Muslim Students Question Foreign Policy, With U.S. Assent

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 16, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Participants in a new U.S. government-financed exchange program for youths from the Muslim world jumped at the chance last week to question a U.S. Department of State official about foreign policy and American culture during a visit to the nation’s capital.

In a 50-minute meeting, Patricia Harrison, the department’s assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs, faced probing questions about the U.S. news media, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the role of women in the United States and in Middle Eastern societies.

The 63 visiting youths were part of a group of 160 students from the Middle East and Pakistan who spent the recently completed school year living with American families and attending U.S. high schools. They also met last week with Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., who promoted the exchange program, at a reception on Capitol Hill.

They are the first group to take part in the $10 million program set up by the State Department, called Partnerships for Learning: Youth Exchange and Study. The department’s Web site says the program directly supports the nation’s war on terrorism. Among its stated goals are cultivating a dialogue with moderates in Muslim countries and broadening Americans’ understanding of predominantly Islamic countries.

At last week’s meeting, Ms. Harrison stated the purpose of the program in her own words, after a Kuwaiti student asked what the U.S. government “gets” from the program: “What we get, we hope, is a relationship that is sustainable despite bad headlines in your country or our country,” she answered. “The hidden agenda is that maybe we can all be agents of peace.”

American Policies

The students’ questions pointed to some of the challenges to a more peaceful relationship between the United States and some Middle Eastern countries.

Student Eilina Al- Hakimi is greeted by Sen. Richard G. Lugar, right, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy greets other Muslim students.
Student Eilina Al-Hakimi is greeted by Sen. Richard G. Lugar, right, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy greets other Muslim students participating in an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. The program has brought 160 Muslim high schoolers from around the world to attend U.S. schools.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

“As part of the U.S. government that daily discusses putting sanctions on other countries, taking over countries, and turning refugees back, how do you feel about us?” Sleiman Sleiman, a 16-year-old from Lebanon, who spent the school year in Toledo, Ohio, asked.

“I don’t agree with your premise,” replied Ms. Harrison. But, she added, “I feel good about each one of you.”

She noted that some foreigners will say they like the American people but don’t like the country’s policies. The two, in fact, go hand in hand, she maintained, because the American people elect the policymakers.

In addition, Ms. Harrison told the students, “I hope that you will be able to resist that radical song of extremism that calls you to blow up your life.”

Some of the students’ questions showed they had already reflected on their experiences in the United States.

Taimur Khan, 16, from Pakistan, who spent the school year in Columbia, S.C., said he wished the U.S. government would do something to control and improve the news media. “Why doesn’t the government do something?” he said.

Ms. Harrison defended a free press as a tenet of democracy.

Israelis and Palestinians

Ms. Harrison and the teenagers had a passionate exchange about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Samy Barmout, a 16-year-old Palestinian, asked Ms. Harrison what she thought was the solution to the long-standing strife.

She noted that President Bush has gone on the record saying there should be a Palestinian state.

“Where—in Gaza?” the boy shot back.

Ms. Harrison stressed the need for dialogue to continue between the Israelis and Palestinians. Then she posed a question of her own: “If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was solved, would that end terrorism around the world?” Her answer: “I don’t think so.”

But Eilina Al-Hakimi, a Yemeni girl, 16, who spent the school year in York, Pa., gave a different answer.

In Yemen, she explained, she and other Arabs see daily media reports of Palestinians being killed, and they are aware of U.S. support for Israel. “No one has anything against Americans—except [the issue of] Palestine,” she argued. “This problem is playing a big role. If this problem is solved, the whole opinion will change.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2004 edition of Education Week as Muslim Students Question Foreign Policy, With U.S. Assent


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

International Q&A 'Tell American Students to Be Grateful': What Ukrainian Refugees Told AFT's President
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten traveled to Poland to meet with Ukrainian students and teachers.
4 min read
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten passes out books to Ukrainian refugees at a makeshift school in a hostel in Warsaw, Poland, on April 4, 2022.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten passes out books to Ukrainian refugees at a makeshift school in a hostel in Warsaw, Poland, on April 4.
Courtesy of Asher Huey
International What the Research Says How Nations Can Repair Pandemic Damage to Students' Well-Being, Trust in Government
International data suggest the pandemic has marginalized young people in many countries.
3 min read
Image of high school students working together in a school setting.
International What the Research Says Schooling in a Pandemic: How Other Countries Are Doing It
A new study highlights how instruction in 11 countries has changed following pandemic closures and outbreaks.
3 min read
Children attend a lesson in a school in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has lifted the restrictions on schools in Russia's capital, students of all grades will to return for face-to-face education after months studying remotely.
Children attend a lesson in a school in Moscow last January. Russian schools had relatively shorter periods of academic disruptions than other countries, a new study finds.
Pavel Golovkin/AP
International Opinion Why Other Countries Keep Outperforming Us in Education (and How to Catch Up)
Money from the American Rescue Plan could be our last chance to build the school system we need, writes Marc Tucker.
Marc Tucker
5 min read
A student climbs stacks of books to reach the top
Tatyana Pivovarova/iStock/Getty Images Plus