US State Dept recruits radical Islamist Yahya Basha for 'civic outreach' in EU after Karen Hughes is snubbed by German Muslims at mosque
Alamoudi redux :Ex president terror tied American Muslim Council whose director was jailed to be US gov envoy to EU
MIM: What better way for the State Department to grovel in dhimmitude then set up a Muslims and Arabs only Islamo surpremacist initiative called "Civic Outreach" in order to defer to the senisibilities of primitive European Islamofacists who refused to receive the Under secretary of State because she was an American infidel, telling her :"German officials aren't welcome - so why would an American official be?" and that 'only Muslims were welcome'.
The State Department's 'Civic Outreach' aka dhimmitude initiative. could more aptly be called radical Islamist outreach, as one of those chosen, for the endeavor is none other then Yahya Basya the former president of the now defunct American Muslim Council whose sucessor, Abdulrahman Alamoudi is now in jail for 23 years on a variety of terrorism related charges, one of the more colorful being a plot to assassinate Saudi Prince Abdullah. The AMC has been linked to virtually every terrorist network in the world - from Hamas to Al Qaeda - Saudi Arabia to Libya and worked in tandem with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy of which Basya is also a member (see bio below). The State Department will be financing and facilitating his contacts with radical Islamists abroad in what appears to be a case of Alamoudi redux. Basya already has years of experience playing moderate Muslim with US government officials . According to counter terrorism expert Steven Emerson, his AMC organisation "hoodwinked" the FBI regarding Abdulrahman Alamoudi's connection to the organisation, after he openly came out in support of Hamas and Hizbollah at a DC rally. The AMC had told the FBI that terror supporting Alamoudi was no longer part of their group when he had never left. At the same time chairman of the board Basha was invited by head of the FBI to discuss the "FBI response to terrorist threats and hate crimes"...
Hughes told RFE/RL on June 11 that it was originally a German Muslim who issued the invitation. At a meeting with Muslims in Germany, Hughes said she was rebuffed when she asked to meet with more people in the local community. German government officials aren't even welcome, a Muslim woman told her, so why would an American official be? Hughes said she then asked if a Muslim-American would be welcome, and the woman answered with an emphatic "yes." With that, the State Department's Civic Outreach program was born. Islam: Muslim-Americans To Improve U.S. Image Abroad By Heather Maher
A recent survey again found that the world's opinion of the United States is slipping, and nowhere more so than in predominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Turkey. Next week the U.S. government launches a new people-to-people initiative designed to counter this disturbing trend.
WASHINGTON, June 16, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- After waging two wars in majority Muslim countries, and launching a war on terror that catches mostly Muslims in its net, it's not surprising that some Muslims argue that their community is under attack from the United States. Nothing could be less true, according to Yahya Basha, a Syrian-American Muslim who immigrated to the United States in 1972 and since then has lived out his own version of the American dream.
The New Messengers
Basha is one of four civilian ambassadors the U.S. State Department has recruited to carry the message to foreign Muslims that the United States welcomes all religions and rewards immigrants who embrace its democratic values with opportunities and freedom beyond their dreams. The Bush administration has decided that changing the messenger might improve the credibility of its message. Next week, Basha and three other American Muslims will begin an eight-day, three-country tour of Europe. Three more teams of Arab- and Muslim-Americans will travel in the coming months to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the South Pacific, according to Heidi Fincken, a special adviser to U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes.
Hughes told RFE/RL on June 11 that it was originally a German Muslim who issued the invitation. At a meeting with Muslims in Germany, Hughes said she was rebuffed when she asked to meet with more people in the local community. German government officials aren't even welcome, a Muslim woman told her, so why would an American official be? Hughes said she then asked if a Muslim-American would be welcome, and the woman answered with an emphatic "yes." With that, the State Department's Civic Outreach program was born.
A Land Of Opportunity
Basha, a diagnostic physician who runs a successful medical clinic in Dearborn, Michigan, says he plans to tell his coreligionists in Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark that America accepts anyone who comes seeking a better life and is willing to work hard to get it. The experience of Muslim-American immigrants like himself, he says, is proof of his adopted country's "greatness." In contrast, he believes that European Muslims are forced into what he calls a "ghetto mentality." "I think they feel the isolation, the sanction, and the distance between them and the rest of the population; whether the population doesn't want them, or sanctions isolate them, or they want to stay distant from becoming part of the total society and making contributions to the society," Basha said. "And that, I think, luckily, is not present in this country. Day after day, you find ethnic and [other] minorities trying to blend in, and I think the Arabs and Muslims in America, they are very active participants in society and become part of the fabric of this society. Definitely you see this more in the second generation." "The biggest misconception I've found is people say they hate American culture in the Middle East," Muslim-American Mehdi Alhassani said. "That's so not true. They're the biggest fans of American culture, if anything. I have cousins in Morocco, and I was shocked that they have all these American CDs and know all the words to the songs even if they don't even speak English."
