2:00 P.M. EDT
799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, NEW YORK, NEW YORK
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming. We’re very, very pleased today to have Farah Pandith, who is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities here at the State Department. So please – she’s going to speak for about 20 minutes or so, a little longer or less, and then she will take your questions. So thank you again for coming and thank you, Farah, for speaking to this group.
MS. PANDISH: Good afternoon again. Hope everybody is doing well. I wanted to give you guys an opportunity to hear from me directly on some of the things that I’ve been seeing around the world. It is a little bit more than two years since I’ve been Special Representative to Muslim Communities. This is a position that was established for the first time in American history in the Obama Administration, and I am the person who at the State Department is working with our embassies around the world to engage on a people-to-people level. Secretary Clinton has asked me to very specifically work on the grassroots, on communities, to work people-to-people. She talks a lot about citizen diplomacy and how we can do more to engage with those people on the ground that are part of civil society.
And so the majority of the work that I’ve been doing over the course of the last two years has been at the grassroots, and I am also working with the demographic under the age of 30. There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet. That is one-fourth of humanity, and most of those Muslims are under the age of 30.
So that’s the profile and the mandate that I have. I also have a global component to this job, which means that we are engaging Muslims and Muslim-majority countries and Muslims that live as minorities. Over the course of the last 20 months or so, I’ve been to nearly 50 countries around the world talking to youth, hearing from them directly, going to speak in universities and community centers, talking to faith leaders and community activists, talking to hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs and everybody in between to hear what’s happening on the ground.
As you know, there is a youth quake that is taking place worldwide, and over the course of the last two years we’ve been in it. We’ve been talking to young people who I call generation changers, people who are part of a generation that is thinking differently, that’s using social media to move their ideas forward, but are also not limited by the scope and the ideas of their parents’ generation. Rather, they’re out of the box, they understand the importance of thinking differently about some of the key issues that we’re working on. Whether it is, obviously, human rights or poverty, whether it’s entrepreneurship and job creation, these young people want to be engaged.
And so the work that I’m doing with our embassies is to listen, to find ways to build new dialogues, to build trust over time. This is a long-term engagement effort on behalf of the United States Government. I spoke about the fact that this is the first time in American history that we have a special representative, and this vision to engage in this way came out of a wide series of different parts of our government that is engaging, built on the President’s vision for engagement that he spelled out at the very beginning of his presidency when he gave his historic speech in Cairo. You heard him talk about the importance of building communities around the world that are engaged, that are working together. Mutual interest and mutual respect are the phrase that he used to describe how he wants every part of our government to engage.
The State Department is one part of that effort. There are other parts of the interagency that are working to engage with Muslims. Whether it is the U.S. Department of Commerce or it’s the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, or other departments and agencies, we are answering the President’s call.
I think what’s very important leading up to sort of a larger conversation about the history of this effort and how our country has engaged with Muslims and what’s different in this administration, I think what’s very compelling is that President Obama, in an unprecedented way, in the very few – first moments of becoming President, on the steps of the Capitol, spoke to one faith group in his inauguration address, and he spoke to Muslims. And I think that really set the tone and the pace of the way in which we have answered his call for action, how we are thinking more creatively about how we engage.
This idea that we’re engaging with youth is not something to think about lightly, because the power of this generation of young Muslims is unprecedented and they, in the work that I have done around the world, have seen this generation want to push back against the stereotypes of the general narratives that are out there. They push back against the idea, like President Obama has said, there is no us and them, there is just an us. And I think as we talk about that, as we think about this, the day after President Obama gave a wonder Iftaar at the White House yesterday in which he talked about some of these themes – and I would urge you, if you had not heard his speech at the dinner last night at the White House – that you go back and you see that consistently for more than two years this President has spoken about Muslim engagement in a very new way, in a very respectful way. The tone and the tenor and the pace of engagement with Muslims is unprecedented in American history.
