Bill Richardson photo

Speech: Arab American Institute, Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" Awards Dinner

April 25, 2007


Thank you Jim Zogby for your kind introduction. I truly appreciate being here with the Arab American community to celebrate the Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" Awards and I want to acknowledge Jim and George Salem for over twenty years of dedicated service to the political empowerment of the Arab American community. Your efforts are paying dividends as witnessed by the attendees this evening and by the fact that Arab Americans have become an integral part of America's body politic.

I have been in Washington for just a few hours and have to catch an 8:00 flight. While my time with you will be brief this evening, rest assured that I look forward to future opportunities to meet with you. Tonight I would like to briefly share with you my vision of what the next President must be able to do.

But tonight, we salute you. The awards that we celebrate today represent our common bond to humanity and I want to take a moment to congratulate tonight's very worthy recipients.

Cardinal McCarrick is a man I hold in great esteem. He has dedicated his life to social justice here at home and peace beyond our borders. Global Impact is dedicated to helping the poorest people on earth, reaching 400 million in need. They are leading efforts to provide food, shelter, and clean water to refugees in Darfur, a crisis which I continue to work very hard to resolve. I also want to take a minute to congratulate the Arab American Institute for their commitment in working with the Save Darfur Coalition and I understand that an AAI advertisement will debut this evening that brings attention to the Darfur crises and seeks support in advocating for an immediate end to this human tragedy. AAI's commitment to ending suffering around the world reflects the common bond that we all share. We want to make this world more peaceful, more understanding and more livable for all people; so that everyone may fulfill their dreams and live in a world respectful of race, ethnicity, sex and religious tolerance.

Congratulations AAI.

Finally, Search for Common Ground is an organization whose sole mission is to resolve conflict and as someone who has dedicated much of my career in public service to diplomacy and dialogue, I salute their efforts.

Congratulations to all the award recipients and I think they deserve a heartfelt round of applause for their work.

The American Dream

I'm proud to share this evening with the Arab American institute and your entire community. Like you, I understand first-hand the role that immigrants have played in building this great country. We are all here tonight as heirs to the American dream which was built by hard-working men and women. We all share stories of relatives who left their homes to come to America to build a better future. They are our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and brothers and sisters. In fact, they are many of you here in this room.

And those who came to this country came not just for economic opportunity, but for the freedom and civil rights provided by our Constitution. I know this because so many in your community sacrificed so much to come here that you, like most Americans hold these freedoms especially dear. For Arab Americans are at the forefront of the fight to protect the civil liberties of all Americans and in that fight you can always count on me as a friend and an ally.

As a result of my career in public service, as a Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy and Governor of the great state of New Mexico, I see beyond our borders and I appreciate the leadership role America can play in the world. I have traveled throughout much of the Arab world, Asia, and Africa and tackled complex issues from North Korea's nuclear program to the ongoing tragedy in Darfur. In every instance I became more convinced that dialogue, not confrontation, is essential to solving conflict and crises and to restoring American leadership and credibility.

Bringing People Together

That's why I am running for President; because I believe I can bring people together—nationally and internationally—to address our toughest challenges.

Internationally, our toughest challenge is restoring American credibility around the world. Our next President must show the world that the United States is ready to work with the world again. How do we do this? To restore our leadership we need to reject dogma and to embrace a New Realism for the 21st century. A realism that looks at the world through cool eyes, but that is also inspired by ardent principals. This is the path to renewed American leadership. I call this New Realism and it means among other things repairing alliances with our friends and negotiating with our enemies. Nelson Mandela once told me that "If you want a peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." Talking with people is no guarantee of success, but refusing to talk is almost a guarantee of failure.

As part of this effort, America should lead the world in spearheading a Middle East, North Africa, and Asian multi-national Marshall Plan that includes support for public education in the Muslim world which is the best way to mitigate the role of Salafist madrasas that foment extremism. We must help those Arabs and Muslims who promote a vision of peace, prosperity, tolerance and respect for human dignity, who form the overwhelming majority of the Arab and Muslim world, as opposed to the apocalyptic fantasies offered by a vocal minority of jihadists.

America is a Belief

John, your polls and those of others show time and again that the majority of Arabs and Muslims do not oppose American values – they embrace them. They oppose what they see as the inconsistency in applying them to our policies. We can fix that and here are a few ideas on how we can rectify the current situation.

Here at home, we must adhere and protect the words, spirit and life of our Constitution for America is not just a country, it is a belief. A belief in a right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. A belief that every man and woman has the right to elect their government and a belief in freedom, justice and equality. America is the land of opportunity, but we have much to do to ensure that America is the land of equality of opportunity.

A land where Arab Americans are not judged by their ethnicity, a land where all citizens are afforded the protections of the constitution, a land where every child, whether they are majority, minority, Arab, Black, Jewish, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim, rich or poor can dare to dream and know that one day, their dreams can become reality. A land in which profiling, based on skin color, religion or your last name, is just a sad memory. A land that benefits from the diversity of our population, a land that recognizes the contributions that Arab Americans have made and continue to make to our nation on equal footing as all Americans. A land that guarantees the constitutional protection of equal justice under the law and a land that does not question ones patriotism as a result of their race, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, religion or economic status. This is the America I love, this is the America others envy, this is the America that I believe in and this is the America that can be restored.


In closing, I want you to know, that my door is always open to you and that I welcome your advice and views. The American system is founded on being able to air your grievances- the government does not always listen- but we must never stop challenging the abuses we live with everyday. I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face as a nation and with your faith and vision we will keep our moral compass pointing in the right direction. I know that we may not always agree on the issues, but I want you to know that when we disagree, I will not be disagreeable. I will listen to your concerns, consider your requests, and my ears are and will continue to bend towards your voices. I will not disappoint you.

Thank you and congratulations on your awards banquet, and I looking forward to watching this ad. Take comfort in knowing that while my visit is short this evening, that I look forward to working with you and towards making a difference in America, in the world and for the all children.

Bill Richardson, Speech: Arab American Institute, Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" Awards Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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