"A struggle for the soul of the 21st century"

A speech given by former President Bill Clinton at Georgetown University on Nov. 7.

Published November 10, 2001 8:43PM (EST)

Thank you very much. Thank you, Brian, for your remarks. Thank you, President DeGioia, for what you said and your leadership at Georgetown. It is kind of hard for me to get used to a president younger than I am. Thank you, Dean Gallucci, for helping me to come here and for the great work you did in our administration when I was president. And I would also like to thank the large number of people here who are my classmates, friends, who served as ambassadors and in other positions in my administration. All of them are sitting there thinking that it seemed like yesterday when all of us looked like all of you. So I think I can say for all of them, we are very grateful for what Georgetown did for us. We loved it when we were here and we love it still and we are honored to be part of a family that has given me this opportunity. I would also like to say a special word of thanks to one of my professors, Fr. Otto Hentz, who is here. He never abandoned me for all these years, even though he did not succeed in convincing me to become a Jesuit.

I am delighted that so many students are here today. I've come here too many times when I thought there were not enough students in this hall, so I am very glad to see you all and I thank you for coming and I'm sorry that some of you had to wait in line awhile for the tickets. When I came here 10 years ago, as your president said, it was a remarkable time, a different time. It was the end of the Cold War, the beginning of the global information age -- two realities that govern our lives today that we now take for granted that seemed quite new then.

One point I made 10 years ago still seems to be particularly relevant 10 years later, and I would like to begin with that. Back then I said our foreign policies are not really foreign at all anymore. In a world growing ever more interdependent, the lines between foreign and domestic policy are becoming meaningless, distinctions without a difference. I want to resume the discussion on that point today, 10 years later, with the benefit or the handicap, depending on your view, of eight years as president, and in light of the unfolding events since September 11.

First, let me say that anything I say has to be viewed in the context of my present job -- I am just a citizen, and as a citizen I support the efforts of President Bush, the national security team, and our allies in fighting the current terrorist threat. I believe we all should. The terrorists who struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon believed they were attacking the two most important symbols of American materialism and power. I think they were wrong about that. I live and work in New York, my wife Hillary represents the people of New York as a United States senator, I was commander-in-chief of the people who show up and work everyday at the Pentagon. The people who died represent, in my view, not only the best of America, but the best of the world that I worked hard for eight years to build. A world of great freedom and growing opportunity; a world of citizen responsibility, of growing diversity and sharing community, a world that looks like the student body here today.

Look at you. You are from everywhere. Look at us and you will see how more diverse America has grown in the last 30-plus years. The terrorists killed people who came to America not to die, but dream, from every continent, from dozens of countries, most every religion on the face of the earth, including, in large numbers, Islam. They, those that died in New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, are part of a very different world and a very different worldview than those who killed them. Now I would submit to you that we are now in a struggle for the soul of the 21st century and the world in which you students live and raise your own children and make your own way. I believe that there are several things that as Americans we ought to do and I would like to outline them in a fairly direct fashion.

First, we have to win the fight we are in and in that I urge you to keep three things in mind. First of all, terror, the killing of noncombatants for economic, political, or religious reasons, has a very long history, as long as organized combat itself, and yet it has never succeeded as a military strategy standing on its own. But it has been around a long time. Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless. Indeed, in the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple Mount. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees. I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it. Here in the United States, we were founded as a nation that practiced slavery and slaves were, quite frequently, killed even though they were innocent. This country once looked the other way when significant numbers of Native Americans were dispossessed and killed to get their land or their mineral rights or because they were thought of as less than fully human and we are still paying the price today. Even in the 20th century in America people were terrorized or killed because of their race. And even today, though we have continued to walk, sometimes to stumble, in the right direction, we still have the occasional hate crime rooted in race, religion, or sexual orientation. So terror has a long history.

The second point I want to make is, in that long history, no terrorist campaign standing on its own has ever won, and conventional military strategies that have included terrorism with it have won because of conventional military power, and terrorism has normally been a negative. I will just give you one example from my childhood. In the Civil War, General Sherman waged a brilliant military campaign to cut through the South and go to Atlanta. It was significant and very helpful in bringing the Civil War to a close in a way to, thank God, save the Union. On the way, General Sherman practiced a relatively mild form of terrorism -- he did not kill civilians, but he burned all the farms and then he burned Atlanta, trying to break the spirit of the Confederates. It had nothing whatever to do with winning the Civil War, but it was a story that was told for a hundred years later, and prevented America from coming together as we might otherwise have done. When I was a boy growing up in the segregated South, when we should have been thinking about how we were going to integrate the schools and give people equal opportunity, people were making excuses for unconscionable behavior by talking about what Sherman had done a hundred years ago. So, it is important to remember that normally terrorism has backfired and never has it succeeded on its own.

