U.S. Embassy in Berlin Reaches Out to Muslims
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
There's an American effort to reach out to the Muslim community in Germany right now that is receiving praise, and even highlighting Germany's own struggle with integrating Muslims.
From Berlin, NPR's Emily Harris reports.
EMILY HARRIS: Sixteen-year-old Yesin Amari(ph) visited the U.S. this fall, courtesy of a program set up by the U.S. ambassador to Germany and his wife. Amari says the home stay in Iowa was a lot of fun. The lights and crowds on Times Square in New York were impressive. The trip included a visit to the State Department to talk about U.S. policy, and meeting a woman who was late to work at the World Trade Center on September 11th five years ago, who watched the towers fall. That changed Amari's prospective about the 9/11 attacks.
YESIN AMARI: Five years ago I was 11 years old and I heard on the television and the news that there's happened something, but it wasn't so interesting for me. But when you stand before the Ground Zero there and you think that here was the highest building in the world and it crashed down.
HARRIS: Amari was born in Germany to Jordanian parents. He is exactly the kind of person these free trips for students are targeting: young, Muslim and unlikely to get to the U.S. on his own. Amari won't share what he thought about American before going on the 10-day visit. He doesn't want to be rude, but the ambassador's wife, Sue Timken, says blunt exchanges have been part of the outreach effort. She's also brought young people and entrepreneurs in Germany's Muslim community together and has worked with an after school program serving mostly Muslim girls in Berlin.
SUE TIMKEN: And when I first went there, the mother said why are you here? They asked me two questions, why I was there and how I felt after 9/11. And the Muslim's are very, very perceptive people, and you really can't lie to them, so I really had to tell them how I felt after 9/11.
HARRIS: Which was, she says, shocked - not really angry, but afraid enough that for the first six months after the attacks she says she would have gotten off a plane if six young Muslim men had gotten on. At least one mother at the center welcomed her honesty. Ambassador William Timken says a major reason they visit mosques and have invited Muslims to their residence for dinner after the Ramadan fasting is just to talk.
WILLIAM TIMKEN: We went to the mosques here in Berlin, had great discussion on, you know, what is the Islamic view of peace, and I had some revelations that they're really actually - the Islamic religion here in Germany sees the same way we do about human values, human rights, human dignity.
HARRIS: Not all Germans would agree. Ambassador Timken isn't aware of some controversies here, such as whether a mosque should be allowed in East Berlin. News reports this fall said 1,500 people protested the planned construction.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTORS)
HARRIS: But Burhan Kesici of Berlin's Islamic Federation says what's most important about the ambassador's outreach is his style.
BURHAN KESICI: (Through translator) With German politicians, talks wouldn't be that open, and I think the Germans can learn something. If you can say to a German politician it's possible to talk with the American ambassador, normally and openly and privately, but that you don't get such access to a German politician, this might change things.
HARRIS: Kesici's attendance at a dinner with the ambassador raised a few eyebrows among German politicians, according to another person there, because his organization's religious views are seen by some as potentially anti-Democratic. Several Muslims who've taken part in the outreach efforts say the best thing has been learning that not all Americans support White House policy in Iraq and the Middle East. That may be an unintended effect, but it's building bridges here.
Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.