Obama Turns to Indian-American to be Bridge with Muslim World

Washington, March 1 (IANS) President Barack Obama has chosen the son of an Indian migrant couple from Bihar to help bridge the cultural divide in US relations with Muslims inside and outside America's borders.

As Obama's new special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain, both a Quran scholar and an ardent North Carolina Tar Heels basketball fan, will be the face of the president's new approach to engage the Islamic world.

At a time when the US is fighting two wars in Muslim nations, changing perceptions will take time, says Hussain, 31.

"The challenge is to continue to communicate that this is a long-term process," Hussain told the Washington Post. "Sometimes the challenge becomes that people want to focus exclusively on the political issues, issues that this administration is working very diligently to solve."

Hussain's father, a mining engineer, moved from Bihar to Wyoming in the late 1960s. A few years later, during a visit to India, he married Hussain's mother, now an obstetrician in Plano.

"A lot is made about American misperceptions about Muslim communities, but there's a lot of misperceptions that Muslim communities have about the US," he told the Post.

To counter such misunderstandings of Muslim culture, Hussain cited his wife, whom he said "breaks down a lot of the misperceptions of women in Islam". Isra Bhatty, a Yale Law School student currently on a Rhodes scholarship, wears the hijab and is an epic Chicago Bears fan.

After the 2008 election, Hussain was recruited to the White House counsel's office where he has worked on national security and new media issues, and helped inform the administration's Muslim outreach efforts.

Ben Rhodes, Obama's chief foreign policy speech writer, sought Hussain's counsel last year as he drafted the president's Cairo address.

Hussain told the Post his advice concerned the contributions Muslims have made to American society and the context behind some of the religious passages.

Hussain travelled in the Middle East after Obama announced his appointment during a Feb 13 videoconference at the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar.

His approach, Hussain was quoted as saying, will be to emphasise to Muslim countries what "America stands for" through joint projects in health, education and science.

"It's clear that we're not going to agree on every single issue," Hussain said. "Our job will be to try to maximise our areas of agreement and work through our areas of disagreement and come to the best policy."



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