Sep 22, 2009
Rabbi Arthur Schneier,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is with a great sense of humility and pride that I speak to you tonight on this very special occasion. As many in this audience will know, we politicians are capable of delusion at the best of times, and at all times. So for a young politician, to get to play the part of Prime Minister, address such a distinguished audience of a thousand guests, and follow Henry Kissinger, tonight, is either a dream or a nightmare. I can’t quite make my mind up. The moment a career ends tragically, and prematurely, or polite applause from the audience, allows one to fight another day. You get my drift.
I’m also acutely aware of rumors circulating in London of an imminent government reshuffle. So I hope you’ll understand, while my praise for my boss, the Prime Minister, will be of such magnitude, it is likely to register on the Richter scale. And Mr. Murdoch, I hope to get the chance for a private chat with you later, because your newspapers are usually better informed about the fate of ministers than members of the government themselves.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin by paying tribute to Rabbi Arthur Schneier and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation for their outstanding contribution to promoting religious freedom and human rights, over the past remarkable 44 years. Each and every day they work to ensure that hope triumphs over fear, optimism overcomes cynicism, and inspirational leadership is elevated above the mediocrity of ordinariness. Whether it be a business, a school, a hospital or a nation, effective and dynamic leadership is always the essential route to transformation, the key to unlock innovation and the characteristic which most differentiates success from failure. That is why these awards are so important, in highlighting the importance of leadership.
The Foundation’s motto, and many people maybe will not be aware of this, is “a crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion”, a motto which has never been more relevant or poignant as we face the challenges of today and tomorrow, a motto which should prevail in every faith community, and a motto which has particular resonance in this great city of New York. I will never forget watching live on TV in London the unfolding horror of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I will never forget the courage of the New York firefighters, cops, and ordinary citizens, as they coped with the tragedy and the trauma of unimaginable carnage. And I will never forget, and always be proud of the fact that Britain stood shoulder to shoulder with the American people at their darkest hour and at the time of their greatest need.
But ladies and gentlemen, the motto, “a crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion”, should also cause us to reflect on the lessons we must learn following the events of September 11th. Those, whether they be politicians, intellectuals, or opinion formers, who claim the West foreign policy is the primary cause of terrorism, not only gives such ammunition to the terrorists, they legitimize the misappropriation and abuse of one of the world’s great religions by a small extremist minority.
Those who preach hate or equivocate about the use of violence in the pursuit of political ends are not worthy of the title, religious leader. And those who maliciously and falsely seek to define Islam through the narrow prism of the fundamentalists, or cross the line between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and pernicious resurgent anti-Semitism, seek to divide, not unite, our societies.
Let me also take this opportunity to express British support for President Obama’s efforts to kick start the Middle East peace process. At this important time of Eid, and period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is important to be clear that there is no credible alternative to a two-state solution: a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, accompanied by the mainstream Arab world, finally normalizing relations with the state of Israel.
For those of you who are doubtful, let me remind you of the impossible dreams. I have witnessed, and many in this room have witnessed, during the course of their lifetime, the Berlin Wall came down, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and elected president in South Africa, freed from the scourge of apartheid. As the Rabbi said, peace came to Northern Ireland, with Ian Paisley and Marty McGinnis sharing power in government. And ladies and gentlemen, an African American named Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States of America.
Let nobody tell us that peace in the Middle East is an impossible dream. We should hope and pray that next year in New York, we will be gathered on this occasion, at this dinner, to witness Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas receive the joint award of International Statesman, 2010.
And if so, ladies and gentlemen, they will have demonstrated the courageous and visionary leadership which is imperative, if we are to secure a peace so far elusive, but by no means impossible. Let us embark on a journey to a Jerusalem which is not simply a capital city, but a beacon of hope, as the embodiment of respect and understanding between the world’s great faiths.
Ladies and gentlemen, I now want to turn my attention to our Prime Minister, and your award recipient tonight, Gordon Brown. As Gordon said earlier on at the reception, this award is a great honor, which he accepts with pride and sincere gratitude. He’s also delighted to be recognized alongside Bernard Arnault, and Muhtar Kent. And ladies and gentlemen, didn’t they make magnificent speeches here this evening?
