Tina K. Russell

June 9, 2008

I recommend we swing both ways

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:33 pm

Here’s an article about the State Department’s Foreign Visitor Leadership Program, which has a new focus of letting young French Muslims from the crisis-ridden suburbs of Paris visit the United States and get an idea of how awesome we all are.

Giving Young French Muslims a Close Look at the U.S. – NYTimes.com
For the three men who participated in the program in recent months, the exposure to America softened views of a superpower generally distrusted and disliked in their communities.

“Many young people think that America is waging a war on Muslims,” said Mr. Zahi, 32, chief of staff for the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 rioting started after the deaths of two teenagers of African origin who were being chased by the police.

“I tell them America is many things,” said Mr. Zahi, who is also on his local town council. “It is a country that has a black presidential candidate and a self-confident Muslim community. I tell them the American people are hospitable and generous.”

This sounds like a good idea… I always support active efforts to improve America’s image abroad, which could help defuse tensions before they begin. I just hope we start doing something the other way, as well, help Americans learn about the Muslim world and become more comfortable with it. I’d guess that most Americans are okay with Islam, they’re just a little scared of it ’cause they don’t know much about it, and so their image of it is mostly defined by terrorists and ignorant TV pundits. So, meaning well, they try to balance what they see on TV with a general sense of “well, they can’t be all that bad,” in an attempt to be respectful. We should fill that void with actual knowledge of the depth and diversity of Islamic thought.

I say this because I worry all our good efforts to promote our image in the Muslim world will be undone as soon as a young French Muslim visits the States and the first thing his host family asks is, “so, do you wear a turban?”

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