Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interview with Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Department of State US - Guest Post By Faizul Khan Tanim, Bangladesh

Faizul Khan Tanim Butpar has been a media specialist for the last 7 years with an emphasis on journalism, communications, leadership and public relations. He studied at London School  of Journalism and currently working with The Daily Independent, Bangladesh. 

The world since 9/11 has changed for ever. Muslims have been looking at their faith more critically than ever before and asking which tenets of Islam are the truth and nothing but the truth. The Western world has changed dramatically as well. They want to know Islam better and reach out to Muslims.

In one such initiative, Mosaic International Summit in the UK, an innovative leadership development organisation, founded by HRH The Prince of Wales, which brings together 80 young emerging Muslim leaders from around the world for two weeks in the UK with the aim to develop leadership ability and an aspiration to be an agent of change, and develop understanding of key global issues and inspire positive thinking to address them.

The 2010 Summit included a full and varied program of activities based at Clare College, University of Cambridge and in small delegate groups to embark upon regional study tours to see different projects.

As part of this summit, world renowned personalities and speakers came to Cambridge to deliver speeches, inspire and interact with the delegates to make the world a better place. And one of the speakers was Farah Pandith, who enthralled the audiences with her exceptional motivational speech.

 Faizul Khan Tanim: What is your role in developing ties with the Muslims and how exactly do you help the US department of state?

Farah Pandith: This is a new role in the American history so we are focusing on finding ways that the US government can make sure that we implement president Obama's vision of engagement that he spelled out in Cairo, the vision based on mutual interest and respect. He talked about lots of tools by which we can do that – entrepreneurship, health, technology or science. We basically want to build partnerships and open up dialogues.
Therefore, my job is to work with embassies around the world, whether it is a Muslim majority country or Muslims who live as minority. We want to give respect to everyone around the world understanding that 1.2 billion Muslims on the planet are not all the same.
So each of our embassies are focusing on various communities and finding ways to be respectful and open up dialogues which we haven't had before. Very specifically, Secretary Clinton created this position after the Cairo speech to work on the grassroots level, so, all my work is people to people.
My concern is to make sure we are doing as much as we can to understand the nuances of communities to not look at a country like Bangladesh and conclude this part of the nation is same as another region so all of South Asia is the same.

FKT: As this term has been coined “War on Terror”. Can this terrorism or extremism be put out just by fighting a war?

FP: Every part of the globe has been affected by extremist ideology and the use of violence for political means. Every religion has people who use the religion in the name of terrorist acts. The voices and actions of a few have taken on a global momentum and it is important to understand that our president has been very clear that the United States is not at war with the religion of the far east. He made very clear that he respects Islam and that Islam is part of America.
We have a global effort underway to isolate and marginalize those voices that push forward violent extremism and its incumbent upon everybody whether you are the government of the United States or the government of Bangladesh, Jordan, Indonesia...places where the Bali bombings or the bombings that happened in Amman or in fact the Madrid bombings, in London or in New york...this is not just about one country, its a global ideology that is radicalizing people to do violent things.

FKT: Recently, there have been controversial issues like bans on wearing headscarf in France and building of minarets in Switzerland – now it is of popular consideration that both these countries are allies of the United States. How does the US feel? Will they take any steps like these?

FP: Our constitution is very clear in freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It is a fundamental part of our nation - you have the right as an American to build a house of worship. You have the right to worship freely no matter which religion you belong to. The president talked about this beautifully on September 1 at an Iftar in the White House.
Like any building permit, you have to get permission and the local municipality has to okay your building but considering that sign, you may build your house of worship also you can wear the attire of your religion. This will never change. America's constitution gives those rights and we fundamentally believe that.

FKT: The Obama administration promised a lot, especially to help with the Middle East issue. But after the recent midterm elections, as the Republicans have more control in the house of representatives now, how much can Obama government go forward?

