The Daily Times (Pakistan)

American Muslims Push for Role in Policy Planning

A group of American Muslim scholars, activists and community leaders is determined to carve a role for American Muslims in policymaking. They met after a conference titled Bridging the Divide which was hosted by the US-Islamic World Project at Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy on December 13, 2004 and launched a new initiative—American Muslim Group on Policy Planning (AMGPP).

The group will focus on directing American Muslim energies towards engagement with the policy community and the US government. Its foundation is based on the premise that the American Muslim community is not only capable of providing valuable assistance to the US in the war on terror but can also play a pivotal role in helping build bridges of confidence, trust and communication between the US and the Muslim World. AMGPP will work to bridge the three crucial gaps between the US and the Muslim World, the US policymaking and American Muslims, and between American Muslim interests and their capacity. In all cases the initiative will seek to educate, inform and advise without actually indulging in advocacy.

AMGPP is willing to play a very active role in helping improve US image and counter the tide of extremism and anti-Americanism in the Muslim World. The group is eager to take a leadership role on issues of public diplomacy and outreach on behalf of the State Department and to act as a spokesperson for American policies, concerns and interests. However in order to be able to play the role of an honest broker, AMGPP must be convinced that the policies it is willing to defend and explain are deserving of defence. This can be accomplished only by the inclusion of American Muslims in the policymaking process. American Muslims cannot explain or defend policies that they disagree with and have had no hand in making.

Towards this end, AMGPP will focus on providing policy input to government officials through regular dialogue, conferences, meetings and briefings. It will also work at community capacity building and outreach. The US Congress has made multiple allocations for various policy goals such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) that seeks reform and development in the Muslim World. AMGPP will seek to link Muslim NGOs with public and private funding sources in order to promote American Muslim initiatives in the area of economic development and strengthening of civil society.

The Brookings conference itself touched upon many of the policy issues that AMGPP could potentially inform. The conference was jointly convened by Dr Peter Singer, co-director of the US-Islamic World Project and Dr Muqtedar Khan. The speakers at the conference included Dr Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland, Mr Adam Ereli, the deputy spokesperson of the State Department, Dr Sulayman Nyang of Howard University, Mr Farid Senzai of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Mr Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Dr Zahid Bukhari from Georgetown University and Mr Hady Amr of Amr Group. Dr Islam Siddiqui, a former undersecretary of agriculture and to date the highest-ranking American Muslim government official, delivered the luncheon keynote address.

Those attending the conference included prominent scholars such as Dr John Esposito and Dr Steve Cohen, prominent community leaders such as Dr Yahya Basha, Mr Muhammad Shakir and Dr Maqbool Arshad, several officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and Senate staff. Muslim Students Association president Hadia Mubarak, and executive director of Progressive Muslim Union, Mr Ahmed Nassef, also participated.

There were two key conclusions at the conference. One, the US had lost its credibility in the Muslim World and desperately needed moderate Muslim support to restore its credibility. A State Department official explained the situation in these words "We know things are terribly bad, we need help... we need American Muslims to help de-demonise the US." Two, that Islam and Muslims are being demonised in the US, their civil rights situation is terrible and Muslims are routinely excluded from policy deliberations; so they cannot help improve US image unless things improve on the domestic front. Those extremists in America who propagate hatred of Islam and Muslims must be treated as extremists, and the government must move forward to include Muslims in policymaking. Muslim input is valuable both in the articulation as well as in execution of policy.

One of the questions constantly raised after 9/11 is "Where are the moderate Muslims?" So far many of them have been working as individuals or as part of mainstream American Muslim organisations that are already overwhelmed with the challenge of rising Islamophoebia in the US. Now with the constitution of the American Muslim Group for Policy Planning, Moderate Muslims in America have a name and an address. They are here, they are now organised, and willing to provide their input for policymaking and their assistance in policy implementation. The ball is now in the government's court; hopefully they will respond and help build a partnership with American Muslims.