Third Annual US-Islamic World Forum in Doha

Doha, Qatar: The "US-Islamic World Forum" in Doha, Qatar broke new ground over last weekend as it tackled the issue of democratization in the Muslim World. The three-day event was the third annual conference sponsored by the Brookings Institution and hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar. Several comments throughout the Forum represented a significant public shift in US engagement with the Muslim world.
Ambassador Martin Indyk, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, led the conference and expressed satisfaction over the progress in these conferences. Indyk underscored the importance of holding the conference in the Muslim world.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State J. Scott Carpenter compared the democratic challenges facing autocratic regimes in the region with the "winds of change" which turned communist Eastern European and oppressive Latin American regimes to democracies in the 1980s. He announced that the United States government would not oppose "Islamist" parties who plan to run in upcoming elections. He also emphasized how the US is currently working with the Islamic political groups who lead the current Iraqi and Turkish governments.
Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow with the Saban Center, cited the examples of Ayatollah Al-Sistani in Iraq and the appointment of Ibrahim Al-Jaafari as Prime Minister as demonstrations of the willingness of the United States to engage with "Islamist" groups.
"These dialogues have a tremendous impact in developing mutual and realistic understanding between diverse Muslim groups and the US government," said Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati, who participated in the conference. "We are only at the beginning of this critical dialogue, yet Brookings has done an effective job in initiating a serious debate."
The Forum is directed by Brookings Senior Fellow Peter Singer, who has worked with Professor Muqtedar Khan, Non-resident Fellow, to develop the American Muslim Group on Policy Planning "This conference shows that the shadow of 9/11 is receding," said Khan, "and people are getting more serious about the realities of the Muslim world."
Nearly one-third of the over 150 participants in the conference were from the United States. Members of the past and present US government engaged with representatives of Muslim governments and non-governmental organizations. Delegates from the Muslim world shared their frustration in anticipating democratic reform of governments under the cloud of "colonial rule."
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, also riveted the crowd with his critique of leaders of Islamic movements. He complained about the obsession of ulema (scholars) to condemn personal attire they consider outside the Islamic normative, while turning a blind eye to corruption and oppression of regimes who claim to rule in the name of Islam. He further stated that no Muslim-majority state can call itself an Islamic state until it demonstrates an impeccable record on human rights.
Farid Senzai, Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, said the conference "attempted to answer not when, but how we must dialogue with one another."
Radwan Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, said, "Discussions this year were more open and focused on the need to network with and support democratic movements, both secular and Islamic, in the region."
American Muslims can play a vital role in US policy-making and as a moderating influence on Muslim affairs worldwide.


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