Now, in terms of the kind of nuances that are happening on the ground with Muslims around the world, I would say to you that there are a couple of themes that have come up quite importantly, and that really hits to the heart of how I think about the potential of this generation. One of the things is that this is a generation that grew up framed by 9/11, and the generation under the age of 30 came of age every day, all day, since September 12th, 2001 with the word “Islam” or the word “Muslims” on the front pages of papers online and offline. So the way this generation of young Muslims thinks about themselves is very different because of the global narratives that are taking place, the way people are shaping and re-identifying issues, the unfortunate conflation of terminology that goes back and forth, the inability to separate those that would use the name of Islam for their evil purposes, and the peaceful religion of Islam which is practiced by more – almost 2 billion people around the world.
This has reshaped and recalibrated the way in which you hear people talk about the issues that surround these communities. And from young people what I hear across the world, whether I’m talking to a young person in Guyana or in Malaysia, in Norway or in Mali, central issue for them: identity. What is the difference between culture and religion? How do you be modern and Muslim? How these young people are navigating through their identity is really important for all of us to think about. We as the United States Government cannot and are not reshaping what kind of Islam they practice. We separate church and state. But what I can tell you is that the voices that are the loudest out there for these young people to get answers to these questions are the voices that will say that you will never belong, that you are different and distinct from those – from other people. And that is very problematic when you think about this generation of young Muslims that is growing up.
On a very positive side, I will tell you this generation too is aware of their potential and their ability in many, many countries, the Middle East and outside of the Middle East. The numbers of young people under the age of 30 are very high. I told you that most Muslims in the world are under the age of 30. And they are building networks of likeminded thinkers, so entrepreneurs and change agents are finding synergies around the world. And I think that that is extremely important for us to understand and central to the kind of work that we’re doing.
In the work that I do as Special Representative, we are trying to link likeminded thinkers. We are trying to introduce the amazing person in Oslo with the person in Nouakchott, Mauritania. I am connecting the person in Kuala Lumpur with the person in London who may not know that they’re doing similar work or engaging in issues in the grassroots in a similar way.
By creating these sort of incubators of progressiveness, of out-of-the-box thinking, of innovation, what we’re doing is inspiring these young people to think differently about their potential and what they can do. And I think that’s very important.
The U.S. Government’s greatest role is to be one in which it can be the convener and the facilitator and the intellectual partner with the ideas that we’re hearing on the ground. And that is what we’re trying to do in many ways. You have heard, and I’m sure you know, and that the United States Government has engaged with Muslims for decades. This is not a new thing. We have all kinds of wonderful programs. But what is new for our us in the Obama Administration is that the pace and the wide variety of programs has really shifted. Not only have we increased the traditional engagement programs, but there’s been more focus on entrepreneurship, there’s been more focus on leadership, there’s been more focus on finding ways that NGOs can work on projects together online, because 21st century statecraft is obviously something Secretary Clinton has talked about.
What I’m finding very interesting in the work that I’m doing is that because I’m on Facebook and I’m on Twitter, I’m hearing from young Muslims all over the world who are sharing ideas with me, who are sharing responses with me, who’ve heard me speak in places or an ambassador speak in places and have response to that. They want me to hear about an NGO or a project that they’re working on. And you incorporate that in the work that I’m doing no matter where in the world I go.
I just got back from Southeast Asia, where I was in Malaysia, Southern Thailand, and in Indonesia. And part of the inspiration for the work that we’re doing comes from people telling us about places that we really need to visit and places we need to go. And I think that’s really important; stepping out of the traditional roles of where U.S. Government engages, that we’re not just meeting people who are the elite, we’re not just meeting people in the capitals. I’m going out to very far places in a country. I’m meeting with schools and communities that we don’t usually engage with. And I think that that is part and parcel of the way in which we’re thinking about our commitment and our long-term engagement on issues that are important.
When President Obama talks about mutual interest, you cannot work on a project together unless you build trust. And you cannot get trust unless you’ve started a dialogue. And the way in which we’re formulating this dialogue is really different and very important. And so I think whether we’re talking about the fact that young people are having an issue with their identity, which is a challenging issue and it’s something that we can respond to, or on the more positive side, we are hearing from young people who want to do more, who want to be activated, who want to be included in the global conversation. We can insert them into the global conversation if we know about them, and we’re trying to do more of that with our embassies.
