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

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