The third point I want to make is that offense always wins first. Ever since the first person walked out of a cave with a club and before people figured out you could put sticks together and stretch an animal skin over it and make it a shield, the people who take up arms win first, and then sooner or later, hopefully sooner, decent people get together and figure out how to defend themselves. When we were born, people thought there would never be a way to defend against continuing nuclear war and we would exterminate ourselves and we found the only known defense, which was mutually assured destruction, but it worked, and no bomb was ever dropped again after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So this is troubling, this anthrax business. I know it is, and it scares you. And it's troubling when 5,000 people die not in some far away battlefield, but in downtown New York on television. But you have to recognize that unless this is something different than has ever occurred in human history, we will figure out how to defend ourselves and civilization will endure. A lot of good people have been working hard on this for a long time. In the years that I served, career law enforcement officials working with our intelligence services and others and people around the world prevented many, many more terrorist attacks than were successful. Attempts to blow up the Holland tunnel, the Los Angeles airport, to blow up planes flying to the Philippines, an attempt on the Pope's life, an attempt to blow up the biggest hotel in Jordan over the Millennium weekend, to destroy a Christian site in the Holy Land, to plant bombs in cities in the Northwest and the Northeast, and many others. They worked hard to strengthen the biological weapons convention and to pass the chemical weapons convention. They worked hard to begin to build our stock of vaccines and antibiotics, and to support an organized civilian preparedness against the kind of problems we face in the current anthrax scare.

Clearly, we needed to do more. September the 11th happened. And so we are now about the business of improving our defenses with regard to air travel and other critical infrastructure, against attacks from biological weapons and in two other areas that I think are quite important. We need to strengthen our capacity to chase the money and get it, and we need some legislation on that, and we also need to continue to work on cyber-terrorism, which is profoundly important. So far we've just been laughing about some of these viruses that have invaded our computers and go all around the country in no time, but a great deal of damage could be done to our country unless we are prepared. And one area where we are woefully lacking is the simple use of modern computer technology to track people who come into this country with information already readily available. It does not require us to erode people's civil rights or human rights. But our governmental capacity, notwithstanding the fact that we have tripled our investment in counter-terrorism in the last few years, to do what is normally done by mass mailing firms, is not there. And we have to support this and we have to support the current government and whatever decision they make to do it, even if they have to contract with private companies for awhile, but we should be able to find people who come here and stay around a long time before they organize a big hit. So we will have to support all these things.

But the larger point I want to make is that we will do this, and for all of you who've never lived through anything like this, whose childhood was never colored by any kind of threat of security: when we were kids a lot of us used to have to do drills where we would go to fallout shelters where we would run if anybody ever dropped a nuclear weapon, and you learned to live with it. And the people that were taking care of us did a good job, and it never happened. So the first thing I want to say to you is you cannot be paralyzed by this. No terrorist strategy has ever prevailed, people who want to damage always win the beginning but people always figure out defenses. And the ultimate purpose of terrorism is not to win military victories anyway but to terrorize, to make you afraid to get up in the morning, afraid of the future, and afraid of each other.

I met an Egyptian the first day I went down to see the people in the crisis center after September 11th. This big Egyptian fellow with tears in his eyes said, "I'm an Egyptian Muslim American, and I hate what happened worse than you do probably, and I'm so afraid my fellow Americans will never trust me again." That's what they want. So what I want to say to you first is, we have to support the war in Afghanistan and the work at home, and it may be frightening to you, but you have to stay centered, and you have to understand that you're trying to create something that is really special, a country where everybody can have a home if they share the same set of values. And you can't give in to it. It's going to be all right.

Now the second thing I want to say is, it's not enough to win the fight we're in. You've probably had some arguments on campus. If not, you've certainly read them, you've seen on television, there are a lot of people who just don't see the world the way we do and certainly don't see America in a very favorable light. And it is quite important that we do more to build the pool of potential partners in the world, and shrink the pool of potential terrorists. And that has nothing to do with the fight we're in. That has to do with what else we do, and that depends upon basically how you analyze the world. I've been going all over the world and I've been all over America going through this exercise so I'll take you through it.

