A Muslim declaration of independence

Article publié dans le "Providence Journal", vendredi 25 Novembre 2005
(disponible à http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/projo_20051125_25mus.177be02b.html).

Le contexte: durant la même rencontre organisée par l'Ambassade des Etats-Unis à Bruxelles (voir article précédent), j'ai eu l'occasion de rencontrer Salam al-Marayati, du Muslim Public Affairs Council (http://www.mpac.org/), une organisation très intéressante qui se définit comme une "agence de service public travaillant pour les droits civils des musulmans américains, pour l'intégration de l'Islam au sein du pluralisme américain, et pour une relation positive et constructive entre les musulmans américains et leurs représentants. [...] MPAC a travaillé avec diligence pour promouvoir une communauté musulmane américaine vivante et pour enrichir la société américaine au travers de l'exemplification des valeurs islamiques de Miséricorde, de Justice, de Paix, de Dignité humaine, de Liberté et d'Egalité pour tous". Partageant manifestement nombre d'aspirations, Salam et moi avons pris l'initiative d'un communiqué "punchy" montrant que les musulmans, quel que soit leur point de départ, font maintenant partie intégrante des sociétés occidentales et qu'au même titre que tous les autres citoyens, ils ont les mêmes devoirs et bénéficient des mêmes droits. Ni plus, ni moins. Tout un programme.

AS TWO MUSLIMS of European and American background, we have just attended a conference on U.S.-Belgian Muslim dialogue as a means of raising the level of civic engagement among our respective Muslim communities. The conference was engineered by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Tom Korologos, and sponsored by non-governmental organizations in Belgium.
The discussions, which took place among people who were not diplomats or state officials, were centered on the fortification of the Western Muslim identity. By understanding our different experiences, we gained appreciation of the commonality of purpose of our two communities. It is time to establish and strengthen the Western roots of Muslim communities, as opposed to living off the respiration of transplanted roots from "back home."

This -- Brussels, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London -- is home. We shed our cultural baggage while maintaining our Islamic values. We embrace our European and American cultures, while committing ourselves to serving our national and global Muslim communities. And we aim to examine our respective roles in order to raise the status of Muslims in the West -- as a way to answer perennial questions about isolation, extremism, women's rights, human rights, democracy and attitudes toward other faiths.

As Muslims have integrated into Western societies, it is time to shift from speaking from the margins to speaking from the mainstream. We know that there are groups and political forces whose aim is to keep us excluded from the Western mainstream, but we also know that there are more people of goodwill, who want to see our acceptance in society.

We reject the labels of "alien" or "foreigner" in our Western nations. Some of us were born in the West and became Muslim, and some of us were born Muslim and came to the West. Whatever our origin, we have arrived at our destination. We reject those who want to eject Islam from the United States or Europe; and we aim for our rightful place in society, through education and example.

It is a matter of raising the consciousness of our fellow Muslims to accept our new beginning in the West, and it is a matter of raising the consciousness of others that our acceptance in Western societies is in the West's best interests.

Our goal is to gain not religious converts but political converts to the "party" of the human family. We do not presume to have the answers, nor do we believe we are the answer or the only answer. But we are the opportunity for America and Europe to begin looking toward a brighter future. Without the civic participation of our Muslim communities, there are no solutions -- just a dark chapter following the dark pages of the past.

Our ability to shed light on the aspirations and frustrations of Muslim communities is a tool to be utilized by our governments, even if it is occasionally exploited.

While there is much talk of public diplomacy to the Muslim world, there is a growing realization that positive image building -- of the United States in particular and the West in general -- cannot take place without the involvement of the Muslim communities. There must be a parallel track of grassroots diplomacy (Muslims in Western countries in dialogue with Muslims of other countries) and government diplomacy (Western governments in dialogue with Muslim governments).

It was decided during the two-day conference to follow up with concrete steps, including an exchange of best practices in the areas of youth empowerment, combating domestic violence, and developing Islamic literacy among the Muslim masses.

This event was a moment for fostering the theology of inclusion and opposing the theology of exclusion. The multifaceted approach will help in a number of ways: It will end the notion that Muslims are persecuted in the West and take a point of exploitation away from extremists. It will give a legitimate voice to the mainstream Muslim community. And it will counter extremism fomented by alienation resulting from economic deprivation, social isolation and political exclusion.

We feel that we completed a historic journey on this short trip -- one that is as yet only leaving the dock in a global search for reconciliation among faiths, among peoples and among cultures.

Michael Privot is vice president of the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations, in Brussels. Salam Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, in Washington.

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