Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Beacon No. 41: First Muslim Women Summit Everest


Today's Christian Science Monitor announces that two Muslim women have summitted Mt. Everest:

Farkhondeh Sadegh, a graphic designer, and Laleh Keshavarz, a dentist, hoisted their country's tricolor flag on the 29,035-foot summit, together with six Iranian men, on Monday morning.

It's no surprise the first Muslim women atop Everest are Iranians. (Six Iranian guys made it too.) Iran's women are standouts in their own region, and they don't just climb mountains; they're making strides in any sport that allows loose clothing:

[Climbing,] long popular with Iranian men, has gained enthusiasts among Iranian women, along with golf, skiing, taekwondo, and paragliding—activities in which the need to keep the body well-covered is not a serious hindrance to performance.

Their success on Everest will raise the profile of women's sports in Iran, which have surged in recent years. Earlier this year, Iran hosted the All Women Games for Muslim and Asian Capitals, in which some 600 women from 17 countries competed in events ranging from marksmanship to swimming.

Of course, it helps to have Dad around when you have to face down the mullahs over organizing a track meet:

Women's sports in Iran have been championed by Faezeh Hashemi, vice president of Iran's National Olympic Committee and a daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the front-runner in next month's presidential elections. She initiated the Muslim Women's Games, held every four years, in 1993. Men may not attend the games, either as judges or spectators, so the athletes are free to compete in normal sporting garb.

Iranian women teach, heal, vote and hold office—and at least one is making a splash in auto racing, as the Times noted two weeks ago. Then there's Shirin Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize.

Only three Iranian men (Khatami, Khamenei and Rafsanjani) are ever written about in the West, but stories of high-achieving Persian women keep piling up, starting with Elaine Sciolino's Persian Mirrors in 2000. These tales are undoubtedly increasing Iran's soft power because Iranian women are seen as freer, more savvy and more energetic than their counterparts elsewhere in the region.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Who's YOUR Enemy?


From a look at recent news stories, it's clear the Japanese fear the North Koreans, the Indians distrust the Pakistanis, and the French are having none of the European Union constitution.

But look on the bright side: All Beijing is mad for German hip-hop.

Friday, May 27, 2005

What's the Matter with Kansas Cowboys in China?


Just to prove that anyone in the private sector can contribute to public diplomacy, the Wichita Business Journal says the Prairie Rose Wranglers have been invited to tour the People's Republic of China:

The Prairie Rose Wranglers are a singing group that is part of Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper, a popular tourist destination just outside of Wichita. Prairie Rose is partnering with Wichita's Village Travel & Tours to bring about 200 Kansans to China for the event, called the Great American Cowboy China Tour.

Basically, Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper is one of those endearing bits of Americana that happens to serve live, Western-themed entertainment along with dinner. The Wranglers have already played Carnegie Hall, so it's a natural next step for them to head overseas.

Expect Kansas congressmen to talk politics with their Chinese counterparts and businessmen to pitch Wichita's thriving aviation biz (Boeing, Bombardier/Learjet, Beechcraft and Cessna all have operations or headquarters there).

But I'd like to sit in just to hear the Wranglers sing "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" for their Chinese hosts.

[Again, thanks to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.—PK]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Beacon No. 40: Who Wants the Israel Account?


Gideon Meir, deputy director-general for media and public affairs at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recently wrote a Jerusalem Post piece about hasbara, a word he says defies direct translation but loosely means "public diplomacy." Israel needs more of it, Meir writes, and so Israel's foreign ministry will initiate a new campaign called "Israel Beyond the Headlines."

Unfortunately, this doesn't involve changing unappealing policies, but rather explaining Israel better. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and company seem to think the media, not Israeli policies, are the problem. In a PR Week article, Gideon Meir singled out the European press for allegedly lopsided portrayals of the Jewish state:

Meir plans to stress the country’s medical and technological achievements, thriving business community and ‘diverse’ culture.

"That is the real Israel, not the Israel that is distortedly represented by the European media," he said.

"Those media have an agenda, some [media outlets] even of de-legitimizing the Jewish state."

The PR Week article continues by saying that Israel has begun shopping for a new ad agency to take its case to Europe's citizens.

