Young Muslim leaders in Europe get a close look at US

For Karim Z_ribi, the highlight was shaking the hand of Barack Obama. For Ali Zahi, it was meeting his childhood hero, basketball star Magic Johnson. And Mohamed Hamidi was surprised to find a mosque in Washington that was bigger than the one in his parents’ village in Algeria. Hamidi is a well-known blogger, Zahi is a mayoral aide in this Paris suburb, and Z_ribi runs an employment agency. All are French, Muslim and below 42. All grew up and worked in suburbs that became emblematic of the frustration among second- and third-generation immigrant youths that led to three weeks of riots in France in 2005. And all three joined the small but growing ranks of influential Muslims in Europe invited to the US on 21-day trips as part of its International Visitor Leadership Program. The longstanding program, which seeks to introduce future leaders from around the world to the US, has become part of an American effort to reach out to Europe’s Muslims, especially young people who could fall prey to jihadist talk. The exposure to America softened views of a superpower generally distrusted in their communities. Many young people think that America is waging a war on Muslims, said Zahi, 32, chief of staff for the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 rioting began after the deaths of two teenagers of African origin. I tell them America is a country that has a black presidential candidate and a self-confident Muslim community, Zahi said.