Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Saturday, August 09, 2003
Go to the new DM blog.


WaPo reports on where 4 million of our tax dollars is going:

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.

You have got to be kidding me. I see two problems with this: 1) while many in the Arab world have adopted some aspects of our omnipresent culture, there is also a good deal of resentment about how our culture overwhelms other countries' traditions; 2) the most important issue is not pop music, but our foreign policy, which is largely perceived as anti-Islamic warmongering. As I've said before, what we need to do is respect other nations' sovereignty and ways of life, stop invading and meddling, and work together with the community of nations. Our apparently asymmetrical support for Israel at the expense of Palestine doesn't help, but if we are honest about peacemaking there, that will go a long way.

An Arabic-speaking Middle East expert appears to agree with me in part:

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."

So does another expert interviewed by IslamOnline:

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 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.

To me, this magazine is part and parcel with my overall view of the Bush administration: try to make things look good, rather than take actions that actually do good. They're all about image and marketing, and not at all serious about truly addressing the problems that enable terrorism.


PS--Remember Reagan's "most dreaded words Americans ever hear" quip? "We're from the government, and we're here to help." I think right now we've got the same perception abroad: "We're from America, and we're here to help." Right now our help seems limited to bullying and invading. Saying "Hi!" won't soften the image. 

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