In an effort to improve relations between Islam and the West, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named Farah Anwar Pandith as the first ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities.
Pandith spoke to Alex Cohen on the Patt Morrison show today about her goals and job as the special representative, which operates within the State Department.
Pandith highlighted many of the new position's goals and said the underlying impetus is based on President Obama’s “vision of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Among Pandith’s priorities are concentrating on the future of Islam rather than the past; reaching out to the new generation of Muslims through 21st century technology; acknowledging that Islam is very diverse; and encouraging an open dialogue between the U.S. and grassroots Muslim groups.
“We can use the strength of the United States government to be the convener, and the facilitator, and the intellectual partner with the ideas that we hear on the ground,” Pandith said. “When you think about change globally, it starts at a local level. It’s been an unbelievably successful way of thinking about how you do things."
Pandith acknowledged that both Americans and Muslims of the world are lacking mutual understanding, and she hopes to bridge that gap by educating people on both sides.
“There is no contradiction between being an American and being a Muslim. You can be proud of both,” said Pandith. “[Muslims around the world] need to understand that there are mosques that are side-by-side with synagogues, and churches and Buddhist temples, and they need to understand that our ability to be respectful of all faiths is part of our constitution.”
On the other side, she urged Americans to disassociate Muslims with terrorism.
“I think we have to do more to engage in this issue of dialogue and understand the actual issues around radicalization, to understand that the vast, vast majority of Muslims around the world are not represented by the violent acts of a few,” she said. “That is a fundamental point.”
She noted that the “us versus them” mindset is dangerous and fosters unnecessary animosity and misunderstanding.
“When we began to [use 'us versus them'], we began to go hand in hand with what al Qaeda and others would like us to believe,” Pandith said.
“You begin to create these divides that should not exist and don’t exist. American Muslims are integrated into the fabric of this country.”