U.S.-Muslim Engagement

On September 24, 2008, the Leadership Group of the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project, released the report Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World. The report presented the consensus of 34 American leaders in the fields of foreign policy, national security, politics, business, religion, education, public opinion, psychology, philanthropy, and conflict resolution. These individuals represented diverse faiths, political perspectives, and professional disciplines.

The primary objective of the report was to provide new strategies for reducing tensions with Muslim countries and communities around the world. The core point of the report was that it is possible to meet both U.S. and Muslim interests by addressing the main sources of tension in new ways.

The report was generated through a process of dialogue and research co-led by Robert Fersh, then Executive Director of Search for Common Ground, U.S.A, and David Fairman, Managing Partner of the Consensus Building Institute. The report was widely praised on Capitol Hill , and circulated to every member of the U.S  Senate by then-Senator Richard Lugar (ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time) and to every member of the House of Representatives by then- Representative Howard Berman (chairman of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs at the time).

The report is also credited with having a direct influence on numerous policy decisions in the Obama Administration’s first six months. From its inauguration through the Cairo “New Beginnings” speech in June, the Obama administration took a number of actions that were strikingly consistent with the major recommendations of the Report. From January to June, the President and his team implemented all of the following top-line recommendations from the Report:

  • Spoke on the importance of relations with the Muslim world in the 2009 Inaugural Address, and re-affirmed the U.S. prohibition on torture
  • Appointed high-level envoys for the Israeli-Palestinian and Afghani-Pakistani conflicts, and sought direct engagement with Iran
  • Renewed the U.S. commitment to stop the spread of extremism in Afghanistan
  • Called for a major international event on business and economic development partnerships (the Summit on Entrepreneurship took place on April 26-27, 2010)
  • Called for a major expansion of educational and people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and Muslim majority countries (in the Cairo speech, June 2009)

The Changing Course report was, according to several members of a foreign policy and communications team in the White House, a key document in the preparation process for the President’ speech in Cairo, June 2009.
The project generated numerous public and constituency briefings on the Report, including:

  • A major event at the Council on Foreign Relations Washington D.C. office on January 30, 2009, with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Representative Vin Weber
  • A presentation by Secretary Albright before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • A dinner for 35 ambassadors from Muslim majority countries hosted by the Ambassador of Morocco
  • Several university presentations
  • Distribution of e-copies of the Report (including an Arabic translation of the Executive Summary) through the USME website and Amazon.com
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored “Business Opportunities and the Muslim World” conference

The project also supported citizen dialogue on the issues raised in the Report through a Citizen Dialogue Kit (prepared with assistance from Viewpoint Learning), a new web site developed by Intersections International called ChangeTheStory.net, and through “20,000 Dialogues,” a project of Unity Productions Foundation.