Ever since Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR tipped me to their existence Heretics Crusade has been looking at the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association. Masking itself as a “moderate” voice to Congress for “Any Muslim Congressional employee …regardless of their level of participation or the degree that they publicly identify themselves as “Muslim” a quick look behind the curtain of the CMSA shows a face much less diverse than it seems.
The recommendations that follow call upon a wide range of institutions and leaders, Muslim and non-Muslim, to assist in speeding the Muslim American journey to full participation.
Expand and Recognize Muslim American Contributions to National Security
The horror of the September 11 attacks brought Americans together in their common humanity and a sense of purpose in countering the threat of terrorism. Many Muslim Americans shared in this reaction and commitment. A number of prominent Muslim American organizations condemned the attacks of September 11, reached out to help the victims, worked to raise awareness of the Quran’s teachings against violence, and cooperated with law enforcement agencies on antiterrorism efforts. While government officials have credited Muslim Americans for these and subsequent efforts, doubts about the efforts persist. The visibility and effectiveness of the Muslim American response to September 11 was limited in part by the lack of institutional capacity and recognizable voices in the community.
It remains critical that Muslim Americans take more active steps to counter the threat of terror and that the government work more effectively to build trust and partnerships with the Muslim American community.
Many Muslim Americans have taken positive steps to denounce terrorism and differentiate their traditions from the beliefs of radical groups. It is crucial that they continue to focus on these positive steps as the danger of terrorism persists. While Muslim Americans question the fairness of holding all Muslim Americans responsible for constantly condemning the actions of a few extremists, the reality is that in the eyes of much of American society, the burden is still on Muslim Americans to respond. Muslim American leaders and organizations can amplify their condemnations of extremism and terrorist acts, strengthen their efforts to prevent radical activity within the Muslim American community, and find more effective ways to communicate these endeavors to the media and the public.
Expanding contributions to homeland security
Successful partnerships between Muslim Americans and local law enforcement such as Southern California’s Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress should be expanded. A national network of such partnerships could play a vital role in the early detection of potential threats. Programs like the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s “National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism” can be extended to all U.S. mosques. Muslim leaders can do more to encourage young Muslim Americans to seek employment with the U.S. government and could work with relevant government agencies to create internships.
Expanding contributions to homeland securitySuccessful partnerships between Muslim Americans and local law enforcement such as Southern California’s Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress should be expanded. A national network of such partnerships could play a vital role in the early detection of potential threats. Programs like the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s “National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism” can be extended to all U.S. mosques. Muslim leaders can do more to encourage young Muslim Americans to seek employment with the U.S. government and could work with relevant government agencies to create internships.The U.S. government can do more to facilitate communication and cooperation with Muslim America. Public statements by senior officials acknowledging the significance of Muslim American contributions to national security and emphasizing the importance of not holding any group accountable for the actions of a few would help build public acceptance and understanding of the community.
Cultural sensitivity training for federal law enforcement officers would also increase the trust and communication necessary for fuller cooperation. A further vital step is to ensure that any investigations conducted by law enforcement be carried out in ways that do not violate U. S. laws and civil rights.
Improve Media Coverage and Public Understanding of Muslim Americans
In recent public opinion surveys, a sizable minority of Americans expressed fear and hostility toward Muslims and Islam, creating perceptions of a rising Islamophobia in the United States.
Media efforts to educate the public on Islam and the lives of Muslim Americans have been complicated by the spread of terrorist violence in the Middle East and elsewhere and by terrorists’ continuing claim that they are acting in the name of Islam.
While many major American newspapers and broadcast media have improved the quality of their coverage of Islam and Muslim societies since September 11, others have continued to present Islam as a monolith and to portray Muslims in stereotypical or biased ways that create an “us-versusthem” mentality.
Public opinion studies also show that Americans who are more familiar with Islam and know Muslim Americans personally are more likely to see them as being like other Americans.
Working with the mediaMedia organizations and Muslim American groups could jointly sponsor seminars to address concerns on both sides and deepen relationships and understanding.Muslim organizations could train their leaders and spokespersons to communicate more effectively with the media and proactively pitch stories.
The media can work to eliminate or clarify language that conflates Islam or Muslims with fascism or terrorism, strive for informed coverage of events—including Muslim American condemnations of violence and radicalism—and support the training of more Muslim American journalists.