Basha said the State Department has not coached him on what to say or not to say during the symposiums and meetings overseas. The goal of the trip, he said, is to simply engage in dialogue and share personal stories. He expects to be challenged on his views, he said, but there is little doubt in his mind that as a Muslim, he made the right choice when he came to the United States more than 30 years ago. "I think there is general European [discontent]; some of it is negative, some of it is jealousy," he said. "But I know in the depths of their minds, whether in Europe or the rest of the world, they feel America is the place, and American people are the people, to copy. Even when I went to Hajj in Saudi Arabia, I found Kentucky Fried Chicken at the door of the Great Mosque near the Kaba. I know there is sometimes disagreement of the policies, but I think time will tell who is going to be the winner."
Appeal To Muslim Youth
At 22, Mehdi Alhassani is the youngest member of the group. The son of Iraqi immigrants who just finished his university studies in Washington, D.C., Alhassani says he wants to talk to European Muslims about integration, which he thinks America does a better job of than Europe. He also wants to challenge Muslim youth on their views of America. "The biggest misconception I've found is people say they hate American culture in the Middle East," Alhassani said. "That's so not true. They're the biggest fans of American culture, if anything. I have cousins in Morocco, and I was shocked that they have all these American CDs and know all the words to the songs even if they don't even speak English. A lot of them have disagreements about the war in Iraq, but in general they still look up to America as a model nation, a nation that does a great job of integrating immigrants." Arsalan Iftikhar -- who works at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest U.S. group representing Muslim Americans -- says this kind of public diplomacy is badly needed right now, considering the number of global conflicts that involve Muslims and Islam. The American Muslim diaspora, he says, is the most economically and politically empowered Muslim minority in the Western world and that information needs to get out so people will stop thinking that the United States is anti-Islam. But Asra Nomani, a prominent Muslim-American journalist and writer, says the State Department's public-relations efforts are being canceled out by its foreign-policy decisions. Bridging the gap between cultures is always a good idea, she says, but the Muslim world isn't going to change its thinking simply because a group of happy American Muslims come to visit.
'A Poodle And A Pit Bull'
"The bottom line is that you've got one arm of the State Department pushing public diplomacy and the other arm talking tough," Nomani said. "So you've got the poodle and the pit bull, basically, running the State Department's initiative with the world. The Muslim world gets it, too. They get that the pit bull is basically going to win in this battle and [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleeza Rice and her foreign-policy direction is going to prevail over the public diplomacy." Muslims in India protest as U.S. President George W. Bush arrives in that country in March (epa) Nomani said she would rather see the United States focus its efforts on stamping out Wahabbism, the strict form of Islam predominant in U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, which she says is spreading a message of hate and narrow-mindedness through the Muslim world. She talks of a "war within Islam" and says American Muslims are not the best ambassadors to take up the cause. "I definitely have always felt that American Muslims, sadly, have a credibility problem with the rest of the world because they think that we've got a good scene here: we are coddled and don't have it as bad as they do in the rest of the world," Nomani said.
Integration And Citizenship
Basha, who dined with the president at the White House in November to celebrate the end of Ramadan, is a perfect example of a Muslim who has achieved enviable status in his adopted country. But he said the United States gave him and other Muslims a chance to earn such rewards. "Some of the things I heard in Germany: they say after generations, they still have their original citizenship and are not given the chance to become German citizens," Basha said. "While here you see it is automatic and fast. People want to be part of this society and the American system rewarded them for that. They proved to be worthy of it." It is a pitch-perfect endorsement of the United States, but whether it will be enough to reverse prevailing opinions is yet to be seen.
Bio of Yahya Basha
Dr. Yahya Mossa Basha ([email protected]) was born in Born in Hama, Syria and educated in Pre-School,
Dr. Basha has worked extensively on the issues of "profiling" and "secret evidence". Always promoting the civil rights of all people, he was appointed by Governor John Engler of Michigan to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission for 1999- 2003. Dr. Basha has also been appointed to the Council of Presidents for the United States Conference of Religions for Peace as well as appointed as Board Member of the World Elijah Interfaith Academy, based in Jerusalem.
