[DipNote Bloggers' comment: this entry was updated on July 26, to add an answer to a consular question at the end of the entry.]
On July 2, DipNote told you about an upcoming"Conversations with America" discussion on U.S. engagement with Muslim communities, and asked for your questions for Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities. And you responded...with 115 comments!
During the videotaped conversation on July 9, Ms. Pandith covered many of the themes raised by your questions, but the 45-minute program simply wasn't enough time to address all the excellent queries we received. Below is an encore conversation with Farah Pandith, joined by Peter Kovach, Director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, and Barbara Baden, from the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Simaya in Illinois had written:
How is the U.S. 'engaging' African Muslims? It seems like there is much emphasis on Arab Muslims and their countries, but there are many African Muslims. Does the Special Representative focus on this region of the world?
Farah Pandith responds:
As Special Representative to Muslim Communities, my mandate is global. I am engaging with Muslim communities around the world on a people-to-people level based on a framework of mutual interest and mutual respect.
There is a wonderful and healthy diversity among the world's more than 1.4 billion Muslims. It is a population slightly greater than either China or India. It is one-fourth of the world's population.
A Muslim in Stonetown is as Muslim as a Muslim in Stockholm or Surabaya or Sanaa.
It is important to be respectful of the diversity of communities on our planet. That is why I chose to visit Nigeria for my first trip as the Special Representative to Muslim Communities.
I've since visited other parts of Africa: Mali and Mauritania, Morocco and Egypt. Africa has a long history of Islamic achievement and thought. On my visits to Mali and Mauritania, I visited the ancient Islamic trading posts of Tombouctou and Chinguetti to learn about the historic roots of Islam in Africa and to engage with civil society. I have had productive visits to Africa and have met with a wide range of grassroots representatives -- from bloggers to entrepreneurs to representatives of non-governmental organizations. We understand the complexity and diversity of Muslims around the world and that respect is the central part of how you engage with anyone. So if you are a Muslim living as a minority in a community or a Muslim in country that is majority Muslim, we know that your experience, perspective and ideas are important.
Tulay in New Jersey had written:
How can the U.S. Administration work towards promoting a positive dialogue about Islam, when conservative news and talk radio constantly uses radical Islam as a tool into injecting fear into Americans who have developed an anti-Muslim sentiment in the society?
Farah Pandith responds:
We are taking concrete action to follow-up on the President's vision that he laid out in Cairo: a vision of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
What I know from talking with hundreds of Muslims around the world is that there is so much innovation, inspired action, and positive movement happening on the ground. We all must work together to do more to highlight these activities, partner where we can, and connect people.
Images and narratives can change in many different ways: through reporting in media of all kinds, through engagement, and through programs.
The President has laid out a vision that has asked all of us to take part in breaking down stereotypes. We must focus on the "mutual" part of respect and understanding.
We realize that a new tone is not enough -- dialogue must be matched with action and that action must improve people's lives in meaningful ways. The only way we can do that is through partnerships with people who understand that there is no "us versus them."
We are sincere in our desire for a way forward built on mutual interest and mutual respect. When I meet with Muslims around the world, I seek to listen to their concerns, and talk to them about the vision laid out by the President and the Secretary of State, not only so they can better understand that we are sincere, but so I can also take what I hear from them back to Washington and help better shape our policies.
There is a great reservoir of untapped potential for excellence within Muslim communities around the world. We must work to not only find talent, but to cultivate it, and especially look to members of the next generation to make positive changes in their communities. We must work to highlight the positive, innovative work of these individuals around the world and expose their stories to a global audience. By doing so, we can slowly change the narrative to one that emphasizes the ways Muslims are creating positive change around the world, rather than allowing the media to focus on the small percentage of violent extremists who dominate the headlines.
Jerry D. in North Carolina had written:
America is predominantly Christian. Has any progress been made to allow Christians freedom from persecution and freedom to worship as they see fit in predominantly Muslim nations?
Peter Kovach, Director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, responds:
Muslim majority countries are extremely diverse: some have strong protections for religious freedom while others routinely violate it. Our annual report on International Religious Freedom details the situation in almost 200 countries and territories.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with governments around the world as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Protection of vulnerable religious minorities, including Christians and other minorities in Muslim majority countries, as well as Muslim minorities where they exist, is a goal we work towards every day.
Ghida in California had written:
I heard that Muslim women who wear head coverings in Lebanon are being asked to show their ears and hair tip in the photos when they apply for any U.S. visa. They are also denied interviews if they do not comply. I checked the U.S. embassy website for Lebanon and they don't mention this in their website for photo specification. However, this is being requested when Muslim women go to apply for a visa. They are given a paper written in Arabic which specifies these things. Thanks.
Barbara Baden, from the Department of State's Visa Office, Bureau of Consular Affairs, responds:
In the past, U.S. immigrant visa applicants were asked to show one ear in their photos, but that requirement was eliminated many years ago. It was never a requirement for nonimmigrant visas or passports. It may be that the local studios that take the photographs still mistakenly believe that the old immigrant visa standards apply and are mistakenly telling their clients that this is an Embassy requirement.
We have contacted the Embassy in Beirut and they confirmed that they use the standards for photos which are posted on our website at http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/frvi_3888.html#hats. Any headgear worn daily for religious reasons is permitted as long as it does not obscure or cover any part of the face. The Embassy's website links directly to the site above if you have any other questions about the requirements for photos.