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Obama's Muslim Envoy, U.S. Media Both Absent from Major Islamic Conference

The media often claim that the Obama administration's relations with the Muslim world are a major improvement from those under President George W. Bush.

But at the Organization of Islamic Conferences' first major gathering in the U.S. on Wednesday, the U.S. envoy appointed by President Obama was a no-show – while the former envoy appointed by President Bush attended and gave a courageous speech advocating for democratic rights in Muslim countries.

And while the conference included many high-profile political figures, there were almost no American media organizations in attendance.

The U.S. envoy to the OIC, Rashad Hussain, was scheduled to attend a panel discussion on “The Role of the OIC and The Scope for its Relations with American Muslims” at a conference in Chicago. The panel was also set to include U.S. OIC envoy Sada Cumber, and the current OIC Ambassador to the UN. However, organizers announced at the last minute that Hussain had cancelled his appearance.

“I would be remiss not to express my personal perplexion [sic] as to the absence of the ambassador to the OIC, Rashad Hussain,” said the panel's moderator, Ahmed Rehab.

 “I was told [Hussain] had a personal conflict. I don't know what that conflict is, but in my humble opinion I think this event should have been a priority on his schedule. I speak for myself not for the OIC or the [American Islamic College]. I hope that [OIC Secretary General] Professor [Ekmeleddin] İhsanoğlu can personally address this matter and find out for us what the conflict was,” continued Rehab, who is also the executive director of the Chicago branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations and is a regular TV commentator on Muslim-American issues.

There were no U.S. government representatives at the conference. While both Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and the State Department's Muslim outreach representative Farah Pandith were listed on a conference schedule as possible speakers, neither showed up at the event and were not included in the final agenda.

The White House did not return calls requesting comment.

The irony of Hussain's last minute cancellation was that he was appointed by President Obama in order to improve relations with the Muslim world, after ties had reportedly been damaged by President Bush.

“President Barack Obama on Saturday named a White House lawyer as his special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, part of his continuing effort to repair strained U.S. relations with the world's Muslims,” reported the Associated Press in February. “As his liaison to the OIC, the president said Hussain will continue working to repair U.S.-Islamic relations … U.S. relations with the Muslim world became strained after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Many journalists have also lauded President Obama's “outreach” to Muslim nations, most notably his June 2009 speech at Cairo.

“[C]learly President Obama from the very beginning went out of his way to try to repair relations with the Islamic world which had been so devastatingly damaged over the previous eight years,” said Christiane Amanpour on ABC's “Good Morning America” in August.

“For eight years, U.S. Muslims cringed at the divisions created at home and abroad by the White House's use of terms like 'Islamo-fascism' and 'Islamic terrorists,' reported the Agence France Presse on June 4, 2009. “On Thursday, many here breathed a sigh of relief at the major shift marked by President Barak Obama's call for a new beginning with the Muslim world in a much-anticipated Cairo speech. 'The speech has done more to undermine Al-Qaeda than anything (former president George W.) Bush did,' said Ahmed Rehab.”

But, in fact, it was the former OIC envoy appointed by President Bush, Sada Cuber, who arguably gave the most insightful speech at the OIC conference in Chicago on Wednesday.

Speaking directly to the OIC Secretary General İhsanoğlu, Cuber said that all citizens of Muslim majority countries “have a right into good governance, rule of law, access to justice, strong civil society, basic and higher education, soft and hard infrastructure, gender equality and respect for humanity, accountability and transparency,” according to the Koran and Islamic law.

“These nine elements, every ruler of the Muslim world, appointed or elected leader, owes me as a citizen. I am still looking for one,” said Cuber.

Donning alligator-print cowboy boots festooned with the U.S. Great Seal, the Texas businessman said that he would go back to his home country of Pakistan as soon as it offered him those rights, as well as the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Until then, your excellency,” Cuber continued, addressing the OIC Secretary General. “I have a message for the Muslim world and the leaders who sit on your forum: Tell these leaders that instead of pushing their version of Islam on me and others, invest in their own people's welfare. And let us all remember, as I said earlier, Allah will not change the condition of the people until they change themselves. What we need in Islam today is not so much an interfaith dialogue, but more so of an intra-faith dialogue.”

Neither Cuber's speech, nor the cancellation of Obama's envoy to the OIC, were reported by any major American media organizations.

[Editor's note: This conference was attended on a grant from the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank]

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