Dialogue is key for new US Muslim envoy

Farah Pandith says young Muslims are interested in their futures, not in US foreign policy.

farah pandith 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
farah pandith 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Obama administration's new envoy to the Islamic world rejects the notion that US foreign policy is the key issue affecting Muslim attitudes toward America or that it needs to be changed to win hearts and minds. "Certainly, foreign policy does come up, but the vast majority of young Muslims that I met were very interested in thinking about their futures" as well as engaging with their communities and the United States, said Farah Pandith, who worked at US embassies in Europe conducing Muslim outreach before undertaking her new role this month. Pandith's newly created position continues the Obama administration's policy of engagement with the Muslim world in order to defuse tensions and enlist support for American policies. Asked specifically about Israel, and the antagonistic view many Muslims have toward the Jewish state coupled with the perception that it receives unequivocal support from America, Pandith merely replied that "the opportunity to engage in dialogue means that you're opening up an opportunity for conversation on a wide range of issues, and that may be one of the issues." Pandith, who served with the National Security Council in the George W. Bush White House before moving over to the State Department, declined to lay out any US positions on various Middle East conflict points, including Israel, deferring to the words of President Barack Obama and other political appointees. For her part, Pandith emphasized that "what we want to do is build dialogue" with the world's 1.2 billion adherents of Islam and to do that, "I think it's nuance. I think it's respect. I think it's listening. I think it's being creative. And I think it's creating many different types of initiatives." Pandith, an Indian-born Muslim who grew up in Massachusetts, said her office would engage in a variety of outreach endeavors, including student exchanges, town hall meetings, entrepreneurial meetings and community projects, calibrated to meet the needs of a diverse and multi-faceted population. Pandith, whose official title is United States representative to Muslim communities, indicated she would not be serving as the Obama administration's representative to the 57-member state Organization of the Islamic Conference, a position created by the Bush administration.