America's man at OIC tries to halt 'clash of ignorance'

Cumber seeks to promote mutual understanding, dialogue between the US and Muslim communities.

oic 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
oic 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sada Cumber has been appointed US special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). As such he's the first person chosen for this position and he'll be seeking to promote mutual understanding and dialogue between the United States and Muslim communities around the world. You were born in Pakistan; you've been in the US for 30 years and you've been involved up until now in the world of business. What brought you to this extraordinary position of special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference? As much I was involved in the private sector in Texas, I was also engaged in working in the communities of the Muslim Umma in Texas and I was also engaged in civil society programs and matters. Above and beyond that I have been engaged in working with the state government there. I have served as Governor Perry's appointment on the Board of Economic Development and also a $200-million emerging technology committee. So I've been engaged in civil society work all my life as a volunteer in the Muslim communities in Texas and all over. What is the Organization of the Islamic Conference? The Organization of the Islamic Conference brings together membership from 57 Muslim countries. The membership, I believe, requires that if a country has a 30 percent Muslim population it can be a part of that organization as a member. There is observer status and there are quite a few institutions and countries that have sent their representatives as observers. So there are 57 members, there are quite a few observers and then there are people such as myself who represent the US as a representative, not as a member, nor as an observer. Why is it so important for the US to have an envoy there? If you look at post 9/11 and for the last 10 years, the issues we are dealing with, especially with the Muslim world and the West, it has become imperative now to engage in a dialogue. We are in the position now that we believe that the US is committed to bring peace, prosperity, stability and freedom to all the peoples and all the regions of the world. It is important that we engage in this dialogue and the OIC is a very powerful platform where we can represent and come together. In the last three weeks since I was appointed, I [have] already had two meetings with the OIC secretary general, His Excellency Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. In the next two weeks I'm planning to go back again to Jedda. So we are engaged and there are many opportunities to work with the OIC and the Muslim Umma, especially the OIC's 10-year program. They are indicating that they need to move in the direction where they want to make sure that the 1.3 billion Muslims are beneficiaries of the programs, including science and technology, education, culture, human rights, advancement of women's status, taking care of the elderly, and all these are the same values to which we in America aspire. So I think this is great opportunity for the US to engage and work with the Muslim Umma to take the OIC in the direction where they are moving forward themselves. It's no secret that Americans are not popular in the Middle East and they don't have a good image in the region. Muslims could turn around and say that the reason the Americans have now appointed this envoy to the OIC is to show they're making a cosmetic effort towards us, but in fact they're not changing their policies in the Middle East. That's one of the reasons that when I was in Dakar in Senegal I was aggressively positioning and sharing the point of view that America brings. I was suggesting the fact that if you look at the core values, the pure ethics of Americans - Muslims and non-Muslims - it is not part of us. By default we have deep respect for all religions including Islam, and that is part of our lifestyle here. I was explaining that it is not a matter that America is positioning itself today. If you look at the freedoms that we enjoy here in America as Muslims, we practice Islam here openly and regularly; we have 1,200 mosques here and the freedom of expression, the freedom of practice of faith; all these things are core values as part of our culture here in America. It's nothing new. All I'm doing is trying to articulate clearly that when it comes to core values the West and Islamic communities are in sync. I was explaining that when we were suggesting there is a clash of civilizations, I said there is no clash of civilizations. If there is anything, it is a clash of ignorance. I was even suggesting that as a Muslim in America, I don't even use the terms when it comes to Islamic terrorism or Islamic terrorist or Islamo-Fascism. Those are not even part of my own vocabulary as an American Muslim. These are some of the dialogues that we need to engage in and to make sure we're moving forward to bring stability, peace and prosperity to all people. Is the image you're trying to tackle among Muslim communities your largest challenge? No, in fact not, because it comes very naturally to me and all the Americans that we articulate this message clearly. The largest challenge for me is to make sure I engage the OIC leadership in the Muslim Umma in making sure I bring the US government resources in tackling the issues of education, culture, the status of women, and also to deal with science and technology, because once we have a strong civil society in any part of the world and any culture, I think that really mitigates a lot of the other issues that we otherwise have to invest a lot of effort and resources in. How different is it approaching the Muslim world as an official of the US state rather than as a businessman? I see that as a positive opportunity because, since I come from the private sector and I have never seen a diplomat or someone from the political environment, for me it is very simple. It is a very honest and clear approach of what I practice every day in the private sector. I can articulate in the same way. Here I am on the one side trying to see that if I have a valuable proposition, how do I get some of those assets that need to be acquired? It's a very simple thing; I have been doing it for a while. I see it as a dialogue where both parties declare a position where there is a win-win, so it's very easy for me to deal with this new position.