Friday, September 11th 2015
“[A] very effective State Department program is influencing long-term positive change in the Middle East and wider Muslim world,” write Richard LeBaron and Jordan Lesser-Roy inTheHill Online. Their September 10, 2015, op-ed, “Introducing Muslim teenagers to America,” described the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program launched in 2002.
LeBaron was U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, and he is now a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Lesser-Roy is an intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
The program “provides scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to live and study in the United States. The program, funded through the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs arranges for families throughout the country to host the students.”
Since 2002, over 8,000 Muslim teenagers have come to the United States through the State Department’s YES program. While the flow of recruits to the Islamic State grabs the headlines, these young people are beginning to make a positive difference in their societies. The American families who host the students are doing more than their share to ensure the long-term security of the United States and deserve recognition and support. They are actually doing something useful at a time when many Americans seem to have lost confidence in their ability to create positive change, and at a time when some politicians have resorted to fear-mongering about the role of Islam in the world.
Long-term issues in the Middle East require long-term, creative solutions. Rather than shy away from engagement with the Muslim world, now is the time to double down in our outreach. The YES program, one of the very few genuinely successful efforts since 9/11 to affect change, should be celebrated and we should double the number of participants.
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Doubling the size of the YES program would not only be smart foreign policy, it would cost a fraction of the price tag for the military hardware we maintain in Middle East. YES is the face of long-term, strategic engagement with the youth of the Muslim world. If we are serious about wanting positive change in the Islamic world, we need to get a lot more serious about personally engaging young Muslims from around the world.