IWS - The Information Warfare Site
News Watch Make a  donation to IWS - The Information Warfare Site Use it for navigation in case java scripts are disabled

02 March 2004

Panel Urges Renewed Public Diplomacy Efforts to Engage Muslim World

Says U.S. must effectively listen, engage in genuine dialogue

By Anthony Kujawa
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Discussing challenges to the United States to more effectively explain and communicate its policies in the Arab and Muslim world, a panel of scholars and U.S. officials cautioned against taking a "monolithic approach" toward communications.

They urged the United States to listen more carefully to its intended audiences and engage in "genuine dialogue." While noting the primacy of policy in explaining much of other countries' resentment toward the United States, panelists debated how to best use radio, television, educational exchange and other programs to better explain U.S. policy and build positive relations.

The February 27 forum on "Engaging the Arab/Islamic World -- Next Steps for U.S. Public Diplomacy," focused on responses to the October 1, 2003 report "Changing Minds, Winning Peace" also known Djerejian Report [for diplomat Edward Djerejian] on U.S. efforts to communicate with audiences in the Arab and Muslim world. Compiled at the request of U.S. lawmakers, the Djerejian Report criticizes the absence of a U.S. voice in public discourse in the Muslim world and concludes, "We [the United States] have failed to listen and failed to persuade."

The report offered a number of recommendations to confront the problem, calling for greater human and financial resources to be channeled into engaging the Arab and Muslim world in a respectful dialogue and promoting intercultural understanding.

The report argues that the United States needs to increase its ability to address the people of the region in their own languages and provide an American voice to the media discourse, particularly focusing on television and emerging Internet technologies.

In opening remarks McKinney Russell, president of the Public Diplomacy Council said public diplomacy "must find the techniques and the will to transcend political differences through dialogue and identification of long term common values."

"Cross-cultural amity and understanding do not just happen and do not come cheap," said Russell, calling for increased funding to support public diplomacy efforts.

Also addressing the forum, Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia and Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations, which requested the report, called on President Bush to create a cabinet level position for public diplomacy to better communicate U.S. ideas and values to the world.

"[Presidents] Eisenhower and Reagan constantly emphasized during the Cold War that the perception dimension of that struggle would ultimately be the decisive one," said Wolf.

"We need new ideas [and] fresh approaches. We need the Djerejian Report to be adopted," said Wolf.

"In the Arab and Muslim world if you don't define yourself, the extremists will," he added.

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and member of the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, which published the Djerejian Report, explained that the group did not have a mandate to address issues of policy.

"If you look at how opinion [of the United States] in Muslim countries has deteriorated over the past several years, it is very clear that most of it is related to policy, not to specific campaigns of public diplomacy," said Telhami.

"But even aside from policy, there is a failure in public diplomacy and that failure has to be addressed," said Telhami.

Telhami charged that there is "very little" coordination among the U.S. government agencies related to public diplomacy and there is "very little input" of public diplomacy in policy.

"Public diplomacy cannot be an afterthought," he said.

"You have to have public diplomacy weighing in at the conception of policy, to figure out how you are going to get the right response," said Telhami.

"If you don't understand how your target audience is going to receive the message, is going to understand the policy, and is going to respond to your policy, then there is no way ... your policy is going to serve your interests," he added.

Responding to Telhami, Larry Schwartz, Director of Press and Public Diplomacy for State Department's Bureau of South Asian Affairs, said, "I can speak with authority that there is almost no area of policy, in which we [practitioners of public diplomacy] are not fully involved in the policy making process."

"We do tell our bosses, up to the Secretary of State, how our policies are playing in the field and we make recommendations," said Schwartz.

Telhami said the Advisory Group believes public diplomacy is badly under funded. Funding for "public diplomacy outreach programs on the ground to all 1.6 billion Muslims is less than $60 million a year," he said, noting that the U.S. is currently spending about $150 million a day in Iraq.

"Ultimately the only kind of effective public diplomacy in the long term is one that is established through programs that endure, and they can endure only if they serve the mutual interests of both sides," he said. "In short, our finding was that our public diplomacy as it stands today is broken and it needs to be fixed."

In a panel on engaging Arab and Islamic publics through broadcasting, Norman Pattiz of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Chairman of the BBG Middle East Committee highlighted the success of two recent U.S. government financed Arabic-language broadcasting ventures -- Radio Sawa and Alhurra satellite television.

"Radio Sawa is an unqualified success by any measure," said Pattiz, of the radio station launched in 2002, which provides a mix of Arab and Western pop music, as well as news programming. Radio Sawa's news programming is considered "reliable and credible" in the region, said Pattiz.

Pattiz added that the United States began broadcasting February 14, 2004 Arabic language news and information programming across the Middle East through the Alhurra satellite television station.

Responding to skepticism that the television station will be dismissed as U.S. government propaganda, Chairman of the BBG Kenneth Tomlinson told lawmakers in February 10 congressional testimony, "Our competitive edge in the Middle East is our very dedication to truth and free and open debate. And we will stand out like a beacon of light in a media market dominated by sensationalism and distortion."

"We will challenge the voices of hate and repression with truth and the voices of tolerance and moderation. The people will hear free and open discussions not just about conflict in the Middle East, but also about subjects critical to that region's future," said Tomlinson.

Marc Lynch of Williams College in Massachusetts said the United States must approach the Arab media not as an enemy, but as a potential partner. Lynch cautioned that the metaphor of war, commonly used by U.S. officials discussing a "war on terrorism" or "war of ideas" is "profoundly damaging to any attempt to have a genuine dialogue."

"It is a fundamental mistake to describe AlJezeera as violently anti-American, as Al-Jezeera criticizes everyone," said Lynch. But Pattiz, citing the programming of Radio Sawa and Alhurra explained: "Al-Jezeera is not the enemy. They are competition in the marketplace of ideas and we need to engage them."

Lynch questioned how the U.S. measures the success of its broadcasting efforts in the Middle East. Acknowledging that Radio Sawa has been highly successful in generating an audience, he said: "People are listening, but anti-American sentiments is high."

"I have no question that they [those working for Radio Sawa and Alhurra] are professionals doing their job well," he said, "but my question is, are they doing the right job."