But everyone—European or otherwise—already knows and agrees that Israel's medical and high-tech businesses are superb, its businesses thriving and productive, and its culture diverse, from Ethiopians to Russians to Brooklynites. It's also well-known that Israel's democracy is rambunctious, its living standards high, its Arab citizens freer than Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East, et cetera.

The U.S. has been down the same road as the Israelis. After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. went into overdrive to answer the question, "Why do Muslims hate us?" The official answer was that Muslims didn't understand the U.S.: that it's a democracy, that freedom of worship is guaranteed, that its diverse culture welcomes immigrants, that the sky here is the limit.

An expensive ad campaign was mounted to spread this answer around the Middle East. But most Muslims were asking a different question, which might be phrased, "Why are you helping the guy whose boot is on my neck?" The U.S. ad campaign sank like a stone, and I would expect a similarly shallow Israeli campaign to tank as well.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun a process that is orders of magnitude more expensive: trying to actually support democratic elements abroad and, however clumsily and bloodily, toppling two strategically important dictatorships and replacing them with infant democracies. It's a story that no ad agency could tell in a TV commercial—unless the ad was decades long.

[Thanks to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial Jerusalem Post post.—PK]

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Competitors


People's Republic of China Vice Premier Wu Yi has cut short her fence-mending visit to Japan, just short of a scheduled meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

The official reason is that some unstated situation requires Wu's urgent presence in Beijing; but Wu really left because Koizumi recently said he'd visit the Yasukuni Shrine.

Yasukuni is a monument to thousands of Japanese soldiers killed during World War II. Fourteen of the dead are "Class A" war criminals involved in atrocities, including atrocities in China. Shrine visits have been a sore subject in Sino-Japanese relations for decades, but one might expect Beijing—supposedly alarmed by the success of the anti-Japanese riots it inspired last month and wanting to improve relations—to give Koizumi a pass.

Wrong. As the L.A. Times reports (and the Post weakly echoes), Wu not only canceled her Koizumi meeting on short notice, she then had lunch with Japanese business leaders and gave a speech, saying, "The relationship between the two countries is not satisfactory or benign."

Besides violating diplomatic protocol, Wu's behavior is plainly designed to drive a wedge between Japanese business—who have increasingly large investments in mainland China—and their own government.

But it's politically impossible for Koizumi to stop visiting Yasukuni, just as it would be for a U.S. president to skip laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns each year. The Japanese right is increasingly flexing its political muscles and if the moderate Koizumi loses office, his replacement might be even less to Beijing's liking.

One wonders what long-term interests the PRC is pursuing so undiplomatically. The only explanation I can think of is that Beijing's actions aren't "talking" to Japan at all, but to its other World War II victims. And keeping 60-year-old resentments fresh may help box Tokyo out of northern Asia—but may also drive Japan closer to the U.S.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Beacon No. 39: Guantánamo (tr. v.) Lower the Pride, Dignity or Self-Respect Of


When the U.S. military makes a mistake—from the accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians to the Abu Ghraib scandal—both it and the rest of the U.S. government must redouble its efforts to show that a mistake is just that: an aberration not to be tolerated or repeated. It must be what Caesar demanded of his wife: that she be above suspicion. Any other path risks reinforcing the tainted view most of the Muslim world now has of U.S. intentions.

That view is now so lopsided that when a magazine like Newsweek runs a poorly sourced item about Qur'an 'abuse' in the prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, riots break out and to date at least 17 people have died. Ah, the Muslim world seemed to say, it was enough that they abused our men—heck, our own governments do that—but now the Prophet's words are threatened. Kafiya, as Egyptians are saying about their domestic politics: Enough.

Newsweek backpedaled once, then a second time. The White House condemned the magazine and prison abuse generally, forgetting that allegations of Qur'an desecration at U.S. facilities are both old and ongoing (as in Red Cross and Amnesty International reports). None of it did any good, because it didn't fit with the Muslim world's pre-existing notions of U.S. techniques and intentions.

Now a new generation is embracing this view, as Somini Sengupta and Salman Masood wrote in Saturday's Times. They report on the annual play at a private boys' school in Islamabad, Pakistan:

It didn't matter that the boys at the Lahore Grammar School, an elite academy that has sent many of its graduates to study in American universities, lived in a world quite removed from that known by most prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The more they explored, the more the play resonated, the director of the school's production, Omair Rana, recalled Friday in a telephone interview. The detainees were Muslim, many were Pakistani and one had been arrested in Islamabad, the country's capital.