The sketch of my job I’ve just laid out for you. I will get into more specifics during our Q&A, but I just wanted to give you a larger frame of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And I’m looking forward to your questions that I’ll happily take.
MODERATOR: Just use the mikes for our video and say who you are and what publication.
QUESTION: Yeah. My name’s Rafael Mathus. I’m with Reforma newspaper from Mexico. On the issue, you said that you can’t get trust unless you initiate a dialogue. How do you break the distrust that was created after 9/11, especially since there’s a lot of people in this country that don’t make the distinction between Islam and terrorism?
MS. PANDITH: Yeah. No, that’s a very important question. Every – I’ve laid out a series of things that we’re doing on the ground. I haven’t given you the substance of what happens within those meetings, and it’s not always easy. There are many, many difficult conversations with people and groups – and individuals and groups – that stem around foreign policy issues, that stem around questions about our government and why we’re doing particular things.
But I think it’s important that you have that conversation, that you give people the opportunity to ask direct questions. When I’m in Pakistan, for example, I got bombarded with a ton of questions about the drones when I – or an issue like Israel-Pal comes up in almost every single conversation I have around the world. There are lots of questions about American Muslims and how they live, and people see sound bites and media reports and they can’t distinguish between a pastor that says that he’s going to burn the Holy Qu’ran and there are only 50 people in his church, and the wide majority of Americans on the – in America that don’t support what it is he was saying.
But when you’re doing a media sound bite and you’re watching something – a media clip, it’s hard for foreign audiences to say, “Well, is this the mainstream or is it not?” But you cannot get to those places unless you’re talking like we are and walking through things. My job isn’t to win hearts and minds. My job is to open up dialogue. My job is to listen. My job is to make sure that we’re listening to what’s happening at the grassroots so I can bring those ideas back to Washington, so that the Secretary of State knows what’s happening on the ground, so that it can inform how we think about many things, and it can actually be included in the way in which you think about some of the engagement programs that we want to build over time.
What I know for sure, because I’ve had these conversations with young people, is there are some things that they will not like about the United States Government’s policies in different ways. But they are still willing to work on things together. Just because you may not like our position in X country or Y country on a bilateral state or a particular issue doesn’t mean you’re not going to work on a human issue together like child trafficking or human rights or poverty alleviation or education. You can do two things at one time. And so we are opening up those conversations. We’re having direct conversations. But we’re also understanding that this is a moment that we can use to build more respectful relationships.
And I talked a little bit about the way in which the President has been unprecedented in the way – his tone and his tenor, and I really mean that. I think that there is great appreciation from communities around the world that President Obama has been bold enough to say from the beginning that he wants to decrease any kind of divide that exists, that in order to harness and leverage the potential of all humans means that one fourth of humanity needs to be engaged with us. And one fourth of humanity is Muslim, and it means that the United States Government, through our embassies on the ground, have to be able to engage with them to solve common problems, whether it is the eradication of polio or it’s something having to do with science and technology or whatever else it is.
Distrust also comes in other ways, and I think for me, in this position, it’s been very interesting to see, almost 10 years after 9/11, the conspiracy theories that still exist on the ground. And in many ways, they have not been reshaped. There hasn’t been pushback. But on another side, a lot has happened since 9/11 in almost 10 years. The American community in general – every American of every faith and race – has undergone a completely different conversation about the history of Islam in our country. We’ve learned a lot about that. It is – we are learning, we’re engaging in a sometimes very challenging but sometimes really wonderful conversation about who we are as Americans. And I have very – I get very great response from foreign audience, especially when I talk about the Constitution and the rights of every American under law, and how you can practice your faith freely here and how, in my view, you are more free to be a Muslim in America than any other country in the world.
