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In the wake of the 9/11 violence, most Americans were wise enough to realize that the terrorist atrocities had nothing to do with Hamid, in his skullcap, who runs the grocery store around the corner, while all the Muslims I knew grieved as if the losses were their own. Yet many people wondered why America had provoked such animosity. Traveling to Bolivia, Vietnam, India and many other countries in the months since the attacks, I have been sobered to see the words U.S. OUT OF AFGHANISTAN! scrawled across the walls of an elegant colonial building in the Andes (while a shoeshine boy down the street told me he longed to come to America to help fight terrorists). In many closed or impoverished countries, meeting Americans is the only way the people can learn that America is not the "axis of evil"--a George W. Bush phrase that some foreigners have turned back on the U.S.
In some ways, Sept. 11 was a harrowing reminder of how truly we all live in the same neighborhood now, even if the differences and distances between us remain as great as ever. In any neighborhood, it is the people who keep their doors locked and their curtains drawn who are the truly menacing ones. One of the difficult things about the events of last fall was how powerless most people felt as they watched the destruction onscreen. Many of us, in fact, do have the power, however small, to take the first step toward real communication--by going to Beijing, or Mexico City, or, best of all, Damascus.