Sense and Sensibility of Farah Pandith

Sara Wani

FP-swearing-in-largeThe oath taking ceremony of Farah Pandith as Obama administrations’ envoy to Muslim world to mend frayed relations between Muslims and USA might have been witnessed by tens of thousands. Some among them might have found the whole protocol asymmetrical. Ms Pandith took oath with her left hand on holy Quran displaying her well waxed legs and cleavage in tow. She was dressed in a knee length floral skirt, V neck blouse and black stilettos, very modest by Western standards.

But this “modesty” would not be taken well in Muslim world; even moderates might have squirmed in their seats at this unsightly scene. To veil or not to veil, to reveal or to wrap is every adult female’s personal affair which should be respected and is respected in most parts of the Muslim world; more so in Kashmir. But taking oath on Quran bare headed and bare legged is hard to stomach.

The Quran which decrees every adult female believer not to display her natural physical attributes or artificial decorations save what gets displayed naturally – “Wala Ubadeena Zeenat Hunah Illa Ma Zuhra Minha”. And the naturally displayed parts of female physical being as pronounced by the Hadith (saying of the Prophet PBUH) is face and palms. It would have been alright for the lady to take oath on US constitution or even UN Charter, in which she sure believes and adheres to. Taking oath on something one does not believe and adhere to, is not merely hypocritical but insulting. The utter disregard for Quranic injunction so articulately pronounced betrays seriousness of purpose of both Ms Pandith and Obama administration.

What happened in Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department on September 15, 2009 spoke volumes about US administrations disregard for Islamic culture and its sanctity. How can such people reach out to Muslims who least respect their sentiments. Even Lawrence of Arabia, the ultimate schemer achieved almost everything the British Empire wanted him to achieve by displaying respect for Arab culture, language and religion. He made all powerful Ottoman empire to crumble like a house of cards by winning the hearts and minds of not only Arab Sheikhs but even of Bedouins, who unsheath their sabres at slightest provocation. This British archaeologist never showed even slightest disrespect even for most regressive local customs. And Ms Pandith, though well versed in history and international relations failed to display that respect to the Muslims. Can this lady win trust of Muslims and bridge the gulf?

After 9/11 US administration set its foot on the path of reconciliation with the Muslim world. The policy framed during Bush era treated the issue superficially and same is being repeated by Obama administration. They fail to see that 62 years of bitterness, humiliation and open hostility towards Muslims in general and Arabs in particular cannot be undone by serving sugary drinks at Iftaar and Eid Milan parties and hiring Fareed Zakerias and Farah Pandits.

One can understand Bush policy or lack of it, towards Muslims as he obsessively ‘tried’ to save ‘his way of life’ from the turbinated peril. But the Obama came with a mandate and agenda, that is what we were made to believe during his inaugural, to undo the six decades of suppression, oppression and aggression the Muslims particularly Palestinians were subjected to. So Obama needs to look beyond gimmickry and follow a concrete policy of change which even a layman in Muslim world could feel and appreciate. No doubt his matter of fact attitude towards Israel has gained him many friends in Arab world as was evident form the Hizbullah Chief Nassrullh’s Jumat-ul-Vida sermon, he has yet to do more to cause change on ground.


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