For some reason, a speech that then-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina gave on Sept. 26, 2001 — some two weeks after the 9/11 attacks — is in the headlines again. I say again, because the speech, in which Fiorina praises Islam and expresses concern for her “employees who are of Middle Eastern descent or who practice the Muslim religion,” has been in the news before, albeit in the business section.
Or so you would believe if you were to peruse an “analysis” by a relatively obscure website styled Militant Islam Monitor (MIM). In February 2005, shortly after Fiorina was canned by HP over concerns about the company’s future direction, MIM concocted a theory that her post-911 speech precipitated her ouster. Why it would take the company’s board four a half years to react to that speech is never explained.
The speech has reemerged as a would-be smoking gun courtesy of our friends on the left, who are understandably concerned following Fiorina’s commanding performance in the GOP kids table debate last Thursday. It appears here in its entirety. It is mainly a pep talk — an effort to rally and reassure her troops in the wake of a recent national disaster — and runs some 3,700 words. Let me save you the trouble of reading through the transcript and present the portion of the speech that is supposedly a red flag:
There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.
It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.
One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.
And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.
Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.
When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.
While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.
Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.
And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.
This kind of enlightened leadership — leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage — led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.
Some who like Fiorina will read these sentiments and decide it’s time to move on to another candidate. Others, who are now on the fence, should be reminded that around the same time Fiorina delivered her speech, President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and said:
I … want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.
Put somewhat differently, 9/11 was a long time ago. Much water has poured over the dam since.