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Obama names special envoy to the Muslim world

February 15, 2010 |  5:48 am


In case you were out of the house Saturday doing errands and forgetting to get your special someone a sweet something for Valentine's Day, President Obama chose that day to make a surprise announcement. (See full transcript and video below.)

The announcement came in a special video which he taped for the U.S.-Islamic World Conference meeting now in Qatar. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there Sunday.

But it was Obama who announced, as a continuation of his determined outreach to the world's Muslim communities, the appointment of a special emissary to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference that bills itself as the collective voice of the Muslim world.

He's Rashad Hussain, a deputy associate counsel, who, of course, has a Harvard degree. Obama, who spent his childhood in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has made....

...several such outreaches -- such as his special Hajj message here in November -- with special taped messages on Muslim holidays and his trip to and speech in Cairo last summer. So far, the gestures have gone unrequited.

The president said:

As an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff, Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Qur’an, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community.

One White House official called the move an "important part of the president's commitment to engaging Muslims around the world based on mutual respect and mutual interest."

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Full text of President Obama's remarks, as provided by the White House

Assalaamu alaykum. And on behalf of the American people—including Muslim communities across America—greetings as you gather for the 7th U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha.

I want to thank all those whose support has made this Forum possible, especially the Amir of Qatar, the government of Qatar and the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. It is fitting that you gather again in Doha—a place where our countries come together to forge innovative partnerships in education and medicine, science and technology.

Thank you all for being here. As leaders in government, academia, media, business, faith organizations and civil society, you understand that we are all bound together by common aspirations—to live with dignity, to get an education, to enjoy healthy lives, to live in peace and security, and to give our children a better future.

Yet you also know that the United States and Muslims around the world have often slipped into a cycle of misunderstanding and mistrust that can lead to conflict rather than cooperation.

That is why in Cairo last year I called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect. I laid out a vision where we all embrace our responsibilities to build a world that is more peaceful and secure. It has only been eight months since Cairo, and much remains to be done. But I believe we’ve laid the groundwork to turn those pledges into action.

The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq; we are removing all our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August, and we will partner with the Iraqi people on behalf of their long-term security and prosperity. In Afghanistan and beyond, we are forging partnerships to isolate violent extremists, reduce corruption and to promote good governance and development that improves lives. We remain unyielding in pursuit of a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians. And the United States will continue to stand for....

... the human rights and dignity of people around the world.

And while the United States will never waver in these efforts, I also pledged in Cairo to seek new partnerships in Muslim communities around the world—not just with governments, but with people, to address the issues that matter most in our daily lives.

Since then, my administration has made a sustained effort to listen. We’ve held thousands of events and town halls—with students, civil society groups, faith leaders and entrepreneurs—in the United States and around the world, including Secretary Clinton’s landmark visit to Pakistan. And I look forward to continuing the dialogue during my visit to Indonesia next month.

This dialogue has helped us turn many of the initiatives I outlined in Cairo into action.

We’re partnering to promote education.  We’re expanding exchange programs and pursuing new opportunities for online learning, connecting students in America with those in Qatar and other Muslim communities. Because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century, and countries that educate their children—including their daughters—are more likely to prosper.

We’re partnering to broaden economic development.  We’re working to ensure that the global economic recovery creates jobs and prosperity in all regions of the world. And to help foster innovation and job-creation, I’ll host a Summit on Entrepreneurship in April with business leaders and entrepreneurs from Muslim communities around the world.

We’re partnering to increase collaboration on science and technology. We’ve launched a Global Technology and Innovation Fund that will invest in technological development across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  And the first of our distinguished Science Envoys have begun visiting countries to deepen science and technology cooperation over the long-term.

And we’re partnering to promote global health. We worked together to address H1N1, which was a concern of many Muslims during the hajj.  We’ve joined with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And as part of our increased commitment to foreign assistance, we’ve launched major initiatives to promote global health and food security around the world.

To deepen these partnerships, and to develop others, I’m proud to announce today that I am appointing my Special Envoy to the OIC—Rashad Hussain. As an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff, Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Qur’an, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work.

None of this will be easy. Fully realizing the new beginning we envision will take a long-term commitment. But we have begun. Now, it falls to us all, governments and individuals, to do the hard work that must be done—turning words into deeds and “Writing the Next Chapter” in the ties between us, with faith in each other, on the basis of mutual respect. 

Thank you coming to Doha in that spirit. Thank you for your work to advance the principles we share—justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. Let us succeed together. And may God’s peace be upon you.     ####

Photo: Getty Images