May 2007

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Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA 7)
In Their Own Words

Remarks by Congressman Joe Sestak

Congressman Joe Sestak has provoked debate in the Jewish community for having agreed to speak at a CAIR function. Joe Sestak said in his campaign that he would talk to any constituent on any issue. If he had to respectfully disagree, he would explain his reasons.

"I believe that establishing a dialogue with people is the only way to win the war of ideas. That is why I agreed to speak to CAIR," noted Rep. Joe Sestak. "It even says in the Torah, understand the other side before you make a judgment, and once you make your judgment, speak the truth. In that vein, I went to CAIR tonight to speak honestly and frankly. But, first and foremost, I attended tonight’s banquet because 250 of my Muslim constituents attended the event."

The following is an extract of the remarks he made to the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Council on American Pennsylvania Islamic Relations (CAIR-PA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 7, 2007.

CONGRESSMAN SESTAK: Assalamu Alaikum. I have  been waiting to speak tonight to the experiences and principles I learned while in our military. I remember Reliant Mermaid, the first military exercise between an Islamic country and Israel, one that I was fortunate to oversee in the Eastern Mediterranean as the senior U.S. military officer. [...]

I learned much as I worked with the Turks and the Israelis, together, of the hope, and the reality, that comes from the willingness to talk to one another. I had already experienced that hope and reality while working for President Clinton in the White House. He was willing to engage and talk to almost anyone --- nation, individual or group. He often welcomed to the White House those who were not invited before -- in the pursuit of the Prophet's order, "Spread peace between yourselves." The President believed in equal rights for everyone: in justice --- the principles of adl --- because he knew that justice is an indispensable prerequisite for peace. To reach that peace, he took courageous stands for justice by positive actions, not just words. From the strife in Northern Ireland to sending our soldiers to defend Muslims in Bosnia to the Middle East and the Road Map for Peace to questions of race here at home, he engaged this nation and its citizens consistent with the Qur'an's message, "Do not let the hatred of others make you swerve from justice." He welcomed those who had not been previously welcomed. I learned a great deal from him about what can happen if you are willing to talk to people with whom you disagree about some things. [...]

In bringing their religion into the incredible alchemy of America which welcomes people from all over the world and makes them into Americans, Muslims absorb what America has created in the last two centuries or more. In doing so, they follow Mohammed's guidance that "Whenever you see something great, embrace it as my lost tradition." It is why I appreciate my Muslim constituents so much: they strive to be a part of the democratic --- with a small "d" --- tradition in America, simply wanting to be valued for who they are and what they bring to the Americans who are already here. [...]

I am a strong supporter of those of Jewish faith --- and Israel, and of those of Muslim faith, and a future Palestinian State in a sovereign two-state solution, side by side with Israel in peace. I have seen and learned both the grandeur.and the often cruel sacrifices of both wonderful faiths and their people. I saw the beauty and challenges of Israel even before Reliant Mermaid, having visited it at least five times. I traveled through Israel decades ago when every young couple seemed to have a pistol on the table; and later, when every couple seemed to have a cell phone at their table. My last visit was to tie one of my U.S. Navy air defense Aegis cruisers into the missile defense network of Israel. I left the ship stationed off its coast for the nation's protection, as I brought the remainder of my Battle Group around into the Arabian Gulf for what was expected to be the start of the Iraqi war.

And I have walked through the richness of many Islamic nations and their faithful people, including the Palestinians: My memories range from conducting the first multi-national Arab naval exercise in the Arabian Gulf to visiting the breadth of so many Islamic countries throughout the Gulf region, in the Eastern Mediterranean and in northern Africa; of flying into Pakistan, and then into Afghanistan two months after the war there began. One must see it all to even begin to realize the rich depth of such breadth. I believe in memories; we cannot forget the Holocaust nor the Kurds, Bengalis, or Islamists in Hama Syria, or Bosnia. [...]

Recognizing one another's grievances is a necessary first step; but assuming the responsibility of achieving peace by taking action on the Qur'an's demand for justice is the real challenge and where one's silence is peril. As the Qur'an says, "Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin," Therefore, some are guilty, while all are responsible. This is why it is our just duty to condemn not just terrorism but also the specific acts, and specific individuals and groups by name associated with those acts, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This is Ihsan which is beautiful, since it will contribute to harmony between American-Muslims and American-Jews ,and indeed all Americans who confront terrorism. This is adl: justice against injustice, extreme intolerance against intolerance. Otherwise, our language against terrorism will be that of silence, and not a call for the justice of the Qur'an that is a prerequisite for its peace. [...]

Ta'aruf , God's creation of human beings of different tongues, tribes, and beliefs, commended to intercourse and know one another, is what attracted so many Muslims to the melting pot of America as immigrants of conscience. This conscience then commands them --- and us, you --- to testify against those of your community who fail to act upon, or act against, those beliefs. Acting upon means using language to break the silence by condemning and disassociating yourself from these people by name even if they have left the association. If there are ties to any form of terror, or statements that impugn others by hate, there is an obligation to actively denounce them.

I know and appreciate all you do to advocate for justice and mutual understanding. And I believe because of the richness of the Islamic faith, the character of American-Muslims, and the ability of Americans to speak and listen to one another --- and the world --- that we will achieve happiness and peace through justice. It is through Ihsan --- excellence --- that we will achieve this happiness. It is through the American value of honest dialogue, reflective of the best in our Islamic and Judeo-Christian heritage, that we will achieve excellence as one community.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. And peace be with you. Assalamu Alaikum.

See related article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

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