Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kerry Holds Hearing on Engaging Muslims around World

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Kerry Holds Hearing on Engaging Muslims around World

Article excerpt

FORMER SECRETARY of State Madeleine Albright and Admiral William J. Fallon, USN (ret.), former commander of U.S. Central Command, offered their insights on "Engaging with Muslim Communities around the World" before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 26.

Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) was fired up after returning from a trip to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. "At every turn, I heard a newfound willingness by people and governments alike to take a fresh look at America," Kerry said. "This moment won't last long, and we need to seize it."

Americans must send a message to Muslims, he said: "We share your aspirations for freedom, dignity, justice and security. We're ready to listen, to learn, and to honor the president's commitment to approach the Muslim world with a spirit of mutual respect."

Kerry pointed out that Islamophobia has seeped into political discourse since 9/11. In fact at that very moment Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) was hosting a screening of "Fitna," a film that defames Islam. The movie's director, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, has compared the Qur'an to Hitler's Mein Kampf and has suggested that the Dutch government ban the Qur'an. "So I'm glad you're here, rather than there," Kerry told the standing-room-only crowd, which included a smattering of members of Congress.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee's ranking Republican, called for the president to appoint and support an undersecretary of state for public diplomacy to help explain the views of the United States. He also cited Senate Resolution 49, which calls for a reassessment of whether the U.S. can safely re-establish "American Centers" to once again offer libraries, outreach programs, unfiltered Internet access, film series, lectures and English classes in foreign cities.

Albright made some important points, and began by noting that Muslim communities "are diverse and cannot be portrayed accurately with a broad brush." Instead of having meaningful dialogues with the Muslim world, she continued, "we tend to have opposing monologues." And while the West's interest in the Muslim world may have spiked after 9/11, "a dialogue driven by such a traumatic event is sure to evoke accusations on one side and defensiveness on the other," she said. The West has many more reasons than al-Qaeda and terrorism to improve relations with the Muslim world, Albright argued, and decried the media's use of the term "Islamic terrorism."

Albright recommended that American policy should be "to talk to anyone if, by so doing, we can advance our interests," and also suggested the U. …

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