What does Utica have to do with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom?
More than you might think.
President Barack Obama recently appointed Utica native James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute and brother of Utica pollster John Zogby, as a member of the independent, bipartisan commission.
“My sense of the role that religion plays, that our cultural history plays, in our lives started with my growing up in the city where I was made aware of all these communities,” Zogby said of his “incredibly diverse” hometown.
Zogby’s appointment was one of three — Rear Admiral Gerd Glang was named commissioner of the Mississippi River Commission and Lynnae Ruttledge was named a member of the Commission on Long-Term Care.
“I am confident that these outstanding individuals will greatly serve the American people in their new roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come,” Obama said in a statement
Zogby said the appointment took him by surprise.
“While it’s something I wanted to do, I never thought it was going happen,” he said. “So, I’m thrilled to have it happen, and I feel it’s somewhere that I can make a difference.”
Using his Ph.D. in comparative religions and “knowing the Middle East as I do,” Zogby said he can make the commission more aware of some of the region’s more vulnerable religious communities as well as the political dynamics of the countries the commission will discuss — “because you don’t want to be a bull in a China shop.”
The commission reviews religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and Congress.
“We’ll look at Christians and minority groups in Syria, we’ll look at the Christians and Shiites in Egypt, the sectarian battles that have unfolded now in Iraq,” Zogby said. “These are issues that are important – people are suffering every day.”