of Muslims, through Envoy Rashad Hussain
By Josh Gerstein, Politico
President Barack Obamaâ€™s aggressive outreach to the Muslim American community is reducing its sense of isolation, President Barack Obamaâ€™s envoy to the Muslim world told a conference in Washington Wednesday evening.
â€œWeâ€™ve really started to knock down that sense of otherization,â€ said Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer who also serves as liaison to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain defined the rather esoteric term â€œotherizationâ€ as a sense that many Muslims had during the Bush years that their value or danger to society was viewed solely through the prism of terrorism.
â€œMuslims … sometimes feel like they donâ€™t have as much of a stake or a role in the future of the country,â€ Hussain told the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy conference. â€œThatâ€™s something that all of the engagement that the United States has done on these issues both internationally and domestically has helped to counter.â€
Hussain was the keynote speaker at the session, which marked one year since Obamaâ€™s historic speech in Cairo last April, where he attempted to reset Americaâ€™s relationship with Muslims around the globe.
In many ways, the most remarkable thing about Hussainâ€™s speech was the context in which it took place: a conference that featured explicitly â€œIslamistâ€ political leaders from Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as a provocative Oxford scholar whom the Bush administration effectively banned from the U.S., Tariq Ramadan. Many Republicans, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, continue to use the term â€œIslamistâ€ to describe enemies of the U.S. The GOP politicians also fault Obama for failing to recognize the threat such an ideology poses to the U.S.
Giulianiâ€™s view is pretty much 180 degrees from the prevailing sentiment at Wednesdayâ€™s conference. â€œThere doesnâ€™t really seem to be much of a debate about whether engagement with Islamists should happen,â€ Professor Peter Mandeville of George Mason University declared. â€œThere really is no other alternative. The question now is about the nature of that engagement … rather than the question of whether this is something the United States should do.â€
In his 20-minute speech and a subsequent Q & A session, Hussain generally stuck to Obamaâ€™s rhetorical formulation of using the term â€œviolent extremismâ€ for what the Bush folks â€” and just about everyone else â€” used to call â€œterrorism.â€ However, Hussain did use the T-word a couple of times. He touted the U.S. commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to a diplomatic resolution of tensions with Iran, to avoiding religious- and nationality-based profiling in airport security screening and to freedom for Muslims around the world to wear Islamic garb.
In response to a question about the U.S. willingness to deal with Taliban members who are prepared to renounce violence, Hussain said, â€œThe U.S. will engage those groups that are lawfully elected and are lawfully part of the political process and donâ€™t engage in violence, and that is a commitment that is demonstrated over a set period of time.â€
Pressed by a questioner urging U.S. action against Israel over its refusal to end settlement-building activity, Hussain didnâ€™t offer much to satisfy the pro-Palestinian audience. â€œThe best way to address that issue is to get negotiations between the parties back on track again. … Itâ€™s not something that you will see this administration walk away from,â€ he said.
Hussain did seem a tad exasperated by complaints that, despite the vaunted Muslim outreach campaign, Obama has failed to visit a mosque in the U.S. as president. â€œIf there is this silver bullet people are looking for, that the president visit a religious center in the United States, Iâ€™m sure there will be an appropriate time for that as well,â€ Hussain said.
Shortly after his appointment as the OIC envoy earlier this year, Hussain grabbed some headlines for a flap over comments he made in 2004 describing the Bush administrationâ€™s actions against some terror suspects as â€œpolitically motivated persecutions.â€ He initially said he had no recollection of making the remarks, but after POLITICO obtained a recording of the presentation he conceded heâ€™d made the comments and called them â€œill-conceived or not well-formulated.â€