Dr. Basha is the founder and current Chairman of the Muslim American Coalition and Advisor to the American Muslim Alliance. He was the former Advisor to the American Muslim Taskforce and the AMPCC. Dr. Basha was also the former Chairman of the American Muslim Council (AMC), a national non-profit organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C. His accolades also include Board Member of the Board of Governors for the Arab American Institute, President of the Islamic Medical Association- Midwest Region, and former President of the Cultural Association of Franklin, Michigan. He is a past Board Member of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit and the Dix and Dearborn Mosques.
Dr. Basha is the founder and President of Basha Diagnostics, P.C.; a multi-site Diagnostic Imaging company in Southeastern Michigan serving Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties. His achievements in the medical field have led him to be appointed to the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation for the United States Department of Education..
On Friday, Feb. 9, 2001, the American Muslim Council (AMC) and the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) sent a letter (click here to see letter in PDF format) to President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming the 43rd President of the United States and making some policy recommendations for improving relations with the Muslim World. Muslims have also noted with interest President Bush's new policy on faith-based charities.
The letter states that: "As Muslim Americans, along with those who study Islam's role in the world, we want to work with you, and with your administration, to build a more diverse, united, and compassionate America, and to bridge the gap between the U.S. and the Muslim world." The policy recommendations were developed by a panel of 25 scholars and experts who met on January 12, for the purpose of developing a strategy for improving relations between the United States and the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world.
The policy recommendations are related to democratization and economic development in the Muslim world, the Middle East peace process, economic sanctions on Iraq, relations with Iran and Libya, and the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir. The text of the letter was released to the media in a press conference on Monday, February 12, 2001 , National Press Club. Dr. Yahya Basha, President of AMC, and Prof. Ali Mazrui, Chair of the Board of CSID, and other board members were available to answer questions from the media.
There are approximately six million Muslims in the United States and 74% of them voted for President Bush in the recent elections. Islam is the second largest religion in the world and the third largest in the United States and Europe. Muslim Americans are increasingly active on the political scene and want to have their voices heard in domestic as well as foreign policy issues.
AMC's Board of Directors:
For further information about AMC, please contact Mr. Aly Abuzaakouk, Executive Director, at 202-789-2262, or visit the AMC web site at: www.amconline.org.
CSID's Board of Directors:
Click here for further information on the CSID's Board of Directors.
Pro-Hamas Figure Reappears at AMC
By TIMOTHY STARKS Staff Reporter of the Sun
WASHINGTON — Adurahman Alamoudi, the avowedly pro-Hamas, pro-Hezbollah Muslim activist, is back playing a formal role at the American Muslim Council, which had disavowed ties to its former executive director while its officials were off meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Mr. Alamoudi is the chairman of the Imam Conference of the American Muslim Council, scheduled to meet here from June 5 to 9.
At a rally in 2000, Mr. Alamoudi declared outside the White House, "We are all supporters of Hamas. Allahu Akhbar. I wish to add that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah," according to numerous broadcast and press accounts of the rally.
Hamas and Hezbollah are both on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations responsible for murdering Americans.
Mr. Mueller spoke at the AMC's annual conference last summer. At the time, the Washington Times reported that Mohammed Ali Khan, chairman of the council, said Mr. Alamoudi "is no longer part of the council and the only Hamas I know is a Middle Eastern restaurant."
Jewish groups and terrorism experts said Mr. Alamoudi's reemergence is a sign that the AMC has abandoned its former pretenses that it does not support terrorist groups.
"I don't think they have turned over a new leaf, if they have Alamoudi chairing their Imam Conference," the director of the American Jewish Committee's Middle East and International terrorism division, Yehudit Barsky, said. "I don't think they're headed in the right direction if they're giving him the honor and the prestige of functioning in that particular position."
"It's mind-boggling, isn't it?" asked the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein. "It shows that the AMC is an organization that is unrepentant in its support of those who support terrorism."
"He was never gone. The guy was always there," said the author of "American Jihad," Steven Emerson. "They hoodwinked the director of the FBI, it worked, and now they've abandoned pretending that they've changed their stripes."
Mr. Alamoudi has been serving as president of the American Muslim Foundation, a group connected to the American Muslim Council, Mr. Emerson said. A membership application for the American Muslim Council instructs applicants to make any securities donations to the American Muslim Foundation.
Asked why Mr. Alamoudi was serving as a conference chairman for the American Muslim Council, a spokesman for the council, Faiz Rehman, said, "He is?" He told a New York Sun reporter that he would return the Sun's phone call in 15 minutes, then failed to do so. He did not answer subsequent calls, either at his cell phone number or at the council.
