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West Point cadets visit NJ city to see diversity

Associated Press Modified: April 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm •  Published: April 27, 2012
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Emad Attaalaa of St. George's Egyptian Coptic Church, where the cadets spent an afternoon learning about the history of the church and enjoyed a Middle Eastern-style lunch, said the program has mutual benefits, getting young people from his largely Egyptian congregation interested in the military or a career in law enforcement.

"Kids in the church come and ask me after meeting the cadets, 'What do you think about joining the Army?'" he said.

At the Islamic Center, congregants explained to the cadets the importance of removing their shoes in prayer areas, and the female cadets were shown the proper way to cover themselves with Muslim headscarves out of respect.

Jersey City sits across the Hudson River from New York. Nearly 40 percent of the population is foreign-born, and more than half its residents speak a language other than English at home, according to census figures. It has a large Muslim population. Some of the plotters of the deadly 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center attended a mosque there.

Col. Cindy Jebb, a social sciences professor at West Point who has taught course on cultural anthropology as well as terrorism and counterterrorism, said the academy is fortunate to have such a melting pot close by.

"When you start to learn about other cultures, it makes you very self-aware, helps create a more adaptable thinker, and it develops empathy," she said.

Although this year's visit focused on the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East, she said the controversies that have hurt U.S. efforts to gain the trust of Afghans are also discussed with cadets.

"We always use such incidents as a learning opportunity," Jebb said. "Looking at it in the larger context of understanding that these actions of a few do not reflect the entire military, we discuss why these actions are so detrimental, and how you go about building a tone within a unit of cultural understanding."

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