"It was something we all could relate to," Mr. Rana said of "Guantánamo," a play created "from spoken evidence" by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo, a Briton and a South African, that was staged in London and in New York last year. "All that seemed very relevant, very nearby - in fact, too close for comfort."

These boys have access to many sources of information and could have put on a play about anything. But as Sengupta and Masood point out, endless photos of prisoners in shackles and orange jumpsuits have struck a chord. That one of Guantánamo's watchtowers features a qibla pointing toward Mecca and thus the direction of prayer; that Muslim chaplains minister to Guantánamo prisoners; and that mosques dot major U.S. cities matters not a bit to people who are now predisposed to think much worse things are going on away from the camera's eye.

As Donald Rumsfeld once said, the U.S. must succeed in stopping terrorists 100 percent of the time, where the terrorists only have to succeed once. The Caesar's Wife Corollary to this maxim is that the U.S. must stop creating demeaning images of Muslims 100 percent of the time—even of people who only embrace Islam when it's to their advantage, like Saddam Hussein. There mustn't be a single action or appearance of disrespect for people who are already helpless on some Caribbean island or Afghan airbase, or their religious books, or their allegedly private moments folding their pants.

Taking greater care in how already helpless prisoners are viewed makes it less likely that Qur'an desecration would lead to rioting and death in other countries, particularly those where the U.S. would like to be seen as a benefactor, like Afghanistan.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Beacon No. 38: What, Exactly, Is in a Name


After 9/11 there was a wave of talk in the U.S. about how those Arabs are all religious fanatics—for heaven's sake, half their names have "Allah" in them, don't they? But many Christian names also relate to God. In the spirit of "It's a Small World After All," here's a contemporary Muslim/Christian dialogue—with names replaced by their meanings. See the key at the end to find out who's what in the heavenly order:

A luxury sedan pulls up to a Spanish Colonial house in Los Angeles one sunny day. A blonde woman emerges from the driver's side, as does an Arab man from the passenger side. The driver opens the trunk and together the two carry the Arab man's luggage up to the front door, where the driver's husband is waiting with a welcoming smile.

The driver makes introductions.

"Who Is Like the Lord, I'd like you to meet Servant of God. Servant, Who Is. I used to work with Servant of God at Chevron before the merger. Hey, honey, tell Servant our good news!"

"You bet! Our daughter, Belief and Trust in God, just got into the University of California at Santa Barbara. I don't know what that will happen to her relationship with Honoring God—he got accepted to Berkeley—but I hope they keep dating. Anyway, Honoring God is better for her than that Blessed by God deadbeat she used to go out with—he moved to Moab to mountain bike!"

"Well, congratulations! I hear UC Santa Barbara is a good school. Oh, and God Is My Strength, thanks so much for picking me up at LAX."

Servant of God fights back a jet-lagged yawn as God Is My Strength and Servant of the Lord show him around the house.

"Servant of God, how's your son doing over at Oxford?"

"The Chosen One? Oh, he's knocking 'em dead as usual, top grades. He complains about his roommate, Divine Spear, a lot, but hey, I complained about my first-year roommate too."

"And the job?"

"Well, I told you that my old boss, Savior, was transferred to Mecca, right? My new supervisor, The Lord Increases, is so much better. It's made a huge difference at the office in Riyadh. Now I walk out at the end of every day saying, 'Thank God.'"

"Good to hear. Well, can I get you something to drink? I'd offer you a Jack God Is My Judge's, but I know you're not a whiskey man. Pepsi alright?"

"Please. And I have a request while I'm here: Can we go to a restaurant that has those Servant of the Lord steaks? I've got a craving. You really can't get decent beef in Saudi Arabia."

"Done. The only thing that might foul up our plans is that our neighbors are expecting twins any second now, and they might need us to watch their dogs. The new mom's nervous, but we keep telling her the kids will turn out fine. She wants to name them God's Gift and God's Gift if they're boys."

Well, what about if they're girls? She could always name them God's Gift or God's Gift.

"True. Servant, I know you must be tired after the long flight from Riyadh, so Who Is Like God and I will let you nap before dinner. Towels are in the guest bathroom. Holler if you need anything!"

