In his remarks opening the 11th annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum, Ted Piccone, acting Brookings vice president for the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, traced the arc of the Forum’s development from a talk shop to a do shop. What began after 9/11 as an effort to foster dialogue between the United States and Muslim communities around the world first evolved into a laboratory for producing policy papers and now into platform for launching new initiatives to address problems that confront Muslims around the world. As Piccone observed, these changes emerged organically as participants clamored for ways to transform their discussions into actions.
The theme of this year’s proceedings was Islam and inclusion. With the emir of Qatar in the audience, the president of Albania spoke eloquently about his country’s legacy of religious tolerance, observing that his Muslim-majority country avoided the ruinous religious wars of its neighbors and gave shelter to waves of Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi persecution. In counterpoint, the president of Mali decried the religious extremism that is unraveling at the fabric of his country. These binary themes intertwined throughout the panel discussions of the U.S. role in the region, the civil war in Syria, the future of Palestinian society and accommodating religious diversity. U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, touched on the same themes when she criticized the United States’ allies in the region for criminalizing non-violent Islamist activities.
The desire for inclusion also animated this year’s working groups on empowering civil society to address violent extremism in Pakistan; identifying Islamic principles for post-conflict justice; and contextualizing Islam in Europe and North America. Similarly, participants in the Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group deliberated on ways to restore Timbuktu’s musical and scholarly heritage after they were trampled on by Islamist militants.