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By Jenn Piatt, Global Peace and Security Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

The ban on the face veil in a few European countries, has received wide spread attention. Justifications for the legal bans vary; yet, seem to be centered on three key concepts: national security, the oppression/liberation of women, and the promotion of secularism.

Setting aside the legal and secularist arguments that each of these countries face within the context of their domestic laws, is banning the veil really accomplishing what they set out to? Does removing a face covering achieve national security, liberate women, or enhance the secularist perspective? I’ m unpersuaded by the arguments.

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By Richard Lim, GPS Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

Extremism is no way to respond to extremism. Just as bigotry towards Islam (or any group for that matter) is destructive to society, so too is the knee-jerk reaction that assumes America is a nation of overzealous, Islamophobes. Just as the stereotyping of Muslims is unfair, so too is the stereotyping of Americans as ignorant racists.

In the past year, Muslim perceptions of America have reached a nadir. The outcry over the building of a Muslim community center blocks away from the 9/11 site and the highly-publicized efforts of radical “Pastor” Terry Jones to burn the Qur’an have seemed to confirm a pattern of intolerance that has increased since 9/11.

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By Brandon Fischer
Brandon is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Brandon below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

In the turbulent state of affairs along the intersection of Muslim and American culture, the question often arises as to what exactly can be done to allow for a certain progress which will counter the trend of regression which has taken hold of relations in recent years. Evidence is ever the more present, typified today by controversy which has surrounded Park51, a Muslim community and worship center to be erected within walking distance from Ground Zero. Yet, there must be a force strong enough to withstand the hostile rhetoric of antagonists, and that force lies within the hands and minds of Muslim-American and Muslim-sensitive youth of our country.

Progress towards this end, though some may think it to be out of reach, is made wholly possible when considering the capacity of an organized assemblage of well-informed and robust voices. Social media outlets and cross-cultural community organizing may work to build upon and enhance interreligious dialogues of the past, propelling them into the secular realm. The Straight Path Initiative, a youth program brought forth by the Muslim American Society, serves as a model for this through their lessons in civic engagement, social networking and advocacy. The Straight Path Initiative and similar associations have already penetrated campuses nationwide, creating a new Muslim-American consciousness in their classrooms and communities.

In disregarding religious demagoguery and increasing cultural sensitivities, young advocates, Muslim and non-Muslim, may build a visible constituency of change. The knowledge and resources are widely available, waiting to be capitalized upon and to be used as tools of advancement. Constructing a new breed of ecumenical dialogue and activism by young people, if concerted and enduring, may just be enough to dull a tension which has gotten out of hand. Keep in mind, readers, the future of US-Muslim relations has yet to be written.

Brandon Fischer is currently working towards his Masters in International Affairs at the New School in New York City. He received his BA in International Relations and Spanish from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX. His regional interest lies in the Middle East where he intends to explore the intersection of development and institutional accountability vis-à-vis macroeconomic efficiencies in aid flows. Brandon feels strongly that the youth of our day may serve as significant actors in global affairs through community activism and social media which enable political mobility.

By Hannah Nemer
Hannah is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Hannah below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Walking through suburbia covered in a hijab, I felt the deafening silence of discomfort follow me. For the first time, I, a Jewish teen, felt a small bit of the burden of being Muslim in America.
This social experiment, designed to identify post-9/11 stereotypes of Islam, was eye opening, revealing all too many misconceptions. These perceptions only intensify as time passes, as demonstrated by the upset over the “ground-zero mosque.”
Somewhere along the way, America’s fear began to usurp the power of the First Amendment. Now, as youth, it is our obligation to stop the fear mongering in order to embrace our differences, making way for religious pluralism.
The forums for this are plentiful.
Students have a unique opportunity; rarely will we be thrown into an environment as socially and culturally diverse as our schools, nor with a group of peers as genuinely enthused about identifying problems and seeking solutions. Here, conversations are born.
The Interfaith Youth Core, a global dialogue building interfaith coalitions, has grown among these campus communities. More than a forum for discussion, the global nature of this program forges new partnerships, bridging cultural divides.
Students do not hold political power because we are future leaders, but because we are leaders. In 2006, the youth 9/11 Plus 5: A Hope Not Hate Summit proclaimed that message loud and clear. Joining forces, over 400 youth leaders took a stand for religious pluralism, calling attention to legitimate driving forces of terrorism, rather than explaining it away as “Islamic Fundamentalism.”
Conversations must commence, and tough questions must be asked. Something as simple as complimenting a Muslim woman on the color of her hijab breaks down long built barriers of silence. And that gateway conversation is one we all can begin.

I am Hannah Nemer, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Interested in advocacy through public policy and film, I am eager to partner with Americans for Informed Democracy. Despite my love of politics, I find myself concerned over the political process which seems to breed both xenophobia and hate; but, I see hope in informed youth who speak out against both social and political injustices.

