Recently, I flew to Washington, D.C. to be part of a group that met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The purpose of the visit was to engage in a discussion about some of the factors that have allowed Indonesia to thrive in a time when so many Muslim countries are torn by internal conflict. Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority country in the world. It has a democratic system of government and a thriving economy. As well, Indonesia has been able to control religious extremism within their borders. What I learned verified my thoughts about ways in which the American-Muslim community can contribute to the greater good of our society.
The recent crisis in Iraq and Syria has escalated. It has become increasingly clear that the United States is deeply entrenched in the Middle East. This situation is extremely complicated. Religious, cultural, tribal and economic factors contribute to instability, civil unrest and warfare. The United States has a vested and humanitarian interest in maintaining stability in the region. Over the past decade, many of our policies have resulted in unintended consequences. Perhaps, some of these could have been predicted if analysts had consulted more American-Muslims. There are nuances of culture, politics, and the region that are rarely understood by those who have not lived in the country. As we engage in Iraq for the a third time, it is important that we learn from our past experience to avoid making the same errors. Therefore, a greater effort by the government to involve the American-Muslim community in Middle East strategy can be beneficial to our ultimate goal. At the same time, American Muslims have remained reserved when it comes to a taking an active role in the process.
What seems to be missing from most plans for containing or neutralizing terrorists is the American-Muslim perspective. An example of this can be found in the nuances of the Syrian conflict. The Middle East is a convoluted mixture of contrary forces. Governments and terrorists engage in fierce fighting, yet certain elements still do business - such as purchasing oil - with one another. It is almost impossible to comprehend all of the historical, cultural, political, tribal and religious tones without having experienced the unique mindset of each region. The rise of the Baathists to power as ISIS was predictable if understood in the context of the unequal distribution of power that was created in the region. I firmly believe it is in the best interests of the United States to involve members of the American-Muslim community in the process of understanding and planning for the most effective use of America's resources.
Engagement of the American-Muslim community in Middle East strategy building has been minimal; this due - in part - to a reluctance on the part of American-Muslims to allow their 'voices to be heard', as well as the elements of mainstream media to allow those conversations to reach the larger society. At the same time, the government has been relatively hesitant to include American-Muslims as resources when exploring various strategies. Muslims are the group most targeted by extremists throughout the world. Therefore, it behooves all American-Muslims to overtly speak-out against the atrocities being perpetrated in the name of Islam. Terrorist activities are a total misrepresentation of the religion, culture and history of the Muslim people. Muslims who have lived in the United States for many decades may be the only Muslims in the world to have lived under a true democracy in a pluralistic society for that length of time. American-Muslims have the capacity to influence Muslims in other countries to act in accordance with democratic ideals in a way that bombs and troops can never accomplish. I have spoken at many colleges in Pakistan. As one of the few Muslims who is also an elected official in the country, I share the advantages of pluralism with the students. They are often surprised to hear that a Muslim can be elected to office in America. There is a great deal of misinformation about America that is being dispersed throughout Muslim countries. American Muslims might be the best way to counteract the propaganda that misrepresents America and Americans. Similarly there is a great deal of propaganda against Islam that is being promulgated, which too needs to be corrected by the American Muslims. When people in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and other Muslim countries hear how Fox news reports that America is "at war with Islam," they feel betrayed. American-Muslims can send messages to Middle Eastern and all other Muslim majority Country families and friends about true democracy and America's pursuit of peace. Finally, where possible, American-Muslims can join the armed forces and take an active role in defending our country.
American-Muslims are in a unique position to contribute their knowledge and experience to U.S. policy-makers and disseminate the truth about democracy and America to other countries. As Americans, we are concerned with protecting our people and resources, as well as providing humanitarian assistance whenever possible. It is not always that the 'mightiest of sword' that wins the wars; it is the 'truest of heart.' So I call on American-Muslims and the United States government to become partners to helping all of us reach our true goal of world peace.