FP: It was a historical moment when in his very first week of office, president Obama appointed an envoy for Middle-East peace and no other presidents in our history has done that so quickly. It is very important for him and his administration to reach a resolution where the Israelis and the Palestinians are living in a conflict side by side.
In selecting George Mitchell to be an envoy who has been working on Middle-East peace, day in and day out, we have made it a priority. The president talked about this in Indonesia that there are setbacks that happened during the negotiations but our eyes are still in the ball and the final goal-line and hopefully we will reach that soon. The commitment to that revolution to that vision of peace in the Middle-East is very strong and the president is determined and we will continue on our effort to negotiate a resolution.

FKT: Muslims around the world believe that the Israeli lobby is very strong, playing significant part in US policies and which is very unfortunate for the Palestinians. How do you see this?

FP: The president and secretary of state has talked very clearly about our bilateral relationship with Israel, an ally and a partner, that is unwavering and will be consistent. I will say, we do and will be collectively working together diligently for the Palestinians to have a state of their own.

This article was first published in The Independent's Weekend Magazine, December 10 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Leadership Development Challenges For The Ummah - the OIC and the Muslim Diaspora - Guest Blog by Arif Zaman, UK

Arif Zaman is a Principal Consultant at the Reputation Institute which avdises companies on their reputation risks. Arif is also Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain's Economic Committee, Advisor to the Commonwealth Business Council and the founder member of the Steering Group of the HRH The Prince of Wales Mosaic Programme. 

With the global economy in turmoil and facing a sustained period of uncertainty – and with trust in institutions, regulators and companies under acute pressure – a fresh focus is emerging on governance and leadership. Simultaneously, how individuals respond will become key as uncertainty and volatility look set to become more commonplace. Furthermore, actions will need to be adapted and adjusted in the light of evolving and fluid conditions. Barack Hussein Obama’s election and style has also shown how leadership and communication are inextricably linked and how within days of being inaugurated one of the hallmarks of the context we are now in is a different tone in terms of respect and understanding, which Obama looks set to lead and sustain with the Muslim world.

As the Muslim world frames its approach, there is a growing realisation that there is work to be done in strengthening – deepening and broadening – leadership capacity and development across the Ummah. Recent initiatives such as those from the Muslim Council of Britain, the World Islamic Economic Forum and HRH The Prince of Wales’ Mosaic Programme reflect this and suggest emerging areas of significant impact.

This article addresses leadership development for the Ummah with a specific focus on business and management. What are the key challenges? Is there an Islamic tradition and worldview of leadership? How does leadership link to corporate governance, (reputational) risk management and diversity? All of these questions are of particular relevance to the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) countries and for Muslim minorities - especially in Europe, North America and India.

The challenges
The challenges for the Ummah are many and varied but perhaps centre on several key areas.
The foremost area is the non-inclusive development – of women as well as men, of communities, countries and regions.

The UN Millennium Development Goals, to which all OIC members are signatories, also set out many socio-economic challenges that have real resonance where many Muslims live whether in South Asia or in Africa.

There is also a need to challenge the empty but dangerous rhetoric and narrative which contributes to the radicalisation of some young people in our community with negative consequences for us all. In this, the Muslim diaspora in the West can perhaps play an increasingly important role.

Moreover exclusion, indifference, racism and gender discrimination limit access to the talent pool to address pressing social problems and improve human security nationally and internationally. Across the Ummah there are future leaders of enormous potential whose talent has not been recognised by those in power – who must be recruited, nurtured and cultivated.

The lack of inclusive leadership narrows the range of resolutions to social problems, limits our creative potential and breeds hatred, violence, indifference and inaction that impede practical progress on the most pressing issues of our time. It must change.

Divinie inspiration
Community-building, concern for social justice within the organization and equality of voice are basic themes of Islam. The values of service, surrendering self, truth, charity, humility, forgiveness, compassion, thankfulness, love, courage, faith, kindness, patience and hope are to be found not only in the Quran, but also in popular Islamic literature and philosophical debates. Since Islam requires a balance between individual influence and social obligations, as well as a balance between material and spiritual needs, the ideal person to lead is perceived to be the most virtuous, and not the wealthiest or most powerful.

