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Remarks by His Majesty King Abdullah II to the Council on Foreign Relations

September 18, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


***Due to inclement weather on September 18, 2003, King Abdullah's appearance at the Council was cancelled. The following remarks are posted with his permission***

Washington, D.C.
September 18, 2003

Note: Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mr. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. And thank you all. This Council has actively worked for a better future for the Middle East and the world … sometimes at great sacrifice. I hope you will allow me to express Jordan's sorrow on the loss of one of your own … Council Fellow Arthur Helton … who was killed last month, in the bombing of UN Headquarters in Baghdad. He is mourned, not only by the people who knew and worked with him, but by the many in the Middle East who drew hope from his work for refugees and humanitarian affairs.

Like so many Americans, we in Jordan have also experienced the high price of terror this year. Jordanians were killed and injured in the UN bombing, and two weeks before that, in the bombing of our Embassy in Baghdad, and again, before that, in the al Hamra Housing Complex in Riyadh last May.

The friends of peace are truly on the front lines now, and it is vital that we hold that line. Peace needs our victory, if we are to enjoy an open and secure future. That's true for the Middle East, of course, but it is also true for the entire global system in which your country and mine take part. The question facing us is whether the 21st Century will meet its full promise to humanity. And our actions now, will play a large role in the answer.

Let me say that Jordan is proud to play a significant role in the global alliance against terror … in revitalizing the Middle East peace process … and in promoting regional development. We are also engaged in a rigorous process of domestic reform … a process that began some years ago, and is now accelerating.

Our basic aim is a society that empowers its people, and offers opportunity to all. That means an inclusive, democratic civil society, one that provides real hope. To achieve this, we are taking action on a broad spectrum of issues. We have invested heavily in education. To spur growth, we are empowering the private sector to be a full participant in the economy. And we are building a more responsive, efficient public sector.

Of course, for reform to last, democratic consent must be built right in. As some of you know, there were extreme regional uncertainties after September 11, which caused our parliamentary elections to be postponed. I publicly pledged that Jordan would hold elections as soon as possible. And I am pleased to say that elections were held, last June. Political participation was actively encouraged … and in the event, voter turnout approached 60 percent. (That is, I understand, above the average for the most recent congressional elections in the U.S. …)

Democracy, of course, is not an event. It is a process. We know it doesn't happen overnight, and it involves many more elements than elections. A key aspect is respect for human rights, civil liberties, and the due role of women. I am committed to protecting and accelerating these objectives. Jordan has established a new Center for Human Rights, as well as an independent Higher Media Council. Women's representation was guaranteed in the new Parliament.

The course that Jordan is charting is intended to meet our people's expectations and needs … but it can have a larger impact, as well. I believe we are creating a model process, a model that can benefit our entire region. The basic template is designed to offer real solutions to real needs -- political and economic stability, economic growth, and genuine social empowerment. The Jordan model builds on our society's strengths, values and history … while it reaches out to global opportunities. I believe this model can be an effective path toward democracy and prosperity, for a region that is tired of dead-ends and despair.

Central to Jordan's identity is that of an Arab and Islamic country. What does that mean? Extremists, within the Muslim world and outside it as well, will tell you that Islam teaches intolerance … condones, even demands violence … and rejects modernization and progress. Jordanians will tell you that this is, plain and simply, false.

The truth is that from its very earliest days, Islam has called on its faithful to lead lives of peace and tolerance. Far from sanctioning the killing of innocents, our faith condemns it. Long before the 20th Century's Geneva Conventions on war, Muslim soldiers were given strict rules of conduct to protect civilians. Generations of Muslim schoolchildren learn a famous speech of the Prophet's first successor, Abu Bakr. He commands integrity, forbids the killing of innocents of any faith, and bans wanton destruction. "Do not betray, do not deceive, do not bludgeon and maim, do not kill a child, nor a woman, nor an old man," he instructed. "Do not burn; do not cut down a fruit tree. … if you come across communities who have consecrated themselves to the [Christian church], leave them."

Like millions of other Muslims, I was taught the ideals of honor, justice, tolerance and mercy; they remained my most basic principles when I became a soldier, and I still follow them today.

