Selling the US to Muslims

Touching tales are coming in from the many Muslims in the US that they have received more empathy than enmity from strangers since Sept. 11.

Perhaps that's because non-Muslim Americans know instinctively that a religion which spiritually nourishes more than a billion people cannot be rooted in hate.

Separating Islam and its faithful from the acts of terrorism done in their name should be a key part of the United States "war" on terrorism.

Americans need to go beyond asking "Why do they (Muslims) hate us?" and only trying to wage a propaganda campaign in the Middle East by broadcasting messages about American life and values to counteract the negative impressions of a supposedly Sodom-like McWorld in the US. (See story, page 1.)

Rather, what Muslims need is respect. Winning over their hearts means first understanding what lies in their hearts.

Americans can help reinforce Islam's noble truths from the Koran - which can counteract violence - by engaging the many Muslims in their own communities or, if possible, in other countries from the Philippines to Morocco. As a monotheist religion, Islam embraces both Abraham and Jesus, providing historical and theological connections to Jews and Christians. In fact, Islam is very much a part of the American fabric. Within 10 to 15 years, Muslims in the US are expected to outnumber Jews, further reducing the old notion that America is only a Christian nation.

The US has already shown that it's willing to respect the human rights of Muslims. Three times in the past decade, it's gone to war for Muslims. The US pushed back Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1991, sent troops to safeguard Muslims in Bosnia in 1995, and bombed Serbia in 1999 to save Muslims in Kosovo. The US also has a largely Muslim nation, Turkey, as a NATO ally.

But more than that, the US can better appreciate the Islamic world's rich contribution to the progress of mankind in past centuries. And it can listen to the Muslim world's plea to be treated as an equal with the West in defining what's modern, and to overcome what it sees as decades of dominance by the West.

To dispel the kind of Muslim resentment of the West that breeds terrorists will take more than PR. Muslims have much to offer, and both the US and Muslims can avert an us-versus-them standoff by embracing each other more fully and finding common interests. Then all can work effectively to eliminate terrorism.

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