MPAC Youth Summit

Last week I had an opportunity to participate in the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) National Muslim American Young Leaders Summit. Along with 24 other Muslim American delegates, I finished up a three-day program of faith-based civic engagement in Washington DC. We talked with some of America’s most prominent policymakers inside the Beltway, including civil society activists, federal bureaucrats, and members of Congress. It was a great opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of being an American Muslim and what kind of positive impact that can have on my society.

 

The first day was an evening orientation and dinner with the other interns at the Beacon Hotel. The time we spent was used to get to know one another and have a briefing by the MPAC staff on the next two days of activities.

 

The next day was the first day of actual visiting and talking to policymakers. We started at the Gallup Organization DC headquarters. At Gallup, we heard presentations by Stephen Grand, Director of the Brookings Institute’s US-Islamic World Forum, and Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Grand’s presentation talked about the impact the forum has had at both the ministerial and grassroots civil society levels. Meanwhile, Mogahed provided us with crucial, myth-busting statistics from Gallup about Muslims’ opinions on East-West relations, including foreign policy, economic well-being, democracy and terrorism.

 

We then shuffled over to the Department of Justice (DoJ) to speak to government officials on Muslim Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties. The first speakers were Eric Treene, special counsel to the DoJ on religious discrimination, and Grace Becker, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ. Mr. Treene discussed the work the DoJ has done to fight religious discrimination against Muslims, including hate crimes and violations prohibiting or inhibiting legal religious use of land. Ms. Becker responded to questions from the participants, including myself, about concerns over alleged sanction of racial profiling in future DoJ guidelines to open terrorism cases. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury were also present, discussing efforts to partner with Muslim community leaders for better financial and charity practices, as well as more Muslim participation in government work.

 

The last visit took place at the Interfaith Alliance where we met with Rev. Welton Gaddy and Rabbi Steven Jacobs. The discussion focused on how one’s faith can be used as a motivating tool to fight for social justice. There were also discussions about the importance of bridge-building with members of other faiths to prevent and counter religious discrimination.

 

That day ended with dinner and a discussion about people’s reflections on the organizations visited.

 

The next morning I met up with the other delegates at Congressman Frank Wolf’s (R-VA) office where we had a 30-minute discussion on issues relating to global warming, international religious freedom, US-China relations, national security and civil liberties. At one point the discussion became so heated that Rep. Wolf charged we were part of the “blame America first crowd” despite what we felt was an emphasis on good international leadership. Similar questions were posed in a following session to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), but with less confrontation.

 

After our meeting with the Congressmen, our group hustled over to the State Department where we met with Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Assistant Secretary Boucher described his work at South and Central Asia desk. Afterwards, he accepted questions from delegates regarding narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan’s new government, economic and political development in Afghanistan and counterinsurgency strategy against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

 

Our last visit was to the Senate office of Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Initially we talked with her top staffers on intelligence, judiciary and foreign affairs issues, but the Senator came in later to our meeting. After some initial introductions we finally asked about her path to becoming a Senator as well as questions of policy concerning immigration, Guantanamo, her “Yea” vote on the recent FISA bill and Middle East politics. Before leaving the Hart Senate building, I had an opportunity to also meet with Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-NJ) staffer on Homeland Security and Civil Liberties issues. It was there that I had an opportunity to express my gratitude to his office for voting favor civil liberties and real security reforms, in addition to presenting her with a copy of MFI’s paper on combating homegrown terrorism (PDF).

 

The night ended with a commemorating banquet where Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, spoke about the need to have Muslims increase their political activism and engagement in the United States.

 

The next day was our last time together as a group where the staff talked to us about giving back to our communities through presentations and op-ed training. We also heard reflective speeches from Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati and Gallup Senior Analyst Ahmed Younis.

 

Looking back on the program, I had a great time. The opportunities to question, challenge and praise the different speakers were taken full advantage of. I came out of the program with both strong convictions and a reaffirmation of my self-identity. It strengthened my resolve to continue my interests in counterterrorism strategies (and how they can reconciled with a conscious respect for civil liberties). It also inspired me to reach out to my communities in New Jersey and get other Muslim youth productively involved in political activism.

Alejandro Beutel

Program Assistant

Minaret of Freedom Institute

www.minaret.org

Alejandro

Alejandro Beutel is program assistant for the Minaret of Freedom Institute with expertise in religious freedom, democratization and security issues.

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