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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview with Melissa Rossi

Aired June 29, 2003 - 07:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KRIS OSBORN, CNN ANCHOR: It is world trivia question and answer time to check your database and learn things, see what you know. We just asked which country has the most Muslims. The answer, Indonesia. How about that?
That is just one of the many things you'll discover when you read the book, "What Every American Should Know about the Rest of the World." Melissa Rossi is the arm chair diplomat, self described, who wrote the book. She joins us from Tampa to tell us more about it. And get ready everyone at home, because we have more world knowledge questions for you.

Good morning and welcome to you, Melissa. It's nice to talk to you.

MELISSA ROSSI, NEW YORK: Good morning, Kris. Happy to be here.

OSBORN: Happy to have you. Let's ask this, what about the inspiration for the book? I understand you started writing it September 12, very serious situation inspired you to write it. Tell us about it?

ROSSI: Well, it was September 11. And I was in New York right after the attacks. And I realized we don't know what's going on here. There's -- and it's not just the surreal tragedy, it was there was a whole new geopolitical vocabulary. And there were words like jihad and mujahadeen. And then there were all these names like Barak, Chirac, Sharon, Musharraf, Mubarak.

So I started writing a vocabulary list. And whoever I told about this list had the same response, which was when you're done with it, please give me a copy.

OSBORN: Please give -- well let's get right to some of the details. Let's talk about al Jazeera. That's certainly something that has risen into the public consciousness. The question is what is al Jazeera? What every American needs to know. And CNN sent out a crew and asked some people. You see the choices here. Al Jazeera is either A, bin Laden's left hand man; B, a hilarious comic from Syria; or C, a controversial 24 hour news station popular in the Middle East.

Let's see what people had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A is the answer. A. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think al Jazeera is bin Laden's left hand man?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have to go with B.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to say B.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OSBORN: The correct answer is C, al Jazeera, that controversial 24 hour news station that it is very fair to say received a whole lot of attention during the war, but that's the kind of thing that you're interested in highlighting in your project?

ROSSI: Exactly, you know, al Jazeera's out of Qatar. And I think it's so important for us to get a sense that all these different countries in the Middle East are, in fact, different. And all these countries in the world have these basic situations that we don't understand at all, just because our schools aren't teaching us. And when we learn about them in the media, it comes at such a fast pace. It's hard to take it all in.

OSBORN: Well, sometimes media events can be so complicated that many in the media are equally confused by them sometimes. Let's talk about another trouble area, the region of Kashmir. And the question is why is Kashmir the most dangerous place in the world?

Answer, certainly something to think about. It's a region where three wars between nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, have been fought. Three wars, of course, since the '40s. Long disputed region. What did you learn about it? And as you answer that, tell us how you compiled the various facts that are in your book?

ROSSI: Oh, boy, you know, I use everything from calling up reporters in those countries. Some of the countries I visited, because I wrote "The National Geographic Traveler." I went on the Internet. I used government documents. I just polled everybody I could.

And I just put it all together in a lively way, breaking it all down, putting it into boxes, giving basic vocabulary. And where possible, infusing it with humor as well.

OSBORN: And on that note, we have a third question, which is billions of dollars of American weaponry and military equipment go to A, waste; B, North Korea and Iran and Iraq; or C, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Dig deep everyone if you're playing along. It's fun to do. And of course, we all learn in the process. The answer is C, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- Melissa?

ROSSI: You know, and now there's a new plan to give $3 billion or so to Pakistan as well. So we are heavily arming a lot of the world. And it -- you know, it's hard to get this information. Actually, you have to dig for it.

But the U.S. is the world's biggest supplier of arms. And unfortunately, ultimately some of these arms do get used against us and our interests.

OSBORN: Melissa Rossi, thank you very much for your time. Very significant project. Many things that what every American should know about. It's nice talking to you.

ROSSI: Great to be here, thanks.

OSBORN: Sure.

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