Creating an independent, national organization dedicated to public educationThe creation of a new non-advocacy institution focused on educating the public about Muslim cultures and societies would help broaden American understanding.The institution would be non-ethnic, non-denominational, and non-political and would provide information on the rich and diverse heritage of the Muslim world through exhibitions, lectures, conferences, and publications. Over time, the organization could become a trusted, impartial source of information and expertise for the public, media, and government on the many facets of Muslim life throughout the world.
Undertaking a wide range of efforts to further public understanding
Demystifying Islam for the general public will require greater initiatives by many different Muslim American groups and other American organizations, working separately and in partnership.
Interfaith activities, cultural events, and educational initiatives at the primary, secondary, and university levels would all increase awareness of the community and its intellectual, scientific, and cultural achievements.
It is vital that non-Muslim religious and secular organizations take part in this work since they have the capacity to reach audiences that Muslim institutions cannot, and their participation would enhance the legitimacy and credibility of the message.
Increase Civic Engagement among Muslim Americans
Much of the groundwork for achieving increased civic and political integration is in place. Most Muslim Americans view the United States as their home. They see no contradiction between the moral teachings of Islam and the values that Americans hold dear.
A number of institutions and initiatives are already positioned to help. Speeding Muslim American integration is in the interest of all Americans, and success will involve building on these foundations and creating stronger ties between Muslim and non-Muslim groups.
Encouraging Muslim Americans to play a greater part in civic life should be a high priority for Muslim organizations. Opportunities for engagement can be increased by expanding existing partnerships with non-Muslim groups and by forming new partnerships. Such activities create opportunities for Muslim leaders to frame public service in a Muslim context and make civic participation a fundamental element of Muslim American life.
Forming a national leadership group of prominent Muslim Americans
A leadership network of prominent Muslim Americans could strengthen Muslim American institutions and create new programs to encourage Muslim youth to enter public service. The enhanced communication among Muslim American leaders would help their organizations and the community at large respond more rapidly and effectively to public and media interest, especially in times of heightened concern. Members of the leadership group could also serve as “community ambassadors” to the U.S. government, offering informed perspectives on U.S. relations with Muslim societies, and as interlocutors between Muslim Americans and Muslim communities abroad.
Building coalitions on important policy initiatives
Muslim American organizations could make a valuable contribution to the American body politic by expanding their participation in coalitions concerned with issues such as immigration, public health, and the strengthening of democratic institutions. This will help other Americans understand that Muslims have great concern for a wide range of issues affecting the national well-being. It will also enable Muslims to expand their contributions to the larger society and increase the moral authority of Muslim leaders when they seek support on issues of particular interest to Muslim Americans.
Bridging religious divides
The country would benefit from greater cooperation among Muslim, Christian, and Jewish organizations. All three faiths share a deep spiritual connection to the Middle East, but their disagreements over U.S. foreign policy and events in the region have severely strained interfaith relations and hampered the dialogue and collaboration on numerous important domestic issues. Current conversations can be expanded to include an increasingly diverse group of organizations, becoming the basis of a national forum for interfaith discussions.
Build Stronger Muslim American Institutions
Muslim American institutions do not have the range of opportunities for participation in the policy discourse to meet the community’s and the nation’s needs. Their limited role is partly attributable to the diversity of Muslim America, which complicates efforts to coalesce on issues or to create institutions that cross over among different Muslim American groups.
The capacity constraints typical of young ethnic and religious institutions have also been a handicap. In addition, some institutions have avoided foreign policy issues for fear of drawing unfavorable scrutiny or detracting from their work on civil rights. While the challenge of strengthening(sic) Muslim American institutions may appear daunting, similar challenges have been met time and again by other immigrant groups and minority communities. Many of the strategies used by these groups can be emulated by Muslim Americans.
Increasing institutional effectiveness and engagement
It is critical that existing Muslim American organizations be strengthened further and that new ones be formed to help increase understanding of Muslim American life and facilitate participation in the civic and political discourse. Many existing institutions need to restructure, develop new strategies, and learn how to effectively deliver their messages.
They need to provide Muslim Americans with education on the workings of American civic and political life, and they need to improve dialogue and interaction across ethnic, sectarian, and generational lines within the Muslim American community.
