Friday, July 3, 2009

Obama's Plan to Engage Young Muslims

WASHINGTON, July 2: The Obama administration wants to engage the Muslims in a way that is innovative, dynamic and out of the box, says Farah Pandith, America’s first special envoy to the Muslim communities. The main objective behind the administration’s new strategy is to “know the next generation of (Muslim) thinkers. And in this role I’ll be doing that,” Ms Pandith told a briefing in Washington.

Farah Pandith is a Muslim-American, born in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. Her parents immigrated to the United States when she was an infant.

Former president George W. Bush hired Ms Pandith in early 2007 as his senior adviser for Muslim engagement in the European and Eurasian region. She has also worked for the US National Security Council and with the US Agency for International Development in Kabul.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed her America’s first special envoy to Muslim communities around the world.

In Washington, the creation of this new position is seen as the first step towards implementing President Barack Obama’s policy of reaching out to the Muslims announced in Cairo last month.

The strategy aims at undoing the negative impact of the Bush policies -- the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, and the humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The approach, however, has already annoyed American conservatives, causing a former Reagan aide to proclaim that President Obama was a closet Muslim.

Perhaps that’s why the administration made no public announcement when it created a new office of a Special Representative to Muslim Communities. News of its debut was buried in an internal State Department memo last week, and it was only after spokesman Ian Kelley was questioned by reporters that the State Department arranged a public briefing by Ms Pandith.

But this did not prevent some US commentators from questioning the need to appoint a special envoy for the Muslims while others described the move as ‘bizarre’.

So it’s no surprise that Ms Pandith, an experienced diplomat, was very careful in her first briefing. She was so careful that in an hour-long briefing she did not mention Kashmir or Palestine even once.

She did not go into specifics and instead couched her message in neutral terms, hoping to draw the attention of her co-religionists without irking others.

She was particularly careful not to annoy India where the appointment of a Kashmiri woman as a special envoy for Muslims initially caused some concerns. Later, New Delhi welcomed her appointment, pointing out that she was an Indian. “I was actually very overwhelmed with the response in India,” said Ms Pandith. “I really have to say it was really special for me as somebody of Indian heritage.”

During the briefing, Ms Pandith used words like ‘listening’ and ‘nuance’ at least 20 times while describing how she would deal with her new assignment.

“I think it is nuance, I think it’s respect, I think it’s listening, I think it’s being creative,” she said. “And I think it’s creating many different types of initiatives to be able to do that.” She also acknowledged that there was no magic bullet that could resolve all the differences between the Islamic and Western worlds overnight.

“There is not one programme that’s going to be the magic programme to engage with Muslims. It’s really listening,” she said.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

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