At The Foreign Press Association
23 November 2004
When they asked me if I would speak here tonight, I was very honoured. But I'm going to admit I hesitated just a bit. For a head of state to speak to a room full of top journalists is a little like a pheasant walking into a kitchen full of Cordon Bleu chefs.
Well, I'm not sure what you will all decide to make of me, but I hope it will be good.
Tonight I'd like to talk, very briefly, about the global challenges we are facing. And more important, about the opportunities we have, to make some decisive moves toward greater peace and security.
When this association was founded, back in 1888, it was perhaps understandable that many people saw other countries as foreign and far away. Not today. No nation, anywhere, can ignore the world that surrounds us: regional conflicts; the deep division between haves and have-nots; the twin threat of extremism and terror. We share the planet and we share its future, good or bad. As citizens, as professionals, as people, we all need to ask ourselves: what is our responsibility? What can we do to advance a positive agenda?
Last week, Prime Minister Blair and President Chirac both affirmed the importance of multilateralism. Well, I suggest we need multilateralism in its purest form: practical action on every side – involving every nation, every sphere of society, and every skill we have. We all seek a peaceful, secure and prospering world. To achieve it, we must work together – to end regional conflict; to unite against terror; and to heal economic and cultural divides.
No where is that effort needed more than in the Middle East. In our region, conflict is causing immense suffering, to the victims and all who identify with them. Too many people live in poverty or lack the opportunities they deserve. Through the media, they see the amazing promise and possibilities of our century. And they want to share in those benefits. When such hopes are frustrated, good and hopeful people – especially young people – can fall prey to apathy or rage. Both responses are deadly to the future of our region and the world.
For those of us who believe in a better future, the answer is clear: there must be reform aimed at good governance, economic growth and national development. In Jordan, such a process is well underway. Our country has made structural changes to increase opportunity and build democratic political life. Human rights are a key part of the effort. We have established a human rights centre, which will serve as an ombudsman. We are working to empower youth and women. A responsible, independent press is essential to our development. New laws are being enacted to disengage the government from direct control of the state media organisations. Laws have been drafted to open the public airwaves to private TV and radio stations. And we abolished the Ministry of Information.
We know there is work ahead. But Jordan has chosen its path. Our vision is of a modern civil society rooted in true Arab-Islamic values: tolerance and respect for others; belief in the rule of law; the equal dignity of all people and the pursuit of excellence. This month we issued the Amman Message to all Muslims and the world, reaffirming the true Islam, the Islam of peace, moderation and progress. And we believe that Jordan can help show what a home-grown model can accomplish, in creating development, combating extremism and providing new hope.
This term, “home-grown,” is very deliberate. Successful reform results from the work of people throughout society – from school teachers to entrepreneurs to religious leaders. Imposing a process from outside can't generate that kind of engagement. Reform must be rooted in our region's history, communities and culture. And creative people across the Middle East are showing the way.
Reform is ours to create. But there is another, critical role for the international community: moving the parties to peace. My friends, we urgently need a democratic, sovereign and rebuilt Iraq. I agree with my friend Tony Blair when he says: “Elections, not terror should decide the future of Iraq.” To create such a future, Iraq needs security and normalisation – and soon.
And most important, we must once and for all, resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a core challenge, not just for the region, but for the world. It has caused untold suffering to the parties. It is holding back regional reform and development. And it is causing collateral damage around the world – a crisis of faith in international justice that creates breeding grounds for extremist violence.
In 2002, Arab countries committed themselves to a landmark two-state solution. A sovereign, democratic and viable Palestine. Security guarantees for Israel to live in peace with its neighbours. A process that leads to a comprehensive settlement; addressing the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. The parties agreed on the Road Map, and it was endorsed by the G-8 countries.
I'm not telling you anything new when I say that progress has been far too slow. Every day of continued violence aids those who seek to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Every day of delay holds back Palestine's peaceful democratic development, Israel's ultimate security and global peace.
It's time to move forward. The passing of Yasser Arafat has wakened global attention and opened a new chapter in the peace process. I have urged the international community, especially the United States, to recommit to bold new progress. The world media can help all of us keep our eyes on the prize – the goal of peace. Palestinians and Israelis alike are crying out for peace. Hear them. Help them. Be their voice.
Indeed, in the Middle East, and everywhere around the world, credible, balanced news can allow people to see beyond the tensions, to the interests people share. Rivers of violence may divide communities, but we must always remember that the same humanity stands on either shore. As professionals, your knowledge, your openness and objectivity provide a bridge to bring people together.
Let me say a special word about terrorism and the tools of communication. Modern extremism depends heavily on its ability to deliver its message. But let's remember what kind of communication this is. It is not a message of reason or dialogue, but of terror and command. Terrorists do not submit to free and open questioning. They do not respect media independence or the safety of journalists. In the world they seek, there is no right to press freedom; it is not even a goal. This is why a free and responsible press serves both humanity and its future when it refuses to be used as a tool – when it refuses to incite hatred and violence - and when it reaches for the truth of our common humanity.
A thousand years and more ago, here in Britain, there were no reporters. Monk-scribes recorded the world's important events. In that age, it was the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that printed all the news that was fit to print. The entries would begin: “In this year …” Some were very short:
- In this year – the comet-star.
- In this year – a great famine.
In some entries you can almost hear the editorial writer:
In this year – the army went back to York and sat there a year.
Today, you are the chroniclers of our future. In the coming days, you will record the important events of our time. Together, I hope we can write a new reality:
- In this year – an independent Palestine.
- In this year – peace for Israel and the Middle East.
- In this year – a new promise for all the peoples of the earth.
Thank you very much.