"Thanks for the hospitality, God Is My Strength. My wife Prayer made me get lots of sleep the night before I got on the plane, but a nap would do me good. See you in a few hours!"

The End

Who Is Like the Lord: Michael
Servant of God: Abdullah
Belief and Trust in God: Faith
Honoring God: Timothy
Blessed by God: Benedict
God Is My Strength: Gabrielle
Prayer: Dua
The Chosen One: Mustafa
Divine Spear: Oscar
Savior: Fadi
The Lord Increases: Yusuf
God Is My Judge: Daniel
Servant of the Lord: Angus
God's Gift (boys): Matthew and Nathan
God's Gift (girls): Dorothy and Theodora

* Based on various baby-naming Web sites.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rajul-in-the-Street Interviews


Egyptian man-in-the-street interviews about the popularity of Al-Hurra have been published by Transnational Broadcasting Studies, a joint Oxford/American University of Cairo project. Read about them here. A quick taste:

I watch Alhurra but I feel that there is something strange about it. I wonder how come the US is financing this channel and still the services it offers are not that great. Sometimes I feel that the announcers are not professional at all and they speak classical Arabic with difficulty. I also feel that their news bulletins are filtered so that they would not offend the Arab viewers. And if you forget about the news you feel that their other programs are boring and they are of no interest to you. I do not know why it is still operating till now.
Noha Muhammad, 26, journalist

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Beacon No. 37: The Chávez Channel


The Christian Science Monitor and others have been reporting on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's planned opening of Telesur, a 24-hour news network to be co-owned with Argentina and Uruguay. Chávez, a leftist former general with a well-earned dislike of the U.S., wants his Southern Hemisphere network to compete with what he says is Northern Hemisphere—and particularly U.S.—dominance of world news. (Comparisons with that other state-owned network with a penchant for ticking off Washington have come fast and furious.)

Considering Chávez already represses and increasingly controls Venezuela's domestic media, Telesur looks like a bid to increase Venezuela's soft power abroad by making it Spanish South America's de facto media outlet. Hopefully Telesur chief Aram Aharonian (test your Spanish chops on some of his writing) will hire serious journalists so Telesur can serve as an outlet for thoughtful coverage of South Americans by their own, rather than as wider platform for Chávez's often-lengthy rants against George Bush—and lionization of Fidel Castro.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Beacon No. 36: A Little Too Deep in the Heart of Texas


A few weeks ago I mentioned Arnaud de Borchgrave's advice to Karen Hughes, the presumptive under secretary of state for public diplomacy, former Bush/Cheney campaign dynamo and former KXAS-TV news reporter. De Borchgrave and innumerable other Washingtonians have given Hughes a trove of advice; but the under secretary-designate isn't around to receive it.

At a time when even Vice President Cheney tells the Washington Post that public diplomacy "has been a weak part of our arsenal," Hughes hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. Neither has her deputy-to-be, Dina Powell, who apparently won't be ready for work for another couple of months.

Hughes, for one, isn't in a State Department office, doing advance work prior to Senate confirmation. She is in Texas, waiting for her son to leave for college, and expects to be there until the fall.

A little background: Hughes left the White House in 2002 to spend more time with her family, and unlike most elected officials who use those words, she actually walked the walk of going back to being Everymom. She reemerged for the 2004 campaign, and after seeing her candidate to victory, accepted President Bush's nomination to help lead State's public-diplomacy efforts.

Unfortunately, either the president's nomination was premature—just a way of holding the seat for Hughes for a few months—or public diplomacy isn't the high priority the administration claims. After all, six months between nomination and swearing-in is a little much, a full eighth of a presidential term.

U.S. public diplomacy cries out for a leader who can be present to lead, or at least drop by the State Department to share her vision for public diplomacy—not one whose name is on the door but whose head and heart are still on other things.

It's possible that Hughes already starting to manage her part of State by phone, e-mail and fax from her home; she may be doing it as I sit here typing late on a Friday afternoon. And some version of that method served her well in two presidential campaigns.

But a campaign is necessarily reactive and ad hoc, and what the U.S. needs right now is for someone with Hughes' intellect, drive and access to the president to create an inspired, 10- to 20-year schedule for improving U.S. public diplomacy.