So while there may be distrust, there is opportunity for conversation, and I think it is a long-term engagement. It’s not a flash-in-the-pants kind of thing. It is long-term engagement that we have to be consistent with. We have to listen, we have to engage, and we have to be ready to be able to answer some hard questions, and that’s what we are doing.
QUESTION: Thank you. Dan Hernandez from the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. Here in the U.S., how have you seen the Muslim community react to the stories – these anti-mosque, anti-Sharia law, racial profiling stories? Have the – especially young Muslims. Have the communities disengaged or become more isolated, or are they getting involved?
MS. PANDITH: Well, I think – first of all, let me just state for the record, I mean, I am part of the U.S. Department of State, which means that the work that I do by law is outside the borders of our country. And so the audiences that I engage with are outside.
I do, however, work with some of – on some issues having to do with impact of narratives from our country overseas with groups that are here, both Muslim and non-Muslim, by the way, that are very interested in making sure that we are talking about things in a very frank and open manner, that Americans of all shapes and sizes are engaging in conversations. What I do know from many conversations with American Muslims – a couple of things I want to say about American Muslims just before I answer that.
One is it’s a very, very diverse group of people. American Muslims come from every country in the world. And so when we talk about the communities of Muslims here, I have to be very dignified and talk about the fact that there is not just one big everybody thinks the same way. They don’t. They have different experiences and different backgrounds and they’re doing different things. And you are also very aware that over the course of the last 10 years, the American Muslim civil society has become more active in a lot of – lots of efforts to educate non-Muslim Americans about Islam and about Muslims. And that’s been a very positive thing.
But it hasn’t just been Muslim Americans who have talked about Islam. I’ve seen huge efforts by other faith communities to open the doors of conversation. Just recently, there were thousands – no, sorry, I don’t know – several hundred, at least, churches in America that had – devoted a Sunday – the Sunday sermon to speaking about Islam. I mean, these are efforts on behalf of our country, in many different ways, to talk about the importance of diversity, to talk about the importance of pluralism, to talk about the uniformity of approach of our country, which is freedom of all faiths, which is embedded in the Constitution. And I think that is really the central pillar of where we are seeing the conversations happen.
There is obviously a global change in the way in which we talk about issues of Muslims and Islam in the last 10 years. And whether it is framed by events that are happening – one-off events that are happening in different parts of the world or changes in legislature in different countries that prevent freedom of expression or freedom of speech, whether it is – I was in Tajikistan and had a conversation with some folks there about the fact that the government there was asking women who would cover their hair not to be allowed into schools. That was a very interesting conversation. There are interesting conversations when you go to Europe in a wide range of ways in terms of how populations are responding. And some of it is based on bigotry, some if it is based on prejudice, some of it’s based on misunderstanding, and some of it moves into areas of changing laws. I mean, it really depends where in the world we’re talking about.
Here in America, some of those conversations have been very painful and very difficult. But I know that despite the fact that we have had challenges in our country, whether it has to do with race or it has to do with gender or sexual orientation or anything else, we are a strong country, we are a resilient country, we will move forward on these issues. And as President Obama even said last night and certainly at the State of the Union, American Muslims are part of the American family, and Americans understand that.
Yes, please. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m from Turkish Journal, and I wanted to ask you a question. Have you – two questions, actually. Have you been to Turkey and met the Muslim community there?
And the other thing is: A lot of people are concerned in Turkey, especially the people who are not really religious, about the separation of church and state. And since the government is Islamist and Erdogan has been in power for almost 10 years, there’s a major concern – a lot of Turkish people have told me that, like, 50 percent – they’re saying 50 percent of the women are now covered. But in Turkey, covering is not necessarily always because you’re religious, but it seems there’s some kind of a trend, according to what a lot of Turkish people say, on the ground. What is your opinion about that?
