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January 27, 2009

Americans, Travel, and the Muslim World

Part I of the Al Arabiya interview is above.  Click here to play part 2.

by Dinda Elliott

The fact that President Barack Obama chose Al Arabiya, an Arab-language news channel based in Dubai, for his first official interview is a historic signal to the world that the U.S. will be rebuilding bridges. What a relief. It's time for Americans, starting with our own government, to stop fearing the world and to start reaching out instead. That applies to us travelers, too. Some readers criticized an interview I did last year with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

But I believe Albright got it right when she said the world thinks Americans are "selfish." She called for Americans to learn as we travel. "Globalization has made the world smaller," she said, "so we need to know about the cultures and histories that we deal with." In President Obama's message, we have the opportunity to shed that selfish image.

Right or wrong, the State Department warns us about the dangers of visiting countries like Syria, Iran, and Pakistan because they are home to some terrorist activities. The nuance that the State Department misses is what we gain by going. To wit: In a fascinating piece about Cairo, "the Arab world's aging movie star: seductive, repulsive, complex, and compelling" Condé Nast Traveler's Susan Hack reveals the magic of one of the world's most important Muslim capitals. That's where U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, who helped negotiate peace in Ireland, arrived today in the first leg of a trip to the Middle East. He has been instructed by Obama to "listen." Obama also reminded his Al Arabiya interviewer that he has Muslims in his own family. "To the broader Muslim world," he said, "what we are offering is a hand of friendship." We as travelers should do the same, and realize that the "other" is not so different from ourselves.

With Obama as our new president, do you think it's important for us as Americans to travel to Muslim countries? How can we improve our image?

Further reading:
* An Al-Arabiya journalist reflects on the Obama interview
* Make a Difference: Regular coverage of social responsibility and travel


The other alternative is that President Obama is reaching out to the vast majority of Muslims who are not hate-mongers. I for one am glad that our country's leadership no longer assumes that people in Muslim countries are all terrorists. You ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Cheers to Conde Nast for their great blogging!

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