One of the best things about my current job is that I meet interesting and exciting new people on a regular basis. One such new friend is Farah Pandith.
I met Farah in one of those hop-skip-jump ways only possible in today’s world. About a month ago, I received a tweet about a couple of cyber-diplomats named Alec and Jared who are plowing new ground in the State Department. I Googled them and pulled off the net a New York Times Magazine piece that discussed their work. Intrigued, I emailed them. A Facebook-like maneuver ensued in which we compared notes about people we know who might be of interest to each other. The guys introduced me to Farah, and she and I are now working on dates when she can come to New Zealand.
Farah serves in the U.S. Government as Special Representative to Muslim Communities. She leads an office in the State Department responsible for implementing Secretary Clinton’s vision for engaging with Muslims around the world, and she reports directly to the Secretary. Farah has extensive experience in public service, including at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Security Council, under President George W. Bush. She has deep experience in foreign affairs matters, including on issues related to countering violent extremism.
Born in Srinagar, Kashmir, Farah and her mother immigrated to the United States from India, landing in Massachusetts on a fine 4th of July. Farah earned an A.B. degree from Smith College, where she was student body president. She received a Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
I asked Farah to talk a bit about herself and her work, since she will be visiting us sometime soon. So, Farah, take it away …
FP: David, thank you.
In September 2009, I was named the first Special Representative to Muslim Communities in American history. Shortly after my swearing in, the New Zealand Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States, Jane Coombs, asked to see me. She was the first member of the Diplomatic Corps in Washington who came to congratulate me and tell me more about Muslims in New Zealand. She underscored the importance of all of us doing as much as we can to build strong bridges of dialogue and partnership with diverse groups of people around the world.
Though New Zealand has a small number of Muslims (the population of Muslims is just 0.9 percent of the whole population), the importance of recognizing that Muslims live all over the world cannot be understated. There are more Muslims outside of the Middle East than in it, and the deep roots and history of these diverse cultures have impacted communities all over the world.
From Madrid to Mumbai, from Mecca to Masterton, whether you are living as a Muslim in a Muslim majority nation or as a minority, we want to understand your perspective, culture, and history. Doing so can help us all to be more respectful of each other and can increase opportunities for partnership around the world. With nearly 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet, approximately one quarter of the world’s population, it is critical that we partner together.
This Ramadan, I am acutely aware of the diversity of Islam. In the last 10 months I have traveled to more than 25 countries around the world, focusing on what young Muslims are doing, saying, feeling, and hoping. In my role as Special Representative, I am working with our embassies to expand the way we engage with Muslim communities on a local level and to find ways to connect individuals with great ideas to each other. The man in Oslo using hip hop to reach immigrant youth and the woman in Sarajevo working with young change-makers who are making a positive difference in their communities are the next generation of leaders. Once their ideas are shared with each other and magnified, they can make a difference on a global scale.
In my work, I am inspired by the generation of young people who have ideas, energy and motivation to build initiatives for the common good. Just a few days ago, I met with a group of young Kazakhstanis who had pulled together a group of youth volunteers who had donated their time to teach others about issues of health. In June, I met a woman in Turkey who wants to start a radio program to inspire people to act and serve through the words of leaders. Everywhere I go there is talent and creativity – and that is true for New Zealand as well.
Through technology we can experience your energy and learn more about your activities. We are listening. (And through Facebook and Twitter you can learn more about what I am seeing in my work – Facebook: www.facebook.com/FPandith and @Farah_Pandith).
In New Zealand, you may have a small Muslim population, but your ideas matter. As our embassies around the world engage by listening, exchanging ideas, forming partnerships, and connecting people, we hope to create new opportunities to make our communities stronger.
What is on the mind of young Muslims in Hamilton and Christchurch, and how are you connecting to your peers around the world? I hope to find out soon – and I am planning a trip for later this year to do just that.
This month, as millions of American Muslims take part in the Holy Month of Ramadan, they, like Muslims in New Zealand, will give back to their communities, reflect, and break bread with their neighbors. I send my sincere wishes to Muslims in this beautiful part of the world, and I look forward to meeting you in person in the coming year.
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DH: Farah, thank you for taking time to write. We look forward to seeing you here soon.