Imagine yourself on September the 10th. Nothing's happened on September 11th. Try to remember how you viewed the world on September 10th. If I had asked you on that day, "What is the single most dominant element of the 21st century world," what would your answer have been? What would you have said? Since you're living here and we've been doing reasonably well the last few years, I can think of one of four answers you might have given if you're a positive sort of person.

You might have said, "Well, the global economy." The globalization of the economy is the most dominant element because it's made America 22 and a half million jobs and it's lifted more people out of poverty in the last 30 years than were ever lifted out in all of human history. Or you might have said, "No, it's the information technology revolution because that's what's given us all the productivity that has driven the economic growth." When I became president in January of '93 there were only 50 sites on the worldwide web. When I left office there were 350 million. In eight years. Today, before the Anthrax scare, there were 30 times as many messages transmitted by e-mail as the postal services every day in America.

Or you might have said, "Oh, no, as impressive as those things are, the most significant thing about the early 21st century will be the advances in biological sciences." It will rival the significance of the discovery of DNA. It will rival the significance of Newtonian physics. We sequenced the human genome; we're developing microscopic testing mechanisms. Soon we'll be able to identify cancers when they're just a few cells in size. Soon we'll be able to give young mothers gene cards to take home with their newborn babies and in countries with good health systems, children will have life expectancies in excess of 90 years. Or you might have said, if you're like me and you're into politics and this kind of thing, you might have said, "No, the most important thing about the modern world is the growth of democracy and diversity, because that is the environment within which all the economic growth, all the technological growth, and all the scientific advances flourish best. I was honored to be president at the first time in history when more than half the world's people lived under governments of their own choosing, and when America, as witnessed by your presence here today, and other advanced countries became far more diverse racially, ethnically, and religiously than ever before, and the societies were actually working, and working better, and I might add, were a lot more interesting because of our diversity. So, you could have said any of that.

On the other hand, if you live in a poor country or you are more pessimistic you might have answered one of four negative things. You could have said, "No, no, you got it wrong about the economy. Global poverty will dominate the early 21st century because half the world's people aren't in this global economy." They live on less than two dollars a day, a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, a billion and a half people never get a clean glass of water, and one woman dies every minute in childbirth. And that's a recipe for explosion, and that will dominate the world.

Or you might have said, "No, before that happens, the environmental crises will consume us. The shortage of water, the deterioration of the oceans from which we get our oxygen, and most of all global warming. If the earth warms for the next 50 years at the rate of the last ten, we'll lose 50 feet of Manhattan Island. The Florida Everglades I worked so hard to save. Whole Pacific island nations will be flooded, and tens of millions of food refugees will be created, destabilizing governments and causing violence."

Or you could have said, "Well, no, before global warming gets us the epidemics will. All over the world public health systems are crashing down, and just to take AIDS as an example, there are now over 36 million AIDS cases, 22 million people have already died. If we don't turn the trend around there will be 100 million AIDS cases in five years, making it the worst epidemic since the Plague swept Europe in the 14th century and killed one in four people. And the fastest growing rates are in the former Soviet Union on Europe's back door, and the second fastest growing rates are in the Caribbean on our front door, and the third fastest growing rates are in India, the biggest democracy in the world. And the Chinese just admitted they had twice as many cases as they had previously thought, and only four percent of the adults in our biggest nation know how AIDS is contracted and spread. So today, two-thirds of the cases are in Africa. Tomorrow, it's everybody's problem, unless we turn it around.

Or you might have said even on September the 10th, if you'd been keeping up with this, "No, no, no, even before the health crises, we will be consumed by terrorism, by the marriage of modern weapons of destruction to ancient racial, religious and tribal hatreds."

Now here's how I think you ought to think about this. What do the positive things I mentioned, the global economy, the explosion of information technology, the biological sciences advances, and democracy and diversity, and the negative things I mentioned, global poverty, the environmental crises, the health crises, and terror, what do all eight of those things have in common? They all reflect the absolutely breathtaking increase in global interdependence, the extent to which the barriers of national borders don't count for much anymore, and to which we are all affected by things that happen a long way from home. Things that used to happen a long way from home can now happen next door.

