Secretary Clinton delivered a powerful and personal speech about religion at an Eid ul-Fitr reception, marking the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The speech, at times, was a direct response to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and the deaths of four diplomats at the hands of militants in Libya.
In her remarks, Clinton repeated much of what she has said in the last two days. Namely that the Benghazi attack was carried out by a "small and savage group," and that the United States completely rejects what she called the "inflammable and despicable" anti-Muslim film circulating the Internet. However, Clinton pointed out all religions have faced insults and denigration, but that's no justification for violence. The response to such insults is what separates people of true faith from those who would use religion as an excuse to commit violent acts, she said.
"When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence," said Clinton. "The same goes for all faiths, including Islam."
She spoke movingly about her own personal beliefs as a way of re-enforcing her point.
"I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults. They have withstood offense for centuries," said Clinton." Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one's faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one's faith is unshakable."
She asked the crowd to work towards building a world where if one person commits a violent religious act, millions of people will stand up and condemn it.
"We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer," Clinton said forcefully. "They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult; answering ignorance with enlightenment; answering hatred with understanding; answering darkness with light."
The secretary urged the audience not to be discouraged by the hatred and violence that exists, but instead resolve to do something tangible to promote religious tolerance in their own communities.
"In times like these, it can be easy to despair that some differences are irreconcilable, some mountains too steep to climb; we will therefore never reach the level of understanding and peacefulness that we seek, and which I believe the great religions of the world call us to pursue," she reflected. "But that's not what I believe, and I don't think it's what you believe… Part of what makes our country so special is we keep trying. We keep working. We keep investing in our future," she said.
This year's annual Eid event honored three young Muslim-Americans who are part of the State Department's Generation Change program. The initiative, launched by Clinton two years ago, supports young Muslims to develop positive organizations and movements around the world.
Clinton acknowledged given deaths of the diplomats killed in Libya this week, the event had a more somber tone than in years past. But she also highlighted the outpouring of support the United States has received from the Muslim world. She thanked the Libyan Ambassador, Ali Suleiman Aujali, who gave a heartfelt tribute U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens ,whom he called his dear friend, killed in Benghazi on Tuesday.
"I must tell you, Madam Secretary, and tell the American people, that Chris is a hero," said Aujali. "He loves Benghazi, he loves the people, he talks to them, he eats with them, and he [was] committed - and unfortunately lost his life because of this commitment."