The 2000 comment wasn't the only one by Mr. Alamoudi that raised objections. At a 1996 convention in Chicago, he said, "If we are outside this country, we can say, ‘Oh, Allah, destroy America,'" according to press accounts.
During her Senate campaign in 2000, Hillary Clinton returned a $1,000 donation from Mr. Alamoudi after his positions emerged publicly.
A person who answered the phone at the American Muslim Foundation said Mr. Alamoudi was out of the country and unavailable for comment. No one could speak on his behalf, the person who answered the phone said.
A spokesman at the FBI, Bill Carter, would not say if the FBI would again meet with the AMC or if any future meetings were planned. He would not say that in retrospect the FBI had been fooled or that Mr. Mueller had made a mistake in speaking at the council's convention last year.
"I am unaware of any change in our position," Mr. Carter said."The purpose of these meetings is to have an outreach into the Muslim community. We appeal to people to provide us with information about terrorist and criminal activity.The purpose is not to endorse anyone or say they are great people."
In February, the AMC put out a press release saying Mr. Mueller had invited the chairman of its board,Yahya Mossa Basha, to participate in a meeting of Muslim and Arab groups to discuss "the FBI response to terrorist threats and backlash hate crimes."
The AMC Web site features a letter attributed to Mr. Alamoudi and addressed to "Dear brother Imams and Religious Leaders." Originally, Mr. Alamoudi wrote, the Imam Conference was to be held bi-annually.But the "rapidly changing national scene, an anti-Muslim climate, war in Iraq and the overall conditions in the American Muslim community" necessitated a meeting this year as well, he wrote.
"The tragedies of the 9-11 have changed America forever and also created a depressing environment for the Muslims to live and follow their day-today routine," Mr. Alamoudi wrote. "There is a dramatic increase in the anti-Muslim bias not just in the media but also in smaller communities across the US.This bias and a gross misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims have given rise to more serious hate crimes against Muslims.This is the time to act and get organized."
The American Muslim Council has undergone turmoil in recent months.In March it announced it would merge with the American Muslim Alliance to form a new group, the National American Muslim Foundation.Also in March, the group's executive director, Eric Erfan Vickers, resigned, reportedly under pressure from the council's board.
RFE/RL: As underscretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy, what are the main opportunities and challenges you are facing in fulfilling your mission?
Karen Hughes: I really view my job and the way I describe it in simple terms is [that] I'm focusing on America's conversation with the world. And I say "conversation" because I think sometimes the world thinks we speak at them, rather than listening to them. So I've tried to focus a great deal on listening and engaging in dialogue.
And as I travel the countries I try to meet with people. I meet with a wide sector of people, young professionals, people in low-income neighborhoods. Many people have told me that I've gone places where an American has never gone before. I try to appear on television shows where they've never interviewed an American before, to really reach out. The core of public diplomacy is, I believe, people-to-people programs and exchanges and ways that we can actually reach out to people.So in the aftermath of September 11, the president made it our policy to foster freedom everywhere, to foster democracy, to encourage the democratic aspirations of people, because -- again -- we feel that's in our national interests as well as in their interests.
I have three strategic goals for the way I look at, the way I constantly ask my staff to look at, our public-diplomacy efforts and I'll just go through them all quickly. The first is I believe it's very important that America continue to offer the world a positive vision of hope and opportunity that's rooted in our values, our belief in freedom, our commitment to human rights, our belief in the worth and dignity and equality and value of every single person in the world. I saw a focus-group interview [with] a young man in Morocco and he said: "For me, America represents the hope of a better life." And I think it's vitally important that our country continue to offer that hope to people everywhere, whether it's people in Afghanistan, or Uzbekistan, or Iran -- that we've got to offer that hope that's rooted in our fundamental values again. The most fundamental of all is that we believe every person matters, every person counts, and every person has the right to live a life that's meaningful and to contribute.
Hughes speaks to an Afghan child during a visit to Kabul on February 26, 2004 (epa)A second strategic imperative is to work to isolate and marginalize the violent extremists and to undermine their efforts to impose their vision of ideology and tyranny on the rest of us. And so we work very hard to encourage interfaith dialogue, to talk about the fact that we think people of all faiths share certain beliefs -- in the value of human life, for example. And the violent extremists obviously don't value human life -- they've targeted innocents and committed horrible crimes against innocent civilians across the world. So I think it's very important that we, as a world community, as an international community, draw a very clear contrast between our vision -- which is for education and openness and tolerance and inclusiveness -- and the extremist vision, which is a very narrow, rigid ideology. Essentially they say, "You have to agree with us, or we want to kill you." And so it's very important that we draw that distinction in very stark terms.
