Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein
Remarks at Opening Ceremony of CAR Intra-Muslim Dialogue and Capacity-Building Conference
Thursday, February 25, 9:00 AM, KAICIID
It is truly a pleasure for me to be able to join this noteworthy conference, which has been organized by the King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. The Central African Republic is now at a crossroads, and effective and meaningful dialogue is more important now than ever before.
Your interreligious efforts enhanced by the recent visit by the Pope in 2015 that galvanized the people of CAR to see a common purpose, helped usher in peaceful and democratic presidential elections.
The citizens of CAR now have a unique opportunity to shape the future of their government and their society. You, as leaders in your communities, carry a great responsibility to ensure that the new government is accountable to every citizen, regardless of origin, income, or religion.
Today, in my opinion, we begin the process of discussing one of the most important questions about CAR's development: what will be the role of the Muslim community and how can we facilitate a return to the harmony and brotherhood that existed in the past, and which has been broken by recent violence and reinvigorate the social cohesion so vital to CAR’s future.
The U.S. government is incredibly invested in this question. We have long commended and supported your interreligious efforts. When you work together you can achieve things no one group can achieve alone…. and you model the kind of nation you hope to shape. But such successes require a secure and confident Muslim community to which the U.S. government is deeply committed. Thus,
Ambassador Jeff Hawkins was one of the first international community leaders to visit PK5 following the September 2015 crisis. He and the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Bangui are committed to engaging the Muslim population, and raising awareness on Islam. Stereotypes and lack of information are the source of many misunderstandings and we each have the responsibility to educate our brothers, sisters, and neighbors. By raising awareness, we will foster understanding and acceptance.
But our work does not stop with education. We must find ways to reintegrate Central African Muslims back into communities and society. Displaced Muslims must find their way back to their homes, reestablish their businesses, and resume their roles as influential and contributory members in their communities.
There should not be Muslim quarters or Christian quarters, and all citizens should be able to move freely and have access to schools, hospitals, and work. We are all here to consider how we can facilitate this process, and how we can rebuild diversity and unity in communities in CAR.
Your work is formidable and it will not be easy. However, everything that we have seen has shown us the resilience and strength of CAR's religious leaders and the Muslim community. We are confident that this conference will help you join efforts and build stronger partnerships towards common goals. In that spirit, I hope that you will develop a plan for promoting reintegration in CAR. And I hope that you will define the role that the Muslim community will play in this new chapter of your country's history.
The U.S. is committed to advancing social cohesion and religious freedom for all. I am here today to reinforce our support and to remind you that we stand with you as you work to resolve the challenges facing your country.