Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Engaging with Muslim Communities
Eboo Patel's comments/recommendations
February 26, 2009
Increased communication and new technology has led to new forms of identity engagement amongst youth, which are less reliant on traditional nation-state boundaries and more likely to be influenced by transnational factors.
There is a youth bulge in Muslim countries. In Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip, the median age is about 17 years; in Iraq and Pakistan it is barely 20, and in Syria and Saudi Arabia the median is about 21.5 years. This trend extends all over the Middle East and North Africa – the median age is under 27 in Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.
These youth are faced with changing socio-economic factors that create insecurity. There is a clear lack of job opportunities and services to meet the needs of these youth. The unemployment rates in Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip have been estimated at close to 40%, and in Jordan and Iraq this number is around 30%.2 Without gainful employment and the potential for traditional social roles or upward social mobility, these young people are becoming frustrated and lost.
As of 2003, there were 15 million Muslims in the European Union (three times more than in the United States at the time). Moreover, in 2003 the Muslim birth rate in Europe was triple that of the non-Muslim birth rate. By 2015, the Muslim population in Europe will have doubled, while the non-Muslim population will have declined by 3.5%. Many of these European young Muslims face issues such as discrimination, economic deprivation, underemployment, and residence in ghettoized communities. Among native-born Muslims in Europe, there is often a feeling that they do not have a stake in larger society, and must choose between their religion and citizenship. On a recent trip to Europe, Patel's team observed a widespread sense of frustration amongst Muslim youth at their inability to freely express their religious identity, a feeling of isolation, and a willingness to identify oneself in opposition to the larger society.
Osama bin Laden is a brilliant youth organizer. Like entrepreneurs, they realized the potential of this massive market of young Muslims for the "product" of totalitarian Islam. The result of this recruitment was an international network of Muslim youths schooled in the ideology of totalitarian Islam, taught to hate the "imperialist infidel", and trained to kill – and that is who became Al Qaeda.
1. Promote religious pluralism as a core commitment globally. Religious pluralism in the United States can serve as a model for engaging religious diversity around the world.
- Change the framework of US Engagement with Muslim communities from the "clash of civilizations" to the framework of "pluralism vs. extremism".
- Rather than the current characterization of counterterrorism efforts as "freedom and democracy versus terrorist ideology", policymakers should frame the battle of ideas as a conflict between terrorist elements in the Muslim world and Islam.
2. Empower young leaders to advance interfaith cooperation in their communities.
- Government should identify and amplify civil society forces that have innovative and effective models that promote youth-led interfaith cooperation.
- Equip young leaders with the knowledge base and skill set for interfaith action.
- Invest in institutions that focus on increasing the training and capacity building of interfaith leaders.
3. Continue to prioritize citizen diplomacy efforts for engagement with Muslim communities around the world.
- Facilitate interfaith exchanges, cross-cultural education, and religious literacy programs in a public diplomacy initiative that is coherent, strategic and comprehensive in nature.
- Enable partnerships between US institutions and partners in Muslim communities around the world.
- Highlight the Muslim American community as a key example of America's vibrant pluralism, and use them as citizen diplomats to engage other communities around the world.