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16. September 2009

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Members of the British Muslim Delegation in Washington D.C.

To Washington and Back

SAVE UK ambassador Hadiya Masieh´s reflections on her trip to the US

In early September, a British Muslim delegation visited the US to learn about their fellow Muslims’ lives and ideas. Hadiya Masieh, ambasador of SAVE UK, travelled with the group and attended an Iftar on September 12 hosted by the British Ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, and attended by a cross-cutting section of the Washington diplomatic and the US Muslim communities. A few days later, Hadiya and other members of the delegation met with the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association, which profiles the concerns and interests of American Muslims, especially within Congress. The group also attended the Capitol Hill Jummah (Friday Prayers) and participated in a roundtable discussion with such notable academics as Dr. John L. Esposito of Georgetown University.

Please find Hadiya´s reflections on her trip below:

"My trip to Washington, D.C. was exactly what I hoped it would be and more. I met individuals who do great work defending the civil liberties of vulnerable minorities, and I experienced hospitable gestures from people in power. The UK Ambassador, for example, held a very impressive Iftar for influential and important Muslims and non -Muslims alike. I attended a roundtable discussion with academics including great minds such as Dr. John L. Esposito at Georgetown University. The personal highlight for me was attending Friday Prayers in the Capitol with the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association.

I could see American society’s great willingness to get to know their 8 million Muslim citizens, and Muslims in turn were willing to open up to anyone who wanted to learn. The "threat of terrorism" is taking on a new dimension, partly due to President Obama’s initiatives but mostly because active Muslim groups, such as CAIR, ISNA and MPAC, are eager to distinguish themselves from the violent extremists. Despite their differences, the US Muslim communities are set on unifying against the acts of terror that they do not perceive as their own, but as the work of foreign Muslims who have laid an unwanted, bad egg in their nest.

I asked about extremist groups in the US, and the group ISNA, which has the largest number of Muslim supporters in the country, said that American Muslims are resilient and that extremist groups find it almost impossible to penetrate these communities or to distribute their messages. Americans do not seem to have the same identity issues they have in the UK, where many British Muslims are afraid or reluctant to be patriotic. American Muslims are very much American; they involve themselves in politics, they respect the notion of Civil Liberties, and they do all of this alongside their faith—there are no feelings of guilt or contradiction. In Britain, however, even though the political structure is similar to that of the US and all the mechanisms are in place to enjoy living in a society that upholds the values of civil liberty, very few take advantage of it. British people, including British Muslims, are rather dormant when it comes to these issues; there is no popular culture or spirit to participate in politics and lobbying groups. There is a negative attitude toward civic participation, and many are pessimistic about the whole topic of government and getting their voices heard. Many think "what's the point?"

But I see there is a point, minorities need to be in positions of influence to ensure they are being represented and that their communities are not being left out. Those who want to have a say should make sure that they are being heard and are supported by the people they represent. Even now, there are still only a handful of women and ethnic minority representatives in government, but there should be many more.

There is a need to ensure that people are using the facilities that are already in place to help their cause. Women especially, from all backgrounds and diverse walks of life, should feel confident enough to put themselves forward for positions of influence. Only then will we have a true representative democracy which will in turn help to shape the future of Britain and all other countries that believe people should have the right to stand for what they and many others hold dear.

The example of President Obama is a good one. I witnessed how many underrepresented people were empowered when he became president. Americans have been given a great opportunity and the world has been inspired without a doubt. Britain is no exception and it would be encouraging to see a change in attitude towards civic participation in the near future."

 
 

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