Farah Pandith, the newly appointed U.S. Representative to Muslim Communities, has given an interview which suggests she will likely continue the State Department policy of assisting U.S. Muslim Brotherhood leaders in networking with their European counterparts. Here, Ms. Pandith explains her activities over the last 18 months:
I’m glad you brought that up because it’s one of many things that we did. Here’s what I heard when I was on the ground in Europe: How do we balance our identity? How can we be both Muslim and Western? How did American Muslims do this? And how can you not like the policies of your government and still be a proud American? What’s the real story about Muslim Americans? Why should government be telling that story? It should be American Muslims themselves telling that story.So we created a tweaked tool to help get American Muslims out there in a way that was very effective – and fun. Over the course of 14 months, we hit 15 countries in Europe where we brought teams of American Muslims – teams of four where we had an American Muslim student, an imam, and two others – to a series of countries for 3 or 4 days and do all sorts of things. Round table discussions, town halls, interfaith, going to mosques and community centres. And so these American Muslims had an exposure across Western Europe. It was fantastic. We want to expand that kind of thing. We want to bring American expertise and understanding. What I’ve heard from American Muslims also was, “How can we help with the global agenda of pluralism, understanding, innovation and discourse?” And I think we need to honor that.
Ms. Pandith was one of the organizers of a March 2006 conference in Belgium called “Muslim Communities Participating in Society: A Belgian-U.S. Dialogue.” The conference brought together the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood with its Belgian/European counterparts and the participating American organizations included all of the major U.S. Brotherhood organizations- the Islamic Newly appointed Society of North America (ISNA), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and the Muslim Students Association of the US and Canada (MSA). A State Department Bulletin further announced that ISNA had used the conference to engage in networking with its Belgian counterparts:
Representatives of the Islamic Society of North America attended the conference and announced a package of internships, scholarships and exchanges for Belgian imams, Muslim leaders, teachers and students to visit the United States and continue their interactions with the U.S. Muslim community. Several other exchanges and projects were inspired by the conference, including a journalism study by the University of Southern California and a Belgian partner to discuss media coverage of Muslims and Islam.”
Joint initiatives between FEMYSO and MSA were also announced at a follow-up to the conference. FEMYSO is the youth organization of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) which essentially comprises the European Muslim Brotherhood.
At the time, U.S Ambassador to Belgium Tom C. Korologos testified about how the U.S. participants were selected, designating the U.S. Brotherhood organizations to be “moderates”:
Our next challenge was to agree on a list of participants. We vetted, checked and rechecked those we invited. Some of the organizations whose members participated in the Conference have been accused of being extremist. It is possible that some individual members of those organizations have made statements that have been termed extremist. Our view however, was to base our selection on the stated policies and specific actions of organizations and individuals today with regard to harmonious Muslim integration into American and European society. We wanted them to hear and participate in our dialogue with fellow moderates.
The State Department further announced that the conference was part of an effort intended to promote networking between the U.S. and European organizations:
The United States hopes to spark an international network that allows mainstream Muslims in Europe and North America regularly to discuss issues of alienation and extremism, a U.S. diplomat told Congress on April 5. The new approach connects previously isolated Muslim groups in an effort to “mobilize the moderates and marginalize the militants,” said Tom Korologos, U.S. ambassador the Belgium, where the concept was launched in a two-day meeting in November 2005. The initiative is “a model for generating not just a conference or two, but an entire movement of mainstream Muslims across Europe to ease alienation and combat extremism….Four or five more conferences like this can lead to a network of moderate Muslims,” Korologos said.”
In the interview, Ms. Pandith stated that Secretary of State Clinton wanted her to “leverage the kinds of things we were doing in Europe around the world” and further discusses her future plans:
I will have my own budget, which will be significant, and we will be leveraging the might of the State Department. This is the Secretary’s priority, this is very important to her. In terms of [Muslim Americans], I’m going to try to find an access route to make good ideas come to us. I want to have consistent dialogue with American Muslims, and I will do that face to face. The reason I was successful in Europe is because American Muslims helped me become successful. This was not something you just do alone – you’ve got to work with teams of people that are smart and bright, and have the ambition to build stronger communities. That’s what I’m all about.
It should be noted that the State Department has been regularly sponsoring trips to the U.S. by European Muslim Brotherhood leaders who have visited U.S. Brotherhood organizations such as the International Institute of Islamic Thought. (IIIT).