We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
I had a chance to attend the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism last week, and I was struck by these lines of the president’s speech:
“I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world. And that can be a calling for your generation.”
That’s why we started America’s Unofficial Ambassadors and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last few years. I recently wrote the following for the Huffington Post about the summit if you’d like to read more:
President Obama nailed it this week in his speech on countering violent extremism. At the close of Wednesday’s sessions at the White House, the president made the case for where we should concentrate our efforts, and in a call to action, he offered an honest accounting for the division of labor between government and civil society.
Government is the only actor that can physically destroy groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, provide development assistance in countries that are home to the largest numbers of foreign fighters, and call for progress on national grievances — from human rights abuses to corruption — in our bilateral dialogues. Civil society has a crucial role in debunking this ideology of extremism and the narrative that America and the West are at war with Islam.
For an American audience grappling with brutal actions of ISIS and al-Qaeda, the call to action for civil society was the most interesting part of the speech for two reasons. First, the president placed an emphasis on the special role that Muslim-American leaders (and Muslim leaders worldwide) have to play with defeating this strand of extremism. While few would deny that Muslim-Americans have faced discrimination since 9/11, nowhere else in the world do Muslims enjoy more rights and opportunities than in the United States. Yet that isn’t the prevailing storyline about America and Islam throughout the Muslim World.