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  • Writer's pictureKnox Thames

The U.S. is Missing a Chance to Engage the Muslim World

Six years have passed without a special envoy. China and Russia will fill the void.

By Arsalan Suleman, the former Acting U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Knox Thames, a former U.S. State Department special advisor on religious minorities.

In love, they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. That’s not always the case in diplomacy. For the past six years, the United States has not had a dedicated special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the 57-country international organization whose membership spans the globe. In the absence of the United States, malign actors China and Russia have filled the void, lobbying the OIC and many of its member states to avoid criticizing their genocidal policies and acts of aggression. The upcoming U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva and OIC ministerial meeting in Nouakchott should spur immediate action to fill the position.

The presidential special envoy to the OIC role was created during the George W. Bush administration to positively engage Muslim-majority countries and communities about U.S. foreign policy. The first envoy, Sada Cumber, laid the groundwork for the position and built relationships with key OIC countries. The Obama administration kept the post, naming Rashad Hussain to the position, and expanded its substantive scope, utilizing it to advance foreign-policy priorities with a broad array of potential partners. In his role as envoy, Hussain played an essential role in promoting religious freedom and related human rights, as well as pushing back against blasphemy resolutions at the United Nations. The envoy role was also instrumental in combating Islamophobia abroad. It co-organized with the OIC and the European Union the first-ever U.N. High-Level Forum on combating anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred.

When the Trump administration came into office promising a ban on Muslims entering the United States, it unsurprisingly left the OIC special envoy position vacant for all four years. However, the Biden administration has taken a different tact, with President Joe Biden making a campaign promise to fill it. Consequently, we are disappointed that more than two years have passed without Biden filling this crucial role with a full-time envoy....

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