By Tahira Saleem
Tahira is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Tahira below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

President Obama’s coming into the office was heralded as the wind of change and people pinned their hopes on the new leadership in the White House; their aspirations were fulfilled when he announced a new policy for Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever since his announcement of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Operation New Dawn in Iraq, a question has arisen about the future of youth in these two countries.

In the wake of troop withdrawal, the youth have got an enormous opportunity for carving their dream countries. The Iraqi youth, who have been grappling with an authoritarian rule and violence perpetrated by the state, can translate their dreams of liberalism, democracy, and blooming economy by playing a pivotal role in the reconstruction of their country. As Iraqi people are coping with a relentless wave of terrorism and violence, the youth of Iraq must take on the responsibility of their country’s security and safety by joining the national forces, because there can be no reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war-stricken people without peace in Iraq. Moreover, the youth must not join the ranks of extremists who promise to liberate Iraq from occupant forces.

Though Afghanistan has yet to see the troop pullout, but the tide of fundamentalism can be reversed and Afghan history can be re-written only when the Afghan youth realize the gravity of situation. They say “waters of vengeance run deep in Pushtun culture”, but this vengeful policy will push the country deeper into an abyss. In this critical phase, the Afghan youth must lend a helping hand to the International Security Forces for bringing relief to the local population from the obscurantist ideology. Youth in Afghanistan can enjoy an uninterrupted period of peace and tranquility, only when they believe that challenge is an opportunity to make the things better.

Tahira Saleem is a young writer and researcher from Multan, Pakistan. A regular contributor to Pakistan’s leading English daily DAWN, she has a couple of research projects on her credit. She is the only Pakistani whose research paper “Persecuted by Law” by has been selected for the panel presentation in the World Forum 2010.

By James Robertson
James is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about James below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

President Obama’s recent announcement of an end to combat operations in Iraq signals a turning point in American operations there. A war which contributed to American students’ perceptions of American foreign policy will now enter a new stage focused on fortifying the young Iraqi government’s ability to protect and oversee its own people. While the latest round of terrorist attacks cast doubt upon the country’s ability to furnish its citizens with an environment of security, the newly revised U.S. diplomatic mission seeks to provide Iraqi security forces with the guidance and training they need to address future defense concerns.

Much rests upon this important point in Iraq’s progress towards a functioning democratic state. The costs of failure cannot be understated, a position the current administration intends to address by more than doubling the number of private security units in Iraq. This is a commitment that will likely be reflected by private investing, aid, and advocacy groups. The President also noted that Iraq must take control of its future by addressing its own problems. Historically, young people and students in particular have always served as a driving force for development in developing nations, and Iraq is no different.

Students will undoubtedly play an important role in Iraq’s transition to a democratic state. This presents an exciting opportunity for American students to engage and assist a foreign people in their work towards a self-governing society. American students will soon be presented with the chance to affect change in their world by assisting their counterparts in Iraq with the understanding and application of democratic ideals. The result of such an exchange of cultural and educational and values could contribute greatly to the establishment of a democratic peace in Iraq.

My name is James Robertson. I am currently studying Political Science and English at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. The current American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan dominates foreign affairs and will undoubtedly shape American foreign policy for years to come. Accordingly, today’s students will play an important role in determining how relations with these two countries and the Middle East will proceed. Each of us has a voice and I believe it is our duty to stand up and speak out for democracy in these changing times.

By Amna Amjad
Amna is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Amna below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

I was bored and watching television a while ago and there it was- news that showed that only a few days remain until the ninth anniversary of 9/11 incident. I was only 15 in 2001, but the whole news sequences that ran at that time still run vividly in my mind when I think of it. What happened nine years ago certainly changed the dynamics of the relationship between the US and Muslims.

I know a quite a lot of Muslims in the US and they believe that the incident has etched into the minds of the Americans and quite a lot of them do feel insecure around Muslims. Vicious extremists of 9/11 harmed thousands of people and made it justified for Americans to mistrust or feel uncomfortable around Muslims. But I believe that it is time for a change and the students of the US should come forward and talk about this issue. They can help change the perception of those who lack the proper understanding of Islam and do away with the negative stereotypes of Islam. Islam is a religion that advocates peace and religious tolerance.

I think that the youngsters of this generation in US have an edge over the previous ones because of the use of the internet; so they should use it to their advantage and try to learn more about the Muslims of different countries and interact with them through proper forums to have a better understanding and knowledge about them and their religion and help educate others, because ignorance is not the way out. On the other hand conferences should be held between the students of the US and Muslims countries to talk on various issues and come up with the resolutions to work on this sensitive and precious relationship. It is time for a change, for good.

Amna is from Pakistan and has recently completed her Bachelors degree from Lahore University of Management Sciences with a major in Accounting and Finance and minor in Mathematics. She has been involved in spreading awareness about the local and global issues with Amnesty International Chapter at her university and believes that every individual should play a part to make world a better place to live in. In her spare time she likes to hang out with friends, watch movies, read books and also loves photography.

