Thank you again for your responses to my “Ask the Ambassador” column. I love reading what you send me, and I am so glad that I reach such an intelligent and inquisitive audience. Please keep asking me questions at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
At this time, Muslims all over the world celebrate their holy month of Ramadan, and many of you have asked me whether there are Muslims in the United States. It might surprise Cambodians to know that Islam is actually a major religion practiced in the United States. And because Islam plays a part in both American and Cambodian society, the U.S. Embassy has participated in Ramadan celebrations since 2003. We have also hosted events to celebrate Ramadan for the past five years.
There are sizable Muslim communities here in Cambodia as well. In fact, our Embassy has been fortunate to form close relationships with the Muslims in Cambodia and assist them when we can. Cambodian Muslims survived the brutal history of the Khmer Rouge, and today, they practice Islam openly and without fear of prosecution. Their communities are now thriving and they are contributing to building a better Cambodia. Their beliefs are certainly not those of the majority, but they enjoy a tolerance that demonstrates Cambodia’s democratic development.
I fully experienced Ramadan for the first time when I was Ambassador to Brunei, and it was wonderful to see the season’s kindness and devotion firsthand. Ramadan is an important time for Muslims because it is when the Qu’ran was first revealed. It is a month when all Muslims, including millions of American Muslims, pray for guidance and seek forgiveness for past sins. Ramadan is known for the fast that lasts from dawn until sunset, and I am always impressed by the dedication that this requires. The fasting is difficult, but Muslims strongly believe in its ultimate purpose: to teach self-discipline and self-restraint in order to develop empathy for those less fortunate. And just like the custom of millions of American Muslims, Cambodian Muslims will end the fast with an Iftar, a special meal held at sunset. Normally, Muslims celebrate these dinners with friends and family, but on special occasions the whole community takes part. That is why the U.S. Embassy hosted an Iftar dinner on August 2 for the Muslim community in Phnom Penh. It was a wonderful occasion for us to learn about Islam in Cambodia.
Another question that I’ve often been asked is: “What do you think about human rights in Cambodia?” I think Cambodia is making strides with human rights. Since 1992, Cambodia has established a constitution recognizing a range of universally accepted human rights, has held a series of elections, and has demonstrated leadership in maintaining peace and security in the region. Still, I believe that there is, as always, a lot of work to be done.
The U.S. government is proud to support a number of local organizations working for the political, economic, and social empowerment of Cambodian citizens. In particular, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is striving to nurture an environment where all Cambodians enjoy their fundamental human rights and freedoms. USAID support has helped CCHR to create the online portal called sithi.org to collect and share human rights information to better inform activists and the general public so they are able to constructively contribute to the dialogue on issues that affect their lives. USAID also supports CCHR’s Trial Monitoring project to improve the procedures and practices of courts in Cambodia, resulting in greater adherence to fair trial standards. As the U.S. Ambassador, I am committed to promoting the value of human rights and having a dialogue with civil society, the government, and the people about striving to maintain these ideals in Cambodia.
Thanks again for all your feedback and keep emailing me at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov with any questions you may have. Also, keep checking my blog, http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd/, for our latest updates!
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia