I’m honored to be here today. Thank you to the staff and leadership of the Centre for opening your doors to the Canberra community.
At the White House Iftar dinner last year, President Obama said: “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see its results.” Clearly, there are more than a few atoms’ worth of good being done at the Canberra Islamic Centre.
Muslims are an integral part of the story of the United States. When Americans sought our freedom in the Revolutionary War, Muslim-Americans fought alongside their countrymen. After the war, Morocco was the first country to recognize a free and independent United States.
Today, Muslim-Americans are members of Congress. They advise the President and Secretary of State. Muslim-Americans are actors and athletes, artists and authors who enrich our cultural fabric. They complete the story of who we are as a country and as a people. Through innovation and research, they make our lives better, our nation stronger, and our world brighter.
Sometimes it only takes one person to make a huge difference in the direction of world events.
At the height of World War II, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt made an historic tour through the Pacific. Her trip – and what she saw – made her determined to ensure that the coming peace would be permanent.
From then on, she worked tirelessly for peace, human rights, and equality. As Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, she helped develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many of those rights are now part of international law. We have made great progress, but there is still much to do.
During her trip, the First Lady planted what she called a “small tree” at our Embassy here in Canberra. Over the years, her oak tree has grown and flourished – it is now the biggest tree on the grounds. It is a living symbol of our alliance with Australia. Like that tree, our partnership is stronger than ever before.
I’ve brought a sapling grown from an acorn from Eleanor Roosevelt’s tree with me today. It gives me great honor to present it to the Canberra Islamic Centre and the Australian Muslim community as a gift from the United States.
I hope it will provide a place of rest, reflection, and peace for your gardens.
Our diverse cultures – like this tree – have many branches in many directions. In our countries, we need all of our people – of every race, religion, ethnicity, and creed – to make us our best. Together, we form a beautiful whole. Together, we are stronger and better.
Today, Muslims in both the United States and Australia work with people of all faiths to build a brighter world. Together we uphold our most cherished values: freedom, faith, community, justice, mercy, and love.
Libyan Ambassador Allafi expressed this thought perfectly in a recent letter. He said that we should remember that all of our holy teachings “call for love, compassion, brotherhood, tolerance, and peace.”
These are the things that I wish for you, your families, and our countries.