Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Windows on America


Ambassador William R. Timken Jr. is making a good impression at his posting in Germany—at least on German Muslims. In “German Muslims laud US diplomat’s style,” Timken is seen breaking a Ramadan fast near Dusseldorf, something that major German politicians wouldn’t even contemplate right now.

Timken’s leadership—which includes organizing a “Windows on America” program that brings young German Muslims on visits to New York, Washington and Des Moines—is building U.S. soft power among German Muslims who may feel alienated by their own government, not to mention by U.S. policy:

Previously [U.S. consul general Jo Ellen] Powell, together with the ambassador's wife, Sue Timken, had organized a round-table discussion with Muslim women leaders working with immigrants.

The embassy also hosted a symposium with roughly 100 students from schools in Berlin's minority districts to discuss political, cultural, and educational issues of concern to them.

"The ambassador's efforts are warmly welcome," says Aiman Mazyek, secretary-general of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, one of the largest Muslim organizations in the country. "We'd like to see more of those [efforts] from German politicians. But, sadly, a visit by the German president to join Muslims breaking their fast is probably a long way off," he adds.

Burhan Kesici, vice president of Berlin's Islamic Federation, also agrees that German leaders could better emulate Timken's approach. At a joint breaking of the fast last year, hosted by the ambassador in a "private, warm, and welcoming setting," he and the other Muslims "got the impression that we can talk to and respect each other - even if we don't agree with a lot of US politics on the global scale," says Mr. Kesici.

I’m usually suspicious when politically appointees become ambassadors to important U.S. allies and trading partners; they can all too easily coast through their time at the Court of St. James or in some other glittering capital, rarely lifting a finger to represent U.S. interests. Timken had a long, distinguished career as a businessman in Ohio and could easily have treated his ambassadorship as a reward, rather than as a second career.

Instead, he appears to be spending at least some time in Berlin courting a German constituency the U.S. needs to win over, accomplishing three important tasks in the process: Breaking through the German media’s lock on German perceptions of the U.S.; attempting to turn alienated German Muslims into potential U.S. allies; and perhaps shaming German politicians into dealing more openly with the millions of Muslims now living in the Federal Republic. If some future chancellor attends an iftaar within Germany, it will be in part due to Ambassador Timken’s example.

(My colleague at Eccentric Star thinks the Windows on America program needs to be expanded to include German Germans, not just Muslim Germans; see the ES post here.)

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for both items.)

No comments:

Site Meter