I’m deeply honored to be here this evening, to celebrate the enormously important work of Rabbi Schneier and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, as well as the enormously significant contributions made by this year’s honorees.
Never has there been a moment when the Foundation’s singular theme of religious tolerance mattered more than it does today. Never has there been a moment when the Foundation’s compelling message – that “a crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion” – mattered more than it does today. And never has there been a moment when the life’s mission of Rabbi Schneier, who has challenged our conscience and our humanity for nearly half a century, and for whom I have the greatest personal admiration, mattered more than it does today.
At a moment in human history when a reckless threat to burn a holy book in the United States can spark unrest around the world … at a moment when extremism in the name of religion can distort and undermine the fundamental values that we share … it is particularly valuable to support the enduring task of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and embrace the examples set by those we honor tonight.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to join all of you in recognizing the achievements of Stephen Schwarzman and John Elkann, whose generosity and philanthropic accomplishments inspire us all.
And I am especially grateful, on behalf of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, to have this opportunity to recognize this evening’s third honoree, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the Republic of India, and this year’s recipient of the World Statesman Award. There could truly be no better choice, and no better model of what integrity and statesmanship are all about on the world stage.
A man of uncommon decency and grace, Prime Minister Singh has never lost sight of his responsibility to lead every Indian. A member of the Sikh religion, he is the first Prime Minister of India from a minority faith. He currently serves in a government that includes a Hindu President and a Muslim Vice-President. The youngest Minister in his Cabinet is a Catholic. None of that should be surprising in a country which has given birth to or influenced nearly every major religion in the world.
A man of even temperament, and remarkable modesty and humility, Prime Minister Singh has demonstrated clear vision and steely determination as a leader, bringing great benefit to India and to the rest of the world. In the face of much skepticism at home, he held to his conviction that the people of India would gain more by engaging in the global economy than by remaining apart from it. The results of the policies he has advocated are indisputable: during his tenure as Prime Minister, a vibrant democracy of over one billion citizens has grown its economy at an unprecedented 8-9 percent annually, and lifted more than a hundred million people out of poverty.
In the face of long and tangled regional conflicts, Prime Minister Singh has been a courageous advocate of peace and reconciliation. His composure and steady hand have been crucial to sustaining communal harmony at home and to keeping alive the search for common ground with India’s neighbors. He has not so much preached tolerance and respect for diversity as he has lived it, through the model he has set and the leadership he has shown.
History will also mark with special significance Prime Minister Singh’s personal contributions to the emerging partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies, America and India. India’s rise may be as consequential for international order, the future of the global economy and the promotion of human values as any other development in the new century unfolding before us. Without any doubt, India’s rise is deeply in the interests of the United States, and our stake in India’s success grows more apparent as each day passes. We are united not only by common values and shared interests, but increasingly by the vast web of family, business, artistic and scientific ties that transcend our borders. As President Obama prepares for an historic state visit to India later this autumn, the promise of our partnership, built on strong bipartisan foundations in both our countries, looms bright and unmistakable.
More than anyone else, it is Prime Minister Singh who has led the way in building our partnership. He championed the historic civil nuclear agreement between us. His economic policies helped produce India’s rise within our new G-20 world, and helped produce a doubling of U.S.-India bilateral trade in just a few years. His promotion of closer educational links between us has borne tangible fruit; today there are 100,000 Indian students in the United States, more than from any other country. And Prime Minister Singh’s advocacy of cooperation in high technology and science led to the recent launch of India’s first unmanned lunar probe, which carried a NASA payload and discovered the presence of water molecules on the moon. Inspired and shaped by Prime Minister Singh’s vision, U.S.-India relations today offer a rare case in which even the sky is not the limit for our ambitions or our possibilities.
I know that Ambassador Shankar, whom we are honored to have with us this evening, will convey the deep feeling of respect and appreciation that all of us have for Prime Minister Singh, who so richly deserves this year’s World Statesman Award. The example of tolerance and decency and wisdom set by Prime Minister Singh will long endure, and let us all draw strength and inspiration from that extraordinary example for many years to come.