It is also untrue that Islam forbids its believers from engaging constructively in the modern world. The Qu'ran and Hadith -- Traditions of the Prophet -- support a dynamic faith of discourse and interpretation. From the earliest times, believers were called on to discuss, reason and apply the principles of their faith to the real world around them. The Golden Age of Islam was built upon a rationalist, liberal tradition … and it created a thriving, multi-ethnic civilization. Islamic scholars set milestones in medicine, astronomy, science and social justice that paved the way for the European Renaissance. Great Arab cities provided refuge and new ideas to travelers from around the world. Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars, like the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides, worked together in the royal courts.

In the 14th century, a new kind of orthodoxy came to power, which closed the door on debate and discovery. Yet the age-old, positive traditions of Islam never died. And today, they provide another path -- a path that respects diversity, pioneers new ideas, and empowers its people. It is this path, which inspires Jordan's reforms … and this path, which demands we speak out against hatred, and for peace.

My friends, if there were no other reason, Jordan's Islamic values would still make us want to take the lead against extremism and terrorism. But we are also awake to a special heritage. From our soil, the Levant, faith in One God … the united belief of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam … took root and spread across the world. Today, we believe our soil can also be the seedbed of new tolerance and hope.

Today, the vast majority of the world's Muslims are people of peace. So, the question might be asked, how does extremism arise? As in all matters that involve religion, politics, and society, there is no easy answer. But one thing is clear: too many of our people, especially young people, feel great despair. They are cut off from the opportunities that make the 21st Century so promising. They are demoralized by the lack of development and reform. And they are deeply embittered by the continuing occupation of Palestine. Many feel that the failure to end this injustice, an injustice that is so deeply felt by the Arab people, both Christians and Muslims means that Americans are indifferent to their suffering. Ongoing violence, in Iraq as well as in Israel and Palestine, fuels the fires of radicalism. To end terror, to find global peace, we must heal these causes of division, and create new sources of hope.

Ours is a time of genuine possibilities for progress. But we must act now.

In Iraq, it is urgent that the friends of freedom win the peace. That means more than economic reconstruction; it means establishing a credible, legitimate government. The formation of the Interim Governing Authority in Iraq is a positive step in the right direction. But the ultimate objective must be a political process that will lead to an Iraqi Government that is freely selected by the Iraqi people.

It is also urgent that we resolve the central crisis in the region, and that is the Arab-Israeli conflict. This cycle of violence remains the region's major obstacle to peace and development. Palestinian suffering has become a worldwide recruiting poster for extremist terror. It is time to shut the recruiters down.

Three months ago, in Aqaba, Palestinians and Israelis affirmed their sincere intent to pursue the road to peace. The roadmap has been sanctioned by the international community. To the Israelis, the roadmap offers collective security guarantees by all Arabs; a peace treaty and normal relations with Arab states; and an end to the conflict. To the Palestinians, it offers an end to the occupation; a viable, independent state by 2005; and the promise to live as a free and prospering people.

Implementing this will take more than words. It will take action. I need hardly say that so far, we have seen only modest steps. And these modest steps have all been actions that we've seen before … actions that could be, and were, later reversed.

What is needed instead are steps that will place the roadmap on an irreversible course -- to Palestinian statehood, Israeli security, and prosperity for all in the Middle East. This will take real commitment, commitment that will test not just our resources but our leadership as well. And we must act now. Each time the process falters, we draw dangerously near to a time when, regardless of the good intentions of all, the President's objective of a two— state solution will no longer be viable. There must be no more missed opportunities.

My Friends,

We are now well on our way, into a new century. And across the globe, we face stark choices. One vision is of freedom and openness … a human community based on respect for others and growing opportunity. Opposed to this vision is another: a world order that is based on violent disorder … the path of division and decay.

Those who believe in peace must now stand together. To you, I say: you can count on Jordan. In the war on terror, our countries have a strong strategic relationship; part of a significant global alliance and it is succeeding. And, as we fight against terror, we are also working to deliver on something better -- the promise of moderation, freedom and reform.

Today, the people of the Middle East are searching for new hope, hope for a future of prosperity and peace. We have seen the danger and destruction of violence, hatred, and injustice. But we have also seen what people can achieve when they are empowered, when they communicate, exercise their creativity, build knowledge and reach out to others.

This positive course is the one we have set in Jordan. But we are also looking to you, our partners and friends. Together, I believe that we can succeed in creating a 21st Century of justice and peace.

Thank you very much.