One of the hard conversations, I think, in Turkey has a lot to do with the fact that in the past, say 10 years ago, you could have a girl walking in a miniskirt and her best friend is covered and there’s no problem. But just recently, a girl who plays volleyball professionally was on a bus – I don’t know if you read that story – in Turkey and a man kicked her and told her that she was in improper woman because she had shorts on. What does that say about freedom in Turkey when they’re saying we want to get into the EU and we’re modern, what does that say? I mean, that’s my –
MS. PANDITH: So thank you for your question. Yes. I have been to Turkey. And I’ve been there twice. I first went in June of 2010 on a visit, and if you go to my Facebook page, which I hope all of you either did already or will do, you can learn a little bit more about my visits. And then I went again very recently. I think it was March of this past year, with my colleague Hannah Rosenthal, who is the special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism. And if you’ll permit me to tell you why, I’ll move into your question, but I want to explain why I went to Turkey most recently.
The gentleman right before you asked a question about sort of bias and prejudice – I’m summing it up – and bigotry. And what I have seen around the world is an increase of the overt bigotry and prejudice against many, including Muslims. Whether it is anti-Semitism or it is Muslim hatred, there is an uptick in the way in which communities all over the world are feeling freely to talk about people who don’t look like them and don’t pray like them, and it is really heartbreaking to see that we have a planet in 2011 that is not promoting mutual respect, but rather allowing us to be in communities where it’s okay to be so prejudiced.
In 2010, Hannah and I were part of the U.S. delegation that went to Kazakhstan to speak as, in our capacities, at a conference by the OSCE. It was a conference on tolerance. And I was supposed to give this speech from the U.S., the official statement on what they called – I don’t use this terminology – but what they called Islamaphobia, and Hannah was supposed to speak on anti-Semitism. And what we did in Kazakhstan in 2010, in June of 2010, is we went up to give that presentation and we switched roles. So I spoke about anti-Semitism, she spoke about Muslim hatred. We ended with the same paragraph, hate is hate, and it created quite a buzz in Kazakhstan among the delegates to the event, the member countries. But it also created a buzz by civil society because it really spoke to them, and they felt very strongly that the United States had made a statement here and that we’re doing something really proactive.
But they urged us – civil society came back to us and really urged us to do more, and we really thought about it, what do we want to do and how do we want to do it? And really it’s about the young people and really trying to push forward on the things that we’ve heard them say, which is we want to build positive bridges with each other, people who are different, not hold onto negativity. So this year, we launched a campaign called 2011, like the year, Hours Against Hate. And it’s a Facebook campaign; if you go online, you can take a look at it. And we have – Secretary Clinton has a video up there and some other famous people who are up on that site along with many, many young people from around world – from Turkey, from Azerbaijan, from Spain, from Lebanon, from Jordan, from all over the world.
What the campaign is is we’re asking young people to volunteer their time for someone who doesn’t look like them, live like them, or pray like them. So for example, you might be a Christian; you might volunteer 20 hours in a Jewish shelter. You may be a boy, and you might – a man; you might want to volunteer your time at a women’s community center, something like that, somebody who is different than you. When we launched this campaign, we thought we were going to get – we were hoping we would get 2,011 hours of volunteer time. We are passed 11,000 hours now, and we are really excited about the momentum that has been percolating. We catalyzed it, but we haven’t been doing anything except for telling people that it’s happening. This has gone viral; this has become real.
And I bring it back to Turkey because I – when we – when Hannah and I went to Turkey on that visit in March, we did it in the context of this campaign and really talking about the importance of Turkey, and it is an important country and partner to the United States.
You asked a lot of questions about the issue of freedom of expression, and I will broaden that by saying that I, too, have seen an increase of people who have – young women around the world who are dressing more conservatively than the generations before them. I often hear from young girls that their mothers weren’t dressed the way they are or their grandmothers were not. That expression of whatever they want to call it, whether it’s religiosity or it’s anything else, I don’t know. I can’t – I’m not in their heart. I don’t know why they do what – but there is an uptick in this. But there’s also been a lot of fear and a lot of misunderstanding.
And I think at the heart of your question, I need to answer it with what President Obama has said, that our country, as you know, we support freedom of expression in any way, that a person in our country has the ability to wear a yarmulke, a turban, a cross, a headscarf, whatever they care to wear. We believe in the capacity of communities to be able to celebrate differences, and we believe that communities are stronger for it.
