'US Reaching Out to Muslims to End Negative Perceptions'

By Arun Kumar

Washington, Jul 10 (IANS): The Obama administration is reaching out to Muslims across the world in an attempt to change what a person charged with the effort says is a widely-held negative narrative about Islam and terrorism.

"We're going out and hearing from people who are doing innovative and creative things. We're lifting up their voices so that they can be role models for others," Farah Pandith, the US special representative to Muslim communities, said Friday.

In an online webchat, the Indian American State Department official articulated the government's attempts at fostering a positive dialogue with the world's 1.4 billion Muslims.

"We have to listen. We have to hear what it is they are experiencing. Their expertise is better than somebody in Washington saying what must be," Pandith said, adding that she was trying to help build a robust global Muslim community.

Pandith made clear that she tries not to speak of a single monolithic "Muslim world" and noted that she's travelled to 25 countries in the past nine months talking to Muslims. She also emphasised that any successful engagement effort will take a long time to see widespread progress.

Referring to President Barack Obama's speech on tensions with the Muslim world last year in Cairo, she set a very positive tone of the webchat.

Meanwhile, Obama himself has defended his outreach to the Islamic world saying it was designed to "reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West".

"I think what this arises from, some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion," he said in an interview to the Israeli TV when asked about the anxiety among the Israelis on his increasing outreach to the Muslim world.

"Some of it may have to do with the fact that I have actively reached out to the Muslim community, and I think that sometimes, particularly in West Asia, there's the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy," he said.

"The truth of the matter is, is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West," Obama said.




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