Saturday, March 21, 2015

On my experience with Muslims

I have never lived in a country with a majority Muslim population, but in my career in International Development I have worked in Indonesia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco -- in some of those countries I have months of experience. In the United States, I have worked closely with individual Muslims from Bangladesh, India, Iran, and Palestine for years at a time, and come to know several quite well. I was involved in the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program of USAID for many years, managing it for about a decade, which involved reading proposals and project reports and sometimes meeting researchers under the program who were Muslims and spending time with them in seminars. So too I had responsibility for the U.S. Israel Cooperative Research Program, and had the pleasure of spending a week in a meeting sponsored under that program involving Israeli researchers and colleagues from the "stans" of the former USSR, notably Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Few Americans have had similar exposure to Muslims, so let me share. The people I met and worked with were of course motivated by concern for their families, personal ambition, and I think the desire to do a good job, whatever that job was. The folks I met and had professional dealings with were all willing to involve themselves in efforts to promote peace and international understanding, even when there was some danger in doing so. As far as I could see, these were folk who combined secular beliefs and concerns with religious ones; that is not strange to any American since most Americans also think in secular terms about some issues and religious terms about others.

When I read that the vast majority of the more than a billion Muslims on earth seek peace, and that only a tiny minority are violent extremists, that seems quite intuitive to me. I could say the same about Christians, and indeed violent extremists seem to be found in other religions as well.

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