Swearing-In Ceremony for Farah Pandith Special Representative to Muslim Communities

Hillary Rodham Clinton
   Secretary of State
Farah Anwar Pandith
   Special Representative to Muslim Communities 
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
September 15, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you, Capricia, and good morning, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I know there are some who have been here many times before, but for some of you, it is your first visit. And we’re delighted to hold this very special ceremony for our nation’s first Special Representative to Muslim Communities.

I did not know Farah before I came to this new position, and I am so pleased that I was able to persuade her to assume this new responsibility, which carries with it a lot of challenges that we’re ready to address together. And it’s especially fitting that she would be joined by her mother and her brother, her aunt, and her cousin. I thank you for encouraging her to be part of public service and for continuing this work for our country here in the State Department.

This appointment could not have come at a more opportune time. As President Obama said in Cairo and Ankara, our nation seeks a new beginning with Muslims around the world, a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect. It’s a relationship that requires us to listen, share ideas, and find areas of common ground in order to expand a peaceful, prosperous future. Now, this will not happen overnight. We understand that. We are not looking for any magic solutions. We know that it’s going to take patience, persistence, and hard work. And naming a special representative is not an end in itself.

But it is apparent now more than ever that we have to do more to promote dialogue and diplomacy, and Farah will play a key role in that process for us. During this holy month of Ramadan, we reflect on Islam’s teachings of charity, community and cooperation. And I look forward to hosting, tonight, an Iftar that affirms our commitment to turn those common values into common ground and common action.

Now, we have established this new office of the special representative to make sure that we are fully engaged. Now, it is one thing if people know everything about you and conclude you are their enemy. It is something entirely different if they know very little or nothing about you except propaganda, stereotypes, and inaccurate generalizations, and conclude that we are an enemy.

This is a dialogue that is not going to focus solely on terrorism or radicalization, but instead, focus on what all of us have in common, what we all hope for our children, the kind of questions that are asked around every breakfast, lunch, and dinner table in the world about whether we’re going to have a peaceful, prosperous and stable world.

There are over 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. It is a population slightly greater than either China or India. The challenges of poverty, hunger, climate change, corruption are not unique to any part of the world, to any people, and certainly not to any faith. But they do require all of us, whoever we might be, to find an active role in forging solutions that will fulfill our obligations as people of faith – to those who are the least, the last, and the lost among us to – in order to reach out and create that common bond.

So in addition to these broad challenges, we have to focus on concerns of specific Muslim communities. How are we going to get more investment into Iraq and put people who want to work back to work? How are we going to engage with young Muslims in Europe who feel marginalized or disassociated from their communities? How do we make sure that the message we send from our country is not just government to government, but people to people, community to community? And Farah is well prepared to help us in this task.

In her previous job in our Department’s Bureau of European Affairs, she worked with then-Assistant Secretary, now-Ambassador Dan Fried, to build bridges with European Muslims, a large diverse community that had often been overlooked in American diplomacy. Farah worked to develop networks for Muslim professionals, provide opportunities for Muslim youth to feel welcomed in European society, convening roundtables with leaders to look for those common grounds and those common solutions. I am not only confident, I know that Farah will apply the same spirit and dedication in this new position. She will help us to build a foundation of trust and cooperation that will reflect the pluralistic values and traditions of our nation.

Now, we obviously recognize that there is no such thing as a monolithic Muslim world. We see it in the diversity here in our own country. We know that it cuts across many ethnic and racial identities. So we also hope to use online social media tools that have helped to engage Muslims in Europe to reach across the broader spectrum of communities in Asia, Africa, Middle East, everywhere. And then we’re going to try to follow up with concrete actions that help to combat discrimination and promote tolerance. Farah will work to bring faith leaders, civil society groups, policymakers together to amplify the chorus of Muslim voices that reject violence and extremism.

The richness of our different religions is one of humanity’s most precious inheritances. But falling back on my own faith tradition, it has never been easy. And I have been reminded time and time again how much work lies ahead of us. But I am delighted, and I can think of no one better to assume this role. And I know that all Americans will join me in wishing her great success in this very important new position.

So Farah, if you’re ready, I will now administer the oath. And your mother’s going to hold the Holy Qu’ran, so put your right hand – left hand and raise your right hand and repeat after me.

(The Oath was administered.)

MS. PANDITH: Madame Secretary, distinguished guests from the Ambassadorial Corps, dear friends and family, I am honored to share this moment with you. I could not have imagined – and I have a great imagination – (laughter) – an opportunity such as this to serve a nation that has meant so much to me and to my family, and has become my own.

I arrived in Boston, Massachusetts with my mother from Srinagar on July 4th, 1969. And when I think about it, our arrival on July 4 was not just symbolic but fitting. I grew up with a mom who raised my brother and me to constantly think about the gifts presented to us here: the freedoms to explore and create and discover, the luxury of the best education in the world, the richness of an environment that had every faith, creed, ethnicity and tradition, and the foundation of a country that gave every citizen – no matter what their religion or race or gender – equal rights under the law. I grew up knowing the privilege of being American. I also grew up knowing there was no contradiction between being a Muslim and being an American. For me, it was simply normal. It’s the American way.