As they build capacity, Muslim organizations will have more success in forming partnerships with non-Muslim organizations to address issues of common concern. American foundations should be encouraged to make a long-term commitment to helping these institutions become more effective.
Broadening academic and policy initiatives
The engagement of more Muslim American scholars in the activities of think tanks, research institutes, and universities on issues related to Islam and Muslim societies would also be valuable. There is a need for endowed chairs, fellowships, centers for policy and area studies, and other structures to support the work of established and emerging Muslim and non-Muslim scholars of Islam. Postdoctoral fellowship programs in Islamic studies that are open to Americans of all religious backgrounds as well as fellowship programs for young Muslim American scholars studying important public policy issues of all types are also needed.
Enlarging the scope and impact of academic and policy initiatives will require the strong commitment of American universities, think tanks, government agencies, and philanthropists.More collaboration between Muslim American institutions and established think tanks and research institutes would also strengthen Muslim American integration into the policy discourse. There are few strong links between Muslim American institutions and leaders and think tanks and research institutes undertaking work related to Islam and Muslim communities. More joint efforts would help add new perspectives to the policy discussions of think tanks and research institutes.
It would also help Muslim American institutions build their knowledge base by providing more exposure to policy analysis.
Recommendation #5Cultivate the Next Generation of Muslim American Leaders
Young Muslim Americans are also not as fully engaged as other American youth in U.S. political and civic life.
Developing the leadership potential and professional skills of young Muslim Americans is crucial to creating an informed, seasoned, and capable group of leaders who can contribute to the betterment of the nation as a whole. Engaging young Muslim Americans in civic life is also a critical factor in reducing the potential for alienation.
Making leadership development of young Muslim Americans a priority[,] Muslim American organizations could work with local, state, and federal government agencies to create internship programs for young Muslim Americans. Think tanks and universities based in Washington should be encouraged to create fellowship programs to increase understanding of the policy process. Muslim and non-Muslim institutions can also jointly sponsor speaking tours to encourage public service among young Muslim Americans.
Training young staff and new leaders
Developing leaders and staff is essential if Muslim American organizations are to maximize their ability to contribute to the policy discourse. Young staff members need high-quality theoretical and practical training. Special attention should be given to leadership training for women.
Give Ongoing National Attention to Muslim American Integration
Establishing an American Diversity Dialogue
The Task Force proposes that an ongoing American Diversity Dialogue among Muslim and non-Muslim leaders be established to examine critical issues related to Muslim civic and political integration in the United States. This would help give prominence to the issue and provide thoughtful and informed assessments of Muslim American civic and political integration over time. The American Diversity Dialogue would meet approximately three times a year in a rotating group of cities and would commission research to inform its discussions. It would issue an annual report on The State of Muslim America that would be widely disseminated to policymakers, the media, and the American public. Dialogue leadership and membership should be drawn from a group of highly respected public figures such as former government officials, business and civic leaders, and policy experts.
Creating a national philanthropic initiative on American diversity
A national philanthropic initiative on American diversity would expand financial support to nonprofit, nonpolitical educational, research, cultural, and civic organizations in order to deepen appreciation of diversity in America and strengthen its expression in society.
The initiative would focus particularly on the Muslim American experience, strengthening public understanding of that experience and creating opportunities for greater Muslim American civic and political participation. Funding would come from foundations and individuals during a one-time capital campaign. The initiative’s corpus would be spent over a defined period of time such as ten years.
The recommendations in this report are offered as a step toward strengthening the democracy entrusted to us by the founding fathers and the U.S. Constitution.
The integration of minority groups, women, and immigrants into our civic and political processes has been slow, [ch]allenging work in the past. Yet its practical and symbolic importance cannot be underestimated. Muslims, like many other immigrant groups, came to the United States in search of religious and political freedom, in need of refuge, and in hopes of prosperity.
The tragic events of September 11 and their aftermath have challenged our security, put the dream of America to the test for Muslim Americans, and called our values as a nation into question.
Yet with today’s critical foreign and domestic policy challenges, there is an urgent need for Muslim Americans to enter more fully into the national discourse. This is first and foremost the responsibility of Muslim Americans themselves, but also of the government, the policy establishment, the media, and other major American institutions.
By working together to ensure that Muslim American voices are heard, we will not only increase our own security, but make our foreign policy a truer expression of who we are as a nation and reaffirm our commitment to the ideal of E pluribus unum (one out of many).