In advancing the concept of perfection of the soul as a requisite of leadership, Al-Ghazali, like Ibn Khaldun, suggested that attributes, once rooted in the heart, eventually govern one’s behaviour. Wisdom is, therefore, the outcome of actions through which one has attained knowledge. Al-Ghazali dealt with a variety of subjects in the Nasihat such as the qualities required in kings, the character of ministers and deputies, and intelligence. The Nasihat, or Advice, is part of a larger genre of political writings which dealt with issues of political authority at the time. The line of communication to leadership should be known and continually tested to make sure that leadership is engaged with the organization as a whole. Good rulership and leadership were sacred duties for Al-Ghazali and performing them well brought Allah’s pleasure while doing otherwise brought His ire.

Common failings
How does this translate into addressing the leadership and talent development challenge in the Ummah today? Too many current and future leaders are poorly prepared for their roles.
Some common failings include:-
  • to grow emotionally: the leaders who have high intelligence quotients (IQs) and low emotional quotients (EQs) are often clever and charismatic but destructive.
  • to make creative connections: leaders who see the connections between A and B and B and C rarely see how A and C connect. They miss the more subtle patterns and ones that extend beyond the quarterly reporting period.
  • to empathise: they often look at numbers or surface behaviour and lack an understanding of others’ true needs and aspirations.
  • to manage ego: deadly self-inflation, or hubris, frequently leads to derailment or nemesis.
  • to overcome personal alienation and boredom: these leaders simply stop feeling the exhilaration of learning.
Core areas of emphasis
Companies need to elevate relationship building by developing skills and values that lead to increased empathy and knowledge among all and by measuring and rewarding appropriate relationship-building activities. They also need to acknowledge that feedback and relationship programs are the most effective leadership development strategy.

International trading relationships are undergoing significant change as markets in Asia such as (but not limited to) China and India assume greater importance. At the same time, leadership development has reached a critical crossroads. A number of forces in the international business environment such as geo-politics, emerging economic power bases, ideological diversity, consumer driven technology and the carbon economy are combining and together make necessary a re-think of how we raise future leaders.

For the Muslim world, the challenge of diversity is real – whether for Muslim minorities in the UK and Europe, Muslims in India, low-paid migrant workers from South Asia in the Gulf or for that matter Christians in Pakistan.

To combat racism, inequality and hatred, it is important for leaders to challenge barriers and to bridge the boundaries of difference and distrust. It takes transformational leaders – with the ability to speak for a wide range of people - to accomplish fundamental change. At every level of society, current leaders should be on the lookout for exceptional potential leaders who are diverse and innovative - who do not look, think or talk like them – especially from excluded or marginalised groups. Professional education, especially in business, public policy and the law, must emphasise the necessity of equality and respect, creating ethical leaders who will put a priority on inclusive rather than exclusive decision-making.

Diversity at the basic level is about reaction and compliance. It is now moving from a focus at a second level on equal opportunities and corporate social responsibility, to a third level where leading companies and individuals see it more proactively as being a driver for changing trading relationships and networks amongst companies, countries and regions. Leading companies see the connection between a leader’s personal values, the diversity within their organisation and their individual and corporate reputation.

Leadership development also needs to see corporate governanceat its core as being about creating value from the quality of decision-making. Corporate boards need to be balanced. They should include both outside non-executive and executive members in their governance. Outside members should challenge the executives but in a supportive way. No single individual should be able to dominate decision making, especially in family businesses. It follows that the board should work as a team with outside members contributing to strategy rather than simply having a monitoring or policing role. Boards need to comprise members who possess skills and experience appropriate for the organisation and its strategic direction.

In making decisions, managers must employ critical and creative thinking as well as ethical principles to synthesise the apparently divergent aspects of a situation and avoid the undesirable possibilities that may ensue.

focus on reputation addresses another key business challenge which is of developing and managing organisational reputation. Reputation, responsibility and value creation need to be linked through a focus on understanding stakeholder relationships.
There are certainly other core skills and expertise that leaders need to develop that other best practices emphasize. However, the above areas are key needs for addressing the challenges to business leadership in the Muslim world.

Leadership development is indeed a journey not a destination and professionals in the Ummah can play a key role in creating better leaders and improving the quality of decision-making by establishing a global network of young, successful, Muslims. This way participants can further improve their leadership and professional skills, enhance their career progression and pursue endeavours that are aligned with the interests of the Ummah.