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German Muslims laud US diplomat's style

The ambassador brings students to the US in a broader push to engage Muslims. Some say it's merely PR.

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The last time high schoolers in Berlin's Neukölln district made headlines was this spring, when teachers wrote an official letter to politicians essentially declaring a state of emergency over a violent student body – 80 percent of whom come from immigrant backgrounds.

But Jazan, a 16-year-old student at Neukölln's Ernst-Abbe high school, got his moment in the media limelight this week for an entirely different reason: Along with nine other students, he'd just returned from a 10-day trip to America sponsored by the US Embassy.

What most impressed him?

"People in the US can start driving at the age of 16 – why do we have to wait till 18 in Germany?" he says, laughing. But then, more serious, he adds, "Arabs, Jews, and Muslims [in the US] walk on the street next to each other and nobody tells them how to dress or what to do."

Such a change in perspective is exactly what US Ambassador William R. Timken Jr. is looking to accomplish with the embassy's "Windows on America" program.

Funded by corporate donors, the project aims to gives students from migrant backgrounds a clearer picture of the US, the ambassador says. While some see Windows on America as a thinly veiled PR campaign, Muslim leaders have lauded Mr. Timken's pragmatic approach to engaging Muslims as a useful model for their own politicians.

In September, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Timken broke the fast with Muslims at a mosque near the western city of Düsseldorf, as well as with a number of Muslim representatives invited to the Frankfurt residence of US Consul General Jo Ellen Powell.

Previously Ms. Powell, together with the ambassador's wife, Sue Timken, had organized a round-table discussion with Muslim women leaders working with immigrants.

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