Partner Citizens

By Shaheen, Buland | Islamic Horizons, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Partner Citizens


Shaheen, Buland, Islamic Horizons


Study offers ways to build bridges to better connect Muslim Americans to the mainstream. BY BULAND SHAHEEN

The question of Muslim American citizenship looms large, and concerns over whether Muslims and American citizenship are compatible increased after 9/11. The latest foray on this issue is the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Task Force's report, "Muslim American Civic and Political Engagement"(www.thechicagocouncil.org). The report, which recommends a first-ever "American Diversity Dialogue," calls for accelerating the Muslim Americans' integration into American civic life and political discourse. "Continued neglect" of Muslim Americans "will have serious, negative implications for homeland security, the integrity of our democratic values, our foreign policy, and our image abroad," the report said.

The Task Force determined that the ongoing post-9/ 1 1 climate of suspicion, combined with the fact that the majority of Muslim Americans are not active in civic Ufe, has harmed Muslims and has serious implications for homeland security, foreign policy, and the integrity of our democratic values. The task force recommends that Muslim American organizations be strengthened and new ones be formed to increase the public's understanding of Muslim life and enhance Muslim American participation in civic and political Ufe. Muslim Americans should expand contributions to national security, continue and expand efforts to condemn terrorism, work to decrease potential radicalism within their community, and work with Washington to form a nationwide network of partnerships.

The report concluded that while Muslim Americans are a well-educated and diverse group that could make important contributions to civic life and policy discourse, they lack strong institutions and recognizable public or political voices to gain regular access to government and media circles. Some existing Muslim American institutions have avoided foreign policy issues for fear of drawing unfavorable scrutiny.

The thirty-two-member task force, which is equally split between Muslims and non-Muslims drawn from academia, politics, and the business and nonprofit worlds, met over fifteen months and reached consensus on many issues. While noting that disagreements among Muslim, Christian, and Jewish organizations over American foreign policy and events in the Middle East have hampered dialogue and prevented collaboration, the report avoided the crucial questions about attitudes toward foreign policy and security policy.

The ongoing negative climate, along with the lack of engagement, threaten to marginalize and alienate and possibly radicalize some Muslim Americans. The authors pointed out that young Muslim Americans are not as engaged as other American youths in America's political and civic processes.

They also noted that many Muslim Americans responded to 9/11, and independent studies have shown little evidence of widespread extremist activity with links to terrorist organizations. Despite this, Muslim American efforts to dissociate themselves from the terrorist threat and to counter the tide of suspicion have not been fully effective. In addition, many Americans perceive Muslim Americans as not having fully and readily acknowledged the potential for radicalism within their community. …

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