Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Broad Dialogue With Muslims Worldwide

A Broad Dialogue With Muslims Worldwide
Interviewee: Farah A. Pandith, U.S. special representative to the Muslim communities, U.S. State Department
Interviewer: Toni Johnson, Staff Writer,
October 28, 2009

The Obama administration has created the post of special representative to the Muslim communities with the goal of building trust with the world's Muslims. The first person to serve that role, Farah Pandith, a Kashmir-born Muslim, says the U.S. role in Muslim engagement includes working with the local communities, to try to provide an opportunity across the board in every region, and opportunities to build on initiatives for the common good. The new initiative will employ social media and a host of other tools to help meet the needs of diverse Muslim communities. "The United States is not engaging with a particular kind of religious leader or endorsing a particular type of Islam," she says." Our effort is to engage with a wide scope of civil society, included in that will be people who have influence whether they're religious leaders, scholars, academics, teachers, businesspeople."

Your position as Special Representative to Muslim Communities was created following President Obama's address to the "Muslim world" in June in Cairo. You've been working in the State Department for quite some time on Muslim issues. How is this position different from your last one, and what do you hope to accomplish now?

I was senior adviser to the assistant secretary for Europe, so my reach was only in the Europe bureau. The new office of the special representative is a global portfolio. This is an opportunity to go beyond the traditional government-to-government approach and to really think about how we can build cooperation, partnerships, dialogue, to share ideas with civil society and with Muslim themselves who are making a difference in communities and who are interested in finding ways to move forward with their ideas.

My job is to be the hub here at the State Department to coordinate such efforts and I will spend a lot of my time on the ground working in two ways. One is a strong focus on the next generation of Muslims - the youth demographic is extremely important when it comes to Muslim communities around the world. We need to do more to get to know this young generation, and I'm working very hard on that through our embassies. Two, we have a focus on building networks of likeminded thinkers around the world. All of these programs and all of our approaches will be based through our embassies, which will work with me here in Washington. But it's our officers on the ground who will be working to collaborate with my support and involvement. This office isn't on an island in of itself - we're working with several important parts of the State Department, [including] the public diplomacy team, the women's empowerment ambassador-at-large, [and] the new media teams.

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