Secretary of State John Kerry made news with a speech in Germany when he told a student audience about American civil liberties:
“As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view. . . People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another,” he added.
“The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid — if you want to be,” he said, prompting laughter. “And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be.
“And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that.
“Now, I think that’s a virtue. I think that’s something worth fighting for,” he added. “The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view.”
Some fretted whether it was appropriate to make such statements in Germany where Nazi groups are banned. But that’s not the real issue here.
Rather the question is why he doesn’t say that over and over again in Muslim countries, where the message is sorely needed. It is the perfect message, actually, as in any talk about democracy, pluralism and freedom by an American official. For too long (as we saw in President Obama’s infamous Cairo speech) we’ve been hesitant to deliver that full-throated message to Muslim audiences decrying intolerance and laying out a vision of a more pluralistic and democratic society in which minorities are protected and civil liberties respected.
That reticence shows a lack of conviction in our own civilization (we can stop apologizing for what the CIA did in 1953) and a dangerous tendency to infantilize Muslim audiences, treating them as if they can’t tolerate straight talk. Only by speaking candidly and making clear that close relations with the United States depend to a large extent on common values can we further our own interests and promote both democracy and real stability (which comes from a government recognized as politically legitimate).
In contrast to our dim secretary of defense who won’t admit that Iran isn’t a duly elected government, Kerry and other key American officials should be forthright with Muslim audiences.
It is reported that Kerry is, like so many others who have held his job, entranced by the potential for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Perhaps when visiting with Arab leaders he should try out something like this:
In the work ahead, we all have responsibilities. The Palestinian people are gifted and capable, and I am confident they can achieve a new birth for their nation. A Palestinian state will never be created by terror — it will be built through reform. And reform must be more than cosmetic change, or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism. . .
The world is prepared to help, yet ultimately these steps toward statehood depend on the Palestinian people and their leaders. If they energetically take the path of reform, the rewards can come quickly. If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror, they can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine.
That is as true today as when President George W. Bush said it in the Rose Garden in June 2002. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has done too little of what Bush set forth. That is the reason there is no Palestinian state. If Kerry begins to focus more on democracy and tolerance and less on the PA’s excuses for not coming to the table, maybe some small progress can be made.