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How to Build Understanding between Civilizations


KOPPEL: Is there anything that can be done, because what I've heard from you is that we need to do something quickly.

DR. AHMED: Now. Yes. Yes.

KOPPEL: We don't have a lot of time.

DR. AHMED: Yes. You don't. Yes.

KOPPEL: So, what can we do in the short term?

DR. AHMED: In the short term, Andrea, I would say that you do what we did, which is form legitimate groups. We don't want to put people in danger. Do not underestimate the dangers. It is a very volatile situation. But having got over that, form teams; support them; send them out. There is no one better as a spokesperson ... man ... woman .... spokesman ... spokeswoman ... for the United States than your young generation. I teach them on campus. And I see Laura and Hadad in the audience. I teach them ... these wonderful students on campus. And these are the students that will form the future leaders of this country. Involve them. We musn't be so arrogant as to assume we have all the answers. Maybe they can help. They go there with the freshness of youth ... with idealism ... Use that to channel this energy into this exchange of ideas, dialogue, visits. On both sides. Get people from the Muslim world to visit us here. We, I know, are taking many initiatives on campus at American University. And that's the kind of thing that has to be simply repeated and repeated. Get the media involved. Let the media hear this ... see this ... and very soon public opinion begins to shift. You are dealing, Andrea, not with a mass of irrational psychopaths, as sometimes, unfortunately, the media depicts the Muslim world. You are dealing with alive, rational, sensible people. Some of them at times may do silly things ... That happens in every civilization. But the mass are people who would like to live normal, decent lives. But they need to be connected. They need this bridging action. They need bridges to be built.

Excerpt from a program with Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University from an interview on June 22, 2006.