And the final strategic imperative is that I believe it's very important for America to foster a climate of common interests and common values between Americans and people of different countries and cultures and faiths across the world. And that's particularly important at this time when we are engaged in a worldwide war against terror. One of our former ambassadors, when I met with him, said to me: "Karen, you know, American foreign policy can't be just seen as focusing on common threats. We have to focus on common interests and common values." And I find as I travel the world we do have a lot in common, even though we don't always recognize that. If you ask a lot of people around the world "what's most important to you," frequently they'll say their faith, their family, their sense of social justice and responsibility. If you ask Americans "what's most important to you," we'll say "our faith, our family, our communities." Often, though, if you ask the people in other parts of the world "do you think Americans value faith and family," they don't understand that about us. So I think it's very important that we talk and engage in dialogue so that we understand that we do have a lot in common.
I'm a mother. I have a son who I love dearly and a daughter, and I want the best for them. I want them to be educated; I want them to have a chance to travel around the world and meet other people; I want them to grow up and have an opportunity for a job and a productive, meaningful life. And that's what parents across the world want for our children. And so I think it's very important that we reach out in that spirit to the rest of the world.
RFE/RL: You just spoke about the importance of having a dialog between the United States and the Muslim world. Do you see a role that international broadcasters could play in that dialogue?Afghanistan stole my heart on my first visit to Afghanistan several years ago. I was so impressed by the great courage, particularly of the women there who have been through so much after years of war and years of the Taliban rule. Yet I met women who, despite threats of really their life in some cases, were having home reading classes to teach little girls to read because little girls were forbidden from going to school or learning to read. And I met women who just had so much courage, who had lost husbands at war and yet had been struggling to try to support their families.
Hughes: Absolutely. I'm here at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and I was just told that of the 28 countries where you broadcast, I think, 18 have majority Muslim populations. And so that's a very important voice for our values going into those countries. Your mission here is to provide the truth and to provide audiences in those countries with information that is accurate. One of the challenges, I think, that I face in my job, one of the things I say, is that I want people to be able to decide for themselves. And I think that's very different from the extremists that we face. The extremists want a very narrow, rigid view of the world. They basically say, "it's our way, or you're wrong."
Young people in Tehran (RFE/RL file photo)We want people to decide for themselves, and I think that's a very powerful point, particularly for young people. Young people want to learn; they want to make up their own minds; they want to explore; they want to hear a variety of news and information. And broadcasting helps provide that credible source of news and information, often in countries whose governments control the news or control information about what is happening within their own borders. So your service provides open information and an opportunity for young people to decide for themselves.
Another big part of my strategy is to try to empower our own citizens. We have in America 6-7 million Muslim-Americans, and I believe they are a very important bridge to the wider Muslim, Islamic world because many of them are from cultures around the world, came from those countries, and so know both cultures, know both their home culture and their now American home culture. And so I think they are an important bridge.
I was in Germany not too long ago, and I was meeting with a group of Muslims who live there and this woman was telling me how isolated her community is. And I said, "Well, could I come meet and maybe talk with people in your community?" And she looked at me and kind of shook her head and said: "No, not really." I was kind of taken aback and I said, "What do you mean?" And she said, "Well, we wouldn't want our own government officials to come and meet with us, so why would we want yours?" Because there is such a hostility, a sort of disconnect, the community feels very isolated there. And I said, "what if I sent a group of Muslim-American citizens over here to meet and talk with you?" And she said, "that'd be great!"
And so, beginning next week, we're going to be sending Muslim-Americans to different regions of the world to meet with Muslim communities and begin a dialogue. And so I think one of my roles is to help empower those voices and to let Muslim communities across the world hear different points of view and hear debates, and I know that's one of the things that our broadcasting encourages is: "Let's look at...." [and] "We've got to talk about...."
We have in America separation of church and state, but that doesn't mean -- I think I'm worried that sometimes freedom of religion has come to mean freedom from religion. And I don't think that's what was intended. America has people of many different faiths -- Muslims work and worship and practice their faith very freely in my country. And so do many Jewish citizens. So do many Christian citizens of all different denominations. And some Americans choose to practice no faith at all, and that's fine too. So we have a very diverse and tolerant society. And I think it's important that we allow and, through our broadcasting, that we allow discussion of these kinds of issues.
RFE/RL: There are countries in the world that you can visit, where you can talk directly to people. But there are countries, like Iran, that are much more difficult to visit. Do you have different strategies for communicating with people in more isolated societies?
