President Bush says he wants to expand contacts between American school children and students in Muslim countries. Mr. Bush says it is an effort for children around the world to learn more about different cultures and different religions following the terrorist attacks in the United States.
President Bush says the program called "Friendship Through Education" is designed to spread the message that people around the world care for each other and want to understand each other better.
"I think the best way to attack, to handle the attacks of September 11 is to fight fear with friendship, is to fight fear with hope, is to remind people all around the world we have much more in common than people might think, that we share basic values - the importance of family and the importance of faith and the importance of friendship," he says.
The program starts with schools most directly affected by the terrorist attacks. Schools in Washington, Arlington, Virginia, and New York City will be linked with schools in Bahrain, Pakistan, and Egypt. The students will exchange e-mails and essays about the rules and ideals that define their societies.
The program is operated by a consortium of existing non-governmental organizations already connecting children from different nations in an effort to broaden understanding. The new plan will help provide secure internet links, assist with translation, and help fund classroom projects.
Ultimately, it hopes to link a school in every U.S. state with schools in Islamic countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Turkey, and Bahrain as well as in Afghan refugee camps.
President Bush says the terrorist attacks have raised questions for all Americans, including American schoolchildren questions that he says are not always easy for adults to answer.
"These attacks didn't come from a nation or a religion. These attacks are from some people who just are so evil, it's hard for me to describe why," he said. "It's hard for us to comprehend why somebody would think the way they think and devalue life the way they devalue and to harm innocent people the way they harmed innocent people. It's just hard for all of us adults to explain," he said.
The president says military strikes in Afghanistan are meant to protect America's future so the leaders of tommorow will not live in fear of terrorism.
"I want the boys and girls to know that the action that we are taking in our government is all aimed to make sure that you can grow up in a free country," he said. "The military action, the diplomatic action, the intelligence gathering, what you read and hear in the TV and newspapers has got one goal and that is to make sure that you can live in freedom," he said.
The student program has a website - www.friendshipthrougheducation.org - where interested schools can register and find information on programs offered by members of the consortium which includes the United Nations's Cyberschoolbus, and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.