Monday, May 21, 2007

US official aims to bridge gap with Muslims in Europe

In keeping with the Dinah Lord philosophy of giving the megaphone to moderate Muslims whenever they are speaking out, I'd like to introduce you to:

Farah Pandith, who in February was appointed to the freshly created position of senior advisor for Muslim Engagement in the State Department's European and Eurasian Affairs Bureau. Ms. Pandith points to her own life experience as an American Muslim woman of Indian origin to illustrate how it is possible for Muslim immigrants to successfully integrate into United States society.

"I understood from very early on that whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, education put me in the game," Pandith told a conference in Rome on Monday on the topic of Literature and International Dialogue.

"I also learned - and this is something that Americans work assiduously at - to balance pride in my cultural heritage with a deep attachment to the values of America,"

Pandith, emigrated as a baby with her parents to the United States from Srinagar in 1969, and was awarded a Master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She has held senior posts in the US Agency for International Development and describes herself as "extremely fortunate", but also "walking proof that although there are no guarantees, the American dream is also not a myth".

For her, America has since its foundation as an independent republic nurtured a tradition based on indivudual choice. "But we have found that it is possible not to make an exclusive choice, that being American, being a good American or even a great American, that highest of accolades - does not require turning your back on your background or religion".

The "Muslim experience in America does prove that Muslims who live their religion can be unqualified democratic Americans," she told the gathering held at Rome's American Studies Centre.

Turning to Washington's foreign policies, Pandith described the notion that America is at war with Islam as a "myth".She said that in the two conflicts currently involving the United States in majority Muslim nations - Afghanistan and Iraq - Washington was supporting "fledgling democracies," after helping to respectively topple the Taliban, which she described as "an obscurantist regime that targeted and banned centuries-old Afghan culture" and Saddam Hussein, "one of the worst dictators ever to tyrannise Muslims".

She also said the US had given billion of dollars in humanitarian and economic aid around the world in Muslim communities, citing as examples Indonesia in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, in Pakistan following the October 2005 earthquake and reconstruction in Lebanon after the July-August 2006 conflict with Israel.

Go get 'em, Pandith. We need all the help we can get.