Muslim study offers ways to build bridges

Muslims in America must build better relationships with law enforcement, the media and fellow citizens in order to overcome negative stereotypes and a nagging post-Sept. 11 backlash, a national task force asserts in a new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Preparing for the paper to be released Tuesday, the council’s Task Force on Muslim American Civic and Political Engagement met over 15 months and came to a consensus on many issues.

By collecting the recommendations into one document, the task force of 32 civic leaders, corporate executives, academics and Muslim advocates from around the U.S.hope to provide a blueprint for more comprehensive discussions, task force leaders said in interviews.

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Among the non-binding recommendations, the task forces urged public and private partnerships to:

  • “Expand and recognize Muslim American contributions to national security.”
  • “Improve media coverage and public understanding of Muslim Americans.”
  • “Increase civic engagement among Muslim Americans.”
  • “Build stronger Muslim American institutions.”
  • “Cultivate the next generation of Muslim American leaders.”

“It helps shape the debate of what should take place,” said Farooq Kathwari, a task force co-chair who is also president, chairman and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.

Task force representatives are scheduled to appear this week before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as it examines extremism in Europe. .

“This is in our national interest,” said Lynn Martin, a task force co-chair and former U.S. secretary of labor.

Martin, a non-Muslim who is also a former five-term congresswoman from Illinois, said that the task force offered a unique opportunity for leaders from across the American spectrum to come together and tackle the challenges of Muslims.

“I learned this is not just a problem for Muslim Americans,” she said. “It is important for all Americans.”

With costs underwritten by five national non-profit foundations, the group met mostly in Chicago. But as part of other research, some task force members traveled to England and Spain to see struggles of Muslims abroad. Members also traveled to New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

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