Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I am completely numb about the horror of the hurricane and its aftermath. I am not very good at articulating my feelings when they are very overpowering, so I prefer to read and hear others rather than share my impressions, which are very similar to other people's (anger, horror, tears). Please donate to the Red Cross if you have not already.

I hope that as a result of this, FEMA gets its funding back and gets some new, competent management. That is all I am going to say about that. There is no reason for me to waste time putting into my own words what has been said much better by that poor parish president, Mr. Broussard, who was on the Meet the Press show.

An Article about US Public Diplomacy

Often on lists that I belong to, I comment on articles that were sent to the list. Recently one was sent regarding the new Bush Administration "Public Diplomacy initiatives" supposedly undertaken by their relatively new appointee to the Undersecretary of State Department for Public Diplomacy position, famed campaign person and writer of Bush biographies, Karen Hughes. The article really irritated me, so I have written a dialogue back at it. This puts me right in the same league with crazy people who yell at their TV sets, but that's OK. I never claimed to be normal.

The article is from the New York Times, and was by a reporter named Laurie Goldstein who was at the recent Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention.

I care about this issue because actually, during the mid-90s, I used to work in "public diplomacy" for the US government (at the time, I worked for USIA which is now an arm of the State Department).

Rosemont, Ill. -- American Muslims met with Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes on Friday at an Islamic convention here to offer advice and assistance as she began an initiative to improve the flagging image of the United States among Muslims overseas.

Public diplomacy was never intended to "improve flagging image" but was intended to use long-term, proven exchange type mass-oriented programs to build the US's image overseas over decades. This long-term effort began after WWII and ended in the Reagan Administration, when the decision was made to focus on "improving relations" with the elites only and to take away funding for broad-based programs (English language teaching programs and public libraries and film nights and other things that cultural centers do).

Hughes began overseeing "public diplomacy" for the Bush administration last month. She said she and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would hold a public forum and announce a new "public diplomacy" strategy next week. She gave few details but said the initiative would involve exchange programs, debates and interfaith dialogues.

What in the heck is the "initiative" in doing exchange programs and interfaith dialogues? These things have existed before. They were cut to the bone. They are long-term, they don't deliver instant results in terms of changing of attitude. What is their hope in doing these things?

Also: Whose attitudes do they aim to "improve" - society at large or elites? If society at large, the attitudes are based on observation of US policy and improvements in that attitude might happen if US policy actually shifted.

We have a common interest in confronting terror and violence and hate and crime that is committed in the name of any religion, and we want to isolate and marginalize those who would seek to kill innocents," Hughes said at a news conference. "And frankly, who better to do that than many of our American Muslims themselves, who have friends and family and groups in countries across our world?

As usual, they are using this so-called "public diplomacy" initiative as a further bully pulpit to demonize those in the Middle East opposed to US interventionism and imperialism, labeling them all as terrorists, criminals, and haters.

Polls have shown that the image of the United States among Muslims abroad has plummeted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the start of the Iraq conflict.

Gee, and this must be because there are not enough exchange programs and interfaith dialogues - or government funded boondoggle radio and TV stations blasting US music and fashion advice to the Middle East. There can't possibly be any CAUSAL relationship between the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the whole Israel-Palestine long-term issue, and the "plummeting" of the US "image."

Hughes met separately with leaders of Muslim organizations, young people and a delegation from England that was among an estimated 40,000 here for the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. The society is an umbrella group of mosques and Islamic centers in the United States and Canada.

What did she meet with the delegation from England for? And, more importantly: What exactly do these people hope to accomplish by trying to help the US design its PR to fool the people of the Middle East into thinking it is benign, when facts on the ground so clearly state the opposite?

"It's all talk right now and unclear what the concrete steps are," Rubina Khan, treasurer of the Muslim Students Association, said. "But if we can form a relationship with anybody in the administration who has that power, then obviously we should try."

What do you hope to do with this relationship, Ms. Khan? Why are you helping them design advertising to convince Muslims in the Middle East that "we're here to help!"???

Some Muslim leaders who met Hughes said they were gratified to be consulted and impressed with her willingness to listen. A few said she appeared to lack knowledge about the Middle East and seemed unaware of how fearful many American Muslims had become of government surveillance and intrusions on their civil liberties.

But she is not in CHARGE of those issues, so the fact she is a good listener and acts sympathetic is completely IRRELEVANT. Her task is to market the US to Muslims, not to fix the real problems causing the bad attitudes. Why do they think it's great she can listen to them, when her brief has nothing to do with solving their real problems? She is not going to repeal the blasted Patriot Act.

Hughes said at the news conference that when some Muslim students told her that they were afraid to speak on cell phones to family members overseas, "that broke my heart."

Well, at least she is a bit more diplomatic than Barbara Bush was about the NOLA refugees, but I don't see what her sympathy has to offer in terms of concrete solutions. She's a PR flak. That is her job. She is supposed to act sympathetic. Emphasis on the word 'act'.

Several Muslims said Hughes should denounce hate speech against Islam from non-Muslim Americans in the American news media, because those comments are amplified overseas as representative of America. "I think that would probably be the most effective thing she could be doing, is confronting the bias, prejudice and racist views of Islam that are perpetrated in the U.S.," said Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, an organizational consultant from Oakland.

I like how Muslims buy into this 'denounce' thing and figure that if they can get the Bush Administration to denounce things it somehow evens out that we are supposed to denounce every negative thing any co-religionist ever does, like there is shared responsibility for it. The Bush Administration is already too good at mouthing words that are totally at odds with their damned actions, you clueless people. Sure, they will happily make silly statements about how great Islam is and how it is a religion of peace, and then go bomb Fallujah again and cause "collateral damage." What planet are all these people on, where words are so crucial and deeds don't mean a
damned thing?????

American Muslim leaders are also trying to repair the flagging image of Islam. There is a growing sense of urgency among Muslim leaders since the bombings in London in July that they have to do more to counter Muslim extremists who are citing Islam to justify violence and terrorism.

Yeah, that is the main issue here. Don't let anyone forget that it is the Muslims who are the villains here, not the poor Bush Administration.