By Jenn Piatt
Jennifer is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Jennifer below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

The question has been asked, what role does one envision young people possessing in the context of US-Muslim relations. Before one can define a particular role for the nation’s youth, one must understand what is meant by “US-Muslim relations”.

The “Muslim World” does not fit into a box. “US-Muslim relations” should be understood as the relationship between the US and Muslim countries and the separate, but important perspective of the US and its own American Muslims.

As of 2009, Muslims made up nearly 23% of the world’s population and inhabited at least five continents. For many, the typical Muslim image is that of a Middle Easterner with Bedouin robes. Yet, nearly 60% of the world’s Muslims are Asian. While the faith remains consistent, the practices and daily life of the world’s Muslims are drastically different. American youth must learn to understand the difference. Indeed, the danger to the long-term relationship between the US and Muslims is the notion that the “Muslim World” somehow speaks, acts, and looks the same. Americans would hardly entertain the notion that all of its youth supported President Obama and in the alternative, President Bush.

In the context of pluralism, American youth are appropriately positioned to address this issue. The specific role can materialize in many ways, but perhaps the easiest is doing what youth naturally know to do; remain open to new ideas, engage the world, its people and its food at every opportunity, strive to see the similarities and explore the differences, travel and perhaps most importantly, talk to their fellow students about what they discover. These natural actions have a great and lasting impact and will undoubtedly produce a generation of youth more capable of approaching the world’s problems.

Jennifer is currently a JD/MS candidate at Creighton University’s School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska. Jennifer earned a BA in Political Science, minoring in Chicano/Latino Studies and is interested in working on U.S. Policy to the Middle East. Jennifer is married to a Muslim from Saudi Arabia and has two children. She believes in the capacity of students to bring about a more peaceful and sustainable world through travel, mobilization and engagement.

By Kevin Hudnell
Kevin is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Kevin below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Faced with the challenge of improving “U.S.-Muslim relations,” three people could come up with three different interpretations of exactly what that term encompasses. One would be concerned with how American society continues to view the American Muslim population with prejudice and suspicion. The second might be concerned about how the U.S. treats the worldwide Muslim population and how that population thinks of the U.S. in turn. A third might be concerned with the faltering relations between the U.S. and various Muslim governments.

Yet these three problems are all connected. The treatment of Muslims in America has to square with our message of tolerance to Muslims abroad, and the success of U.S. interaction with Muslim governments is limited by how those governments see the U.S. treating Muslims at home and abroad. So, while the average American has little power to directly better the chances of amicable relations with Iran or bring about a peaceable resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, efforts to advance U.S.-Muslim relations here at home can advance U.S.-Muslim relations abroad as well.

There’s no unique role for college students to play in determining how the U.S. treats its Muslim population. But people, in general, have a responsibility here and young people are best poised to shoulder it. We have the option of inheriting stereotypes and prejudices passed down to us by the elder generation or passed on to us by the media, or not. We have the option of going out in the streets protesting the “Ground Zero Mosque,” or not. We have the option of looking no better to foreign audiences than Hezbollah supporters burning American flags look to us, or not.

Young people cannot directly affect U.S. foreign policy. We can, however, start working to engender an atmosphere in which well-reasoned and intelligent policy can take root.

Kevin Hudnell graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with a double major in Peace, War and Defense and Public Policy Analysis. His research interests focus on relations both among Middle Eastern states and between the Middle East and the U.S. He has traveled and studied in Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. His peers have described him variously as a strategic genius, a political pragmatist, and a jerk.

Americans for Informed Democracy, in partnership with Unity Productions Foundation and the 9/11 Unity Walk, is proud to present the second installment of the Hope Not Hate/20,000 Dialogues Film Series:

A screening and discussion of

On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly

with special guest Ambassador Akbar Ahmed

Saturday September 11th, 3-5:30pm

DC Jewish Community Center – 1529 16th Street NW, Washington, DC

(Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle)

Free, but space is very limited!

Click Here to RSVP

About the film: On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly follows one Muslim-American man on his quest to obtain a pilot’s license. But will the “land of opportunity” deny Monem his dream in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the face of heightened domestic security? The cinema verité-style documentary reveals a funny, loveable, altogether human Muslim-American as he pursues the American dream against tides of negative public perception.

About the speaker: Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the author of the recent book Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam. He is also the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and has been called by the BBC “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.” Click here to watch Amb. Ahmed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

All students attending the event will be entered into a raffle for 1) a travel scholarship to Americans for Informed Democracy’s annual student conference in spring 2011 2) grants to organize similar cultural awareness programs on their campus and 3) free copies of the DVD of the film! And if you bring a friend, you’ll get a bonus raffle entry!

Share this Flier Below with Your Friends and Post it on Your Campus! (Right-click and save the flier to your desktop, then print!)

Click Here to RSVP Today

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