Not a hearts and minds campaign: US policies toward Muslim communities are about “connecting people”
December 13, 2010
Author: Sarah Kneezle, Coordinator, The Future of Diplomacy Project
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Future of Diplomacy Project
“We are at a turning point of how we think about our relationships across the world” according to US Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith. A Boston-native Pandith is currently traveling the world to deliver on the Obama administration’s goal to build trust with Muslim communities around the globe.
Pandith, who was speaking at a Future of Diplomacy Project event in November, was introduced by Professor Monica Toft, associate professor of public policy. Toft framed the Special Representative’s talk by highlighting the important relationship between religion and politics. Pandith agreed, noting how her job was global in nature. “More Muslims live outside the Middle East than within that region. Take Indonesia as an example of how Islam and democracy are compatible.”
Muslim communities make up a quarter of the world’s population and most of them are under the age of 30. “This is not a hearts and mind campaign,” Pandith said. Instead, she understands her job to be that of a facilitator: “I connect people.” Her work focuses largely on grassroots organizations and on finding novel ways to connect with people. With 5/6th of the world population now owning mobile phones, she is devising new ways of reaching out to communities formerly left behind.
The current US administration had taken a markedly different approach to the previous leadership and language was a first indicator: Instead of referring to the ‘Muslim world,’ the Obama administration is emphasizing diversity among people of Muslim faith, addressing them as ‘Muslim communities.’ Islam, she said, is “next door” not abroad. To learn more about the religion, one had to simply knock on the door of one of the millions of Muslim Americans.
Concluding her address, Pandith laid out her plans for greater collaboration with the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anit-semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, because according to Pandith: “Hate is hate. We need to work together to combat it wherever we encounter it.”
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