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Key Bush aide urges role for US Muslims

Hughes says group could aid effort to condemn extremism

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Karen Hughes, one of President Bush's closest advisers, told a gathering of American Muslims yesterday that part of her new State Department job is to help amplify the voices of groups such as theirs that are condemning terrorism and religious extremism.

The Islamic Society of North America had invited Bush to attend its annual convention. He sent Hughes, who was recently confirmed as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her tasks include improving the US image in Muslim countries.

''We need to foster a sense of common interest and common values among Americans and people of different faiths and different cultures," Hughes said at a news conference opening the three-day event.

''Frankly, who better to do that than many of our American Muslims themselves, who have friends and families and roots in countries across our world."

The Indiana-based Islamic society serves as an umbrella association for Muslim groups and mosques in the United States and Canada. Its convention is being held just over a month after US Muslim scholars issued a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning terrorism following deadly attacks this summer in London and Egypt.

''The fatwa says that there is no justification in Islam for terrorism. Those are words the entire world needs to hear," Hughes said. ''And in delivering that message, I know that the most credible voices are of Muslims themselves. My job is to help amplify and magnify these voices."

At the news conference, the Islamic group unveiled a brochure outlining its position against terrorism and religious extremism. The pamphlet states terrorism ''is the epitome of injustice because it targets innocent people."

Kareem Irfan chaired the committee that produced the brochure and that will be launching other initiatives to promote what the group calls ''balanced Islam."

Despite ''crystal-clear statements stating the position of Islam and Muslims" against terrorism, there remain ''inklings of doubt from segments of society," he said.

He said convention attendees, expected to total more than 30,000, will be asked to sign a pledge stating that they agree with the pamphlet's position, and it will be distributed to mosques and churches.

The convention was also attended by a 19-member delegation from Britain, where four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on London's transit system in July.

The British group held a private meeting with Hughes, and she also met separately with Islamic Society of North America leaders, women, and young people.

The society's vice president, Ingrid Mattson, said those attending the meetings with Hughes were frank about their disagreements with the Bush administration on everything from foreign policy to concerns over the erosion of civil liberties.

Several told her about the problems they regularly have with air travel because their Muslim names or dress prompt suspicion.

One man who was supposed to be in a Thursday night meeting with Hughes walked in at the end because he was held by airport security for three hours until his name was cleared, Mattson said.

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