Islam Online,Wed. Sep. 24, 2008
WASHINGTON — A diverse group of 34 US religious, business, military, foreign policy and academic leaders are recommending more diplomatic engagement and a more robust investment in economic development to help improve relations with the Muslim world.
“The urgency is quite great,” former Republican Congressmen Vin Weber told The New York Times in an interview published on Wednesday, September 24.
The figures, drawn from religious, business, military, foreign policy, academic, foundation and nonprofit circles, spent 18 months reviewing the deteriorating relations between the US and the Muslim world under the Bush administration.
“The Bush administration is held in low regard in the Muslim world, and unfortunately that’s led to America being held in low regard,” said Weber.
In their report, “Changing Course: A New Direction for US Relations with the Muslim World,” they propose a series of steps to improve the ties. They insist that Washington must seek a more diplomatic engagement with the Muslim world.
“(The US) needs to make a significant shift in our relations with Muslim countries, relying more on diplomacy and helping to lay the foundation for democratic development,” said former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
The report recommends partnership with Muslims committed to non–violent political and economic development to tackle extremism and urges the US to champion a major investment in economic development to create jobs for alienated youth.
It asks Washington to promote better governance in authoritarian countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt and foster exchange programs between the US and Muslim countries.
Among authors of the report are former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, former US Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, former Republican congressmen Steve Bartlett and Thomas Dine and Thomas Dine, former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
One–third of the group were Muslim Americans, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Chairwoman Ingrid Mattson.
The 34 American leaders blamed the US policies for fuelling anti–America sentiments across the Muslim world.
“People have told us they admire our democratic values,” said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
“But there's this gap between the values people admire and the perceived treatment of Muslims,” she said, citing the US invasion of Iraq and detainee abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.
A recent poll by the Washington–based Pew Research Center found that the US image has plummeted deeply across the world, with foreign policy and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars topping a long list of disappointing factors.
The American dignitaries conclude that if Washington changes policies, anti–US perceptions among Muslims are likely to change too.
“Few challenges matter more than reducing distrust and misunderstanding between the US and people living in Muslim majority states,” Albright said.
“We're not involved in a clash of civilizations or conflicting religious beliefs.”
In an earlier interview with IslamOnlne.net, Sada Cumber, the first–ever American envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), blamed the widening gap between the US and the Muslim world on ignorance.
“There are policies and actions that are at the root of it, and in some cases they are our policies and in some cases theirs,” said Albright.
NYU Center for Dialogues Founder and Director Mustapha Tlili is a member of the Leadership Group and was present for the press launch.