Some 800 people came together in downtown Houston last week for the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum, organized by Arab-American organizations and supported by a number of U.S. corporate sponsors.
There are long-standing ties between Middle Eastern nations and many Houston-based oil, oil services and construction companies. But in general, Arabs see a huge gap between their nations and the United States.
A Saudi man said,"The recent Pew survey -- which has really made a stark figure -- showed 43 percent of American public opinion considered Muslims, all Muslims, to either be fanatic or radical."
The forum brought together representatives of several Arab nations with U.S. business executives and Arab-American leaders. They discussed ways of promoting better understanding.
One active participant was Mombai-born Kam Shah, project manager for the Middle East and North Africa section of the U.S. Department of Commerce Business Information Center.
Shah spent many years working in the Persian Gulf region before coming to the United States several years ago. He says this forum can do a lot to promote business ties between the Arab World and the U.S.
"Overall, ambassadors from many countries in the gulf region are here at one location. The entire media is out and forefront. It does improve and does give a better feel about what is out there in terms of gaining on both sides."
Also on hand at the forum was U.S. State Department Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes. She told participants the Bush administration wants to promote better understanding as part of its effort to defeat terrorists. "I represent almost seven million American Muslims who live and work and practice their faith freely here in our country. Together we must undermine the extremists, by providing platforms for debate, by empowering mainstream voices of tolerance and inclusion."
The Arab-Americans who started this forum say they hope to take it to other U.S. cities in the years ahead.