- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

'What they hear'

Charlotte Beers, the former advertising executive in charge of U.S. public diplomacy, knows she has a tough sell, trying to make hostile Islamic audiences understand American foreign policy.

She is opening her front on the war against terrorism in the world of ideas, as she applies the principles of "soft diplomacy" with Islamic professors, exchange students and visiting journalists. She also is promoting U.S. government Web sites to explain Muslim life in America.

Mrs. Beers, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, relayed several encounters with her targeted audiences in a recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

On a visit to an Arab capital, she met a female professor who expressed her anger and frustration about U.S. Middle East policy and even expressed doubts that Osama bin Laden had masterminded the terrorists attacks of September 11.

As they talked, the professor eventually conceded she believes bin Laden was the ringleader but confessed that she could not tell that to her students. They would not believe that a Muslim could do such a thing.

"They refused to hear," Mrs. Beers said. "It's a painful reality that we have come to grips with every day. It's not what you say. It's what they hear what they can hear, what they can take in, what's allowable."

Mrs. Beers also told the professor that Muslims in America are free to practice their religion. The exact number of Muslims in America is unknown, and estimates range from 1.5 million to 6 million.

"It's a story of a faithful group of people dealing with modern life and, I think, thriving," she said.

"A door began to open between us," Mrs. Beers added. "She actually wanted to hear more."

Mrs. Beers also cited the example of a group of "cynical, edgy journalists from Indonesia" who visited the United States several weeks after the September attacks.

"We gave them equipment. We asked them what interviews they wanted, and we sent them to American towns," she said.

When they returned, the reporters filed stories with headlines such as, "Americans do not hate Muslims." Their stories included interviews with an Islamic clergyman from Iraq who said he is freer to worship in the United States than in his native land.

Mrs. Beers added that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict further complicates the situation.

"We know that people in the Middle East and even in the Muslim-majority countries can't easily hear beyond the tumult of the many tragic and confusing stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," she said.

"Well, does that mean we stop and wait till its gets better, as has been suggested to me several times? Nothing could be more dangerous.

"In years of engaging audiences on behalf of companies and their projects, I saw time and time again how dangerous and totally ineffective silence is as a tactic when troubled waters surround."

Mrs. Beers said she is impressed by the many U.S. exchange programs that draw about 20,000 visitors a year through Fulbright scholarships and other projects. Half of the national leaders in the coalition against terrorism are former exchange students, she said.

"I've never seen a buy this good in my entire life," Mrs. Beers said. "For such a small investment and such a magnitude of people to help, so much is accomplished."

Security in Kazakh oil

Kazakhstan, despite its differences with Washington, offers two benefits to the United States oil and a reliable ally in Central Asia in the war against terrorism according to the country's foreign minister.

Kassymzhomart Tokaev, in a recent newspaper article, wrote, "Kazakhstan's oil is expected to play a significant role in U.S. energy security in the future. The close interweaving of oil and politics in the modern world defines the priority of oil issues in the American foreign policy."

Mr. Tokaev, writing in the daily Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, added, "The cooperation with the U.S. is absolutely essential for our nation. Without stable and good relations with this power, Kazakhstan just as any other country can not count on strengthening of its international positions.

"But it is also true that the U.S. needs Kazakhstan as a reliable partner in Central Asia, where the situation tends to change rapidly. Such strategic partnership is based on mutual interests."

•Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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