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Speeches and Remarks 2010

Remarks by Ambassador James F. Moriarty at the Independence Day Reception

June 8, 2010

Honorable Minister of Commerce, Lieutenant Colonel (Retd.) Muhammad Faruk Khan, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished guests:
assalamu-aleikum and good evening. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for coming tonight. We are here to celebrate the birthday of America.  Two-hundred and thirty-four years ago, a group of thinking men sat together in a blistering hot room, stifled by humidity-much like what we experience here in Bangladesh.  They sat, they argued, they worked; they were sometimes petty, they often disagreed, they missed their families after months away from home.  In the end, the document they created was not perfect, but it contains the single best statement ever written stating the values that all Americans share:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Tonight we celebrate the anniversary of that simple document.  In the more than two centuries since it was written, those words have been at the core of what it means to be an American.  We are not a nation founded on a common ethnicity or religion or even language—we are a nation founded on a few simple ideas.  We believe that all men are created equal and share certain basic rights as human beings, no matter who they are or where they come from.  Being an American means supporting those ideas and living those ideas.

In 1776, our population was already diverse, representing many different countries and religions.  It included African-Americans, who would continue, held as slaves for almost another hundred years after our Founders enshrined the fundamental right to liberty in this document.  The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence were far from perfect defenders of the rights they so eloquently espoused.  Still, while our ideals have not changed over the centuries, we have constantly refined our execution of those ideals.  We have constantly worked, as our Constitution says, “to form a more perfect union.”

Today, American citizens have their origins around the globe, from Chad to China, from Belgium to Bangladesh.  They follow many different religions, speak different native tongues, and celebrate different holidays.  We define ourselves not by our differences, however, but by our commonalities: our commitment to our ideals, our dedication to democracy, and our love of liberty.  Our forefathers came to America to live in freedom: freedom to practice their religion, freedom to raise their families according to their wishes, or freedom simply to trade, go into business, and prosper.

These ideals also shape our view of the world.  Quite simply, we seek a world of prosperity and freedom.  In the face of global challenges—climate change, global recession, transnational terrorism—all countries of good faith must cooperate to build a better world.  The U.S. and Bangladesh must be partners on the great issues of the 21st century.  I am proud to say that the U.S.-Bangladesh friendship is stronger than at any time before.

The relationship between our governments, while excellent, is a small part of the ever-growing ties between our nations.  People, goods, and ideas are crossing the continents and oceans between us in torrential flows never before seen.  The connections formed outside our governments—through educational exchange, trade, professional networking, travel, and even social media—will strengthen our relationship in the 21st century and beyond.  The strength of these ties is crucial as we tackle the big challenges of our day.

One of my favorite parts of working in Bangladesh is the fact that this is a nation of optimists.  Even in the most difficult times—after Cyclone Sidr, for example—people pitched in, helped their neighbors, and did what they needed to do to rebuild and move on.  Every day, people are choosing to look toward the future and seek a better life.  We see this constantly in the garment factories that drive Bangladesh’s economy.  People in those factories are gaining spending power and taking action to improve their situations.

I like to tell the story of a woman I met in the Chittagong Export Processing Zone.  I toured several garment factories there — modern, efficient factories, with better working conditions than the woolen mill I worked in as a teenager in Massachusetts in the early ’70s.  At a meeting outside the EPZ, however, I heard from the workers about their concerns: one was being paid by piecework rather hourly wage; another hadn’t received promised health benefits; a third said she wasn’t being paid overtime for hours worked.  I told them, “These are all serious issues that need to be addressed.”  But then I asked them, “Are you better off than your parents were and will your children be better off than you?”  The workers talked amongst themselves for just a little while.  Then, an older woman stood up, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Of course.” 

She works hard for limited material gain because the money she makes means her family will get enough to eat, her children will be educated, and her grandchildren will have a chance to live a different kind of life.  Many of you have heard of the “American Dream,” but I would argue that, at this moment in history, there is a similarly powerful Bangladeshi Dream.

This shared vision for a future of prosperity, democracy, and security is at the core of the U.S.-Bangladesh friendship.  Now I would like to raise a toast to that friendship—may it grow and thrive well into the future.

Thank you all for coming tonight, and I hope you enjoy the evening.