- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

President Bush yesterday said Americans must "find common ground" with Muslims who distrust the United States and assured the Islamic world "that we don't hold you accountable for what took place" on Sept. 11.
Speaking to students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Washington, Mr. Bush intensified his campaign to discredit a central argument of Islamic radicals that the United States has declared war against Islam. To that end, he announced a new program to encourage American schoolchildren to reach out to their Muslim counterparts around the world through letters, e-mail messages, exchanges and a new Web site.
"We want to be friends," the president said. "We can find common ground with others who wonder about America.
"We can prove them wrong by acting in a way that's good," he added. "The best way to handle the attacks of September 11 is to fight fear with friendship, is to fight fear with hope."
It was the second time in two weeks that Mr. Bush asked American children to get involved in the war against terrorism. During his prime-time news conference on Oct. 11, the president urged U.S. children to each give $1 to children in Afghanistan.
Mr. Bush instructed children to mail their dollars to the White House, which would forward the money to the Red Cross. Ironically, those letters have been pouring into an off-site mail-handling facility where anthrax was discovered earlier this week.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer yesterday said the mail for Afghan children "is being held at that facility, and it is not being disseminated" to the White House itself.
The president made no mention of the anthrax scare when he announced his new initiative, known as Friendship Through Education. The program encourages contact and exchanges between American students and teachers with their counterparts in Islamic nations, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Turkey and Bahrain.
"We don't have a beef with Muslims," Mr. Bush told the students yesterday. "We want to be friends with Muslims and Muslim children. We fight the evil people.
"It's important for the boys and girls of Thurgood Marshall to know that we're fighting evil with good. And one way to fight evil with good is, you can help by writing letters to boys and girls your age," he said.
"You can let boys and girls know what you think are important," he added. "You can let boys and girls know what your dreams are and ask them about theirs, too."
The initiative is modeled in part on the existing People to People Program, which was begun on Sept. 11, 1956, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Having toured the liberated death camps after World War II, Gen. Eisenhower concluded future atrocities might be avoided if people could better understand each other through face-to-face contact.
"Children all across America can do it, as well, can do it through letters and e-mails and pictures and drawings and reaching out to boys and girls," Mr. Bush said. "It's very important for us to reinforce our message in all ways possible to the people in the Islamic world, that we don't hold you accountable for what took place."
He added: "The average citizen in America harbors no ill will toward you. As a matter of fact, the average citizen in America would like to do everything we can to explain what our country's about, to explain what our future is about. And this is a great way to do this."
The White House announced that schools from U.S. communities most directly affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, such as Washington and New York, will be the first to participate in the program, which eventually will include at least one school in each state.

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