Generation Islam originally aired on August 13th. It is now available to watch on CNN.com.
I was inspired to investigate the possibility of a post 9/11 mend between the U.S. and the Muslim world when President Barack Obama addressed the issue at his inauguration in January. He called for a new beginning and warned that the U.S. cannot afford to have another generation of Muslims who see it as the enemy.
I decided to explore the possibility of a mend by meeting with young Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and the West Bank. These were conflict areas Obama has targeted with special envoys.
What I found was surprising: There was an overwhelmingly large population of youth that wanted to be on good terms with the United States and that was invested in creating progress, prosperity and a representative political structure in their own countries. In each place I visited, I found dedicated, unsung Americans who were doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the next generation.
Who were some of these Americans?
There was Marne Gustavson, who had grown up in Afghanistan in the 1970s and had then returned to launch her own organization, PARSA, which gives children education and shelter. She works with one poverty-stricken family at a time. It is hard and grueling work, and yet her dedication pays off. She has gotten children like Nassim, whom we profile in “Generation Islam,” into school, off the streets and out of the hands of militants who seek to recruit the poor and the desperate.
We also profile the incredible work of Greg Mortenson, the former American mountaineer and the author of the bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea. He showed us just how possible it is to build schools and to enroll and empower the next generation of Muslim kids, the future leaders of their countries.
Mr. Mortenson ventures to places most Westerners dare not, and over the past decade or so he has built dozens of schools for boys and girls. He does it by getting each community invested in the project, getting villagers to provide the land and the labor, while he raises the money for the buildings. It is not expensive by our standards, but it is an invaluable investment in the future of these kids, their countries, AND our security. Education offers opportunity and reduces the chances that these kids will fall into the hands of extremists.
Mr. Mortenson is helping U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan fight the battle his way: with books not bombs. Incredibly, this summer, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened one of Mr. Mortenson’s schools in Afghanistan.
The great news is that extremism is decreasing: In Afghanistan less than 9% support the Taliban (which is where the U.S. military is fighting now). In Pakistan the population is turning away from extremism as well.
The challenge for the U.S. now is to keep its promises to the people of the area, to take these people’s goodwill and repay them with sensible, smart and strategic nation-building. For some reason, Americans and their political leaders are allergic to that term, but without it there will be no real and secure progress. Think of nation-building not as creating a model America-on-the-Khyber, but as a cheaper, quicker, more effective investment in their and your future than the current policy of spending good money after bad.
In Gaza, where the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict drains the bulk of the goodwill for America across the Muslim world, I found much the same: Its overwhelmingly youthful population wants a good education, a good job when they graduate, hope and ambition for their future. The problem is the political situation has turned Gaza into a big prison, and these people have little hope now of achieving any of their dreams. With no way to entertain themselves -- without access to even a movie theater, many are online and chatting with “friends” in America. They know the opportunity that exists in the world, and they want to be part of it.
This summer there are competing “summer camps” in Gaza. But there’s room for only a quarter of Gaza’s 700,000 kids to take part. Most parents want their kids to attend the UN’s sports camps, but those who cannot go to Hamas-run martial arts and self-defense sessions or to Koran camp run by the mosques.
I hope that “Generation Islam” will give Americans a glimpse of what it’s like to be a child growing up in these places. I hope the program will inspire Americans to better understand what I discovered: Children and young adults are pretty much the same everywhere. They want a better future than their parents had, and they want to be part of the world community. But they desperately need help getting there. If they do get that help, it will ensure a win-win investment in a positive and peaceful future for all.
Christiane Amanpour is CNN's chief international correspondent and the host of “Amanpour,” which will begin airing in September.