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June 4, 2009 at 10:39 AM

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Measuring progress in relations between Muslims and non-Muslims

Posted by Kristi Heim

George F. Russell, Jr., makes a point of informally surveying 100 people on a regular basis to gauge perceptions of Muslims in the United States. Those perceptions have been improving lately, he said.



ERIKA SCHULTZ/SEATTLE TIMES

George F. Russell, Jr., talks with friends at a dinner where he received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.

"I think it's getting a little better," he said Wednesday evening in Seattle at a reception honoring him for his contributions to public service. Russell was given the award by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. One of his priorities is bridging the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, which he has done through founding the non-profit collaborative One Nation.

Russell said the idea behind One Nation was to address American misunderstanding and fear of Muslims and Islam in the aftermath of 9/11. "Fifty percent of Americans felt that Muslims were bad people," Russell said. He concluded "If we're not able to change that perception, we'll end up with a 100-year war."

Russell called President Obama's efforts to repair relations with the Muslim world "a good thing."

"Reaching out and talking to the other side is really constructive," he said. "The old habit of distrust doesn't get you anywhere."

Besides One Nation, Russell chairs the Russell Family Foundation, the East-West Institute, the National Bureau of Asian Research, Nuclear Fuel Cell Technologies Inc. and the Business Humanitarian Forum.

He is best known in the world of finance, building the Frank Russell Company started by his grandfather into one of the world's leading investment advisory firms.

Russell said simple principles helped him succeed in life, such as valuing integrity, taking risks, being creative, hiring people smarter than himself, recognizing luck, sharing the credit and having fun.

"These are the ground rules that will help you do the right thing in the eyes of your grandparents," he said. Quoting Woodrow Wilson, he added: "You are here to enrich the world... you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."

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