State Dept. promotes U.S.-style Islam

Thursday, October 31, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The United States is offering Muslim countries four U.S.-prepared television commercials aimed at providing a better understanding of Islam in America.

The four ads, each about two minutes long, are part of a $15 million campaign by Charlotte Beers, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and a former Madison Avenue advertising executive. The ads explain "what kind of a society we are, how we treat people," to countries often hostile to the United States, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.

Boucher said the ads are now being tried out in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, and negotiations are under way to buy airtime in other Muslim nations in Asia and the Middle East and on media outlets that reach many Arab countries.

"The goal was to use the period of Ramadan to play these ads because there's a tradition of people telling the story of Islam in their country during the month of Ramadan," Boucher said. The fasting period starts next month.

Doctor, baker featured

The spots feature a doctor, Elias Zerhouni, the Algerian-born director of the National Institutes of Health; a Libyan-born baker, Abdul Hammuda of Toledo, Ohio; a Lebanese-born teacher, Rawia Ismal of Toledo; and a medic with the New York Fire Department, Farouk Muhammad.

They were produced in conjunction with the Council of American Muslims for Understanding, a nonprofit, nonpolitical group dedicated to providing a better understanding of Islam in America, Boucher said.

He said that in some countries the ads have been submitted to censorship boards because everything that goes on television in those countries must be approved by such a board.

Boucher said he was not ready to put out a list of countries the United States was talking to about the ads because the campaign may be adjusted based on its performance in Indonesia.

"We decided we would actually go out and try to buy advertising time where we wanted it, when we wanted it to the people we wanted to hear our story," he said.

Asked if the ads would ever be broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite network, which reaches many Arab countries, Boucher said, "They wanted too much money."

He said the United States was under no illusions that the ads would stop suicide bombers by showing Islamic militants the United States was tolerant of their religion.

"I know that there are an awful lot of people, though, who need to know more about the United States," he said, "who what they think they know about the United States is based on distorted images and rumor ... and that's its good for us to tell them our story."

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