Laura Bush: Education and the war on terror

From a speech by the US First Lady to the Unesco plenary session in Paris

The United States government will once again be a full, active and enthusiastic participant in Unesco's important mission to promote peace and freedom. Unesco was born of the conviction that peace and security for all nations and all peoples will be advanced when ignorance, suspicion and mistrust are replaced with education, respect and tolerance. My country was among the first to ratify Unesco's constitution, which was adopted in the wake of World War Two. That great and terrible war, the constitution states, was made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and the races. Those words, written almost 58 years ago, speak to us with new challenge today as we confront the ideology of hate and violence expressed in worldwide acts of terror.

Unesco has done valuable work rebuilding in Uganda, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and your collaboration can help change the future of children in Afghanistan and Iraq. Surely we can agree that rebuilding those countries as secure, hopeful and self-governing nations is in all of our best interests.

A recent Gallup survey found that nearly two-thirds of Iraqis say ousting Saddam Hussein was worth the hardship they've experienced; an overwhelming majority feel that Iraq will be better off in five years than it was before. Nowhere is this more obvious than in education. One tragic legacy of Saddam Hussein's rule is an overall adult illiteracy rate of 61 per cent and three out of four women in Iraq - cannot read.

As the civilized world stands against terror, Unesco can make an enormous difference.