Hughes: That's where broadcasting [into Iran] becomes even more important, because Radio Farda does reach an audience that we're not able to reach. President Bush has recently requested supplemental funding for additional broadcasting into Iran and also for an opportunity to try to begin some people-to-people exchange programs, where we could begin to try to have some exchanges. That's going to be difficult and we recognize that.
So our broadcasting becomes very important in terms of being able to establish a dialogue, and some of the correspondents here were sharing with me that you hear from many of your listeners within Iran, that they would call and leave messages or they would send e-mails. I think that's a very important dialogue.America has people of many different faiths -- Muslims work and worship and practice their faith very freely in my country. And so do many Jewish citizens. So do many Christian citizens of all different denominations. And some Americans choose to practice no faith at all, and that's fine too. So we have a very diverse and tolerant society.
We, of course, have many Iranians in America and they are in touch with people in Iran. For example, recently, I reached out to them and had conference calls with them to get their points of view about events in Iran and how we might better engage with the people of Iran. But clearly it's a problem.
In societies such as Cuba, for example, as well. Again we try to broadcast into Cuba, but we don't have formal relations, therefore we don't have formal exchanges. We, again, have a lot of Cuban-Americans who communicate to some extent with family back at home. So we have to adapt our strategies to each country. By and large, however, I think that in today's world, it's very different than public diplomacy was in the Cold War. In the Cold War, as you know because Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was such a vital part of it, we were broadcasting news and information into societies that were largely closed, that were hungry for that information. That's still the case in Iran today, or in places like Cuba.
Iraqis in Baghdad watching the news on television (epa file photo)However, in much of the world -- particularly across much of the Middle East, for example -- there's no longer an information deficit. In fact there is an explosion of information, and it's a completely different world that we're dealing with because a lot of it is propaganda, a lot of it is not true, a lot of it is rumor and myth and it goes around the world instantly on the Internet. I remember one of the great ironies that I saw recently of the modern communications age was when one of Saddam Hussein's ministers -- the minister of information -- was standing outside Baghdad, saying that American troops weren't there [while] you could see on your television screen that, yes in fact they were, and you could see Baghdad in the background.
And so today, in today's world, when we see on our television stations pictures from around the world in an instant what we're vying for, I think, is attention and credibility in the midst of an often-crowded communications environment and that's why it is so important, I think, that our broadcasting is committed to telling the truth and to portraying truthful, accurate information without bias, without propaganda, without slant, but providing the truth to people across the world.
RFE/RL: You earlier indicated that you have made several trips to Afghanistan and you are a good friend of the Afghans, especially the women. Are there any concerns about what seems to be a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan with advances by the Taliban and especially the anti-U.S. rioting that took place recently? And you are also welcome to make any statement for Afghan listeners.
Hughes: Well, thank you so much. Afghanistan stole my heart on my first visit to Afghanistan several years ago. I was so impressed by the great courage, particularly of the women there who have been through so much after years of war and years of the Taliban rule. Yet I met women who, despite threats of really their life in some cases, were having home reading classes to teach little girls to read because little girls were forbidden from going to school or learning to read. And I met women who just had so much courage, who had lost husbands at war and yet had been struggling to try to support their families.
Of course, everywhere I went, the people were so gracious, so warm. You'd meet people who had virtually nothing and yet they would offer you everything. They'd invite you to their home, and serve you tea and greet you with great warmth. I really admire the courage of the people of Afghanistan.
And I found when I was in Afghanistan that the people of Afghanistan were very grateful. Everywhere I went, they said two things to me. They said: "Tashakkour" -- "Thank you." And then they said "don't leave," because they very much want a chance at peace and stability.
I think what we are seeing now is some Taliban remnants try to take advantage of a situation there as NATO takes the lead of the operations for the coalition there. I think we are seeing increased presence of NATO in the southern part of Afghanistan, and so we are encountering some Taliban forces that we had not encountered before because we hadn't had that kind of presence in the southern part of the country.
I saw the American ambassador to Afghanistan interviewed about the riots. He said he thought it was more of a crowd that got out of control, and was just sort of in a very ugly, feisty bad crowd dynamics. Because he said his experience is still by and large the same as mine, and that is that the majority of the Afghan people want the presence of American forces and coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan, because they know that is the best hope to have peace and prosperity in their future.
Afghans in Jalalabad celebrating Norouz in March (RFE)I am looking forward to going back to Afghanistan. I again think the people there very much want.... They are very entrepreneurial. I remember seeing, I would see piles of rubble from the destruction of war and then every few feet the bricks had been cleaned up and someone had put up a sign and they were going into business. I think that's a very moving tribute to the spirit and the character of the Afghan people.
