A panel of experts recently addressed a full audience at the University of California, Irvine during a panel entitled, “Addressing the Global Image of the United States”.
MPAC’s Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati moderated the event by asking Mark Levine, Assistant Professor of history of Middle East and Religion at the University of California, Irvine, to give his views on whether America faces an image problem around the world or only in the Muslim world. Professor Levine remarked that rather than being the Muslim world’s problem or any other region’s problem, anti-American sentiment is, “America’s problem”. Levine added that Americans have been exposed to a large amount of “misinformation” and “ignorance” about the Arab and Muslim world.
Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, Professor of Physics, at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and author of "Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality", said that due to the ferocity of America’s military campaign in the Middle East, liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was not enough to quell Anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world. Professor Hoodbhoy added, “while America might have liberated Iraq, it lost Pakistan”, referring to the fact that religious groups inside Pakistan gained more seats in parliament than ever before in history by campaigning on an Anti-American platform.
In response to a question about whether America’s image problem is a result of policy or of a misunderstanding, Ian O. Lesser, Vice President and Director of Studies at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, told the audience that analysts often ignore an uncomfortable truth about America. “We are a hegemony”, Pattiz said, adding that some administrations have applied America’s hegemony “softly”, and some more harshly.
Norman J. Pattiz, the Director of the United States Broadcasting Board of Governors and creator of “Radio Sawa” and the USBBG’s new Middle East Radio Network, told the audience that Radio Sawa’s mission was a “journalistic mission”, adding that, “we don’t do propaganda and we don’t do psychological operations.” Pattiz said that if America tries to sell its policy to the Arab world, “it will fail”, and so therefore should concentrate on introducing “free media” to the Arab world, adding that Al-Jazerra, while the closest to free media in the Arab world, is a cross between “CNN and Jerry Springer”.
Dr. Maher Hathout, Senior Advisor to MPAC, closed the panel by raising concerns that the problem of America’s image in the world was in fact a “crisis”, and he went on to admonish the audience that we should not underestimate the effect this image could have on realities on the ground for Americans and non-Americans. Dr. Hathout recounted his experiences as a youth opposed to the British occupation of Egypt, and noted that, “I listened to the BBC because I trusted that news more than the news of my own government…that did not mean that I did not want the British to leave Egypt”, referring to the idea that Radio Sawa would succeed in changing the hearts and minds of Arab and Muslim people.