US Dispatches Special Envoy to Muslims

CAIRO – Expanding US engagement with Muslim communities, the US State Department has appointed a special representative to engage with the Muslim world on countering extremism and civil rights violations.

“In the past, the State Department has been very hesitant in dealing with religious issues, and I think that’s changing,” Haris Tarin, DC director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), told The Washington Post.

Working for a decade with fellow Muslims on issues like civil rights violations, police surveillance and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening, the appointment of Shaarik Zafar reflects a more effective phase of US relations with the Muslim community after 9/11 attacks.

Taking the new post, Zafar will serve his post from a new office at the State Department that will be supplied with 25 specialists in religion in Europe and training overseas diplomats who will be assigned to engage with religious figures.

Since his appointment last July, Zafar has embarked his tough mission with hosting scholars from Afghanistan and Senegal besides addressing some leading domestic groups like North American Pakistani Physicians.

The 29-year-old politician will adopt  the notion of « pushing open doors », meaning that he will be focusing on spots where « cooperation is likely » while reaching the Muslim community.

“People will have strongly held views” on controversial foreign policy issues where there is division and he doesn’t have much influence, Zafar said.

“But I can’t focus only on discussing those issues because there are enormous opportunities in these other areas.”

Countering Shiite-Sunni sectarian violence and the home-grown Jihad, will top the agenda of the former Texas lawyer, Zafar.

Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.

An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.

Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, many Muslims have complained of facing discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.

A recent report by the umbrella Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has found that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.

‘Limited Credibility’

Bracing to be honored for his appointment next Wednesday, September 3, by the Secretary of State John Kerry, Zafar fears that a « limited credibility » will hinder his efforts.

“It has to be a bank shot,”Zafar said.

“A Muslim guy with the US government is going to have limited credibility.”

The top priorities of the Muslim ambassador will include tackling climate change, entrepreneurship along with promoting the creative economy in Muslim communities globally.

Other priorities will include promoting on of US basic policies which is fostering “religious freedom overseas”.

Serving at domestic agencies like the departments of Justice and Homeland Security since 2004, the father of two has been frequently asked by American Muslims about US Foreign policy.

Zafar had also been confronted by citizens’ dismay over US invasion of Iraq when he was dispatched by US to the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan several years ago to tackle civil rights issues.

“They didn’t want to talk about that,” he said.

“They were very upset about the war in Iraq. It was very tense. I’d say, ‘That’s not my area of expertise.

« You have to be prepared to get yelled at, but if you can hold firm and keep at it, by the end we were taking photos and having tea. If you keep at it — it can’t be one and done.”

Zafar’s predecessor, Farah Pandith, was appointed as US envoy to the Muslim world in July, 2009.

She served at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on assistance projects for Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

In February 2007, she was appointed a senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.





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