Continuing the Conversation: A Discussion Update on U.S. Engagement With Muslim Communities

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
July 16, 2010

[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:

Hello Ghida,

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.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 21, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@OC, I'm not trying to "put you down", I'm just showing you there's another way to go about this, and sometimes I will when you seem to have a failure of understanding about who we are and what we do as a people. I see this misunderstanding you have in many, many remarks of your's disparaging the intent of the US gov.

They arn't the problem, they are us.

All I did was boil all the conflict in the world down to a vitamin deficiancy..(chuckle)

A lack of empathy.

What's so difficult to understand about that?

So I leave a mark of empathy on someone...in the interests of peace...LOL!

Nice to know you appreciate my being alive...present and accounted for.

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 21, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

@Eric,
The difference between you and I is that you seem to believ all the lies your government had fed you for so long and I don't anymore.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 21, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

"The Muslim World"

Here's another term that has oft been mischaracterized.

I look at it like this;

Islam is global in all its believers, living on every continent.

No need for a califate, if one rules his own heart.

Bin laden never understood this.

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 21, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

I don't see it as Muslification because there are some positive things from Muhammad like not objectifying women,not charging exhorbitant interest on loans to the poor. I see it more like a fight against corruption and the USA seems to have cornered the market on this concept. You don't see any irony or schizophrenic about offering friendhip and partnership on the one hand while having your trigger on the other?

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 21, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

@Eric,
If America wants an honest and open discussion with the Muslim world then they need to be honest in their intentions and dealings with them. Playing both sides of an issue to get what you want doesn't work anymore.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 21, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I get that retort a lot OC, and my answer is simple. Advice my dad once gave me during the Watergate era.

"Son, don't believe anything you hear, and only half of what you read. But believe what you see and get your eyes checked often."

This is from a fellow who served in Army intelligence at one point in time.

What about "grinding dicipline and exaustive investigation" can't you appreciate?

I've had good teachers.

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 21, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

You lost me again. What does grinding discipline and exhaustive investigation have to do with I'm talking about?

Flavius
|
Virginia, USA
July 21, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

Some viewpoints are more valid than others, O.C., due to grinding discipline and exhaustive investigation. That was the point.

You are, however, an excellent speller!

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 21, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

@Flavius,
Thank you. I get it now. I guess that's why we have an "us and "them" world because some thoughts are more valid than others.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 21, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@OC, there's a process in discovery.

It's just a way in how one approaches both sides of a "paradox" that appears "Schizophrenic" (to use your terminology) in taking a look at how things actually work in the world.

If I take such an approach in adressing your failure of understanding government intent(for instance) or to reveal the intent of madmen that war against us and what they lack that causes then to become terrorists, then there's a link you can use in this thread that will prove some thoughts are more valid than others....you don't have to take my word for it. I never asked you to in the first place, you have eyes to see if you have the will to use them.

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 22, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico,

I think Flavius is right. We live in different worlds.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 22, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ OC, that's why it's got to be a "we" thing for humanity to get over it.

See, now you don't have to be confused any longer about what to call the fellow that flips you off 'cause your in his way on the freeway and he has just run you into a ditch.

Look, everything we do, every decision we make, every minute of the day involves using empathy or not using it.

There isn't a grey area involved in that.

So welcome to duality.

As I've said, I've had some very good teachers OC, and MLK knew what he was talking about.

If we live in separate worlds OC, it's only in your mind. There's a larger picture to look at, and "larger freedom" to be had by looking.

Sane vs. insane..."us and them"...dig this;

"Today there is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. I feel that we've got to look at this total thing anew and recognize that we must live together. That the whole world now it is one--not only geographically but it has to become one in terms of brotherly concern. Whether we live in America or Asia or Africa we are all tied in a single garment of destiny and whatever effects one directly, effects one in-directly.

"I'm concerned about living with my conscience and searching for that which is right and that which is true, and I cannot live with the idea of being just a conformist following a path that everybody else follows. And this has happened to us. As I've said in one of my books, so often we live by the philosophy 'Everybody's doing it, it must be alright.' We tend to determine what is right and wrong by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion, and I don't think this is the way to get at what is right.

"Arnold Toynbee talks about the creative minority and I think more and more we must have in our world that creative minority that will take a stand for that which conscience tells them is right, even though it brings about criticism and misunderstanding and even abuse."

Excerpted from a 1967 interview of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Arnold Michaelis.

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 22, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

Exactly Eric,

You've finally come around to see my point.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 23, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

When were these so called "points" different? Oh wait, I get it...when you told me I must be believing a pack of government lies, or some such....

See, you just don't score points in life OC...you go out and live it.

If you're lucky, you might just be able to hand a man's life back to him, so's he'll have one of those "teach-able moments" when looking in the mirror the next morning with the mark of empathy left to initiate his awareness..

And I understand if that's "a world apart" as they say, from any experience you've had. I would hardly wish you to be so lucky as to have to deal with it, as it could have very gone differently.