In this room are friends from every part of my life and some who are with me in spirit today. There are several friends from high school who have teased me for years and years about my passion to get involved. Apparently, I am unable to sit still. But this is because of my mom who demonstrated to me through her actions and her vibrancy that it was critical to think of others, to give respect and dignity to everyone, and to find ways to use your strengths to give back.

So through working, volunteering, mentoring or joining a cause, I had the good fortune to see the world around me – things that I did not know, and people I would not normally meet. These experiences were challenging, but more importantly inspiring. Viewing and understanding the world through the eyes of others allowed me to think more creatively about solutions to problems and to realize the potential of partners that aren’t always the most obvious.

I stand here today reflecting on my experiences and celebrating this honor with people that have helped me to not just dream big, but dare to do it. The idea of giving back was imbedded into the fabric of each of the schools that I was honored to attend – whether it was Milton or Smith or Fletcher. This concept – so American in nature – that every problem must have a solution, every one of us can take responsibility, and there is no time like the present – has framed my worldview and has made it impossible for me to just watch from afar as the world grapples with some of the most pressing issues of our age.

So we take part. All of us.

In this room are friends who have taught me, and continue to teach me, so much about what it means to serve our great nation – former bosses and classmates; and colleagues from civil society, NGOs, think tanks and the corporate sector.

In this room is my family – my mother, my brother Adeel, my aunt Marian, my cousin Sabah, as well as cousins Rashid and Rehana who couldn’t come today. All of you, I extend my sincere gratitude. You have been extraordinary and you have given me inspiration and unselfish support. And Adeel, my brother who has more patience for his older sister than I deserve, you have kept it real. Thank you.

I have been blessed with many friends who have given special care to me professionally, and I want to mention a couple of people without whom today would not have been possible. Ambassador Dan Fried, who unfortunately is abroad right now, was a visionary at a critical time in our nation’s history. His understanding of the need to build partnerships and new relationships with Muslim communities in Western Europe was unprecedented. The last two years working with him have been extraordinary for me and have allowed me to see the strength of the Department of State and the opportunities for us to do more with civil society that is vibrant and filled with ideas. Dan’s leadership and belief in my abilities have been so meaningful. He also gave me the chance to brief Secretary Clinton last January.

Clearly, I wouldn’t be in front of you today -- (laughter) – I would also like to thank Anne-Marie Slaughter, Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin. Each of these women have been in my corner and have made me feel newly excited about the work we must all do together for our nation.

A special, special thank you to a former Rhodes Scholar whom I met several years ago when I was at the NSC. When visiting from Oxford, Jared Cohen and I would think crazy thoughts and wonder, “Is it possible to do this,” and our favorite line, “What if?” When I arrived at State, the “What if” became “Let’s do it.” Thank you for your partnership, Jared.

To Lee Zak, Elliott Abrams, Juan Zarate, Wendy Chamberlin, Kathryn Morgan, Herro Mustafa, Adnan Kifayat, Steve Tocco, Jeff Robbins and Thaleia Tsongas Schlessinger, thank you for your guidance and wisdom and support of my professional passions all these years. Never once did you steer me away from trying, never once did you say “That is too hard to do.” To Ambassador Steve Bosworth, who has been a wonderful support and cheerleader, thank you. This is a nation that allows all of us to take part, and I feel a great honor to have this historic special privilege now.

The person who was a father to me, my uncle, passed away in May. He demonstrated leadership on issues of interfaith cooperation in word and deed. He took me with him to meet President Clinton, he talked with me for hours about the need for Muslims to serve our nation, and to demonstrate in our actions what Islam teaches most importantly – respect for each other. He met then-First Lady Hillary Clinton on a trip to the Middle East and told me: “I like her. She has passion.” (Laughter.) She certainly does, and I am truly honored to be able to serve as her Special Representative to Muslim Communities.

She has asked me to find ways to build strong partnerships and create new connections and join together with grassroots organizations to effect positive change. Under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, the Department of State is recalibrating the way in which we work with Muslim communities around the world. Guided by her passion, leadership and dedication to an issue that is not new to her – she has been active on these issues for decades – this office will advise her and the Department on issues related to Muslim engagement. Through this office, we will engage Muslim communities to solve collaboratively the most pressing problems facing these communities around the world. Madame Secretary, thank you for your vision and for your confidence in me. I am humbled.

As I look around at my family, friends, mentors and colleagues on this morning, I ask you to stand with me as we work together to reach the goals set out by the President and Secretary Clinton to go forward with mutual respect and mutual interest and without limits on what is possible.

Madame Secretary, thank you for this honor. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/915