Biden names Indian-American to head religious freedom office
President Joe Biden has nominated Rashad Hussain, an Indian-American lawyer and diplomat, as ambassador-at-large to lead the state department’s international religious freedom office, which, among other things, publishes an annual report on the state of religious freedom around the world.
If confirmed by the Senate, Hussain will be the first Indian-American to head the office created in 1998 to promote respect for religious freedom as part of US foreign policy.
Hussain is currently serving as director for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council. His previous stints in the government include a term as senior counsel at the justice department’s national security division, Obama administration’s special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), special envoy for strategic counterterrorism communications, and deputy associate in the White House counsel.
The White House said in the announcement that as special envoy, Hussain has worked with multilateral organisations such as the OIC and UN, foreign governments, and civil society organisations to expand partnerships on a whole range of issues, from education to international security to science and technology.
Hussain also “spearheaded efforts on countering anti-semitism and protecting religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries”.
Hussain earned a J.D. from Yale Law School, and master’s degrees in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He has also taught at Georgetown’s school of foreign service.
President Biden has nominated and appointed more than 60 Indian-Americans to senior positions in his administration, from Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, to Vinay Reddy, who heads the president’s team of speechwriters, to Kiran Ahuja to head the office of personnel to Vanita Gupta, number three at the justice department.
Biden also named Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-descent American, to the US commission on international religious freedom, a body which has been extremely critical of India, lately on the Citizenship Amendment Act, and has called for the administration to declare India a country of particular concern.
Khan and his wife Ghazela Khan, parents of a US army officer who was killed in the Iraq War, had become instant stars of Democratic convention in 2016 after they challenged then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to read the American constitution.
Khan immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1980, and went to Harvard Law School for his LL.M degree. The White House said he is licensed to practice law before the Supreme Court of the United States, various Federal District Courts, and Washington, DC and New York State courts.
Syed Afzal Ali, president of advocacy group Indian-American Muslim Council, welcomed Hussain and Khan’s appointment, saying their deep experience in “advocating for rights of minorities will further bolster religious freedom for all people, especially in India, where Muslims and Christians are facing continuous persecution due to their faith”.