Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to Win Arab Hearts and Minds....NOT!

The U.S.-based satellite TV network Al Hurra was created by the State Department in 2004, as part of the Bush Administration's public relations efforts in the Middle East.

But what's this? Al Hurra has been broadcasting the views of leaders of the militant Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah!

Toward the end of Wednesday's Congressional hearing on American efforts to win more popular support in the Arab world, New York Democrat Gary L. Ackerman scolded al-Hurra representatives, when one of them tried to defend the station by saying it broadcasts uncut, live versions of President Bush’s speeches.

“You carry President Bush live?” Ackerman asked. Then, incredulously, “Hopefully we find this helpful to the mission?”

There was laughter throughout the committee room, but the exchange highlighted the central quandary surrounding American public diplomacy efforts.

So reports Helene Cooper in the New York Times.

The State Department came up with a plan to promote America's image in the Middle East a few years ago. Besides creating al Hurra, it took Muslim students to the World Cup games in Germany, served as host for Arab journalists at training seminars in Washington, and dispatched Bush's very close aide Karen Hughes, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, to talk to Muslim women around the world.

Cooper writes: "Those efforts do little to counter the rising anger among Arabs over the American role in Iraq and the Bush administration’s refusal to shut down the military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba."

And here we have al Hurra, paid for with American money, broadcasting the views of Hamas and Hezbollah. No wonder Ackerman was steamed. Still, "there was also tacit acknowledgment, even from Republican critics of Al Hurra, that blaming the network might be a little like shooting the messenger."

Here's a link to the full article.