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Peacemaking between America and the Muslim World: A New Beginning?*

The arrival of the Obama administration has created opportunities for positive and enduring change in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Although early attempts to replace confrontation and ideological inflexibility with a more circumspect approach rooted in conciliatory gestures and “enlightened” political realism are encouraging, more substantial shifts in U.S.-Islamic relations will require commitment to a strategy of active peacemaking that moves beyond the standard repertoire of concepts and practices associated with the Cold War’s dominant international relations paradigm. Such a strategy would seek to grasp the potential inherent in President Obama’s stated commitment to founding relations upon “mutual interest and mutual respect,” breaking the present impasse in U.S.-Islamic relations through principles and prescriptions derived from academic studies of peacemaking as well as from a critical re-evaluation of past U.S. policies.

Peacemaking between America and the Muslim World A New Beginning
Supportive words and deeds from Muslim leaders will be essential, as President Obama cannot sell sweeping change to distrustful constituencies without pointing to encouraging signs.
 

Several passages in this paper have been adapted from Islam and Peacemaking in the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009), a coauthored book written in collaboration with Abdul Aziz Said, whose contribution to the substance and forms of expression is gratefully acknowledged.

The advent of the Obama administration has opened a window of opportunity for improving U.S.-Islamic relations. After years of deepening antagonism between the United States and the Muslim world and decades of drift and deterioration, there is an opportunity to advance new strategic approaches to the many vexing problems that beset the relationship. Although there is much resistance to change — cultures of policymaking, conceptions of national interest, and images of the other cannot be transformed overnight — the opening that has emerged invites bold and creative thinking. Years of destructive conflict cannot simply be wished away, yet the meaning of past events is subject to change if political leaders pursue a strategy of active and persistent peacemaking.

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