The 2008 U.S.-Islamic World Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was a regional version of the annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum that the Brookings Institution has convened for the last five years in Doha, Qatar, in partnership with the Government of the State of Qatar. This forum was held on October 13-14, and was intended to be a smaller, more regional dialogue that focuses specifically on Southeast Asia, its relationship with the United States as well as the broader Muslim world, and the lessons to be learned from its unique histories and complex societies.
A sense of shared experience and religious solidarity unite Muslims in Southeast Asia with their brethren living in the historic core of the Middle East. As such, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ongoing “war on terror,” the potential for a nuclear Iran, and the stalled prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians continue to resonate with Muslim Southeast Asians, and play a significant role in shaping attitudes and relations between Southeast Asian Muslims and the United States.
Yet Southeast Asia remains distinct – with its own unique trade and security networks, regional concerns, and experience with Islam and democracy – in its relationships with the United States, as well as the broader Muslim world. The United States has much to learn from the region’s handling of terrorist threats, as well as economic development and political consolidation. Similarly, the global Muslim community can gain from Southeast Asia’s efforts at democratic reform and the challenges of living in a multicultural and sectarian society. Finally, Muslim Southeast Asia can benefit from deepening their connections to the robust trade, security, and civil society networks that the United States and the broader Muslim world offer.
The forum, hosted by the Brookings Institution in partnership with The Asia Foundation and the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, brought together 50 key leaders from Southeast Asia, the broader Muslim world, and the United States for open and frank dialogue directed at developing actionable programs for government, civil society, and the private sector. It featured focused plenary sessions on core issues concerning relations between the United States and Southeast Asia’s Muslim states and communities. It also included smaller task force discussions, anchored in specific case studies and led by top experts and leaders, on key thematic issues of concern to Southeast Asia and the United States: security, governance, and human development.
Emphasis was on the perspectives of, the challenges faced, and the lessons learned by Southeast Asian Muslims, the United States, and the broader Muslim world in grappling with some of these key issues, and their relevance to relations between them. Following the forum’s conclusion, ISIS organized an optional full-day tour of Kuala Lumpur, as well as meetings with key Malaysian officials, for our U.S. participants.
Over its five-year history, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum has built a unique network of relationships between leading policy and opinion leaders in the United States and the Muslim world. Past participants have included such luminaries as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Chairman of the African Union Commission Alpha Oumar Konaré, Secretary General of the Arab League Amre Moussa, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, former president Bill Clinton, Commander of the U.S. Central Command William J. Fallon, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, Muhammadiyah chairman M. Din Syamsuddin, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass, Editor-at-Large of Lebanon’s Daily Star Rami Khouri, journalist Thomas Friedman, Egyptian televangelist Amr Khaled, prominent cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, and many others.