Posted on September 27, 2013 · Posted in Frank Friday, P-cubed News

Shyama Venkateswar and Farah Pandith

Photo credit: Eddy Bogus

On Thursday, September 26, Farah Pandith, US State Department Special Representative to Muslim Communities, came to Roosevelt House to discuss her work engaging Muslim youth around the world. Her position was created by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 as part of the Obama Administration’s desire to start working with the Muslim world on terms of mutual interest and mutual respect. Her mandate is to engage with Muslim youth around the world at the grassroots, rather than the government, level, and in this capacity she has travelled to over 80 countries, helping to launch several youth-focused campaigns.

“It is because I talk to your generation that I do this job,” explained Special Representative Pandith. “I have faith in you.” She described what she calls a “youth-quake,” a global phenomenon in which our generation is shaking up traditional ideas and expectations, no longer waiting for others to give us permission to act. With a quarter of the world practicing Islam, and 62% of this population currently under the age of 30, this is an opportunity that cannot be missed. However, she explained that everywhere she goes, she sees Muslim youth undergoing an identity crisis and struggling to define what it means to be Muslim in 2013. The loudest voice in this debate, she warned, is too often that of extremist groups, and therefore she stressed the need for us to help provide youths with multiple narratives or role models that they can relate to. To this end, she suggested that everyone take a look at the work of Naif Al-Mutawa, who recently received a shout out from President Obama for his creation of the comic The 99.

Special Representative Pandith also described the challenge of convincing governments to engage their own youth, especially in countries with traditions of a hierarchy of elders in which the young are expected to always speak last. She explained that the US State Department has been trying to shift this mentality by asking other governments to bring youth representatives to their meetings, or by working directly with the youth population in their communities. Special Representative Pandith briefly discussed her work in two such grassroots initiatives—Hours Against Hate, and Generation Change—urging all students to get involved. Special Representative Pandith is eager to continue this conversation with students, and can be found on Facebook: Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and on Twitter at @Farah_Pandith.

By Audrey Stienon

audreysAudrey Stienon is a senior studying political science and economics at Hunter. She is also in the process of completing her Capstone for the Public Policy Program at Roosevelt House.