In other words, I honestly believe it's very important if you want to understand the world in which you live that you see September the 11th as the dark side of all the benefits we've gotten from tearing down the walls, collapsing the distances and spreading the information that we have across the world. We have not changed human nature, we have not solved all the problems, and there are a lot of people that see the world differently than we do. You cannot collapse walls, collapse differences and spread information without making yourself more vulnerable to forces of destruction. You cannot claim the benefits of this new world without becoming more vulnerable at home.

Now having said that, I think it is highly unlikely that the 21st century will claim as many innocent lives as the 20th century did. Keep in mind, it's scary, it happened in our country, and if you live in New York, in your town, and on television. And maybe someone you know died. Most of us who live in New York know somebody who died. But remember, in World War I nine million people died. Between the wars 20 million people died from corrupt and bad governments. In World War II, over 20 million people died. After World War II another 20 million people died from oppressive governments. More than a million died in Korea. Somewhere around a million died in Vietnam. Seven hundred thousand people died in Rwanda in 90 days from people killing each other with machetes. I think it is unlikely, if we do the right things, in spite of how terrifying this is, that the 21st century will be anything like the killer that the 20th century was. But we cannot ignore that fact that we have vulnerability at home because of our interdependence. All the interdependence that's brought us all these wonderful advances in technology and science and economically that benefited America so much required us to tear down the walls, collapse distances and spread information, and it made us more vulnerable.

Now, if you accept that analysis, I hope the first thing I said is more compelling. We've got to win the fight we're in. The al-Qaida network and Mr. bin Laden are of an order of magnitude today more able than any other terrorist network in the world. But it is not enough, because there's no way for us to put the genie back in the bottle. It's not like we can go take care of business in Afghanistan and put the walls up and put the distances back and bring the information back. It's not like we can reverse the world we live in. And you wouldn't like it if we did. I suspect you like most of the positive things about this new world. Therefore we have to look ahead and say, OK, so we'll win the fight we're in but we also have to create a world where we have more partners and fewer potential terrorists. And how are we going to do that?

We have to spread the benefits and shrink the burdens of the 21st century world, number one. Number two, we have to deal with the fact that most terrorists come from places that aren't democracies. And number three, we have to deal with the special challenges presented in the Muslim world, because Islam's our fastest growing religion in America, and we have to lift up the positive forces there, and encourage those with enough courage to stand up for them.

When I moved to New York, I was given a book written in 1949 by a wonderful writer named E.B. White, called "Here is New York." He commented on the fact that New Yorkers and a lot of other people died in Pearl Harbor, and how vulnerable they felt after the atom bomb dropped in Hiroshima, and the irony that the United Nations building, the symbol of peace, was being built in New York after the war in response to the dropping of the atom bomb. Here's what he said 52 years ago. It could have been written or September 11th:

We now see a race between the destroying planes in the struggling parliament of man. The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution. This riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence and racial brotherhood. This lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway is the home of all people and all nations, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errands forestalled.

Amazing, isn't it? Fifty-two years ago he foresaw a time when New York would be attacked from the air as the symbol of all peoples and all places. At the time he thought it was because the U.N. was there. Now all New York looks like the U.N., just like you do. I'll say again, this is a struggle to define the soul of the 21st century. We have to win the fight we're in but we also have to create more partners and reduce the terrorist pool. So what do we have to do? First, we have to reduce poverty and create more economic opportunity. Last year we relieved the debt of the poorest countries. We ought to do more of it, because we only relieved the debt if they would put money to education, health care, or economic development, to make sure the money wouldn't be wasted, and the stories are stunning, what's being done with this money in these countries. We should do more of that. Last year we gave two million micro-enterprise loans to poor people in Asia, Latin American, and Africa. We ought to be giving 20 million a year or more. They average 50, 60 dollars apiece. They put a lot of poor village people in businesses. We should do more -- it's a lot cheaper than going to war.

