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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Attempts to Win Muslim Friends

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- An American media campaign launched in Indonesia sends a clear message: Muslims in the United States could not be happier.

The advertising blitz launched Wednesday portrays five American Muslims and aims to counter the impression that the United States is intolerant and anti-Islamic, a U.S. official said. "We hope that by highlighting the positive, common values shared by Muslims and non-Muslims -- such as faith, family, community, education, charity, and tolerance -- that we can tear down prejudices and build mutual understanding," U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce said.

The television, radio and print ads, to be shown here and in other Islamic countries, are the latest effort by the United States to sway Muslim opinion and provide support to moderate Islamic leaders in countries where radical, anti-American forces are gaining strength.

It remains to be seen what impact the spots will have on public opinion in Indonesia. Some who saw the ads Wednesday were skeptical.

"I don't think this kind of propaganda will significantly change the image that some Indonesians have of America," said Din Syamsuddin, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, a religious authority.

"What needs to happen is a significant change in U.S. policy toward Muslim governments," he said. "The U.S. war on terrorism is one example where Muslims are being blamed for much of the violence."

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, is considered a moderate Islamic country. But since the 1998 fall of former dictator Suharto, a collection of radical Muslim groups -- some with al-Qaida links -- have led anti-American demonstrations, rallied in support of Islamic law and been implicated in the killing of thousands of Christians.

The United States has attempted to counter anti-American sentiment here by sponsoring trips for Indonesian journalists to report on Islam in America. Trips were also sponsored for about 25 religious boarding school leaders to meet with American Muslim leaders.

It has also paid for positive programs about the United States through Voice of America radio affiliates, among other projects.

Boyce said that promoting better understanding between the two countries was one of his goals when he arrived as ambassador in 2001.

"This is part of a long-term effort in Indonesia ... to break down misconceptions in both our media and ongoing personal dialogues between Americans and Indonesians," he said.

The advertisements are snapshots of five American Muslims, offering an upbeat assessment of life in the United States. The people profiled include a graduate student from Indonesia, the Algerian director of the National Institute of Health, a Libyan baker, a Lebanese teacher and a Muslim paramedic from New York whose parents emigrated from India.

"The American students I met have respected my beliefs," Devianti Faridz, the Indonesian graduate student, says in her spot. "It's nice to know that people are willing to open up their hearts and understand what they do not know."

Farooq Muhammad, the New York paramedic, tells viewers that he works in harmony with Christian, Jewish and Hindu emergency workers.

"We work together without any problems," Muhammad said. "They are very supportive of me and I'm very grateful. I have never been treated disrespectfully as a Muslim."