Rashad Hussain

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Rashad Hussain
Rashad hussain official photo.jpg
Office of White House Counsel, United States Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, US Special Envoy for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications
Assumed office
January 21, 2009
President Barack Obama
Personal details
Alma mater Yale Law School
Harvard University
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Religion Islam

Rashad Hussain is an American attorney who has served as Special Envoy [1] of US President Barack Obama to the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC),[2] Deputy Associate White House Counsel,[3] and US Special Envoy for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Hussain, a Muslim of Indian heritage, has also served on the National Security Council and in the Department of Justice as a trial attorney and as a criminal prosecutor. In his role as Envoy to the OIC,[4] the second largest intergovernmental body after the UN, Hussain has advised the Administration on policy issues related to the Muslim world.[5] He has traveled to numerous countries and international conferences, and has met with foreign leaders[6] and Muslims around the world.[7] His position, "a kind of ambassador at large to Muslim countries was created by President George W. Bush,"[8] and the Religion News Service profiled Hussain and a member of the President Obama's "spiritual cabinet."[5]

Upon appointing the 31-year old White House attorney,[9] Obama stated:

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 Quran, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work.[2][10]

Hussain's appointment as Special Envoy for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications was announced by President Obama at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.[11] Hussain oulined a strategy for countering terrorist propaganda,[12] helped develop messaging centers in the UAE,[13] Nigeria,[14] Malaysia,[15] and in Saudi Arabia,[16] and helped set up the framework for the US Global Engagement Center.

Deputy Associate Counsel[edit]

In January 2009, Hussain was named deputy associate counsel to President Barack Obama. Previously, he served as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice[17] and as Associate Counsel to the Obama Presidential Transition Team.

The Washington Post reported that, "After the 2008 election, Hussain was recruited to the White House Counsel's office by Greg Craig and Cassandra Butts, a fellow Tar Heel and Obama's former Harvard Law classmate. He has worked there on national security and new media issues, and helped inform the administration's Muslim outreach efforts.[5]

Mr. Hussain also "began advising the president on issues related to Islam after joining the White House counsel’s office in January 2009."[18] Ben Rhodes, Obama's chief foreign policy speechwriter and Deputy National Security Advisor, sought Hussain's counsel as he drafted the president's Cairo address.[19] Hussain also joined the President and the staff that traveled to Egypt for the speech at Cairo University in 2009.[20]

US Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation[edit]

On February 13, 2010, President Obama appointed Hussain as the United States Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.[21]

The Religion News Service said that rather than noting that "Muslims abroad are ... likely to take note of his White House credentials, and access to the Oval Office, as he seeks partnerships in education, health, science and technology."

Rashad Hussain with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia

It also noted that Hussain "briefed Obama before his first interview as president--with Al Arabiya,contributed to Obama's two major speeches to Muslims--in Ankara, Turkey and Cairo, traveled to the Middle East with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and, closer to home, helped organize a Ramadan dinner at the White House that replaced the usual crowd of ambassadors with young American Muslims." [5]

Former Afghan President Karzai greets Rashad Hussain in Kabul in 2012
Hussain greets King Abdullah with President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates

During his travel to OIC member countries, Hussain has held meetings with a number of leaders,[6] including President Karzai of Afghanistan,[22] President Gul of Turkey,[23] King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia, President Zardari of Pakistan, Prime Minister Aziz of Mauritania, President Sall of Senegal, Vice President Sambo of Nigeria, and OIC Secretary General Ihsanoglu.[24] Hussain has also attended the OIC Heads of State Summit in Egypt and in Mecca, Saudi Arabia is 2012, where he met with a number of leaders, including a pre-dawn Ramadan meal with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and held other meetings with President Gul of Turkey and President Karzai of Afghanistan. They discussed a number of issues, including Syria, the democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa, and U.S. engagement with Muslim communities around the world.[24] Hussain also lead an international peacemaking delegation to the Central African Republic in 2014 to meet with President Samba-Panza and civil society leaders.[25]

Hussain with students in India

During Hussain's tenure, the US and OIC increased cooperation in health and development, including OIC-USAID cooperation on humanitarian aid,[26] and have expanded partnerships in entrepreneurship, and science and technology.[27] The OIC has been increasingly active in condemning violent extremism,[28] including attacks on religious minorities,[29] and the kidnapping of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria.[30] The US worked with the OIC to eliminate the OIC's previous heavily criticized "defamation of religion" resolution at the UN and replace it with a resolution that removes the "defamation" concept and seeks to counter intolerance without restricting speech in a manner inconsistent with US law.[31][32] The OIC has also taken a larger role in international affairs - it was among the first to call for a no-fly zone in Libya[33] and has been heavily critical of Bashar al-Asad's regime, removing Syria from the OIC in 2012.[34]

Hussain meeting with Prime Minister Najib, President Obama, and Secretary of State Clinton

US Special Envoy for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications[edit]

