As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you for joining us tonight as we celebrate American independence and the long-standing friendship between our two countries. Thank you, Your Excellencies, Samir Mokbel and Ali Bazzi, for representing Presidents Berri and Salam tonight.
Thank you, as well, to our sponsors, whose logos are displayed on the banner in the foyer. Just for the record, their names are: American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, Indevco, Rymco, Gargour, Ford, Mybel, Jallad, Libatel, Ernst and Young, Citibank, JP Morgan, and IMPEX. Their generous support has been crucial to the success of this celebration this year, as it has been in the past. Finally, a special thanks to our Marine Security and Local Guard Force for the presentation of arms and display of colors.
We chose to celebrate American independence early this year out of respect for the holy month of Ramadan, whose last week will coincide with the Fourth of July this year. We wish the Muslim community a blessed holy month.
I would also like to seize this opportunity to congratulate the Government of Lebanon, all the candidates and most of all the Lebanese people for again showing their commitment to democratic principles by holding successful municipal elections. This is another important step in restoring Lebanese democracy. One of the best features of a democratic government is that its institutions are regularly renewed by presenting its leaders to the people for their approval. As we have seen again this year, there is nothing like an election to reveal the mood of the people and shake things up a little. In fact, elections are not held for the convenience of politicians but for the people to exercise their God given right to speak their will. This is why the United States has never postponed a national election; it is also why we urged that the municipal elections here be held on schedule; it is why we believe that parliamentary elections should not be postponed again. It is why we believe that Lebanon’s people should choose their own leaders.
The United States turns 240 this year. In 1776, American forces under General George Washington had been fighting the British army and its mercenary allies for almost a year when Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and 53 other revolutionaries signed the Declaration of Independence that the Continental Congress adopted on the fourth of July. By the way, one of those revolutionaries who risked his life by signing the Declaration was a man named Lyman Hall, an ancestor of our Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Danny Hall.
Since that celebrated day, the United States has become a great nation. We have expanded from 13 colonies to 50 independent states, pushed beyond our original boundaries at the Appalachian Mountains to spread across much of the North American continent and even into the Pacific. Our nation has also become the homeland for people from every part of the world. I daresay that our citizenry today comprises representatives of every ethnic group and religion on the face of the earth. We are proud to be home to a large community of Lebanese Americans, for example.
People everywhere see and hear a lot about America, but many, perhaps most, don’t know a lot about us beyond what they see in movies and television. Hollywood is a wonderful entertainer, but it is often better at portraying our dreams and our fantasies than it is at representing our realities.
For example, contrary to what many people in this part of world might believe, America is a very religious country. Faith plays a central role in our culture and in the daily lives of the majority of Americans. It forms the basis for the values and social standards that most Americans follow. And the freedom to choose your faith – or to choose to live a secular life — is one of the core values embedded in our Constitution and in our laws. It is also what drove the first waves of European immigrants that came to our shores. My mother’s family took root in America in 1660, shortly after the 30 Years’ War in Europe. My father’s family traces its roots back to Lord Calvert’s colony in Maryland. Both families were seeking respite from the religious strife that had wracked Europe for so many years, at the time one was protestant the other catholic. Both were looking for a new beginning far away from autocratic rulers. Both were looking for the freedom to choose their own destinies. And this process continues. My wife’s father passed through Ellis Island in 1940, after fleeing from the Nazi occupation of his Czech homeland. He repaid his adopted country for sheltering him by serving in military intelligence in World War II and then as an American diplomat.
Freedom of choice is one of the most important democratic values that define Americans today. The famous British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “democracy is the worst form of government… except for all the rest.” Americans have never been overly respectful of authority. When taken to extremes that can prevent government from doing what it should do. We have seen in both the United States and in Lebanon how political gridlock can paralyze a government and prevent it from tackling issues that should be easy.
But that independent spirit has also kept America free. And whether or not they like their government’s policies at any moment, Americans have an abiding trust in their institutions of government. The United States is actually a federal republic, built on democratic principles. Our national, state and local governments all have responsibilities they must fulfill, and our citizens are responsible for holding them accountable. Americans believe passionately in the Constitution of the United States. It is faith in our democratic institutions that unites Americans despite our differences. I think this is true in Lebanon as well.
French diplomat, historian, and chronicler of America Alexis de Tocqueville saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as for the community. Just as Lebanon must deepen the unity between its religious communities, so must America bring together black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural, native-born and immigrant, straight and gay, Christian and Muslim. For such a diverse country to succeed, everyone must be invested in it. Everyone must believe they are a stakeholder.
Americans are working together to build a nation built on tolerance and opportunity. It will never be easy. We are imperfect humans trying to live up to a perfect ideal. But as we say in my country, nothing worth doing is ever easy. So we will keep trying to make the American dream a reality for all of our citizens.
I am incredibly proud and happy to be an American. Thank you for joining us today to celebrate with my colleagues, my wife Joan and me the birth, and continuous re-birth, of America.
Taeesh as-siddaqa al Lubnania-al Amerikia wa aish Lubnan.