I think Turkey has a very important role to play in a lot of different ways in which we’re talking about the issue of Islam, but I want to be very clear: We have to give dignity to the diversity of Muslims around the world and understand that a Muslim in Stockholm is as Muslim as a Muslim in Surabaya. And the way in which we’re engaging with Muslim communities around the world, we are trying to focus on that diversity of communities around the world. And I think it’s very important to understand.
And I think when I was in Turkey, there were many, many conversations about the history of Turkey and the bridge between, quote, “the East and the West” and all of that sort of history that comes with it. And I think it’s important for us to understand that in 2011 young people are learning from each other, and it doesn’t matter if you are sitting in Central Asia or if you’re sitting in the heart of Africa; you are engaging and trying to see how other young Muslims are living around the world, and that has been extremely impactful as I think about how people use information, what’s important to them, how they think about freedom of expression and freedom of faith and what they do. Thank you for that question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Li Wenjia from China’s Central TV, CCTV. And as you – as we all know, there is going to – there is a mosque going to be built around the Ground Zero, the World Trade Center. So as far as I know, the construction work has not begin, right? So do you know the current situation about that? And how do you interpret its location? Do you think it’s going to be effect or influence 9/11, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the –
MS. PANDITH: Well, first of all, the private actions of a group in New York, I really can’t comment on. The Part 51 so-called controversy that has been present in conversations over the course of several months, I don’t know where things are right now. I’m not part of it. But I do know that it has been – that that controversy, combined with the pastor in Florida that happened around the same time, has in fact really impacted the way in which my conversations have flown – flowed since then because I have been hearing from young people.
As I said to this gentleman earlier, it is very hard for people to distinguish between an isolated incident or what’s taking place or to know the rules and the regulations in America. President Obama last year, during his Iftar speech, talked about the fact that in our country, a mosque and a synagogue and a church and a temple and any religious structure has the right to be built. If you follow the local laws of the municipality, you are able to do that, and President Obama said that very clearly.
Despite that fact, there is – there are people who don’t understand that you – there are mosques in every state in America. President Eisenhower gave land in Washington, D.C., two miles from the White House, to Muslims because there was no place for them to pray. The Islamic Center of Washington is the Islamic Center of Washington because the president of the United States gave land. And when you think about the history of presidents in our country speaking about all faiths, speaking about the dignity of expressing and the right for people to practice freely, whether it is George Washington talking in 17 – I don’t remember the year, late 1700s – to the Jewish Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, or it is Thomas Jefferson or it is John Quincy Adams or it is President Eisenhower or President Clinton or President Bush or President Obama, there has been consistency from the beginning of our country with the Founding Fathers to today. All faiths have the right to practice their faith in America, and that is who we are as Americans.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. I’m Hiromi Osada from Tokyo News, Tokyo Shimbun. And as you said, the young – younger Islam are now having issue with identity. Could you give me more specification about that?
MS. PANDITH: So it’s very hard to isolate particular things because I think that that there are some trends. One is this woman was speaking about sort of clothing, just in general, and I think what’s been very interesting is that there has been a – there’s much diversity in terms of Muslims around the world and how they dress and how they practice their faith in terms of local customs. The religion obviously is the same, but the customary practices – what you break your fast with, how you do a particular thing – but there is a real sense of “I’m not doing it right; there must be a different way to do this.”
And I think it’s been very interesting because when you talk to young people, I think part of it is because they’re seeing different images on TV or they’re getting connected in different ways. They think that they haven’t been doing it right. So you’re seeing more of a uniform sort of approach in some ways, based on the fear that what they’ve been doing in their own country, it hasn’t been right.