I find it ironic that I stand here tonight to collect this award. Back home, day by day, history is being rewritten about Gordon Brown’s leadership. It is right, therefore, to use this occasion to set the record straight. Not as a sycophant. Those who follow British politics know I’ve not been afraid to speak out from time to time, when I’ve been concerned about the direction of the government in which I serve. But as somebody who believes that fairness, civility and objectivity should be applied, even to politicians, who in democracies are rightly held rigorously to account, through parliament, public scrutiny, and the prism of 24-hour media.
Ladies and gentlemen, when the world’s economy faced meltdown last year, it was Gordon Brown who was the architect of a global response which sought to learn the lessons of previous recessions. Fiscal stimuli adopted by governments of all persuasions, and in synergetic way, not only to prevent the collapse of financial institutions, but to preserve the jobs and savings of millions across the world. Recession of course, is causing pain and hardship to many. But depression would have wrecked the life chances of a generation, hit the poorest the hardest, and fueled instability and conflict.
We know, because we are realists, that the UK and many countries face a long, hard road to recovery, and yes, painful decisions about public spending and taxation. But history will judge that Gordon Brown made the right calls at a time when others were hesitating or urging a very different course.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s nothing short of a disgrace that at the beginning of the 21st century, we continue to tolerate so much inequality in our world. In Africa and throughout the developing world, millions of kids don’t have the chance to go to school. Hundreds of thousands are HIV and AIDS orphans. Thousands of mothers die unnecessarily in childbirth. And too many women are the victims of systematic violence and rape on a daily basis. It took the passion and the humanity of millions of ordinary people, who marched to make poverty history, to force the world’s leaders to sit up and take notice. And we are honored tonight that Bono, who did so much to lead that campaign, is with us, amongst us.
But he would also accept, it required political will to create the historic millennium goals, to write off debt, to increase aid, and seek fairer global trade. Once again, that political will, initially working alongside Tony Blair, was demonstrated by Gordon Brown. Today, it is he, even in the teeth of this global economic crisis, who is focusing the world’s leaders on their responsibility to delivery on their millennium development goal commitments, on universal access to healthcare on education, on maternal and infant mortality, on investment and infrastructure to stimulate growth … time and time again, it is Gordon Brown who is providing global leadership.
This week, the United Nations General Assembly is rightly focusing on the greatest challenge now facing the world, that of climate change. As we approach Copenhagen, it’s once again fallen to Gordon Brown to make the case for radical global action in the name of our children and our grandchildren, to navigate the choppy waters, and the unavoidable tensions between national self interest and the future of our planet, to roll up his sleeves, and once again take on the mantle of true leadership, facing up to the big issues. Or as Gordon frequently says, adopting the great causes.
So tonight, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving me the opportunity to put the record straight. As we come to terms with both the insecurity and opportunities presented by an increasingly interdependent world, political leaders, more than ever before, will have to explain to their people why national interests will require global cooperation and global action as the great Dr. Kissinger said. Jobs, social mobility, personal and national security, and environmental protection, will all depend on a combination of national and global leadership.
As the economic crisis has demonstrated, conventional orthodoxies are being challenged. Vibrant market economies remain the only route to prosperity, but they cannot, ladies and gentlemen, function without limits or without ethics. Financial services require the right combination of national and global regulation. Individual and collective state action is the only means by which market failure can be addressed and corrected.
On all of the big challenges facing today’s world, Gordon Brown has repeatedly demonstrated authentic leadership, championing the inextricable link between economic prosperity and social justice, making the elimination of poverty in the United Kingdom and throughout the world a moral imperative; striving for universal access to education and health, as basic rights of citizenship in a modern world, and stacking up to the mark; when the world stared depression in the face, as financial institutions stood on the brink of total collapse; challenging the world, as he is now, to come together in Copenhagen, and adopt the radical action necessary to tackle the climate change emergency.
Ladies and gentlemen, as a relatively young politician, I simply refuse to allow the cynics and the skeptics to win the argument. I chose politics as a vocation, not as a career. Politics matters because they affect every aspect of our lives, from the dreams and the aspirations we have for ourselves and our kids, to the fears and the anxieties which fuel our doubts and our insecurities. Tonight, you were chosen to honor a man who, through all the person and professional challenges he has faced, has never forgot what politics is all about.
He doesn’t simply seek to explain the world as it is, or to preside over an imperfect and unjust status quo. His mission is to change the world. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why he’s such a fitting recipient of your award, and why tonight I am so proud to be here to receive it on his behalf. Thank you very, very much.