September 9, 2011

Pricey Image Control

Here’s the problem with puff pieces like the one below (“Mideast’s Changing View of America”): They assume we should care what others think, or that these others have the slightest clue what they are talking about.

Instead of spending “millions trying to improve [our] image” in the Arab Middle East, or periodically conducting polls to see if they like us or not, how about polling Americans on what they know/think about them? Poll results will likely show that few Americans know much, if anything, about the Middle East, Arabs or their culture.

All the more reason to use those millions we’re wasting on image control, to improve our education system and schools here at home. After all, maybe they’ll produce a future President who actually knows something about the world or American foreign policy; or for that matter, a “communications czar”/”former ad executive” who know what they’re doing?!

The Daily Beast  |  September 8, 2011

Mideast’s Changing View of America

By Randall Lane

David Silverman / Getty Images

After 9/11, the U.S. spent millions trying to improve its image in the Middle East. In the afterglow of the Arab Spring, Randall Lane polls the region to see what has - and hasn't - changed.

Among the findings:

• An exclusive Newsweek–Daily Beast poll of 1,000 Egyptians reveals that a majority (53 percent) doesn’t believe that al Qaeda was responsible for the Twin Tower attacks—instead affixing blame to Israel, the U.S. government, or an unknown entity.

• In the same survey, 62 percent either don’t believe the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden or they aren’t sure.

• Only 11 percent of Egyptians think America cares about their interests.

To understand America’s current standing in the Arab world 10 years after 9/11, it’s instructive to visit Obros, a coffeehouse-cum-nightclub in Beirut. The place is a tribute to Kennedy-era “American kitsch,” and its 35-year-old proprietor Joulan El Aschkar displays a sophisticated touch, from Pierre Cardin–period wallpaper to Mad Men–worthy vintage furniture and electronics to 100 gigabytes of forgotten '60s hits like B. J. Thomas’s “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” rotating with fully intended irony.

I’m merely there for free Wi-Fi, but when El Aschkar notices an actual American in his shrine to America, he eagerly engages me in conversation, then directs my laptop to his family’s website—solely devoted to the idea that the World Trade Center attack was an inside job perpetrated by U.S. neocons. “I just ask questions,” he shrugs mischievously. “The American version isn’t credible.”

This duality - desperate need for love entwined with either willful ignorance or even nuanced hate - has underlain the Arab view of America for a generation, unchanged even by the collapse of the Twin Towers. More here...


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