Hungarian Islamic Community 100th Anniversary of State Recognition – Remarks at the Commemoration

Thank you to Mr. Bolek and the Hungarian Islamic Community for hosting today’s celebration.  Mr. Bolek, distinguished guests, Assalamu alaykum  [“Peace be with you” in Arabic; standard Muslim greeting worldwide].

We celebrate today a century of Islam’s legal recognized existence in Hungary, though the actual existence of Islam in the territory of Hungary dates back a thousand years.  The recognition we celebrate today took place in the midst of the massive social and political changes of World War I, and I cannot help but note that today, exactly 100 years later, we again find ourselves in the heart of a historic social transformation taking place in Europe and throughout the world.

I bring with me today a greeting of peace and unity from the Muslim communities in my country.  The United States is home to over three million Muslims, where, just like in Hungary, they have been an integral part of the nation since its birth.  Muslims in America live in cities, towns, and the countryside and work as doctors, teachers, carpenters, and lawmakers.  Keith Ellison and Andre Carson are the first two Muslims to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mr. Ellison famously took his oath of office on President Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran.

But just like in Hungary, American Muslims have unfairly faced scorn and derision after tragic events.  After the attacks of 9/11, many peaceful and law-abiding Muslims – and those perceived to be Muslims – were targeted for harassment by some in the United States.  In Hungary, apprehension about Muslims first rose last year with the migration crisis, and then again after the terrible attacks in Paris.  Today we again find ourselves in the aftermath of another horrible attack in Europe.  The perpetrators of these cowardly murders are no more representative of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims than a rotten apple is representative of all apples.  Theirs is a twisted version of Islam, cancerous to the faith, and in this age of globalization, to the world.  The United States stands resolute with its allies, including Hungary, in our determination to eradicate violent extremism, regardless of its origin.

The collateral damage wrought by acts of terrorism, however, reaches far deeper into society than the carnage left by bombs and bullets.  These brutal acts activate primal fears deep within our psyches and instinctively tempt us to demonize other groups of people as “others.”  These fears, unfortunately, can be further stoked by unhelpful rhetoric, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  When we give in to those fears and temptations, the terrorists have succeeded.  If there is one thing that should unite us all, it is that the terrorists cannot succeed.  As an Embassy, an important goal for us is to promote tolerance for minorities.  In pursuit of that goal, the United States stands steadfastly with Hungary’s Islamic community against all forms of Islamophobia.

Islam has a long and rich history.  In our own Library of Congress, the central repository of our knowledge, there is a painting in the main dome of 12 figures representing the pillars of civilization.  One of those figures, shown deep in thought with a scientific instrument, is labeled “Islam.”  It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.  From algebra and the alphabet to medicine and architecture, the legacy of Islam is infused throughout the modern world.  And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

As Europe, including Hungary, struggles to adjust to the social, cultural, and demographic changes brought on not just by migration, but also by technology and generational shifts, religious tolerance and racial equality are not just desirable, but necessary for our survival.  Millions of families are fleeing their war-ravaged homelands in search of a viable way of life.   I don’t presume to know the solution of how to reasonably accommodate them.  I do know, however, that a proper response should be rooted in pragmatic security, compassion, and respect for human dignity – principles the Hungarian Islamic Community shares, and which it puts into practice in its own efforts to help refugees.

I am proud to stand before you today in celebration of an important milestone, as a friend of Hungary and its Muslim communities.  Together we are committed to a peaceful Islam, a prosperous Europe, and a lasting friendship.  Köszönöm szépen and shukraan  [“thank you” in Arabic].