We are committed to Afghanistan. America is committed to Afghanistan. NATO is committed to Afghanistan. And we want Afghanistan to succeed. It's fairly exciting that we have a democratically elected government there. I had the privilege of attending President [Hamid] Karzai's inaugural and watching the Supreme Court under the new constitution administer the oath of office to the new president, the chief justice. I couldn't help but think, you know, two years ago none of this was here. There wasn't a constitution; there wasn't an elected president; there wasn't.... Now we have a parliament with a number of women in parliament. I am looking forward to visiting with some of them on my next trip to Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: There seems to be a problem between two important allies in the war against terrorism -- Pakistan and Afghanistan. Using your status in the administration in promoting communication and dialogue, can you influence this? Can you do anything about it?
Hughes: Well, I certainly hope I can. I've been to both countries. I was in Pakistan not too long ago. I led a group of business leaders to Pakistan to help raise money for recovery from the horrible [October 2005] earthquake there.
I am aware that there are tensions and, unfortunately, there are some very difficult regions along the border between the [two] countries. Americans ask me all the time, why haven't we caught [Al-Qaeda leader] Osama Bin Laden if he is there? I have flown over that country. As you know, it is extremely rugged. It's hard to imagine. I remember flying over some of those mountains and thinking there is no way anyone could live there. And then they had put me on night-vision goggles and I looked down and there were hundreds of fires where people had campfires, where people were living all throughout those mountains and they go for miles and miles, and it was incredibly rugged and incredibly hostile territory and incredibly difficult to imagine. And of course, [there are] long traditions and long grievances. So it's difficult. But I certainly hope that America, our government could in some way perhaps encourage better relations.
RFE/RL: You have spoken about the importance of faith, at least of telling the world that Americans are people of faith. How important is sensitivity to religious issues in your communications strategy, especially sensitivity to Islam? And would you talk a little bit about the role of this interfaith dialogue you have been active in? How that is involved in your strategy?
Hughes: I think it is absolutely vital, because as a communicator I understand that the way that you really communicate with people is that you have to speak in ways that are relevant to their lives. And so if you are speaking with someone whose faith is the most important thing in their life, which it is for many people across our world, you can't just ignore that factor.
Azerbaijani women worship in a Baku mosque (AFP file photo)I was one of the people who advocated that the president visit the mosque in the aftermath of [the] September 11[, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington] to send a signal that we understood that we have many Muslims in America who are very peaceful citizens, who are proud Americans, and that this was not about the faith of Islam, but this was about some people who were violent extremists, who were trying to use the cloak of religion to try to cover acts that were really acts of murder. So I was an advocate of that, and I think it's very important that we show the world that America is a very tolerant and diverse society where people are welcome to practice their faith.
It's interesting, I was in Morocco last week and I was talking with a couple of people who had been on exchanges and I asked them what their feeling was in America. And they said they felt so free -- they couldn't believe how free they felt. A woman who wore cover told me how sometimes when she travels to Europe and other places, she feels as if people stare at her and look at her as is she is a little different or a little suspect. And yet she said in America she felt totally free, and she didn't have that feeling in America. Because we are a very diverse and very welcoming country and society.
And I think it is important that we seek to foster interfaith dialog and that's one of the things that President Bush asked me when I took this job. He said, "meet with religious leaders, foster conversations among religious leaders." I've attended a number of interfaith conferences. Because again you have to recognize that faith is very important to many people's lives. So if you exclude that from your conversation, you are excluding something that is very important to many people.
The other thing is that the world's major faiths have many things in common. The world's major faiths all believe that we should try to live in peace and love for each other, that we should love God and love our neighbor. All believe and teach that life is precious and that the taking of innocent life is wrong. It's important that we talk about these things. Sure, we have differences. We have important theological differences. But we also have much in common. And I think it is very important that we foster that kind of dialogue.
RFE/RL: The United States has been accused of having allies that are undemocratic even as America promotes democracy and freedom. How do you answer critics who charge that the United States preaches one thing but practices another?
Hughes: President Bush made it very clear in his second inaugural address that he felt that America had to stand for freedom everywhere in the world and that, in the aftermath of September 11, America had reevaluated our national security, had looked at the situation around the world and had realized that when you have regions where there is a freedom deficit, then you often have the kind of conditions that can be taken advantage of. You have a kind of hopelessness, you have a sense of simmering anger that can lead people to get on airplanes and do crazy things like flying them in the buildings full of innocent people. He recognized that we had to address that.
