The United States has taken a big step in U.S.-Muslim relations… we hope.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed the very first State Department envoy to Muslim communities—Farah Pandith. [1]   This follows President Obama’s promising speech in Cairo, Egypt which was lauded by Muslims, Europeans, and many Americans. People continue to have high hopes in this administration’s dedication to reach out to the naitonal and worldwide Muslim communities. 

For what it’s worth, the following is my wish list for Ms. Pandith; I hope she does not let this awesome opportunity slip away.  She could do an outstanding job by doing this and more:

1. I encourage Ms. Pandith and the rest of the State Department to engage American youth in outreach.  The State Department does some great work involving students, so this shouldn’t be a problem.  She has a unique opportunity to create dialogue and understanding between American youth and Muslim youth, especially between Muslim-American youth and their foreign peers.  True change will occur when communities are interacting, not just governments.  In a recent special press briefing by Ms. Pandith, a reporter expressed concern that the heart of the problem lies with American foreign policy.[2]  Ms. Pandith seemed confident saying that Muslim youth are more eager to think about their interaction with the United States and within their communities.  I hope that she and the rest of the State Department recognize that many of these students are likely eager to interact with American youth, and vice versa.  Interacting with the U.S. government is enchanting and exploring sustainable futures for Muslim students is essential but lasting relationships between communities end prejudices, reflect positively on foreign policy, and raise awareness of any existing problem.

2. I hope that Ms. Pandith uses a lot of local art and music in her attempts at communication with Muslim communities.  She has stated that she plans to use the town hall model and the round table discussion model for dialogue, but I hope she realizes that these events attract a unique elite who probably already have much communication with the U.S. in the first place.  Using music and art as tools and demonstrating the accessibility of American music can jump start conversation and enthusiasm. 

3. Ms. Pandith and the State Department should broach difficult topics, like increasing tension between Muslim immigrants and their adopted home countries in Europe.  Judging from her statements, it is safe to assume that she already realizes the numerous controversial issues she will have to address.  She should not shy away from things that might upset one party or another.  She should let talks be dictated by what is important to the people she is talking with and by those who are entrusting her to do the talking.  We have the potential to learn a lot here, so let’s make it meaningful.

4. Finally, she should be open and honest with the press.  Hiding the Department’s concerns only makes her work seem less hopeful and less encouraging.  She should advise the press on strategies she plans to pursue.  Involving the media in her missions demonstrates the best of what is achievable through open communication with the Muslims.  Press briefings are awkward and, at times, downright unfortunate, but she would really strive to make the most of her work in front of the press.  Avoiding questions creates more doubts and concerns.  As our special messenger to Muslims around the world, she has the opportunity to show Americans that while there are problems, misconceptions, and maybe some hard feelings, there is also a lot of hope that these issues can be dealt with reasonably and easily.  Involving the press opens up communication to the people.

Ms. Pandith has the good fortune to educate a great many Americans on Muslim communities.  She has a chance to do great work similar to AIDemocracy’s mission.  This administration holds a lot of promise, hopefully it will continue to live up to the hope it inspired.


[1] Heather Maher, US Appoints First-Ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, http://www.rferl.org/content/US_Appoints_FirstEver_Special_Representative_To_Muslim_Communities/1767605.html, 2 July 2009.

[2] Special Briefing by Farah Pandith, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/july/125561.htm, 1 July 2009

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