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Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in recent weeks has dined with the Irish prime minister and led a sing-along at the Israeli Embassy. Now add a ginger foray into the thicket of U.S.-Islamic relations.

O’Malley (D) on Wednesday waded quite a bit beyond his known comfort zone, as a panelist discussing “The Challenges and Opportunities of the American Muslim Community” at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum.

Sitting alongside two Muslim scholars, the first Muslim Congressman, and a White House official who specializes in minority outreach, O’Malley mostly stuck to broad strokes about the role of government officials in facilitating cross-cultural exchanges.

But at other times his comments differed notably from the often academic tone of his fellow panelists. Taking his turn answering a question about Sept. 11, 2001, O’Malley began by saying “I felt as if all of the points of attack were all around us,” he said, listing how Maryland was surrounded by tragedy in the District, New York and Pennsylvania.

“The way it changed our attitude and reactions?” O’Malley continued. “Well, people throughout our country were asking for the first time – and with a lot of fear as they watched the news — questions like “Where is Saudi Arabia?” Who are Muslims?” “Who is Bin Laden?” “Why did this happen?” And, “what is going to happen next?”

“As mayor then, I look back at it now and think in retrospect that we did a lot of things we probably didn’t need to do and some that were silly.

“We deployed police officers to guard all of our drinking water reservoirs. We took big dump trucks and put them all around Baltimore’s World Trade Center – a building that is very small, by comparison, to the ones that were tragically attacked on that day.”

But O’Malley said he did two things right:

“We immediately deployed police commanders to our mosques and imams to ask them if they wanted additional protection, and how visible they wanted it. The second thing we did is that we immediately set upon bringing in the leaders of the various parts of a broad and diverse Muslim-American community in Baltimore, in order to bring them close and reach out, and from the highest levels of our elected government say “we need you, we are all very scared, but rather than retreating, we need you to become more engaged than you’ve ever become.”

“When I think back on it, the way it changed us, was the very different way of looking at our Muslim-Americans as an asset, as people, and families and leaders that we need, rather than ‘oh my goodness, they might be people that are a part of this horrible thing that happened to us.’ And that was a fundamentally different way that we looked at things.”

O’Malley also repeatedly referred to his goal as an “architecture of civic engagement,” a line he said came from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Asked after the panel what he meant, O’Malley said: “It’s a common term in the homeland security committees, I’m not sure how broadly understood it is. It’s probably a wonky term. … It comes down to doing the things we do in Maryland, recruiting Muslim Americans to boards and commissions … and making sure a certain amount of your time as a chief executive is spent, rightly, encouraging engagement of our Muslim-American neighbors, whether it’s the food drives, annual dinners, Ramadan at Government House, it’s all those things.”

O’Malley was introduced as one of the “true up-and-coming stars in American politics,” by moderator Stephen Grand, the director of the project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. O’Malley, he said, “is looked upon as one of more innovative and dynamic governors in terms of reaching out and trying to engage with a variety of communities of faith.”

Asked about the weighty topic and his increasing presence in some of Washington’s diplomatic circles, O’Malley deflected the idea that he’s seeking a broader stage.

“I’m here doing Maryland’s work. I’m not pursuing my global hegemony or world dominance,” he quipped.

O’Malley is expected to travel abroad in coming months.

“The bottom line is I’d like to think that those of us in public office can be a positive force,” he said. U.S.-Islamic relations “tends to be talked more about in law enforcement and homeland security types of settings, but I think they are the least capable of doing this sort of building up of civic engagement. The people who are best capable are mayors, regardless of Republican or Democrat. This has to happen locally.”

Source : Washington Post

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