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US ads miss mark, Muslims say

America's image in the Muslim world slides, despite US campaign

(Page 2 of 2)

"Sometimes we feel that America is a bully. Like with Iraq. They don't show any evidence. They just want to go to war.... If the US wants a better image, why doesn't it change its policies?"

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From the beginning of the war on terror, the US government has been at pains to make it clear that it isn't against Islam.

Last month, US President George W. Bush hosted a dinner to mark Idul Fitri, the most important holiday on the Islamic calendar, and has reached out to Muslim leaders with speeches referring to Islam as "a faith based on peace, love, and compassion."

"After Sept. 11, many people argued that the war on terrorism was a war on Islam,'' US Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce said in his speech marking the release of the booklet. "I want to assure you again that this is completely untrue.''

When the US announced in October that it would be airing a series of five minidocumentaries on Muslims in America, some here worried the effort could backfire by coming across as propaganda.

Divianti Febriani Fariz, an Indonesian communications student at the University of Missouri, was filmed blending in with other students in lecture halls, attending prayers, and smiling on a bright campus.

"The American students that I have met have respected my beliefs. It's nice to know that people are willing to open up their hearts and understand what they don't know,'' she says.

But though the videos skirt some of the problems American Muslims may face, they seem to have been fairly well-received.

Siti Fitria, wearing a combination of Muslim head scarf and blue jeans that seems to be the uniform for women on campus, says she saw the spot on Ms. Fariz on television. "I was glad that Islam was able to have a place at her university,'' she says.

At the rollout of the booklet, which was attended by about 150 people, it was also clear that the State Department had taken to heart concerns that its early presentations on US Muslims were too sanitized.

Imam Yahya M. Hendi, the first Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University in Washington, defended America in a live video link, but also spoke proudly of a protest march against US Israel policy in April and addressed the problems of US foreign policy to many Muslims.

"Some American policies contribute to the impression that America is anti-Islam,'' he said. "I don't think that - but we have to reexamine what we are and who we stand up for."

On the US government website devoted to its campaign - - the US is allowing very critical comments to be posted. "We are not stupid or blind or deaf,'' reads one angry post from "Aida" in Indonesia. "We read your intention not by what you say, but what you do."

In the end, it's that sort of openness that may do the US the most good - and it's the type of public criticism sorely lacking in many Muslim societies.

As Mr. Hendi, a naturalized American who was born in Nablus, the West Bank, says, "I can criticize Presidents Bush or Clinton... and I don't have to worry about losing my job at the end of the day. That really means a lot to me."