Except for the Bush administration, almost everybody believes that the United States are losing the war in Iraq, if they have not lost it already. But there is another war the Americans are losing, one that some people, inside the administration and outside it, consider more important than the military battle: it is the war to win the hearts and minds of Arabs.
Have you ever heard of Hi Magazine? The answer is probably not. The magazine, launched in 2003, was targeted at Arab youth in order to give them a glimpse into living the American dream. The magazine proved to be a failure, and had to shut down after less than three years of the first issue.
However, Hi was not the only example of American failure to communicate with the Arab public. Al Hurra is still unable to attract even a small fraction of the audiences of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, and I wonder if anyone in the region listens to Radio Sawa. After the failure with the old media trio, only one medium is left in Uncle Sam’s bag of tricks: the internet.
According to an official at the U.S. Department of State, they are looking now for methods to use the internet to communicate with Arab youth, and they are tackling questions such as: what kind of websites appeal to this large demographic group that represent over 60% of the population in the region? Are they interested in news, sports, entertainment, blogs, social networks, or photo and video sharing? I would say any of these topics can be of interest to them, but only in one condition: it needs to be done right. And based on previous experiences in this field, the Americans just don’t know how to do that.
I believe that they are genuinely interested in reaching out to people here. They even send some of their top officials and advisers to talk with influential as well as regular people in the region. But when it comes to taking actions they utterly fail.
The failure in choosing the proper method of communication is not the only problem though. Another major problem facing the Americans here is that most people simply don’t trust them anymore. Several years of foolish and biased foreign policy in the Middle East have made people turn down anything coming with a “Made in USA” label. They just can’t expect anything good to come out of the U.S. administration.
So, what the Americans to do in their endeavors to boost more understanding between their nation and the Arab World? First, they should stop wasting resources on hopelessly failing projects. Instead, they should focus more on cultural exchange programs on different levels. Also, instead of launching their own projects online, they might consider using and supporting some of established websites to deliver their messages.
You don’t always need a standalone website to market an idea and spread the word about it online. Many good ideas on the web gained popularity depending exclusively on word of mouth. Governments, organizations and companies can make a big buzz by small gestures on the internet. Here is a few examples:
– Sponsor a competition on a community website.
– Ask a blogger for a slot as a guest blogger on his website (if you have something interesting to say, most bloggers would agree to do this).
– Support a non-profit organization.
Issues of ethics, credibility, and conflicts of interests should be clearly addressed and handled very carefully here. It could be very difficult for all parties included to deal with these issues in such situations, and therefore they should do their best to ensure transparency while maintaining a certain level of quality and respect.