American Muslims Push
for Role in Policy Planning
By Dr M. A. Muqtedar Khan
group of American Muslim scholars, activists and community
leaders is determined to carve a role for American Muslims
in policy making. 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).
President Bush with a group of American Muslims in
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 also 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 defense.
This can be accomplished only by the inclusion of American
Muslims in the policy making process. American Muslims cannot
explain or defend policies that they disagree with and most
importantly 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, a Nonresident
Fellow at Brookings Institution. 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 of 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
The conference attendees 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. MSA President Hadia Mubarak,
and Executive Director of Progressive Muslim Union, Mr.
Ahmed Nassef also participated in this important event.
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,
and specially we need American Muslims to help dedemonize
The second conclusion was that Islam and Muslims are being
demonized in the US, their civil rights situation was terrible
and Muslims are routinely excluded from policy deliberations;
so how can they 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 policy making. 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 organizations 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 organized, and willing to provide
their input for policy making 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.
(Dr. Muqtedar Khan is a Nonresident Fellow of the Brookings
Institution. He is the author of American Muslims (2002)
and Jihad for Jerusalem (2004). His website is www.ijtihad.org)