On the Occasion of U.S. National Day

Military personnel standing outside around many flags. (Photo Credit: State Department)Your Excellency, Dr. Maitha Al Shamsi;

Your Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Americans;

Welcome. As you know, Independence Day as we call our beloved Fourth of July, is a celebration that is pretty challenging to pull off here in the slightly elevated temperatures of an Emirati summer. But February we find is an excellent month for celebrating the birth of our nation – the weather is splendid, of course, and this month also marks the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents: George Washington, the Father of our country, and Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the union through its greatest trial.

And as we celebrate, I would also like to pay tribute to the founding father of our host country, to His Highness, the late Sheikh Zayed, who made possible so much of what we see today in the UAE, so much of what makes it one of our closest partners and friends.

I would also like to take this chance express to my thanks to the many generous American corporate sponsors of our event this evening, whose names and logos you will find throughout the displays tonight. We are truly grateful to them for helping make this a great celebration.

You will have noticed the film-making theme of our National Day celebration this year. Our movies have long been the universal medium for conveying what we pride ourselves on as a people and a country – imagination, innovation, creativity, and the drive to make the seemingly impossible a reality.

These aspects of the United States derive in no small measure from the great diversity of our people and their ideas, heritages and traditions which, taken together make us Americans. Pluralism is an American value and tradition. We embrace difference and variety as national assets.

From its inception, the United States has been a place where different peoples and perspectives met, mixed and, ultimately, flourished. Many of those who first came to the original 13 colonies were fleeing religious and political persecution in their home countries or seeking opportunities they had nowhere else; others among our forebears were brought against their will as slaves. But whatever their backgrounds or the animating motives that brought these disparate groups of people to the “New World,” they ultimately produced a common idea called the United States of America – a nation sprung from many nations and a culture enriched and blessed by many cultures.

It may seem counterintuitive to some, but our differences and diversity really are our greatest strengths. Each day in every state, communities of Americans, whose distant or recent forebears spring from every corner of the globe – come together to tackle the complex issues of life in the 21st century and to advance the common good. Their work personifies our national motto, enshrined in Latin on the Great Seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one.

But unity is not always easy. The world is wading through turbulent times – wars, terrorism, economic disruption, and extremist ideologies dominate the headlines and preoccupy our minds. Feelings of anxiety and fear are testing every country. It seems unity, everywhere, is under significant stress – in this region and in others, even back home in the U.S.

In the United States we work out our issues, big and small, in full, vivid display before the whole world. This is our way of dealing with our problems, and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, our discussion can be messy, chaotic, and sometimes worrisome to the rest of the world – but full-throated debate, dragging the issues out into the full sunlight of public view for inspection, deliberation and resolution — this is how we grow and move forward as a nation – stronger for having vigorously debated and solved our problems together.

It is an aspect of life in these United States that is strange or even off-putting to many who observe American society, but it is this same commitment to change and growth that helped the United States grow from a fledgling, democratic experiment — fragile to the point of shattering less than 90 years after its birth, tested yet again 90 years later as we struggled internally over the quest to bring equal rights to every citizen, regardless of race or gender – it is this that underwrote our growth as a world power dedicated to striving for equal rights for all. America is not perfect – we know that – but we will never stop trying. To quote President Obama, “We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward…to more and more people. And because we did – because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril – we emerged stronger and better than before.” Indeed, as the President said, we are always striving for “a more perfect union.”

Here in the UAE, we have seen how this country and its people have faced daunting challenges and emerged stronger. It has been invigorating and an honor to work with our Emirati friends during these challenging times. While the UAE is nominally a small country, its supersized vision, abilities and ambitions have made it possible for the UAE to make an outsized difference on the world stage. From championing humanitarian assistance to countering extremist ideologies to deploying forces to defend the country and the region, the UAE’s efforts and sacrifices have been immense. As Secretary Kerry said when he visited Abu Dhabi recently, “We understand those sacrifices in the United States, and we respect what has been achieved, and we respect the values that the UAE is standing up for.” The Emirati people are also blessed with a leadership with vision; and in Dubai this week at the World Government Summit, we had a pretty tantalizing look at that vision, of what a very bright and very different future for this region might look like. So tonight I both pay tribute to those Emiratis who have given their lives for their country, and reaffirm my government’s commitment to working with this country to foster a region built on tolerance, co-existence of faiths and peoples, and bring an end to the conflicts that have so stymied the hopes for security and prosperity.

But let me end by coming back to the theme of our celebration this evening. Tonight we invite you to celebrate the US in the UAE in a different way – through the lens of the camera, specifically through four of the biggest American film franchises in the world – all of them filmed here in the UAE. The filming here of Mission Impossible, Fast and Furious, Star Wars and Star Trek movies has raised the bar of global film-making in the UAE. Liwa and the salt flats outside of Musaffah were magically transformed into Jakku of the Star Wars universe. Fast and Furious 7 filmed right here on the steps of the Emirates Palace Hotel, and that unforgettable stunt scene took place right across the street at the Jumeirah Etihad Towers. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still get distinctly queasy watching Tom Cruise dangle from the Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. And let me just say that no one could have summed up life in these United Arab Emirates better than the awe-struck American producer who said that they chose to film Star Trek Beyond in Dubai because, as he put it, “We came searching for the future and we found it.”

We are delighted to share our cinematic achievements with you, and we are thrilled with the UAE’s efforts in this exciting field. Some of the UAE’s impressive undertakings in film and television have been done in partnership with Americans and American organizations. But while the global productions are noteworthy, so too are the growing number of outstanding undertakings featuring Emirati and Arab film-makers and story-tellers. The work of Abu Dhabi’s TwoFour54, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, Image Nation, Dubai’s TV and Film Commission and StudioCity and other Emirati production companies is beyond impressive. Their work only drives home that the attributes of imagination, innovation, creativity, and the drive to make the seemingly impossible a reality are not uniquely American attributes; they are something we have very much in common, in fact, with the UAE.

Thank you for coming to share our celebration this evening. And now, let’s get on with the party!