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In France, US advocacy for Muslim rights raises more than a few hackles

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US seeks support among Europe's Muslims

American support for Dahhasi’s association is part of a broader program of public diplomacy created across Europe after the 9/11 attacks on the US to diffuse the threat of terrorism. A US embassy official in Paris says it was designed to “create mutual understanding” and to “show people there’s no good reason to fly airplanes into skyscrapers."

It has focused on seeking out and building relationships with potential leaders in Muslim and other minority groups. A key component has been the International Visitor Leadership Program, which for decades has sent members of the French elite on educational visits to the US. Its pre-2001 French alumni are nearly exclusively white. Last year, about a third of French participants belonged to minority groups, mostly Muslims.

Wafa Dahman, a French journalist of Tunisian background and founder of the French and Arabic broadcaster Radio Salam, spent three weeks with the program traveling across the US in 2008. She says she saw “America as it was, with all its strengths and faults,” learning about such things as high infant mortality rates in some poor US neighborhoods and affirmative-action programs implemented by police in Seattle trying to deal with tensions between Muslims and Sikhs.

"I discovered a very open society, one that is very different from France. At the same time, I saw there are many difficulties, but that the Americans are trying to find a solution,” she says.

'Moderate voices of tolerance'

A series of diplomatic cables revealed by the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks show that the current US ambassador in France, Charles Rivkin, has adopted an even more ambitious agenda meant to “amplify France's efforts to realize its own egalitarian ideals, thereby advancing US national interests.”

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