Our nation’s State Department is bringing bright young journalists to the United States to tell Americans how the rest of the world thinks of us.
A few days ago seven of them came to Little Rock thanks to the Arkansas Council of International Visitors. They went to the Clinton School of Public Service and spoke to the students and then to about 70 interested citizens.
The visitors from Bulgaria and Brazil were women. The men were from Jordan, India, Iceland, Ghana and Bangladesh. They all spoke English, but it was hard for me to understand them, and I had to rely for much of it from a generous and educated woman who sat next to me.
The first journalist to speak was a reporter from Ghana telling us that her group had been checking the American newspapers and had found that only 6 percent of their news stories were about what was happening in other nations in the world. “I knew many papers did not offer stories from abroad,” she said, “but I didn’t think it was that many, especially after the war began in Iraq. ... No one seems to know about anything happening outside of America.”
All of the journalists, especially two or three, were not in favor of the United States sending its soldiers to Iraq. Most of them believed President Bush’s invasion was what was making other Muslims in Iraq, Great Britain, Spain and other countries start killing people.
Here’s the opinion of the young woman from Brazil: “The U.S. should respect other countries and peoples, like the detainees, and should not invade other countries.”
From the writer from Bangladesh: “Now, we could arrest all persons who look challenging, all would be terrorists who we would have an encounter with. But what is the root problem? Why not look at their problem with some passion? Look to see if a real solution can be worked out so all can live in peace.”
The man from Jordan said, “We liked Clinton but not Bush,” and some of the others agreed. He also said: “The U.S. media seems very biased to us, even one-sided. We are not all the same, however, and we now are all facing the same problems with the terrorists who blow themselves up. The U.S. has made it all much worse for all of us because of the focus on only Sunni and Shiite coverage. ... The U.S. journalists seem very biased to us, very one-sided. There are big cultural gaps between all the Middle Eastern Moslem countries.”
I agreed with a comment I heard: “In our country we think that Bush is just a Texan.”
From the Iceland reporter: “When we see all the news about the abortions and gay marriages mentioned so much in your political ads, frankly, we think you are a very strange people.” However, he said that he was worried that the U.S. Navy was going to withdraw its base in Iceland that has 1,200 sailors and several ships.
The woman from Ghana said: “In my country we hate abortion. We think it to be morally wrong and gay marriages are mentioned so much in your political ads.”
The comment that I liked best came from the man from Cyprus: “The U.S. should not make wars but help to settle world differences.”
Last week at a Rotary Club meeting I heard even more about what people from abroad think about our country. The speaker was Sherman Banks, just ending two years as president of the Sisters Cities International, an organization created by former President Eisenhower to promote peace in 45 countries.
Banks, an international consultant in Little Rock, has been to Egypt, Morocco, New Zealand, Northern Island, Italy, Great Britain, Haiti and South Africa.
In almost all his stops, he heard people who were critical of the United States invading Iraq. “President Bush started the war,” they said to Banks. “We can’t expect everybody to be a Christian. There are 55 Muslim countries in the world.”
Banks also said that some people he talked to in these countries thought highly of Clinton. “Why do Americans still beat him up?” they asked.
I also wonder about that.