Events

Public Diplomacy and Relations between the United States, Middle East, and Larger Muslim World

December 17, 2001 // 11:00pm

The discussion was co-organized by Search for Common Ground and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The dialogue was held December 18, 2001 at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, and Professor Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, co-chaired the event.

Objectives of Dialogue and Public Diplomacy
Participants agreed on the need for greater communication and understanding between the United States and the people of the Middle East and the larger Muslim World. Attendees drew a distinction between public diplomacy (promoting U.S. government policy to populations abroad) and dialogue (increasing understanding between cultures). Participants noted the following broad objectives:

 Under Public Diplomacy:
o Dispelling myths and increasing understanding of US policy objectives in the region
 Under Dialogue:
o Promoting understanding of American values and culture among Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, and increasing American understanding of Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures and values
o Allowing a broad spectrum of people from the Middle East and the Muslim world to express their concerns regarding US policy in the region
o Supporting Middle Eastern people as they deal with indigenous problems and concerns

Official vs. Private Initiatives
A distinction was also made between official and private initiatives in pursuing these objectives. Participants agreed that governmental actions to increase understanding are crucial and should be expanded. However, the private sector also has a role to play in promoting education, exchanges, and mutual understanding. Due to widespread mistrust of the US in the region, private initiatives can avoid the stigma that is often associated with official activities and improve the receptivity of such activities in the region. Most participants agreed that in order to increase their effectiveness, the US government should support private initiatives, both through funding and official support as appropriate.

New and Ongoing Initiatives
The organizations identified with the activities listed below were represented by individuals who offered comments during the discussion. It is not an exhaustive list.
 Strengthening nascent democratic forces in various countries, including political parties and civil society groups (NDI)
 Meetings of Muslim democratic leaders to strengthen their ability to spread moderate religious messages in the Muslim world (NDI)
 Delegations of Americans to the Middle East to experience the culture and society first hand (National Council for US-Arab Relations)
 Video dialogues between Americans and Muslims who either identify with US values or are skeptical of the United States (SFCG)
 An entertainment summit that examines how the United States is portrayed in the media in the Muslim world, and how the Muslim world is portrayed in the American media (SFCG)
 Cultural exchanges between Americans and Iranians (SFCG)
 Visiting Fellows Programs for scholars from the Muslim world along with conferences aimed at engaging with issues relevant to the Muslim world (Brookings Institution)

Recommendations
Participants recommended several activities that would help build understanding. Notwithstanding some overlap between governmental and non-governmental efforts, recommendations included:

Governmental Initiatives
 Expand USIS-type activities, including cultural exchanges and radio programming
 Continue to improve public diplomacy activities
 Improve the training of staff at embassies to enable them to engage local populations more effectively and create cultural centers abroad
 Provide seed-money to American Studies programs at universities and think tanks in the region
 Expand military-to-military, educational, and other government-sponsored exchange programs
 Increase the resources available for such activities in the private sector

Non-Governmental Initiatives
 Engage regional leaders who share democratic values, providing them with information that dispels myths about the United States and inviting their perspectives on the roots of anti-American sentiment and possible remedies
 Send Americans to the region to engage in dialogue and broaden communication
 Focus on youth and women, who are the upcoming generation and the largest segment of Middle Eastern society
 Establish educational initiatives, including English language training, American studies, and job training, in order to dispel myths about the US and provide opportunities for people in the region
 Create more opportunities for Middle Easterners and Muslims to study in the United States and ensure that increased homeland security does not discourage them from pursing a US education
 Utilize Arab and Muslim Americans as bridge-builders to discuss American values abroad and engage in dialogue on related topics
 Circulate articles in the regional press that present the United States favorably and explain the rationale for US policy, while providing opportunities for people from the Middle East to present their perspectives in the US media
 Engage with the media and opinion makers in Middle East
 Establish relationships between think tanks, universities, and other institutions in the United States and in the Middle East
 Emphasize common needs and values while addressing the differences in values between Islam and the West
 Pursue a country-specific approach rather than a regional one, in order to provide effective, targeted programming that is contextually relevant

Next Steps
Participants agreed that this initiative to increase communication between the United States, the Middle East, and the broader Islamic world should continue, building on the rich discussion of the first meeting. In the near term, many participants agreed that activities should focus on influencing the administration’s new budget proposal, due to be released February 4. Participants decided to establish a steering committee, which would develop clarity on possible future directions, a suggested timetable, and an agenda for a follow-up meeting.

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