Remarks by Angelina Jolie Pitt on World Refugee Day
The UNHCR Special Envoy spoke at an interfaith iftar dinner with 50 Syrian refugees at a Muslim centre in Virginia.
Secretary of State, Ladies and Gentlemen – good evening.
It is a pleasure to be with you – with people of different backgrounds, faiths and beliefs, all pulling in the same direction and sharing a common outlook of respect and tolerance.
It reminds me how lucky we are to be living in a country that enables civil society to flourish; that provides for a rich tapestry of viewpoints and efforts.
Civil society is one of the guardrails of democracy, and thank you for the work so many of you do on behalf of refugees in this country and around the world.
The principles we live by in a democracy are not new. They are not open to being reinterpreted or watered down or even set aside because of new circumstances.
As citizens of we do not only want freedom and human rights for every single person in our own society, we want that for every other person in the world.
Upholding the ideal that all people are born equal and deserve equal rights and dignity is the essence of what it is to be a citizen of a democracy.
It is how we treat the weakest or most vulnerable among us that says the most about our commitment to human rights and equality and justice for all people.
And when we are most clearly seen to truly stand for those things in the world, that is when we are safest as a nation.
That is when we are most respected and admired, that is when our word counts the most internationally, and that is how we inspire others to work with us.
We don’t redefine ourselves as different people because we face new and daunting problems – we raise a fight within us to face down those challenges, and remain true to ourselves.
Speaking as an American, the fact is that there is not a country in the world that we are not connected to as a result of our unique history. We represent a global world.
When we are at our strongest is when we draw on our diversity as a people to find unity based on our common values and larger identity. We are not strong despite our diversity, we are strong because of it.
It is time to reclaim for ourselves the idea of what strength is in democratic societies.
I firmly believe that strength lies in the decency and common sense of regular citizens – such as the people who turned out in their thousands after the tragedy in Orlando, supported by millions of like-minded people across the world, from every race and religion.
Strength lies in identifying how to address the very particular challenge from a small minority of people who choose the path of violent extremism, or who abuse a religion, without stigmatizing and isolating millions of people who share in that religion.
There is nothing strong about denigrating anyone on the basis of their religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or on the basis of any characteristic or difference, real or imagined.
When we discriminate, when we imply by our actions that some lives are worth more than others, or when we denigrate the faith, traditions and culture of any one group of people, we weaken our strength as democratic societies.
What would it say about us as a country and an international community if we reach the point where we decided we were not prepared to stand up for our principles?
The answer to addressing the global refugee crisis surely lies in finding common purpose and drawing strength from each other.
In staying true to who we are, and showing that we have the fight in us to confront our generation’s test, and emerge stronger for it.
That is my hope and I believe that I share it with all of you and with millions of other people beyond this room.
Thank you for all you do, and thank you for allowing me to join you this evening.