History

Search for Common Ground and the Consensus Building Institute , two non-profit organizations with expertise in building consensus on complex public issues conceived, convened, and staffed the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project. Starting in 2009, CBI partners with Convergence and the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, two non-profit organizations dedicated to forging enduring solutions to important domestic and international issues, to implement the project’s objectives.

The project’s goals are to:

  • create a coherent, broad-based and bipartisan strategy and set of recommendations to improve relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world; and
  • communicate and advocate this strategy in ways that shift U.S. public opinion and contribute to changes in U.S. policies, and public and private action.

In 2006, project staff interviewed scores of individuals who are knowledgeable about the key issues in U.S.-Muslim relations and whose views reflected a wide diversity of experience and political viewpoint. Nearly uniformly, those consulted supported the project’s goals and proposed approach: to convene diverse leaders; facilitate frank, mutually respectful discussions among them to clarify both challenges and options for improving relations; ensure that the dialogue reflected not only elite perspectives, but also the views and values of citizens in the U.S. and in Muslim countries and communities; and ultimately produce a wise and broadly supportable strategy for improving U.S.-Muslim relations. The interviews also confirmed that no other organization was undertaking this mission, and that if successful, it could be of great value to the U.S., Muslim countries and communities, and the international community as a whole.

During this extensive outreach process, the staff team formed relationships with groups and individuals who were essential to the successful implementation of the project. The interviewing process was instrumental in the selection and formation of the eminent Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement , whose members come from diverse political viewpoints, cultural backgrounds and professional disciplines. The Leadership Group has deliberated for nearly two years to produce its report "Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World." The group as a whole met face to face four times, in January 2007, July 2007, January 2008, and June 2008. The initial Summit, hosted by Rockefeller Brothers Fund at their Pocantico Conference Center, established a clear sense of shared mission and central themes to be included in the report. It also served to build relationships and trust among the highly diverse Leadership Group. From that point forward, the Leadership Group, through a carefully facilitated dialogue process, worked with the project staff and representative groups of the American public to explore a wide range of issues. The Leadership Group also conducted outreach to key constituencies, and commissioned research on public opinion to test the viability of options for improving relations.

Through this process of research, analysis and deliberation, the Leadership Group has formed a clear and strong consensus on a strategy to enhance U.S. and international security by working more intensively and directly on the underlying causes of tension with key Muslim countries and communities. The strategy is described in "Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World."

A key assumption of this project has been that building consensus on recommendations among a group of highly respected and diverse American leaders, informed by public opinion and input, could actually lead to changes in public and private action and to a more peaceful world – but only if the leaders and the project team developed a strong and effective education and outreach strategy to engage decision makers, opinion makers, and the public.

The release of "Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World" is the first step in an outreach process designed to stimulate discussion and action on the report by government and the private sector. Concurrently, the report aims to foster citizen dialogue about its findings and to encourage grass-roots involvement in improving U.S.-Muslim relations. The U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project, through its Leadership Group, its supporters, and its staff, is committed to catalyzing action at all levels of society consistent with the report’s recommendation.