Hi is a new magazine funded by the State Department, published in Arabic, targeted at Arabs ages 18 to 35 and sold on newsstands in more than a dozen countries. It costs consumers about $2 a copy. It will cost American taxpayers about $4 million a year -- minus whatever advertising revenues it can generate.
"This is a long-term way to build a relationship with people who will be the future leaders of the Arab world," says Christopher W.S. Ross, special coordinator for public diplomacy at the State Department. "It's good to get them in a dialogue while their opinions are not fully formed on matters large and small."
The magazine is part of a series of initiatives by the Bush administration to create a more positive view of the United States in the Arab world, particularly among young people. For instance, the administration created Radio Sawa, which broadcasts a mix of Western and Arab pop music along with news reports aimed at 18-to-35-year olds.
Mohammed Nawawy, an Egyptian-born journalism professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts and co-author of a book on the al-Jazeera TV network....suggests the magazine is addressing the wrong problem."The problem with young Arabs is not how they perceive U.S. culture or the American way of life," he says. "They're watching American movies and wearing American jeans and lining up to get visas to come to the United States. The problem is how they perceive United States foreign policy, and that can only be changed by actions on the ground in Iraq and Israel."
Samer Shehata, who teaches at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, echoes the same opinion.
He, like Nawawy, believes that Arabs do not hate America or American culture, but loathe its foreign policy toward the Middle East.
"A magazine directed at Arab youth, regardless of how well done, will not convince people otherwise," he averred, referring to the eye-catching glossy magazine.
Speaking to IslamOnline.net last week, Jordanian journalist Sameh al-Mueittah described the new publication as "a PR campaign by the United States to beautify its stained image in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim worlds after the 9/11attacks."
He was also skeptic about the success of "Hi," noting that the U.S. embassy in Amman had in vain tried to win the hearts of the Jordanian people.
"If the Americans issued and aired a myriad of Arab-directed magazines and radios, they would never succeed in changing anything," he said.
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Lo alecha ha-m'lacha ligmor, v'lo atah ben chorin l'hibateyl mimenah.