Since March 2011, the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD) and American Muslims for Constructive Engagement (AMCE) have been convening a series of private, off-the-record Policy Forums bringing key young leaders from the Washington policymaking community together with selected representatives of the American Muslim community to engage in focused discussions of current issues bearing on US relations with the Muslim world.
The objectives of the Forum are three-fold: (1) to inform US foreign policy and public diplomacy with a more nuanced understanding of Islam; (2) to build bridges between US policymakers and Muslim leaders, groups, and institutions, both at home and overseas; and (3) to provide a platform for an ongoing frank exchange of views between American Muslims and USG policymakers. Attendees from the House, Senate, and Executive Branch of the US Government and various institutions within the American Muslim community participated in the discussion as individuals, rather than as representatives of their offices.
American Muslim Community Engagement
In March of 2006 and 2007, ICRD, in partnership with the International Institute for Islamic Thought and the Institute for Defense Analyses (the Pentagon’s leading think tank) convened major conferences to explore how the U.S. government and the American Muslim community could begin working together for the common good.
More specifically, a cross-section of 30 American Muslim leaders was brought together with a like number of U.S. security officials and foreign policy practitioners. Their immediate goals were to jointly consider and address the legitimate grievances of the American Muslim Community and to examine hoe that community can:
- serve as a bridge between the United States and Muslim countries overseas,
- help inform U.S. public diplomacy and foreign policy with a Muslim perspective, and
- assume a leadership role in the further intellectual and spiritual development of Islam.
The third objective is every bit as important as the other two and seeks to capitalize on the fact that the American Muslim community enjoys greater freedom of thought than other Muslim communities around the world and that it bridges modernity and the contemporary practice of Islam on a daily basis.
The American Muslim community should constitute one of this country’s first lines of defense in the global contest with militant Islam. Not only have we failed to recognize this community as the strategic asset that it is, but we have unwittingly been alienating it over time. The above conferences have been helpful in turning this around and are already bearing important fruit. The first conference and its findings were the subject of a televised panel discussion on the American Muslim community that was broadcast by Al-Arabiya to an audience of 33 million Arabs in the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions. More recently, the doors have been opening wider to the inputs of Muslim citizens at the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.
Enhancing the Capacity of Military Chaplains
To enhance the conflict prevention capabilities of the U.S. sea-service commands, ICRD led an effort in 2001 to train all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard chaplains in religion and statecraft. Similar training on faith-based diplomacy has been provided for chaplains of the other military services, as well as a cross-section of chaplains from other countries. In addition, ICRD has conducted two major conferences on understanding Islam for the U.S. Air Force.