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US Lawmaker Calls for Improved US Ties with Muslim World

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, is calling for a new chapter in America's relationship with the Muslim world. Kerry chaired a hearing Thursday to explore ways to forge better ties with the Muslim world.

Senator Kerry opened the hearing by echoing President Barack Obama's call for better ties with the Muslim world. "We share your aspirations for freedom, dignity, justice and security. We are ready to listen, learn, and honor the president's commitment to approach the Muslim world with a spirit of mutual respect," he said.

Kerry called on Americans to do their part to ease the climate of fear and distrust that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. "If we truly want to empower Muslim moderates, we must also stop tolerating the casual Islamophobia that has seeped into our political discourse since 9/11," he said.

The senator, who recently returned from a trip to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, called for expanding educational exchanges between the United States and the Muslim world and for greater funding to promote Americans' foreign language capabilities.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was among those who testified at the hearing. "Our engagement with Muslim communities should include explicit support for democracy. This preference need not be heavy handed, but neither should it be so timid as to be inaudible," she said.

Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, discussed Muslim perceptions of the United States gleaned by international surveys of done by her organization.

She said detainee abuses at hands of U.S. personnel in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. detention center Guantanamo Bay, Cuba hurt America's image in the Muslim world. She said most Muslims believe the U.S. invasion of Iraq did more harm than good, and that very few Muslims believe the United States takes an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mogahed says many Muslims admire what they say are universal values practiced so well in the west, including good governance and self-determination, as well as human rights. But she says they are skeptical as to the United States' true intentions in promoting these values in their region.

"Ironically, it stems from the perception that we do not live the values that they so admire about us in our treatment of them - rule of law, self-determination, and human rights. Many believe that the U.S. is denying Muslims these rights by supporting dictatorships, direct occupation of Muslim lands, and what is seen as passive support for Israeli violence," she said.

Mogahed says Muslim Americans could play an important role in helping improve U.S. ties with the Muslim world.