The Washington Post reported that Hussain was brought on to begin to build partnerships with international NGOs and other governments to counter terrorist propaganda.[35] Hussain outlined an approach [36] for "supporting NGOs who are countering ISIL’s narrative and helping other countries to establish their own counter-ISIL messaging centers" [36] and highlighting ISIS's damage to local populations, "emphasizing accounts of [ISIS] defectors, and documenting its losses on the battlefield — without recirculating its gruesome images or matching its snide tone." [35] Hussain's strategy for countering terrorist propaganda [12] calls for the US to highlight terrorists' damage to Muslim and other populations, the stories of "defectors," ISIS's battlefield losses, and living conditions in ISIS territories.[36] He also called for "Muslim-hosted and run messaging initiatives to take a leading role" in expanding "counter-messaging and positive narratives." [36]

Hussain co-authored a paper, "Reformulating the Battle of Ideas: Understanding the Role of Islam in Counterterrorism Policy" for the Brookings Institution. It sharply rejects those who commit terrorist acts in the name of religion, including those who seek to use Islamic justifications for such actions.[37]

In a speech to a meeting of Foreign Ministers from 56 Muslim-majority countries, Hussain stated, "It is our duty to eradicate this ideology completely and blaming the foreign policy of any country is not the answer. No policy grievance justifies the slaughter of innocent people."[38] He has also held discussions on the topic of violent extremism with government and civil society in trips to countries such as Afghanistan,[39] Pakistan,[40] and Yemen.[41]

In addressing extremism, Hussain has also argued that Muslim communities must improve secular and religious education for boys and girls, increase access to opportunity through job creation, address the sense of political disenfranchisement in Muslim communities, and improve deradicalization programming.[42] In a panel hosted by Peter Bergen on online radicalization in 2013, Hussain described the extremists' online approach as combining a message of religious obligation to defend Muslim causes with emotional international images in a way that attempts to provide a sense of purpose to disaffected youth.[43] He encouraged Muslim communities to create online media content that acknowledges perceived grievances, but uses imagery and religious content to make clear that terrorists are actually killing Muslims, damaging Muslim causes, and violating Islam, not defending it.[36]

Efforts on Protecting Religious Minorities and Combating Anti-Semitism[edit]

Hussain has worked on efforts to improve the protection of Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities living in Muslim-majority countries.[44] He has also sought to combat anti-Semitism by denouncing Holocaust denial and the publication of anti-Semitic materials in the Muslim world. In an op-ed on addressing anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, he condemned the broadcast of an anti-Semitic film aired in some Muslim-majority countries, arguing that Jews and Christians face discrimination and violence in these countries and that "Efforts must be made to ensure that textbooks and television programming in the Muslim world are free from the types of dehumanizing ideas and images that breed intolerance and hate."[45] Speaking to Foreign Ministers of Muslim countries at the OIC Ministerial in Guinea in 2013, he also criticized "restrictions on places of worship, including churches and synagogues" as "unacceptable."[27] He has also condemned blasphemy laws on other restrictions on speech that are used to persecute religious minorities,[46] including Coptic Christians in Egypt, where he visited with an American Coptic leader in 2012.[47] Hussain has also traveled to a number of countries to address issues facing Muslim communities, including the Central African Republic,[48] China, India, and a number of European nations.

In May 2013, Hussain and the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism traveled with imams from around the world to Holocaust sites in Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of Hussain's "efforts to combat Holocaust denial and to address discrimination against religious minorities."[49] He also took a similar trip with American imams to Holocaust sites in 2010.[50] Hussain has been outspoken against anti-Semitism during his other travel.[51]

ADL President Abraham Foxman noted that Hussain's condemnation of "anti-Semitism in the Muslim and Arab world is significant" and that "influential figures, particularly political and religious leaders in the Muslim and Arab world, should emulate Ambassador Hussain's example."[52] In January 2013, Mr. Hussain received the Distinguished Honor Award from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which is given for "exceptionally outstanding service to the agencies of the U.S. Government resulting in achievements of marked national or international significance."[53]

Background and Education[edit]

Hussain was born in Wyoming and was raised in Plano, Texas, the son of Indian-born U.S. citizens. His father, Mohammad Akbar Hussain, was a mining engineer. His mother Ruqaiya, and his older sister Lubna are medical doctors, and his younger brother, Saad is a medical student.[54]

Hussain is a graduate of Greenhill School in Dallas, Texas. While at Greenhill, Hussain was a member of the school's nationally recognized policy-debate team, partnering with Josh Goldberg to win the Texas state debate championship and a number of national competitions.[19]

Hussain completed a bachelor's degree in two years, in both philosophy and political science, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. His philosophy thesis was titled "Assessing the Theistic Implications of Big Bang Cosmological Theory." He holds an MPA from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Masters degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies, both from Harvard University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. At Yale, he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.[55]

After college, but before entering law school, he worked as a legislative aide for the House Judiciary Committee, where he reviewed the USA Patriot Act and other bills.[56] He was a 2003 Fellow of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.[56] Following law school, Hussain served as a law clerk for Damon J. Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Comments on Sami Al-Arian[edit]

As a law student in 2004, Rashad Hussain made critical comments regarding procedural issues in the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian.[57] Al-Arian, a South Florida Professor and activist who was invited to the White House in the Bush and Clinton Administrations, was acquitted on 8 counts but pleaded guilty to conspiracy to help Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, after a jury deadlocked on the remaining nine counts. A commentator at the Council on Foreign Relations stated that the debate about Hussain's comments "led to a larger question of whether the United States should engage the Organization of Islamic Conference diplomatically."[58]



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  43. ^ "Id.". May 28, 2013. 
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