There's a Peruvian economist named Hernando De Soto who wrote a book I recommend to all of you called "The Mystery of Capital," pointing out that the poor people of the world control today five trillion dollars in assets in their homes and their businesses, but they are still shut out of capitalism because they can't borrow any money on their assets, because their assets are not recognized within the legal system of their country. For businesses, because the legal system is so bogged-down and cumbersome and expensive that people can't get into it at an affordable price, and for people who live in shanties, they have no way getting addresses or land titles that can be verified and protected in court, so nobody will loan them money on their houses. So De Soto says, he's going around the world working on every continent saying, look, if you could just let poor people legitimize their assets, then they could get credit and it would be far better than all the foreign aid and foreign investment put together, because they have five trillion dollars' worth of stuff, it's just useless to them. We ought to pay to help this guy do this project in every country in the world. You ought to hear the history of American property rights. We fought over this for decades. But you think about it, every one of you that take for granted your family's home mortgage or car loan or business loan. The reason you can get a car loan is, you can establish title to the car, and it's an asset worth something so people can loan you money on it. We ought to fund this around the world. We ought to train people to do what we take for granted in America.

One of my former administration members is out here in the audience, Melanne Verveer. She and her husband were my classmates at Georgetown and she was Hilary's chief of staff and she now is working with Georgetown with a group called Vital Voices, which Hilary and Melanne helped to establish, women's groups all over the world working for peace and also empowerment. They've had here women from China, Vietnam and other places training them to do what we take for granted. This doesn't cost any money and it wins big benefits. So, these are the kinds of things that we ought to do economically.

Second thing we ought to do is get the kids of the world in school. There are a hundred million children who never go to school. In a poor country, one year of schooling is worth 10 percent to 20 percent increased income for life, every year. We can do this for not much money. Brazil, a developing country, has 97 percent of its kids in school. Why? Because they pay the mothers -- not the fathers, the mothers -- in the 30 percent of the poorest families a fixed amount a month if they send their kids to school. And they get a little card, it looks like a credit card, it says Bolsa-Escola on it, and if then once a month they get a certificate from school that their kid was there 85 percent of the time. They show up at the local lottery office and they get their cash. So not surprisingly, they're all in school. It's not rocket science. Ten years from now, you can remember this, 10 years from now you check how Brazil's doing compared to other developing countries because they did this today. In my last year as president we got 300 million dollars, not much in a 1.7 trillion dollar budget, to feed six million children a good meal every day for a year, but only if they come to school. I just got the first report on it from Senator McGovern and Senator Dole, and Congressman McGovern from Massachusetts who are handling this program, and it's amazing. Kids are flooding into schools who didn't go before because they come from families that don't have the ability to give them a good meal every day. You know, this is cheap. This is a lot cheaper than going to war, and it makes a big difference.

I should also point out that one of the big problems we're having right now in the conflict in Afghanistan is the impact of the so-called madrassas, religious schools, on the mindset of the children. You've probably all seen stories about it, but it's not true that those kids were sent to those schools because their mothers and fathers thought Osama bin Laden was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Most of them went there because their regular schools closed when the government couldn't fund them anymore. And I saw a story about one boy whose brother the parents paid for and couldn't get a job, so they just didn't pay for this kid to go to a private school so he ends up in a madrassa being indoctrinated instead of educated. We ought to pay to send these kids to school. It's a lot cheaper than going to war, and builds you a better life.

Same argument applies to AIDS. Secretary General Kofi Annan's asked for seven billion dollars a year for a global fund to fight infectious diseases. I tell you, I've done a lot of work in this area. We can turn this epidemic around in three years. Brazil cut the death rate in half in three years with medicine and prevention. Uganda, with no medicine, cut the death rate in half in five years. We do not have to have 100 million AIDS cases in five years. We do not have to let countries be consumed by this. I promise you, fledgling democracies will be destroyed by this. They will not be able to sustain an AIDS caseload of 100 million. And we don't have to have it happen. We ought to fund this program. It's not very much money.

Same argument applies to global warming. We could actually make money out of that, and so could the developing world. There's a trillion-dollar untapped market for alternative energy and energy conservation technologies that are available right now. All we have to do is to help finance it. We would actually make money and create jobs at a time when America needs some jobs, we could use some more jobs now. And so, I want to emphasize to you, I think this is really important. If we do these things we will create a more positive interdependent world.

