Rashad Hussain, a Muslim and new U.S. envoy, is bridge between two worlds
By Scott Wilson
Rashad Hussain, President Obama’s new special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was an avid high school debater in Plano, Tex., where he grew up.
His debate partner and best friend was a classmate named Josh Goldberg, meaning that at the end of many tournaments, the judge would announce “Goldberg-Hussain” as the cultural odd couple who had won the argument. “People got a kick out of it,” Hussain said in a recent interview. “We joked that one day we would have the solution to the peace process.” The two remain close friends.
In his new position, Hussain, who is both a Koran scholar and an ardent North Carolina Tar Heels basketball fan, will be responsible for helping to bridge another cultural divide — the one in U.S. relations with Muslims inside and outside the nation’s borders.
Since taking office, Obama has adopted an approach to broaden the ways in which the United States engages the Islamic world, moving from a policy focused mostly on counterterrorism to one that includes partnerships with Muslim countries and communities in education, health, science and commerce.
Hussain, 31, will be the face of that policy in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, where the Islamic Conference has it headquarters, and in the other capitals of its 56 member countries. His is an appropriately young face for an American representative to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the majority of whom are younger than he is.
At a time when the United States is fighting two wars in Muslim nations and defending itself against an enduring terrorist threat, changing perceptions will take time. “The challenge is to continue to communicate that this is a long-term process,” Hussain said. “Sometimes the challenge becomes that people want to focus exclusively on the political issues, issues that this administration is working very diligently to solve.”
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