By Aziza Charaf
July 15th, 2009
The Obama Administration is keeping its promise to engage the Muslim world. On June 23rd, 2009 Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed Farah Pandith to Head New Office of The United States Representative to Muslim Communities, a first for the U.S. State Department. Pandith’s most recent position in the European Bureau involved engaging Muslims across Western Europe through embassies. Her new position takes this idea of engagement one step further than Western Europe, by going global and engaging Muslims all over the world.
It is a welcome change to see our government appropriately appointing an intelligent Muslim-American female to serve as an envoy to Muslim communities. Not only does Pandith have a wealth of job experience, but as a Muslim immigrant from India growing up in Massachusetts, she has personal experiences that a lot of Muslims in the United States can relate to, many themselves immigrants or children of immigrants.
Pandith also believes that building bridges of dialogue is “critically important” and can help improve the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. Still, while dialogue can help eliminate misperceptions, it will not be limited to that task. When discussing her goals, Pandith stated, “It’s really listening. It’s really understanding what’s taking place on the ground. It’s finding opportunities through our embassies to get to know what others are saying and thinking and dreaming and believing, and acting as a facilitator and a convener and an intellectual partner when we can.”
Pandith also discussed the fact that the Muslim world is so diverse, making it hard for any single approach to work. There are many different countries, peoples, cultures, languages, and modes of thought that exist. Therefore, she stresses that a “nuanced” approach should be taken in order for the multi-faceted engagement project to be successful.
As with any new venture, there’s no doubt Pandith will be met with skepticism and criticism as she gains her footing. Since the position is so new, the goals are open and general, and have yet to be clearly defined and made measurable. This gives Pandith room to accomplish as much, or as little, as she wants. What do you think her first priorities should be?