Syrian Youth: 'Let's Build a Bridge' to U.S.

While in Damascus, Diane Sawyer talked to several young people about their perception of the United States and what they thought Westerners thought about Syrians.

Amr Diab spent time in New York City. Knowing both worlds, he talked about some of the misperceptions about Syria he encountered.

"The initial stereotypes I had were stereotypes regarding, do we live in tents or do we ride camels?" Diab said.

Another young woman, Roua Ali, said, "This is what I think they think about us: You know, yeah, they are terrorists. Women in veils, like he said, riding camels."

In interviews on the street, a number of Americans did not know where Syria was on a map, but Diab said Americans he had met were curious about the world.

"The Americans are in my opinion they are the type of people, they're thirsty for information," she said. "Any opportunity I used to have when I was there to tell them a little bit more about who I am or about my country, they were always very welcoming. They wanted to know."

Ali says that some of her friends wear the hijab, or traditional head scarf for Muslim women.

"Not all of the time. But, yeah, nowadays most of the time they choose to wear it," she said.

And the young people Sawyer interviewed wanted to remind Americans that they lived in a secular country, and that women had many more rights than those living in Muslim countries.

"They are free to drive, free to wear what they want. So, the most important thing is that there's no government enforcement of a hijab," Emad Habib said.

Double Standard or Cultural Difference?

When he lived in New York, Diab said he had a girlfriend.

"My parents are not going to see this, are they?" he said.

The young Syrians said dating was very different for teens in their country than in the United States.

"I think yeah, it is very different because here dating has to be on, uh, like a parents' level," Ali said. "The parents have to know who you are dating, whom you are going out with. It's, like, monitored, not like the U.S."

When it comes to dating, girls don't have the same freedoms as boys.

"We have a kind of different treating of girls and boys here," Habib said. "When a boy say to his father, for example, I am seeing a girl. [The father says,] 'Oh good for you, luck for you.' But if a girl dares to say that, she will be in trouble."

Some see these differences as a double standard; others say it is simply a cultural difference.

"We do live in a world of double standards," Diab said. "And it's very obvious in our society, but it's pretty accepted as well."

These Syrian young people say American culture is pretty pervasive.

"You know what the sad thing is, is I think none of us really watch Arabic TV," Diab said. "I really don't watch any Arabic channels. All the satellite channels that we receive, they are not American, but they all broadcast American shows. So everything from your typical 'Friends' to 'ER' to 'American Idol,' I mean that's what people sit and watch here. It's not very different."

But they say the amount of violence on American TV can be shocking.

"I had an idea that if I go to the United States, after 7 p.m. for example at maximum, I shouldn't get out of the house. Because there would be some assassin or murderer," Habib said.

Diab calls America a beautiful country, but believes it lacks certain values.

"They lack a lot of values that we have. I mean living in a system, such as the American capitalistic system, everything revolves around money. I lived in New York, and everything is just so fast paced. And everything is around money," he said.

A central freedom to American young people is political freedom and freedom of speech. Ali said that Syrian young people were not afraid to discuss politics, and wondered what "freedom of speech" really meant if no one was listening.

"The American kids say they don't want war in Iraq, but are they … answered? OK, they can they can talk till the dawn, but I mean, they're not that answered," she said.

Sawyer presented each of the young people with a question: If you could ask the American people something, what would you ask them?

"Why don't you try to find the truth because you are misled. So try to find the truth about us," Habib said.

"I would ask them to -- let's build a bridge between our cultures because at the end we are all humans. And we are all going to one destiny. We have to put our hands together, you know. Stop stereotyping the other," Ali said.

"I wish them to keep their thirst for information. Because the bridge that was, the different continents is now being connected through communication. And they're seeing a lot more of our culture, so keep being who you are. Eventually we're going to build that bridge," Diab said.