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Public Diplomacy for a New Era -Review

by on May 8, 2012

Public Diplomacy for a New Era is a report written by Walter Douglas, senior visiting fellow from the Department of State at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies. The report attempts to analyse why the U.S., in its efforts to attempt to avert future terrorist attacks, is failing in getting its message across in Muslim countries. It is now widely accepted that successful PD involves a fair amount of listening. In his article, Public diplomacy: seven lessons for its future from its past, Prof.Nicholas Cull, asserts: ‘1. Public diplomacy begins with listening’ (Cull, 2010). Douglas however, believes that the realities of the situations, faced by those the U.S. is attempting to influence, are being neglected. If you show no interest in the lives and cultures of the people you are trying to influence, how can you expect these people to reciprocate, is the essence of his argument. But is it true, does the U.S. really not listen before delivering? Certainly in Barack Obama’s inaugural address he hinted at opening up a new two-way dialogue with the Muslim world when he said: ‘To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. Yet there still appears to be much ignorance of Islam in America, take for example the recent revelations that the NYPD had been conducting a large-scale spying operation on Muslim students at 16 colleges and universities including Yale. If they don’t understand or trust Muslim’s within their own communities how can they be expected to in others?

 

Douglas lays the blame for this ignorance at the, ‘one-size-fits-all’, if it works in the U.S. it will work anywhere, attitude adopted by Washington to anything foreign policy related. This point is reflected by an interesting point he makes regarding social media. Social media is being proclaimed as the new face of P.D. almost everywhere you look, and it certainly holds an important place in Western countries including the U.S. However, as Douglas points out ‘each country is different, but many Muslim countries are not wealthy enough or literate enough to support a large online culture’ (Douglas, 2012). Though consider the relevance social media played in the recent ‘Arab spring’, yes the masses may not have access to Facebook in poorer countries; but they do have mobile phones, and sending video and photo footage, and broadcasting text messages is not something out of reach or even unusual for mobile phone users in any country. A recent Pew report found that text messaging was a ‘global phenomenon’ (Project, 2011). The report also found that texting was most popular amongst the ‘poorest nations surveyed’. Although the report did back Douglas’ point to some extent: ‘Social networking is generally more common in higher income nations;….People in lower income nations who have online access use social networking at rates that are as high, or higher, than those found in affluent countries’ (Project, 2011) note the italics placed on the ‘who have’ this emphasis is the reports own. Really it depends on who you are trying to influence, if you are targeting the youth of a nation then social media is the way to go as those under 30 are most likely to use social networking sites. However if you are targeting the whole nation, including the older influential generation looking beyond social media is a must.

 

Douglas makes some other strong arguments, for instance ‘in Pakistan’ Douglas says ‘the English-language media reaches .01 percent of the media-consuming public’ (Douglas, 2012). Thus expecting citizens to understand and engage with P.D. strategies purely conducted in English is futile; ‘Look at the bibliography of most Western studies of the region. Vernacular sourcing is extremely rare… Do we believe that an authoritative report could be written on the United States without English-language sources?’ contends Douglas, and it is a very valid point indeed. Number two and three of Cull’s lessons are that: ‘Public diplomacy must be connected to policy’ and ‘Public diplomacy is not a performance for domestic consumption’ respectively (Cull, 2010), I would perhaps change these to public diplomacy entails 2.hearing and 3.understanding.

 

Bibliography

Cull, N. (2010). Public diplomacy: seven lessons for its future from its past. http://www.palgrave-journals.com/pb/journal/v6/n1/full/pb20104a.html: Palgrave.

Douglas, W. (2012). Public Diplomacy for a New Era. http://csis.org/files/publication/120413_gf_douglas.pdf: Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Project, G. A. (2011). Global Digital Communication: Texting, Social Networking Popular Worldwide. http://pewglobal.org/files/2011/12/Pew-Global-Attitudes-Technology-Report-FINAL-December-20-2011.pdf: Pew Research Center.

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