If the United States wants to improve relations with the Islamic world, it could start by becoming more committed to rebuilding countries and less committed to Israel, local experts opined Friday.
At a Kansas International breakfast meeting Friday, a trio of local specialists on Islamic culture and international relations told an audience of about 40 that the United States should undertake large-scale rebuilding wherever it wages war against terrorism
"I think we have to provide some sort of neo-Marshall Plan," Ki-June Park, a Lawrence-based international business consultant, said, referring to the post-World War II plan to rebuild European countries. "I think we have to go beyond dropping food. We have to rebuild their mosques, we have to do the things to win their hearts.
"It would be a great investment. Look at what the Marshall Plan did. Japan and Germany were our archenemies and now they are our closest friends. We never expect a war with them again."
Hossein Gerami, a Lawrence businessman born in Iran, warned that simply dropping bombs and leaving will only lead to future problems.
"If we kill their parents but don't provide any solutions, then those kids are going to grow up to become terrorists," Gerami said. "We have to provide them with solutions because many of these countries have nothing. No agriculture, no business.
"If we don't help them they are going to come up and do the same thing all over again."
Beverly Mack, a Kansas University associate professor in African and African-American Studies, said she knows some people believe too much U.S. involvement in Muslim countries actually may create more anti-American sentiment, but with the right type of involvement that wouldn't be the case.
"I think the best influence we could have would be compassionate involvement," Mack said. "I don't see how resentment can be built by replacing bombs with bread, prisons with schools."
But humanitarian efforts alone won't ease tension between the Islamic world and the United States, Park said.
"Our out-and-out pro-Israeli policy is the crux of the problem," Park said. "We have to change our foreign policy so that the United States takes more of an impartial position.
"We have to draw the line sometime and say no to Israel if we hope to bring the Islamic world back to the table. I don't know what it is, maybe political power or Jewish money, but we have ended up too pro-Israel."
Gerami said the U.S. public also would be well served by becoming more educated about the issues that plague the region.
"The United States government does whatever it wants to do because the public doesn't know anything about these issues," Gerami said. "We don't know enough to tell them to do any different. Look at the world news on television every evening. Ninety percent of it is about the United States. What type of world news is that?"