So in the aftermath of September 11, the president made it our policy to foster freedom everywhere, to foster democracy, to encourage the democratic aspirations of people, because -- again -- we feel that's in our national interests as well as in their interests. He said we have no monopoly on freedom in America. We believe that men and women were endowed by their creator with certain rights, as our Declaration [of Independence] says, and among them are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- in other words, to freedom. And so we have an obligation to stand for that everywhere. He also said we recognize that will come in different ways in different places, and that the pace of change will be different in different places.And I think it is important that we seek to foster interfaith dialogue and that's one of the things that President Bush asked me when I took this job. He said meet with religious leaders, foster conversations among religious leaders. I've attended a number of interfaith conferences. Because again you have to recognize that faith is very important to many people's lives. So if you exclude that from your conversation, you are excluding something very important to many people.
For example, in some place like Egypt, we spoke up and commended the step of having a multiparty presidential election. I remember being in Egypt and talking with a young man -- he was not much older than my son -- and he had just voted for the first time in the presidential election and I said, "did you have a choice of candidates?" And he said "yes." And that was the first time that there had been a choice like that.
Then they had parliamentary elections that were not as open and not as free. And we expressed our concerns about that. So when there are crackdowns against people who are trying to peacefully exercise their right to speak out, we will speak up and say that we disagree with that.
Again, we recognize that the pace of change will be different in different places. There will be slow steps in some places. In other places, there will be bigger steps. But what we are seeing across the world, we hope, and what we are trying to encourage, is the advance, greater liberties, greater freedoms.
The women of Kuwait, for example, now have the right to vote and the right to run for office. So we are seeing advances.
A man in Hebron walks past a Hamas election poster during the Palestinian Authorities legislative elections in January (epa)We've seen elections in the Palestinian territories. [We] didn't agree with the positions of the government of Hamas that was elected there. Yet we absolutely agree that the Palestinian people have a right to make a choice. Once they make that choice, however, the international community can say: "Well, we don't agree with some of the actions of that government. We don't agree with a government that refuses to renounce terror and that refuses to recognize its neighbor's right to exist, and that refuses to live up to previous obligations under the peace process. But we do agree that it is good for the people to get involved, to make their voices heard.
And so slowly, but surely, we believe that freedom is on the advance. We have in the world today many more democratic nations than we had in the past. So we are making progress, and the United States will continue to stand for greater freedom, for greater human rights, and for the voices of those people in their societies to speak out and influence the direction of the governments of their societies.
RFE/RL: Central Asia is exactly a region with a "freedom deficit," as you put it. Does it pose a dilemma for the United States, as on the one hand most of the governments in Central Asia are undemocratic, and, on the other, they are strategically important in the war against terrorism? Is it a dilemma for the United States whether to support them and to cooperate with them in the war against terrorism or do you see undemocratic governments as a cause of terrorism?
Hughes: I think I would separate the two slightly in that President Bush has said we want to work across the world with people who want to crack down in the fight against terrorism. We want to work on a lot of different levels. We work with the governments, for example, to try to withhold funding to terrorist organizations. We try to share intelligence. We try to share law enforcement. And that is a global strategic issue with which we work with governments across the world.
I hope most governments in the world want to protect their citizens. President Bush believes that the most fundamental responsibility of government is to try to protect its citizens' right to not have airplanes fly into buildings where you are just going to work one day. So we work in cooperation with governments across the world to try to share information and intelligence to protect the lives of our citizens.
Parliamentary candidate Shukria Barekzai at a Kabul voting station during the country's legislative elections in September 2005 (RFE/RL)At the same time, we speak very proudly on behalf of human rights. And when we see governments repressing the human rights of their people, we speak out against that. When we see, for example, as we have recently in Russia, independent media being shut down and harassed and driven out of the country, we speak out against that. So we seek to foster in countries around the world a climate of opportunity for people to participate.
We recognize that in Central Asia that's a very great challenge. So, one of the things I work to do in my area is to foster the kind of exchanges, the kind of growth of civil society, to try to have people come to the United States and meet with civil-society organizations with the hopes that they can go back to their country and help form those kinds of civil-society organizations. We recognize that in many countries, it's very difficult to do. It's difficult for citizens to peacefully assemble and try to either express their political views or even express nonpolitical, charitable [views], to assemble together. But we work. And again, some of this is a process that takes a great deal of time.
As people here in the Czech Republic know very well, it takes time sometimes. But we are confident that as we work to exchange people and exchange ideas, as we work to support civil-society institutions, as we work to support education programs, as we work to broadcast truth and information into these societies -- that ultimately will help to empower people, so that they themselves have the information and the skills and the strength to make their societies a better place.