Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she was deeply hurt by charges that the United States was biased against Muslims, staunchly defending her country’s record in protecting minorities.
Clinton, visiting the world’s third largest Muslim-majority country Bangladesh, was asked by a student at a public forum about perceptions that the United States was against Islam.
“That hurts me so much,” Clinton said. “It’s a painful perception to hear about and I deeply regret that anyone believes that or propagates it.”
Clinton said that the decade of U.S.-led war was “self-defense” after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda and said extremists “perverted” the teachings of Islam.
Clinton said that while individual prejudice exists in all societies, it isn’t an institutional policy of the U.S. On the contrary, she said, the U.S. has gone further than anywhere else in the world in trying to guarantee legal protections for minorities.
“Is there discrimination or prejudice in the United States like in every society and country in the world? Unfortunately yes. Human nature has not changed dramatically,” she said.
“There is discrimination against people of different religions, of different races, of different ethnic groups all over the world... but I don’t think that it is at all fair to hold up the United States” over discrimination, she said.
“I believe that the United States through our laws and through our constant political dialogue has gone probably farther than anywhere else in the world in trying to guarantee legal protections for people. I would like to see more countries do more to protect the rights of minorities,” she said.
The United States has long had a cooperative relationship with Bangladesh, which is known for its moderate brand of Islam and has a significant population of religious minorities.
But Clinton is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Bangladesh since 2003 amid concern over political infighting that has long polarized the country.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Clinton’s visit would highlight growing cooperation between Washington and Dhaka on everything from counter-terrorism and U.N. peacekeeping to global health and food security.
“Her visit is an opportunity to show Bangladesh's government and 160 million citizens that America is truly Bangladesh's partner,” the official said.
But the trip will also likely put fresh focus on the Obama administration's commitment to human rights after the standoff in Beijing over activist Chen Guangcheng, whose flight to the U.S. embassy after escaping house arrest overshadowed Clinton’s three days of meetings in Beijing.
She will conclude the trip with visits to the Indian cities of Kolkata and New Delhi early next week.