That way, a proactive plan will be up and running by the time President Bush's successor (whether Republican or Democrat) takes office in January 2009. The U.S. will have moved that much further toward fully harnessing its soft power, and under secretary Hughes can attend her son's college graduation that May with a sense of her own achievement.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

John Zogby: It's U.S. Policy, Not Culture, That Arabs Dislike


At the other end of the spectrum from my April 21 post on Americans' individual responsibilities abroad ("Beacon No. 31: Like a Good Neighbor, Americans Are There?") is John Zogby, who told a Rice University audience that it's U.S. policy that drives Arab attitudes, not individual Americans or their culture:
Mr. Zogby said the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have damaged the U.S. image among Arabs.

"There has been a decline, since 2002, in Arab public attitudes towards the United States, in general, and towards aspects of the United States. There has been a slight rebound in 2004 from 2003 and, of course, we have not polled since the events in Iraq [the election and subsequent moves to establish a government] and the Palestinian elections and so on, but I suspect that there is still a lot of anger," he said.

See Greg Flakus' full story at Axcess News.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Beacon No. 35: Guests Try to Call the Tune in Brasilia


Brazil has recently tried to raise its profile on the world stage, seeing proposals for an expanded United Nations Security Council as opportunities to finally ascend to the world leadership role Brazilians have craved.

And why not, they might ask: Brazil has an energetic, multicultural population, untapped natural resources, economic dominance of South America, peaceful transfers of power, an endlessly creative music scene whose songs permeate the world, a big middle class and, uniquely in the Southern Hemisphere, a top-notch aerospace industry.

For some reason, though, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva decided the time was right for a summit with a group of countries that have almost none of those things: Cue the international spotlight for the South American-Arab Nations Summit in Brasilia!

This gathering may flop, as Larry Rohter writes in today's Times, because most South American countries want to focus on economic issues, the Arabs seem to have flown all that way just to condemn Israel, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez wants to tweak Uncle Sam's nose:

... The two blocs in attendance ... almost immediately voiced profoundly different priorities. In their opening speeches, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, focused their criticisms on Israel and the United States and called for greater solidarity with the Palestinians.

South American leaders, however, sought to keep the emphasis on economic issues. "Our great challenge is to design a new international economic and commercial geography," the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in remarks inaugurating the event on Tuesday morning. ...

Attendance fell short of Brazil's initial expectations, further depriving the event of some of its luster. While the majority of South America's 12 presidents are participating, only 7 of the 22 Arab nations that were invited are represented by heads of state or government. ...

Behind the scenes, the two blocs struggled to devise a final declaration that would be acceptable to both sides and not damage Brazil's diplomatic aspirations. Diplomats here said the United States and the European Union had expressed concerns to participants at the tone of the draft that the Arab group were pushing with some support from Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, Washington's leading critic in South America.

Oh, Lula! Luckily, Brazil makes some of the world's best espresso, just the thing for getting through those long afternoons when his noble aspirations for Brazil get jammed between President Chavez's prickliness and the need to endure guestly lectures about Zionism.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Beacon No. 34: Rocking for God in Marrakesh


As if "Christian rock" wasn't already a hothouse flower, Sam Loewenberg writes in today's Times about "Christian Rock for Muslims." The story covers Friendship Fest, a three-day music festival that Morocco's government let American Christians put on in the small, inland city of Marrakesh.

Loewenberg describes a situation in which Moroccan kids like the music but don't get the words, Christians functionally break Moroccan laws at Morocco's invitation, and the Rabat government's prime concern is to curry favor with U.S. evangelicals.

Proselytizing is as illegal in Morocco as it is elsewhere in the Muslim world, but Morocco appeared willing to look the other way to allow this particular group of Christians in—which seems strange until you read how some Moroccan officials viewed things:

From the Moroccan government's point of view, it was a chance to interact with what is perceived to be a politically influential group in American politics at a time when the country has been criticized on its human rights record and continues to grapple with a longstanding dispute over the status of Western Sahara.

Some media commentators in Morocco said that by befriending the evangelicals, the government was attempting to curry favor with American political leaders. The magazine Telquel said the government's embrace of the festival was intended to "sell the image of Morocco to the neo-conservative lobby in America."

