- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

American Muslim TV

Portraits of American Muslims began appearing on television spots in Indonesia yesterday in an attempt to show that the United States welcomes Islam as one of America's fastest-growing religions.

Ralph Boyce, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, said, "The mini-documentaries aim to promote greater understanding of America as viewed through the eyes of individual Muslims in the United States."

Each spot runs between one and two minutes and introduces viewers to American Muslims like Farooq Muhammad, a New York paramedic, and Rawia Ismail, a teacher in Ohio.

Mr. Boyce told reporters at a news conference to promote the project that it represents a "post-September 11 effort to reach out" to Muslims in other countries. The project also includes radio spots and newspaper ads.

"We've been working on this for almost a year," he said, explaining the series is paid for by the State Department and the nonprofit Council of American Muslims for Understanding.

He said the series is an attempt to "bridge some gaps in communications" not an "admission of past errors or defeats."

Mr. Boyce said U.S. officials realized that, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, "we clearly had not been doing a good enough job of conveying our story."

The ambassador rejected assertions that a gap is growing between the United States and Muslim countries, some of which have been breeding grounds for anti-American terrorism. Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, suffered a devastating terrorist attack Oct. 12 on the island of Bali on nightclubs frequented by Western tourists.

"I don't accept that there is a conflict between the United States and the Islamic world," he said.

The exact number of American Muslims is not available, but estimates range from 1.5 million to 6 million.

"It's one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States," he said.

The Bali bombings

The bombings on Bali pose a threat to President Megawati Sukarnoputri and the political and economic reforms she promotes, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

"The Bali bombings are going to have a profound effect on Indonesia's political course," said Sidney Jones, the ICG's Indonesia project director.

"Perceptions that the president is weak will no doubt throw up other candidates, but the military could also benefit from the sense of a lack of leadership. Urgently needed reforms could be set back, as the domestic and international focus reverts to security."

A new briefing paper, titled "Impact of the Bali Bombings," also predicted that Indonesia's radical Islamic groups will not change their views, even though Muslim terrorists were responsible for the attacks on the two nightclubs on Bali on Oct. 12.

"Most are convinced, as are many Indonesians, that the U.S. government planned the bombings as a way of prodding reluctant countries to support the war on terrorism or the campaign against Iraq," the report said.

"Horror over the bombing, therefore, is unlikely to lead to a perceptible change in the extent or content of radicalism in [Indonesia]."

The arrest of Abu Bakar Bashir, suspected leader of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorists blamed for the attacks, is also "unlikely to reduce danger" because the man accused of planning the bombings, Riduan Isamuddin, remains at large, the report said.

The economic consequences to Bali's key tourism industry "could wipe one percentage point off [Indonesias] GDP in the coming years," the report predicted.

"Bali, itself, has been devastated," it added.

The ICG warned foreign aid donors to beware of the "still-extensive corruption" that could divert money intended for Bali.

Toasting a viking

Iceland's popular ambassador, Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson, is the center of attention here as he nears the end of his term.

Gail Scott, author of "Diplomatic Dance," and her husband, Fred Hubig, hosted a party for him Sunday at their Georgetown home. The ambassador is expected to be the featured guest tomorrow at the annual Tartan Ball of the St. Andrew's Society of Washington.

On Nov. 5, he will address the Association of Third World Affairs at 2 p.m. in Room 2168 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Mr. Hannibalsson is leaving Washington to serve as ambassador to Finland and the Baltic states.

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