I further think we must do more about democracy. Ten years ago I said it ought to matter to us how people govern themselves, because democracies by and large don't go to war with each other, don't sponsor terrorist acts against each other, and are more likely to be reliable partners, protect the environment, and abide by the law. Democracy is a stabilizing force. It provides a nonviolent means for resolving disputes. I believe that. And it's no accident that most of these terrorists come from non-democratic countries. If you live in a country where you're never required to take responsibility for yourself, where you never even have to ask whether there's something you should be doing to solve your own problems, then people are kept in a kind of a permanent state of collective immaturity and it becomes quite easy for them to believe that someone else's success is the cause of their distress. Now I've already told you I think we ought to be doing more to help, but there's some people you can't help if they don't help themselves. And I think this is a very, very important point. I have seen so many instances where peoples simply did not have any reference point because they were never required to take responsibility for themselves. If your families had raised you and they were so worried that you were going to hurt yourself that from the time that you were six 'til the time it came time for you to go to Georgetown they never let out of the house, you would have still been six emotionally, if you had never been able to leave the house. That's what it's like if you never get to have a say in your own life. I also think it's important when countries make a decision to be democracies that we recognize we ought to help them. I just got back from Spain where King Juan Carlos and Mikhail Gorbachov sponsored a conference designed specifically to help countries succeed once they choose democracy. You've got to deliver economic growth and honest government, and it's not as easy as it sounds.

Last point I want to make is this. We have to recognize that special challenges are presented by the Muslim world. I think I've earned a right to say this, I was the first president ever to recognize the feast of Eid-al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan every year. To bring large numbers of Muslims into the White House and to consult in every way. The last time we used military power was to protect the lives of poor Muslims, in Bosnia and Kosovo. And I tried to create a peace in the Middle East that would give the West Bank to the Palestinians and protect their equities in Jerusalem and a Palestinian state.

I think I have earned the right to say that this is partly a Muslim issue because there is a war raging within Islam about what they should think about the United States in particular and the west in general. And the war can be found in America. I was in Buffalo the other day and on the front page of the newspaper, a part-time chaplain at the state prison up there was suspended from her job for bragging on bin Laden and basically expressing sympathy with the terrorists. The New Republic has a story saying a prominent activist is now in trouble with the White House because he kept bringing Muslims into the White House who actually supported terrorist networks. This debate is going on all over America and all over the world. We've got to flesh this out. We've got to quit pretending like this is not going on.

One problem is that in the Middle East most governments are characterized either as theocracies, that is, there is no separation between faith and state, or they're secular governments but they're either very weak democracies or they're not real democracies. And underneath there are fundamentalist movements that essentially say the West is the source of all evil, and all truth was revealed and knowable once the Koran was given to Mohammad, and the practices of the Prophet were codified in the ensuing 300 years after his death. So it's all backward-looking. No open questions, nothing debatable. And in the complex combustible mixture of a lot of these countries, a lot of the governments allow people to go into the mosques and demonize us and demonize the West and demonize Christianity and demonize Jews because as long as they do that they think they're shifting the heat of popular distress off of the governments. And a lot of these folks have been our friends, America's friends and my friends. But we have created a discordant world in which it's hard to sort out who's where here. And we've now reached a point with all these people lying dead and these terrorist threats, with the anthrax and everything where people need to actually say what it is they believe. What do you believe is right and wrong?

And we need to a better job of getting the facts out. Most Muslims in the Middle East I'll guarantee you don't know that the last time we used our military power was to protect poor Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. I had a Kosovar family in my office yesterday in Harlem, bringing their kids to see me because they were so grateful that America had given them a chance to build their lives. Most people in the Middle East have forgotten, if they did know, that it was America that advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state and a reconciliation with Israel, which would protect both sides' equities in Jerusalem.

Now, we're not for running Israel out of the Middle East. If that's what they want, they ought to say that, but don't pretend that America has not been sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. It's not true. And I think in America we need to do more to give courage and voice and pictures to our vibrant Muslim community of people that are anti-terror. We ought to get out all over the world how many Muslims died in the World Trade Center and what countries they claimed as home. Everywhere I go in New York, yesterday I was down in a park and these young people came up to me and said they were proud to be Muslims and proud to be living in America. One was Egyptian, one was Pakistani, and they just hated all this terrorism. They ought to be given courage and identified and given support to stand against this.

And we need to do something, I will say again, about the schools. I saw a story the other day about a kid in a school in one of these madrassas who was taught everything about the Koran and he was a very admirable young man, the kind of person you'd like to have in your family. He got up at four o'clock every morning to pray, he could answer any conceivable question about the Koran. He had good character, but a poisoned mind. He was taught that no man every walked on the moon but that dinosaurs existed because Americans and Jews re-created them to devour Muslims. But he was a good kid. He didn't teach himself that.