The Marrakesh regional president, Abdelali Doumou, said in an interview that the government hoped the Friendship Fest would bolster Morocco's image on a variety of fronts, as "a modern country, a democratic country" and "to improve our image in the States in politics, in economics and everything."

He was more coy on the political influence wielded by the evangelicals but said, "If it happens that they are strong, it can help."

Morocco is particularly concerned about enlightening evangelicals on its position on Western Sahara, the former Spanish territory that Morocco has occupied since 1976: Those favoring Western Saharan independence are associated with ... with International Communism!

... One of the evangelical leaders who was behind the Christian rock festival, the Rev. Rob Schenck, who leads the conservative Christian lobbying group Faith and Action in Washington, said that after what he had seen in his meetings with Moroccan officials he would now seek to get evangelicals to reassess their position on Western Sahara and the Sahwaris' political leadership, the Polisario Front. "Evangelical Christians have to be extremely cautious about supporting any group that would sympathize with a socialist or Communist philosophy or world view, which is completely in conflict with an evangelical or Christian worldview," Mr. Schenck said in an interview. He said Moroccan officials had told the evangelical leaders that the Polisario had received Cuban training and aid.

A cynic might say Morocco is playing these folks like a violin, particularly by siting the concert far from any Moroccan population center, thus guaranteeing that its effects would be minimal. Some evangelicals view the festival as a success:

"To play worship music openly in a Muslim country, this is something that lots of people have been praying for for a long time," said Steve Iliff, a 44-year-old cook from Wisconsin who had traveled to the concert with four other members of his church.

Although the clean-cut, undoubtedly enthusiastic musical ambassadors made a good impression, few in this French-, Arabic- and Berber-speaking country will grok "worship music," or any other English lyrics:

... Mahmoud Zuine, a 21-year-old economics student, enjoyed the music but found the Christian component of the rock concert unsettling. "They know we love this music, so they use this music to pass their message," Mr. Zuine said. "It's like a magic way. It's not direct."

But he doubted that many of the Moroccans understood the lyrics. "I laugh because nobody knows what they are saying," he said.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Beacon No. 33: Sweeps in the Middle East


Today's Wall Street Journal points out that the Syrian TV-production season is currently in full swing:

Spring is the season for shooting Syrian television dramas for broadcast during the critical Ramadan holiday viewing season in October. That's when the Arab world rolls out its best new shows, and many Middle Easterners indulge in a month-long TV binge. In a major market like Egypt, as many as eight in 10 households with TV sets watch them nightly during Ramadan. "This is prime time," says Hussein Amin, head of the media and communications department at American University of Cairo.

Tens of millions of eyeballs will be glued to the set during Islam's holiest month, which this year starts on October 5. It's like the "sweeps" used to measure U.S. TV viewership in the months of February, May and November all rolled into one short lunar month—and a prime opportunity for U.S. international broadcasting to make a splash at relatively low cost.

Perhaps Al-Hurra—or some other U.S.-backed broadcaster—should get into the drama business to take advantage of the Muslim world's (briefly) unified attention. It would be easiest, given the short notice, to simply translate a month's worth of episodes of a quality U.S. drama, say The West Wing or Law and Order, into Arabic to show aspects of U.S. politics and society to Middle Eastern audiences.

And that's warts and all: People of all races and classes cooperate in both shows, and merit and ethical behavior are usually rewarded—but on the other hand, white supremacists try to kill President Bartlett's African American assistant early on in The West Wing, and the president himself orders the assassination of a Middle Eastern defense minister and then covers it up.

(As an aside, the WSJ article notes that Seinfeld is translated into Arabic for broadcast on Syrian TV. I cannot think of a less likely show to be a hit overseas, with the possible exception of the long-running success of Hogan's Heroes in Germany.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

We'll Write You from Brussels


Stop the presses: Turkey has agreed in principle to let the U.S. expand its non-lethal military cargo flights in and out of a U.S. airbase in Turkey.

It doesn't sound like that big a deal on its face, but there's a back-story here that's worth telling.

As deep as the U.S.-European Union divide over Iraq is, it's nothing compared to the gulf caused by the idea of admitting Turkey to the E.U.

As you've heard, most European governments oppose—as politely as they can through gritted teeth—Turkish E.U. membership. It's only with the greatest reluctance that the E.U. has agreed to start negotiations about a Turkish accession to the Union, and this after 20 years of trying by Ankara.

