Is it possible to improve the image of America in the Muslim world? A panel tackled that question at New York University on Tuesday evening at a program called, "'Why Do They Hate Us? They Used To Love Us!' U.S.Public Diplomacy and Its Challenges in the Muslim World." The panel was moderated by Mustapha Tlilli, founder of NYU's "Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West."
Relying on focus group research from Egypt, Morocco, and Indonesia, Charney Research president Craig Charney spoke about how little is known in Muslim countries about American aid programs. Cairo residents are relatively unaware that America has provided low-pollution buses, but it is widely known that the Japanese funded the Cairo opera house.
Mr. Charney next turned to the issue of misinformation. In Morocco and elsewhere, estimates of how many Jews live in America ranged from 10% to 80% of the population (the actual percentage is closer to 2%).
Mr. Charney said that in Muslim countries, resentment of President Bush and American power is strong. But he found ambiguity and ambivalence in their attitudes toward America. Muslims still have respect for America's educational and legal system, its scientific research and technology, and its work ethic, he said, and "these happen to be the areas" where they believe their own societies need most to develop.
Farhad Kazemi, an NYU professor of politics and Middle Eastern Studies, said the U.S. Information Agency merger with the State Department in 1999 had pushed public diplomacy "backstage." He said, however, that Karen Hughes's recent efforts to reinvigorate public diplomacy were a correct move, because the Muslim world has a "deep feeling of cultural invasion" in relation to America. "Envy, resentment, frustration, anger" are among the reaction to American power and policies. Moreover, America's "style, tone, and attitude" is perceived as arrogant.
Andras Szanto, a research affiliate at the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton, spoke about cultural diplomacy, which is a subset of public diplomacy. He spoke of research investigating how many foundation grants were designed for cultural exchange; i.e. artists, art objects, or art experts crossing American borders and going to other countries. The top 50 foundations commanded assets of around $163 billion in 2001, and dispensed grants totaling $7.8 billion that year. Of that, 7% (or about $545 million) went to arts and culture. Of the 7%, less than 10% ($46 million) was international. "The thin sliver of the pie" dedicated to international arts exchanges ($15.4 million) is less than .02% of overall foundation giving. Mr. Szanto said that in 2001, the sum of all arts exchange grants that went to the Middle East ($317,000) was less than the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Members of the audience laughed when he noted that, today, he'd have to say "less than a studio apartment." Mr. Szanto said there appeared to be a tremendous mismatch between priorities of our cultural funding system and the reality of a global world.
GREEN DAY "I begin - like a good Irishman - with an apology," the consul general of Ireland, Tim O'Connor, said. He went on to say he'd only been in New York seven weeks as a "freshly minted" consul general. He was giving welcoming remarks last week at the launch of the Institute for American Irish Studies at Pace University. Advisory board members present included David Caputo, who gave remarks; Eduardo Castell; Edward Conlin; Jane Crotty; John Patrick Diggins, who is at work on a book about Ronald Reagan; Michael McGuire; and Jennifer Sullivan. Tenor Michael Londra sang and executive director Chris Cahill introduced Stanley Crouch, who spoke about film director John Ford.
Mr. O'Connor spoke of a golden period of relations between America and Ireland. He offered some intriguing statistics: American investment in Ireland is five times American investment in China. There are about 270 Irish companies operating inside America employing 65,000 people. Finally, he said, there are now more American citizens applying for permits to work in Ireland than vice versa. "There's a richness of material, shall we say, for an institute to study the changing nature" of the relationship between Ireland and America.
Speaking of Ireland's economic boom, Mr. O'Connor noted that New York's attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, upon visiting Ireland, remarked that aspects of its economic resurgence could be a model for upstate New York.