the relief and humanitarian work, et cetera.  They’re in the middle of a horrific war situation.  Every day their lives could be imperiled.  There’s no magic button that can fix this.  It is – as the President has said, it is going to be long, steady progress here until we can reach the kind of goals that we want.  If you’re living there and you fear for the well being of your family every day, certainly you’re going to feel like the world isn’t doing enough about it.  It’s a paradox.  We recognize that reality.  We do everything we can to ameliorate that, to offer greater protection and to meet the needs of these communities, and we won’t cease doing so until they really are able to live in freedom in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER:  Nicole, last question (inaudible) sorry.

QUESTION:  Does the State Department consider efforts by Western countries to ban the Muslim headdress or the Muslim covering for women as a repression of religious freedom?

And second, very quick, if you can.  Iran, Saudi Arabia – which one is more respectful of religious freedom?  Thanks.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Both of them, as you heard, are on the list of the countries of particular concern here and continue to be on that list, Nicole.  So we don’t make judgments about which are better and worse.  Both of those countries have structural, systematic, egregious violations.  Minority in Saudi Arabia – no one other than Muslim community can worship openly, can partake in their religious life openly.  Even when they do it privately, often they’re harassed and interfered with.  These are very serious challenges and problems.  In Iran, we have very serious problems as well.  Again, the Shia Muslim community – interpretation of Islam dominates the legal structure, the culture of the country.  Other Muslims find themselves – Mahdi Muslims find themselves in trouble; in the Baha’i community, systematically oppressed.  Almost every minority group faces restrictions and are discriminated against in one form or another. 

So they are both – have very serious problems.  Read the report; you would have to make the judgment yourself which is the worst here. 

QUESTION:  And the headdress issue?


QUESTION:  The headdress issue?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Yeah – yes.  We have taken a position in our approach to this that exercise of freedom of religion and belief allows people to make determinations about what their appropriate re0ligious garb would be.  If women feel they have to have their heads covered, if Sikhs believe that they have to wear turbans, this is their right.  If Jews believe they have to wear yarmulkes, kippot to cover their head, this should be the determination that each and every person makes.  There may be circumstances in which there are compelling reasons – simply the need to identify someone or safety reasons – you can’t wear a turban working around equipment that could catch a turban.  If you got to wear a safety helmet, you got to wear a safety helmet. 

So accommodations should be made as far as possible.  Those exceptions are really few and far between.  We believe that people’s right to live in accordance with their conscience includes the right to use religious garb and religious dress.  We’ve been critical of other democratic countries as well as nondemocratic countries that have put such restrictions, and we hope in the future things will ease enough that – and will be seen in a different perspective that this restriction of religious freedom will be allowed to fade away.

MR TONER:  Thank you all, appreciate it.  Thank you, Ambassador. 


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