Now for example – I’ll give you a very specific example. When I was in the Maldives, this is a country that – Islam has been part of the Maldives for 800 years – 800 years. There are 1,200 islands in the Maldives. It is a hundred percent Muslim, okay? All of the sudden, young kids are saying, “Well, I’m not sure we’re practicing this faith correctly; I’m not sure we’re doing this right.” People – young people – it’s because young people have gone outside of the Maldives, see different things, come back and say, “By the way, we haven’t been doing this right.” And that – and I’m not – these are not my words; these are the words of the young kids describing it to me. And that’s setting off a wide series of things that are happening in the culture over there because they’re not sure where – what they’re doing and how they’re doing things. And they’ve become very unsure about what their future is going to be or how they can – how they should practice their faith. That piece of somebody going externally and coming back is very important.
There’s also another piece to that – external ideologies coming into communities and forcing others to think in new ways about who they are and what they are and how to practice their faith. If you look at the wide impact of foreign ideologies in every crevasse of the world, you will see that that happens, whether I’m in Brazil or I’m in Central Asia. There are external forces that come in and try to reshape and rebrand how a young person thinks about themselves.
I’m not making a value judgment on what’s right or wrong. I’m simply saying to you this is happening, and we’d be silly not to sort of see that data point on the identity piece. It’s problematic in one way, and that is every country in the world is focused on the issue of when ideologies come into communities and preach violent extremism. And that is problematic and it is happening in some places in the world as well.
MODERATOR: We can only take, like, one or two more questions.
MS. PANDITH: Yeah. Thank you.
Gentleman in the orange shirt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Paolo Dias from the News Agency of Portugal. A couple of quick questions: First of all, when 9/11 occurred, I’m sure you remember seeing celebration in Arab streets. Do you think that’s possible 10 years on? And second, how has the killing of bin Ladin influenced this conversation you’re starting to engage in with Muslim countries?
MS. PANDITH: Well, the killing of bin Ladin is a very important event, obviously. And it has obviously been on the minds of many who have conversations about extremism. Al-Qaida is still out there even though Usama bin Ladin has been killed. The group is still out there and its affiliates are still out there and there are still – we are still diligent and working hard to push against that and eradicate them and their ideology.
That is very important, but you have to also understand that young people have said to me how pained it – how pained they are to know that there are organizations like al-Qaida and others that would claim the name of Islam for what they do. I mean, al-Qaida has killed more Muslims than any other group. Their victims are Muslims, whether we’re in Oman or we’re in Saudi or we’re in Bali or we’re in the UK and we’re in Madrid or we’re in – here in New York. It’s not about – they are killing Muslims too. They are a extremist group, they are a criminal group, they are out there still. And so it has framed the conversation because people are concerned about this correlation of connecting the religion of Islam and those people that would use it for their nefarious means.
On the issue of – sorry, 9 – what was the first part?
QUESTION: The celebrations after 9/11.
MS. PANDITH: Oh. Yeah. I mean, look, I can’t speak for Muslims around the world or communities around the world and what they’re going to do on 9/11, the 10th anniversary. What I do know is where we are today. And where we are today, almost exactly 10 years since 9/11, is that we are a world that is far more resilient. We have communities from Indonesia to America that have worked together to push back against violent ideology in a wide range of ways. We have conversations that are taking place in neighborhoods and communities that talk about the strength of countries and how we will not allow al-Qaida or its affiliates’ impact.
So I think we are in a position, and I think as we think about the resilience of the people, the citizens of the world, we will continue to push back against al-Qaida. We will continue to focus on removing this disgusting ideology from the planet.
I think we have room for one short question. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Mitra Mesbahzadeh Margolis. I’m a journalist for the Kayhan International based in London. I do respect tremendously what Obama’s doing with the Muslim community and directly speaking with them and associating with them. But I recently – and I’m very concerned about Secretary Clinton taking off MEC out of the terrorist organization list, because of the amount of thousands of Americans, and not only Americans but Iranian – as an Iranian, the concept of taking it off of the terrorist list is a little frightening. I’m just curious on where they came to that conclusion of even thinking about doing that.
MS. PANDITH: So I don’t work on counterterrorism issues, and my colleagues at the State Department that do, I would be happy to make sure that the Foreign Press Center gives you an answer directly from them. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. PANDITH: I want to thank you all very much for your time today.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.
MS. PANDITH: Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and we can have more conversations. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
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