But as to separate worlds? Unless there's an astronomical discovery I haven't heard about...we be on this merry-go-round together for sometime to come.

Enjoy the ride, With my luck I'll probably be the one pulling you out of the ditch one of these days. Good samaritan that I am.

I do respect VP Joe Biden's tastes as he has his "delicious moments" once in awhile too, and so I just gots to say to ol' Joe, "I can feel the love, man!"

OK OC, be that way...(chuckle).

Thing is that amazes me is all the things that make mucking about in duality worth it.

Governments make mistakes, like people will do.... and sometimes they say " I'm sorry, I made a mistake." just like people will when misjudging an individual.

Listen, ain't tryin ' to convert you dear...there's a word in the English language I once taught a homeless prince that opened up his arrogent mind and he wrote back to me on Royal Persian stationary and I quote, "I beg your humble forgiveness for my rudeness, you have taught me a great lesson about America."

(chuckle) OC, I couldn't make this up if I tried.

I had told him when he had demanded I go fetch someone he was looking for, that we here in America don't recognize royalty, and his solution to getting folks to do what he wanted around these parts was to use the word "please."

(grin)

And of course being the gentleman from New Mexico that I am, I wrote on that note and sent it back with cordiality that I'd be happy to do that anytime.

Just think of our conversation as another teachable moment...

Coudn't have had a better partner to arrange that with on the blog in fact now that I think of it.

And now that we've done our bit for the masses of hysteria, I must say I've enjoyed this.

OysterCracker
|
United States
July 23, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

At least we agree on one insignificant point and you really can teach an ole' dog new tricks sometimes. Ain't life grand?

Susan C.
|
Florida, USA
July 23, 2010

Susan C. in Florida writes:

@ Eric and O.C.:

You don't live in different worlds, you just have different opinions. But that is good. Our comments here should make each other "think"...true? When I read your comments, sometimes I agree with Eric and sometimes I agree with O.C.. We all have certain subjects that we feel strongly about, and that is okay. I always comment on Israel and the state of the Jewish "situation". Another area I find myself getting heated about is North Ireland. My grandfather's family was from there and he had many strong thoughts on the "troubles" there. This blog, I believe, was created for us, to be able to let our government know how we think and feel about what they are doing. To me this is a great privilege. Not a place for "cutesy" comments and contentious remarks. One other thing, it is my observation, and opinion, that Flavius seems to like to "play" you two against each other. Don't let him do this. Continue to "disagree" but continue to also treat each other with respect and kindness. It goes a long way.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 23, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Susan,

I must say in all honesty, that Bill Mauldin was another great teacher of mine. Humor is the great diplomat. "When you see a stuffed shirt, poke it. If it's really stuffed, punch it." -Bill Mauldin

There's an attitude attached to the methodology of any solution that has permanently changed the status quo. It's development happens in the process of discovery of that which works and what doesn't. If you be a student of the human condition, in your wanderings for insight and upon meeting such, how then do you realize your true self?

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 23, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Dali Lama once said, "Ask good questions." It's all his fault....(chuckle).

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 26, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I hope the moderator understands I'm not "spamming" by posting this here as well as on the "anti-semetic" thread.

Some folks reading the commentary may not understand that I tend to reference many things from many topic threads that are interelated over two + years participating on this blog.

I think this answer a question put to me here, as well as illuminate US Foreign Policy on a very basic level of "rules of engagement" in the world..and bust a little myth in the process.

If it helps lend perspective than that's as it should be.

(additional thoughts added in parenthesis)

Eric in New Mexico writes:

"Crouded market, bomb goes off, the folks with courage and empathy tend the wounded, another bomb targets them...

Terrorists studied croud psycology to target the very best of us, to target those of empathy itself.

Make no mistake it (the act) is intended to replace it (empathy )with none at all (to spread the lack of empathy like a disease among populations). It's not in the hate. (this is a by-product of the lack) It's in the not caring. (working methodology of the contagion called "lack of empathy") That's a little different.

And it works.

The diciplined mind can hold on to preserve empathy within... for the time it (the battle between the sane vs. the insane) takes to disregard having it ( empathy )... to fight those without it... without any handicap, or softness.

No hate in it. ( like when you put down a rabid dog, it may be considered compassionate for the dog , and someone threatening to start nuclear war like 'lil Kim in NK or Taliban/al quaida/al shebbab..etc. blowing folks up in a market are no longer to be considered human, having turned animalistic).

And then return from the battlefield to rekindle empathy among the many. (and within one's self to be at peace within one's heart.) Whether that war be opon the Earth, or among minds. (the two being inseparable).

And folks wonder what the Marshall Plan was all about??

There's a living example.

I haven't seen too many German or Japanese terrorists since then. ( quandry paradoxical)

Someone was doing something really right in getting the message out."

Posted on Sat Jul 24, 2010

---

Ogoubi w.
|
Togo
July 29, 2010

Dr. Ogoubi K.W. in Togo writes:

I think and I'm serious that the USA must arrive and unit muslim communities around of their faith and make them be wakened up against islamists extramist like one people facing one destiny.

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