Muslim Youth Visit U.S., Serve as "Ambassadors" to Home Countries

June 15, 2004

Source: The Boston Globe

On June 15, 2004 The Boston Globe reported, "There is no easy way to reverse the growing distrust between the United States and the Islamic world, but for 16-year-old Palestinian Sami Qarmout and other young Muslims who spent the past year in America, it's time to get started. 'We broke some of the myths,' said Qarmout, who is returning to his family in the Gaza Strip after participating in the first US government program to bring young Muslims to the United States. 'Americans are not all rich,' said Qarmout, who lived with a family in Albuquerque. 'I learned that 13 million live in poverty.' He taught his American friends, who used to introduce him as a resident of Gaza, some things about his country, too. 'Now I am from Palestine,' he said. To sponsors of the Cultural Bridges program -- established by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- it is young people like Qarmout who are America's best hope for winning what many say is a generational battle against Islamic extremism. 'Our job is to go back and tell our people about the United States,' said Hazem Torfah, 17, who is returning to his native Syria after a year in Ephrata, Wash. 'We have different education systems. Here you get to choose what you want to study. It's hard to do that in Syria. But a mix of both systems would be great.' 'After a year here, each of you are now unofficial American ambassadors to your home countries," Kennedy said during a farewell reception on Capitol Hill attended by about half of the 160 students who participated in the inaugural year of the program. 'I'm sure you don't agree with everything the United States says and does, but I hope that you'll be able to explain our country and our values to your friends and family. Each time you do, you'll be sending forth a new ripple of hope.'"