Why the Biden administration must stay out of the global “Muslim engagement” small business

On the confront of it, the central thrust of my argument in this article will appear counterintuitive. Definitely in the aftermath of Donald Trump advocating in 2016 for a whole ban on Muslims entering the United States and then staffing the higher echelons of his administration with figures linked with aggressively Islamophobic rhetoric, the incoming Biden staff will want to go out of its way to signal pretty evidently that it welcomes engagement and partnership with Muslim communities around the globe?

In this feeling, the new U.S. administration faces a obstacle not dissimilar to the one Obama confronted when he took business office in 2009. In the wake of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a wide notion that the United States viewed Muslims close to the earth mainly through the lens of stability, Obama was eager to drive up the needles on America’s rock-bottom favorability scores as calculated by public polling in Muslim- the greater part international locations all over the entire world.

This aspiration led to the creation of a veritable cottage sector of Muslim engagement actions in U.S. foreign policy from 2009. Inaugurated by Obama’s famous June 2009 Cairo speech on “a new commencing between the United States and Muslims all over the environment,” this workstream associated the development of a new unique agent for Muslim communities at the Office of State and tens of millions of pounds in proposed public diplomacy activities principally concentrated on participating Muslims close to the earth.

Although the standard impetus guiding this work—reassuring the followers of a earth religion custom much maligned in the latest U.S. community discourse that America sees them as buddies and associates rather than enemies—was favourable and laudable, the mother nature and quite framing of the operate soon created a lot of problems. As a member of the U.S. Condition Department’s Coverage Setting up Personnel from 2011 to 2012 billed with coordinating facets of these things to do, I had a front-row seat for much of the effort. By examining a several of the tensions linked with this past Muslim engagement thrust, we can potentially stay clear of recreating them when the Biden administration receives to get the job done in January 2021.

1st and foremost, there was something fairly odd about the United States appearing to have guidelines and systems directed at an total world religion. Never in advance of in American record experienced a distinct spiritual custom been the aim of diplomacy, nor had Washington at any time dispatched an ambassador to 1.7 billion persons about the world described in conditions of their faith. In this feeling, the U.S. government appeared to be projecting a certain spiritual identity on to interlocutors who—while they might have been citizens of Muslim-bulk countries—would not necessarily have described on their own first and foremost in terms of Islam.

The selection of a “Muslim” framing for the tasks connected with the Obama administration’s engagement press seems even far more bizarre when one particular considers that the systems by themselves, which targeted generally on things like entrepreneurship and STEM training, had almost nothing to do with religion. At the top of the Muslim engagement frenzy, I try to remember inquiring a colleague at the United States Agency for Intercontinental Improvement whether the United States phone calls its Modest to Medium Company Potential-Creating plans in Ecuador “Christian engagement” specified that 92% of that country’s populace identifies as Christian. “Of study course not,” he replied. “That would be bizarre due to the fact Christianity has practically nothing to do with the perform we are performing.” So why, I puzzled, is it any fewer weird to label entrepreneurship applications in Indonesia and Senegal as “Muslim engagement”?

2nd, there are arguably countrywide safety implications to Washington’s endorsement of a “global Muslim” framing. A hallmark characteristic of the political discourse of Salafi-Jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS is the notion that forms of id primarily based in nationalism and country-states are illegitimate and Muslims all around the world ought to as an alternative look at by themselves associates of a solitary, transnational world wide Muslim community (ummah). While a person would not want to push this stage as well considerably, there is a sense in which the U.S. government’s emphasis on world wide Muslimness served to underwrite and validate the promises of transnational jihadi leaders. Additionally, Washington’s world Muslim engagement framing operated in some pressure with longstanding norms in both equally regulation and diplomatic exercise to regard and handle non-U.S. people with reference to whatever national citizenship—not religious identity—they hold.

Finally, I imagine the past U.S. technique to global Muslim engagement—despite its greatest intentions—actually served to reproduce the really problem it hoped to handle in the first spot. A lot more specifically, the Obama administration’s technique to participating Muslim communities around the earth continued Washington’s tendency to exceptionalize Muslims in contrast to other religion communities around the environment by generating diplomatic titles, roles, and courses centered on Islam in the absence of analogous offices and initiatives working with other religions. In other terms, even although the central thrust of this perform was created to normalize relations with Muslims, it actually ended up encouraging to sustain the thought that there is a little something about Muslims that necessarily mean they will need to be dealt with in another way from other religious teams.

So, what does this all mean in realistic plan conditions?

To start with and foremost, it signifies that the Biden administration ought to resist the temptation to produce anew a world-wide Muslim engagement industrial elaborate. The outgoing administration opted to terminate the State Department’s particular consultant for Muslim communities function, and this is 1 of only a incredibly handful of moves by the Trump administration I agree with.

2nd, there are a lot of possibilities for Biden’s diplomats to engage a lot more conventionally on troubles that subject to Muslims. We simply overlook that the rapturous response Obama been given just after the 2009 Cairo speech was about his proposed initiatives on Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace, and Center East human rights—not entrepreneurship or science schooling. This is not to say that the U.S. need to scale down its improvement and international aid attempts in Muslim-greater part countries—quite the opposite. But it should refrain from defining and describing that do the job as “Muslim engagement.” And on the political entrance, there will be plenty of possibility for Biden to signal a really unique approach from the Trump administration on difficulties these kinds of as human legal rights, Palestine, and the Iran nuclear offer.

In other terms, the new U.S. administration ought to attractiveness to Muslim communities close to the world as a result of the compound of its insurance policies fairly than via awkward and misplaced public relations strategies.