The U.S. has long supported Turkey's bid for accession. American policymakers see this as helping to stabilize Turkey's democracy and economy, crucial in a country that's the linchpin of a half-dozen Central Asian nations with Turkic populations or roots.

It also helps keep Ankara part of "us" in the us-vs.-them War on Terror, particularly absent a compelling post-Cold War reason for the U.S., E.U. and Turkey to cooperate via NATO.

Now, an L.A. Times article says, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Parliament:

... "the United States is the main axis of our foreign policy."

In his warmest description of relations with the U.S. since taking power more than two years ago, Erdogan added: "We can never forget America's support" for Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

Payback time! Steady, patient U.S. support for Turkey's aspirations over the years—

Even though the U.S. quietly opposed Erdogan, a moderate Islamist, in his bid to become prime minister; and

Even though Erdogan once referred to Iraqi insurgents as "martyrs"; and

Even though Turkey refused to let the U.S. use it as a staging area for the attack on Iraq; and

Even though Turkish commandos treated Kurdish northern Iraq like their private playground right after the war,

... is paying dividends in increased numbers of non-lethal flights in and out of Incirlik, which since September 11 has become even more vital to the U.S.'s ability to maintain operations in southwest and Central Asia.

(It helps that Erdogan doesn't have to go to Parliament for permission, since he'd probably be laughed out of the chamber. But still.)

Look for a follow-up American goodwill gesture, the L.A. Times article says: An invite for Mr. Erdogan to come to Washington.

Monday, May 02, 2005

We Both Speak "Tom & Jerry."

Anyone who says that U.S. pop culture can't penetrate the most benighted corners of the world should read today's Wall Street Journal, which has a Gordon Fairclough article about Exclamation Point. This is a South Korean children's game show that combines freshly shot South Korean footage with found North Korean footage. The result is a seamless spectacle of schoolchildren from both Koreas vying to answer questions, apparently in competition with one another:

The North Korean contestants—models of socialist propriety, with identical white shirts and red kerchiefs knotted around their necks—regularly beat their more-fashionable rivals from the capitalist South. The North's kids are good at math, nature and history. They know Korea's first capital was Pyongyang, not Seoul. They also can tell you that a cut-up sea slug will regenerate if you throw it back in the ocean. The South Korean kids are stronger in astronomy, and did better naming famous inventors, explorers and musicians.

The show is a hit in the South, which has shown a marked softening toward the North lately in its politics and its pop culture:

A recent hit film, for example, follows the comic adventures of two North Korean marines accidentally blown ashore in South Korea. As the pair desperately try to get home, they befriend a girl in trouble and rescue her by outfighting South Korean hoodlums.

Shades of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!. But the most striking quote comes at the end, when a South Korean boy, Han Su Kyo, says of his North Korean counterparts:

"I thought the people from the North would be very different." Now, he says, "I can see that we're similar. I feel like we are one people."

That message is clearly a focus of the questions for the special [Exclamation Point] episodes, which point out that North Korea, like the South, has a lottery and celebrities. Kids there also watch "Tom & Jerry."

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Robert Kaplan on Competition with China

In the June 2005 Atlantic, Robert Kaplan turns his discriminating eye toward the coming U.S. competition with the People's Republic. Although "How We Would Fight China" focuses on deterring the PRC militarily in some new Cold War, he also deals with differences between China and the U.S.'s last peer competitor:

Our efforts will require particular care, because China, unlike the Soviet Union of old, ... boasts soft as well as hard power. Businesspeople love the idea of China; you don't have to beg them to invest there, as you do in Africa and so many other places. China's mixture of traditional authoritarianism and market economics has broad cultural appeal throughout Asia and other parts of the world. And because China is improving the material well-being of hundreds of millions of its citizens, the plight of its dissidents does not have quite the same market allure as did the plight of the Soviet Union's Sakharovs and Sharanskys. Democracy is attractive in places where tyranny has been obvious, odious, and unsuccessful, of course, as in Ukraine and Zimbabwe. But the world is full of gray areas—Jordan and Malaysia, for example—where elements of tyranny have ensured stability and growth.

Kaplan is a bit more hard-headed than some, but always a joy to read for his incisiveness and clarity. If you don't subscribe to The Atlantic, spend five bucks to pick up a copy.
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