Friday, September 7, 2007

Government Engagement !

In September 2005, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes made the following remarks at the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA) annual convention, "We need to foster a sense of common interest and common values among Americans and people of different faiths and different cultures. Frankly, who better to do that than many of our American Muslims themselves, who have friends and families and roots in countries across the world."

This past Labor Day weekend in Chicago, Illinois, over 30,000 Muslim Americans heard the same message echoed from a host of government agencies and officials who attended the largest Muslim American convention. Representatives from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, State, Treasury, the FBI, members of Congress, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, and local officials all continued to send a resounding message to the Muslim American community: America needs your involvement to make it a safer and more prosperous society for all.

This convention comes on the heels of a recent unprecedented step taken by some individuals within the Department of Justice to label over 307 individuals and organizations as unindicted co-conspirators in a case involving the Holy Land Foundation. "Unindicted co-conspirator" refers to any person or organization that has been alleged to conspire to break the law but whose actions will not result in their being charged with an offense or being tried or sentenced for their conduct. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and others named as such in this case have felt the negative barrage of publicity led by those who seek to disengage the Muslim American community and prevent it from establishing a positive partnership with government and law enforcement.

In a recent leak to the Washington Times, certain officials within the Department of Justice objected to affiliating with the convention and sponsoring a booth which the Department does annually to educate Muslim Americans on issues pertaining to civil liberties.

It is clear that there exist certain elements within our government and policy making arena which seek to marginalize the very community that is seen as the greatest asset in keeping America safe and respected internationally. Whether it is politically motivated actions against mainstream Muslim organizations or the countless number of blogs that spew hatred on a daily basis, those who understand the importance and urgency of dialogue and real partnership between government and communities must not allow the voices of marginalization to drown out the voices of reason.

The young Muslim Americans at this year's convention heard the message of integration and involvement loud and clear. Many of them are ready to become involved at all levels of society to ensure that the future of their country and community will be bright and prosperous. Already, young Muslim Americans have positioned themselves to be more proactive in shaping the national discourse regarding Islam. To encourage this effort, this summer the Muslim Public Affairs Council held its first National Muslim American Youth Summit in Washington, DC, attended by young leaders selected to discuss pressing policy issues with high-level officials in the federal government and Congress. All those involved - from the attendees themselves to the guest speakers - left their meetings with a renewed sense of urgency about reaching out to young Muslim Americans and to thoughtfully consider their concerns. Let us hope that the opportunity for engagement at all levels will exist for them as they partake in this journey.