- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

The terrorist attacks on September 11 shattered our illusion of security at home. They also brought into sharp focus the many negative images and perceptions of our nation abroad.
Americans now know that many Muslims believe our country and the West are at war with Islam, not terrorism. With nearly 1.5 billion people living in the Islamic world today, we ignore these and other pervasive anti-American sentiments at our peril.
If the United States is to win a genuine victory in the war against terrorism, we must respond on many levels. We must ensure that our defenses are strong, our intelligence is accurate, our borders are secure and our relationships with allies are close.
We must also do all we can to dispel the disturbing trend of anti-American rhetoric and beliefs by engaging Islamic peoples in the realms of values and ideas. In a May 3 speech to the World Affairs Council in California, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz spoke of the need to strengthen voices of moderation in the Islamic world and to bridge the "dangerous gap" between the West and that world. There is, he said, "no time for delay."
As we have seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world, some individuals and factions have supported terrorist organizations, while others have condemned them and pledged to help the United States fight terrorism. By reaching out in friendship to those who oppose terrorism and support American values, we can begin to eliminate the fertile ground of anti-American sentiment that terrorist recruiters exploit.
One of the most effective ways to enable the Islamic world to understand American values and culture is through international educational exchange programs, which promote people-to-people contacts between Americans and citizens overseas.
Exchange programs help to build strong personal relationships and combat the misperceptions about the United States that threaten our security. Unfortunately, exchanges between the Islamic world and the United States are disproportionately low. Of the more than 500,000 foreign students in the United States, less than 5 percent are from the Arab Middle East.
To help achieve this goal, we have introduced legislation the Cultural Bridges Act to increase positive interaction between Americans and citizens of Islamic nations. Exchange programs offer the essential building blocks for an expanded and sustained effort to improve our ties with Islamic societies. As part of our national effort to counter the ignorance and hatred that breeds support for acts of terrorism and to undermine the recruitment efforts of terrorist organizations and extremist groups, we need to send more American leaders in all fields to Islamic countries and bring more Islamic leaders to the United States.
Our legislation would also reach out to the next generation of foreign leaders by creating a new exchange program for high school students from Islamic nations. Funded at $20 million a year for the next five years, the program would give high school students from Islamic countries an opportunity to learn about the United States by studying in our public schools for a year and participating in American family and community life.
The proposal is modeled on the State Department's highly successful Future Leaders Exchange Program, which brings high school students from the nations of the former Soviet Union to the United States each year.
There are many benefits in reaching out to students while they are young and open-minded. Today's high school students are tomorrow's leaders.
Working with them now can improve their attitudes about our country and build relationships based on trust and understanding. As Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in his August 2001 statement on International Education Week: "I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here."
Jordan's King Abdullah, a friend of the United States, a partner in the war against terrorism, and a voice of tolerance and moderation in the Muslim world, is an outstanding example. In 1977, as a young Jordanian, he enrolled in a high school in Massachusetts and later came to Washington to study at a university. He is living proof of the value of building bridges of understanding and tolerance across cultures.
We need to create as many opportunities as possible for young people throughout the Islamic world to spend time in the United States and with our citizens. September 11 has taught us we must begin to do so now.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is a Massachusetts Democrat. Sen. Richard G. Lugar is an Indiana Republican.


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