September 15, 2004

Meeting on U.S.-Islamic Relations Seeks 'Mutual Understanding'

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As part of a series of 30 meetings being held across the U.S. this month, Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) hosted a town hall meeting last night entitled “Hope not Hate,” with the stated goal of “facilitating dialogue on how the U.S. and the Islamic world can … stem growing mutual hatred.”

According to Seth Green, a Yale Law student and coordinator and co-founder of AID, these meetings “are really aimed at mutual understanding.”

Green also expressed concern that both the U.S. and Islamic worlds have suffered from misrepresentative “caricatures” and that, during these meetings, “we can really begin to build a forum where moderates can [have] a voice.”

Josh Dormont ’05, president of the Cornell chapter of AID, kicked off the meeting with a statement canvassing some of AID’s mission as a student organization. He then introduced the three guest panelists: former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Kenton Keith; Prof. Louis Kriesberg, sociology and Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies, Syracuse University; and Prof. Michael Niman, journalism and media studies, Buffalo State College.

Keith, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served as part of a U.S. coalition dispatched to Afghanistan in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks, kicked off the discussion. He opened by discussing how the U.S. needs to do “a better job of establishing trust with allies,” before bridging the understanding gap with our perceived enemies.

Wrapping up his initial comments by stressing how Americans need to “inform ourselves better about what’s going on in world,” Keith handed the floor to Niman, who continued the theme of media information and consumption.

Harping on television news coverage particularly, Niman explained how “the [U.S.] media are keeping us the least well informed developed nation.”

Once Kiesberg concluded the panel’s opening remarks by reiterating the importance of multilateralism in the U.S. approach to the Islamic world, the audience was encouraged to jump in to the discussion. Talk soon returned to the role of information — or the lack of it — in the understanding gap between the U.S. and Middle East.

According to Green, analyzing the role the media plays in understanding between U.S. and Islam is a key part of what AID tries to do. “I think our media right now is set up to be very oppositional,” he explained.

“You cannot get a clear, accurate picture of what’s going on in the world simply by watching American television,” echoed Keith.

Niman continued to reiterate the failure of the media to inform the public, but also suggested the American populace has a powerful ability to affect change –be it in the media or elsewhere. “We need to be out in the street by the millions,” Niman said. “We have a great power to effect world change. When the rest of the world sees us [active], it inspires them.”

Joseph Angeles ’06 came to the town-hall meeting to get “a better picture of what’s going on[in the world],” explaining that the point the panelists made about ignorance really resonated with him. “I was very impressed by the panel, they really knew what they were talking about,” he added.

It is these learning experiences that Green set out to create when he co-founded AID. At Oxford University in London in the year following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he was “really overwhelmed by the sympathy of the rest of the world.” Over his time abroad, however, he “watched sadly as [that sympathy] evaporated over the next few years.” Compelled to bring about greater understanding between the U.S. and its counterparts abroad, Green founded the group and began organizing meetings like the one at Cornell last night.

Some student reaction to the meeting was positive. “I think they should have things like this more often,” said Angeles.

“I only wish they had done a better job of publicity,” Angeles added, “[because] this is the kind of stuff that will change our world.”

Archived article by Billy McAleer
Sun Staff Writer