Obama says to the Muslim world that a new era has started

President Obama announced that the United States would embark on a business exchange program in areas such as telecommunication and electronic technology, health care, education and infrastructure with the Muslim World. It is a part of the larger outreach efforts by his administration to begin a new era in US relations with Muslims. He declared that such new era “has already begun.” The announcement came in the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington D.C. The idea of the Summit had been mentioned in Obama’s Cairo speech last June.

Report: “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy”

A group of 32 experts presented the report “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy” to the White House. Academicians, governmental officials, and religious leaders are among those contributed to the report.

Given the increasing importance of religions around the globe, the report argues for serious engagement of religious communities and also educating foreign service officers about religions. This is especially important, the report asserts, when it comes to relations with the Muslim World. The report cites President Obama’s speech in Cairo in last June and calls for yet broader constructive engagement.

The report argues for education of religions in the federal sector for better educated US foreign policy officials can better address foreign policy challenges. It also advises that foreign service officers are allowed to engage religious communities while serving abroad.

Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy

A group of 32 experts presented this report “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy” to the White House. Academicians, governmental officials, and religious leaders are among those contributed to the report.

Given the increasing importance of religions around the globe, the report argues for serious engagement of religious communities and also educating foreign service officers about religions. This is especially important, the report asserts, when it comes to relations with the Muslim World. The report cites President Obama’s speech in Cairo in last June and calls for yet broader constructive engagement.

The report argues for education of religions in the federal sector for better educated US foreign policy officials can better address foreign policy challenges. It also advises that foreign service officers are allowed to engage religious communities while serving abroad.

Swiss minaret ban a setback for Middle East diplomacy

Switzerland recently passed a controversial referendum to ban minarets in the country, provoking uproar, intense debate and even protest. The move is regarded by many as “deeply divisive,” says UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, as well as a major setback for American and European public diplomacy in the Arab world.

Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, commented that the United Nations “should reconsider its presence in Geneva,” according to an Associated Press article. “Even if this is Switzerland, it sends a very unfortunate signal to large parts of the rest of the world about attitudes and prejudices in Europe,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his blog. He continued to observe that the ban is a “poor act of diplomacy” from the Swiss, whose neutrality on globally divisive issues is renowned.

Analysts and commentators are also pointing to the ban as a serious complication for dialogue with Muslims around the world, even among those who are non-practicing, because the minaret is largely seen as a symbol of Arab and Muslim identity.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reflects on the Islamic world’s radical narratives

Thomas Friedman discusses implications of the radical stories circulating the world of Islam, stories that America is waging war against the religion and it is single-handedly responsible for all the problems of the Arab and Muslim world. He urges President Obama, in the wake of Fort Hood to begin asking mainstream Muslims to tell the world what Islam is when they speak out about what it is not.

US State Department reaches out to the Muslim world

A new division opened in the State Department this year: the office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. Farah Pandith’s mission is to reach out to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. She tells Steve Inskeep the office will influence how Muslims perceive the United States.

French Press Compares Obama and Sarkozy’s Positions on Islam

In the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim World in Cairo, the French press compare the two leader’s leadership style, particularly their rhetoric on Islam. President Sarkozy similarly addressed the Muslim world in Riyad in January 2008. Le Monde concludes that the French President remained far more neutral and secular in his wording than the overtly-Christian President Obama. The two leaders met in Normandy to discuss international affairs including their positions on North Korea, Iran and the Middle East. Sarkozy stressed that each country must evaluate questions like the Muslim headscarf on their own criteria.

Contemporary Muslim Consumer Cultures – an Emerging Field of Study

Consumer culture in the Muslim world, or Muslims as a specific target group who participate actively in a consumer market, are rather new realms for academic researchers. For many Muslims, consumption plays an increasing role in identity formation. Their growing cultural and religious self-awareness transforms markets, advertising strategies and consumer behavior. Muslim consumer culture is closely interrelated to globalization and is, therefore, of relevance to various areas of economic, sociological, anthropological, psychological and religious scholarship. However, so far scholarly research on this subject has been very limited. And though studies very often acknowledge or include the interdisciplinary character of Muslim consumer culture, there is still a need for a comprehensive analysis of its many aspects.

The conference aims at creating a network of international scholars and young researchers with various approaches to the subject, and it also aims at initiating exchange and cooperation between them to develop the basic grounds for this emerging field of study. It will include two invited keynote speakers, two panel discussions led by experts, and a number of workshops during which all participants will have the opportunity to present and discuss their research projects. There will be no more than 20 speakers to allow useful discussion. We especially encourage applications from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Submissions of abstracts and papers on the following broad themes are encouraged:

  • Issues of advertising products for a Muslim target group 
  
  • Gender-specific consumption behavior in a Muslim context 

  • “Western” versus “Islamic” brands 
  
  • The question whether there is such a thing as an Islamic consumer, and how it can be defined 
 Products geared toward a religious public (e.g. Islamic fashion) 
  
  • Recent developments in the consumer landscape of Muslim societies 
  
  • Religious and moral factors affecting individual patterns of consumption or legislation, e.g. questions of ritual purity.

All papers that are submitted by the start of the conference and successfully complete a peer-review process will be published in a concerence volume.

Please submit your application, including an abstract of about 150-200 words and a short c.v., by May 15, 2008, preferrably by e-mail. Registration fee is 50 €; lodging, breakfast and lunch meals will be provided. We offer a reimbursement of travel costs for participants from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Turkey, the Americas and the countries of the former Soviet Union if their institution is not able to cover them.

Contact: Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Islamwissenschaft, Dr. Johanna Pink, Altensteinstr. 40, 14195 Berlin, Germany, phone: +49 (0) 30-838-51437, fax: +49 (0) 30-838-52830, e-mail: jpink@zedat.fu-berlin.de.

Meeting of a New Body of European Imams in Belgium

The European Assembly of Imams and Spiritual Guides had their inaugural two-day conference in Brussels, Belgium on February 25-26, 2008. More than 150 Imams from 28 countries attended the event which was organized by the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE). The European Assembly of Imams and Spiritual Guides stressed the importance of creating an Islamic European identity and also discussed issues of Islamophobia and other contemporary politics in the Muslim World.