So, we have to reach out and engage the Muslim world in a debate. You have, you know, Mr. [John L.] Esposito here at Georgetown whose book is probably the most well thought of text about the history of Islam. But you ought to understand what have been the theological battles between the conservatives, the fundamentalists, and the moderates in Islam. Why has it been a thousand years since there was a serious challenge mounted from reformist moderates? Except for Ataturk in Turkey, what Sadat wished to do and didn't live to do in Egypt, and what King Hussein did in Jordan. In 1991 he got everybody together and he said, "I'll give up some powers. I'll let you have a parliament, everybody can run, the fundamentalists can run, but here are the boundaries beyond which you can't step, because we're going to hold this country together." It is no accident that in the inner Middle East it is the most stable country now, because there is some popular expression of opinion and people have to take some responsibility for themselves. And that's the last thing I want to say to all of you here.

This battle fundamentally is about what you think of the nature of truth, the value of life, and the content of community. You're at a university which basically believes that no one ever has the whole truth, ever, because you're human. It's part of being a human being. It's part of the limitation imposed on us by God. We are incapable of ever having the whole truth. They believe they got it. Because we don't believe you can have the whole truth, we think everybody counts and life is a journey. Hopefully we get wiser as we make this journey, and we learn from each other, and we think everybody ought to be entitled to make the journey. They believe that because they have the truth you either share their truths or you don't. If you're not a Muslim, you're an infidel. If you are and you don't agree with them, you're a heretic, and you're a legitimate target. Even a six-year old girl who went to work with her mother at the World Trade Center on September 11th. We believe that a community is you. Doesn't matter where you come from, doesn't matter what your religious faith is, you just got to accept certain rules of the game: everybody counts, everybody has a role to play, we all do better when we help each other, and we ought to argue like crazy because nobody's got the truth and we're trying to get closer. They believe communities of people are those who look alike, act alike, dress alike, and just to make sure they enforce the rules. That's why you see all those sanctimonious guys beating those women with sticks in the Taliban in the movies on television. They paint the women's windows black, so God forbid, they won't be able to see outside and might be polluted, and in some cases even shoot people when they go outside where they shouldn't go.

This is not a perfect society, but it is one that is stumbling in the right direction. When you strip everything I said today down to one sentence, it basically comes down to this. Ever since civilizations began, people have fought with their own inner demons over whether what we have in common is the most important thing about life, or whether our differences are the most important thing about life. That's what all this comes down to. I'm glad America is a lot more different than it was when I was your age. This is a much, much more interesting country. But what gives us the freedom to celebrate our differences is the certainty of our common humanity. Otherwise we'd have to fight each other over our differences. But this is very hard to do.

Remember this is a country that was born in slavery. In my lifetime Martin Luther King was killed just before, a couple of months before I graduated from Georgetown, trying to preach this message. Bobby Kennedy killed two days before our college graduation, trying to preach this message. The greatest spirit of the age, Gandhi, killed not by a mad Muslim but by a Hindu who thought he was a traitor because he thought India could be a home for the Muslims and the Sikhs and the Jains and everybody. Sadat killed not by an Israeli commando, but by the predecessor of the number two guy in al-Qaida 20 years ago, angry at him, thinking he was not a good Egyptian because he was not a faithful Muslim believing as he did in secular government and peace with Israel. And my great friend, Yitzhak Rabin, killed not by a Palestinian terrorist but by an Israeli who thought he was not a good Jew or a patriotic Israeli because he wanted peace and a homeland for the Palestinians as the surest means of security for the Israelis.

This is not easy to do, but I'm telling you, no terrorist campaign has ever succeeded, and this one won't if you don't give it permission. You can have the most exciting time in human history, but we have to defeat people who think they can find their redemption in our destruction. Then we have to be smart enough to get rid of our arrogant self-righteousness so that we don't claim for ourselves things that we deny for others. Then in the end, we've got to be able to stand up and say, we are not against Islam, but we want to have a clear understanding about what we think is the nature of truth, the value of life, and the content of community. If we do that, you will still live in the best time the world has ever known.

Thank you very much.

By Bill Clinton

Adapted from a recent speech to a Third Way conference in London, this article originally appeared in "Blueprint," the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council.

MORE FROM Bill Clinton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------