Where Do Arab Attitudes Come From?

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Views: 4856

The major conclusion of the latest Zogby poll of Arab attitudes toward the US - that Arab opinions of the US are at an all-time low - confirms results of numerous other recent polls, for example, those conducted by the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press.

More interesting is this Zogby finding: For over a third of all those surveyed, the principal source of information about the US was seeing or hearing Arab commentaries about the US in the Arab media. Among this group, "the overwhelming majority" has no direct experience of the US, and therefore relies on "received knowledge", i.e. media, for their information.

But pollster Zogby - head of the Arab-American Institute - goes on to conclude: "The central problem separating Arabs from America is not the Arab media, nor is it lack of information - it is all about policy."

Of course it's about policy. But how did these Arab readers and viewers learn about US policy? Largely through "received knowledge", i.e. from the Arab media.

What are the characteristics of Arab media? First, many Arab newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets are owned by Middle East governments, and are often used to say things that governments won't tell the US face-to-face. Second, many parts of the Arab media subscribe to myths such as Jews own most of the banks and mass media in the US. For most of the "Arab street", Jews and Israel are synonymous; and being Jewish equates absolutely with being pro-Israel, pro-Sharon, pro-settlements, and anti-Arab. Finally, just as US media tends to "frame" its stories through an American lens, the Arab media presents the news through Arab eyes. This kind of cultural baggage is understandable, almost instinctive, and virtually inevitable. In most Arab journalism, the American "cult of objectivity" in news reporting is non-existent (and vastly overrated in the US).

This is one of the reasons the US government spends many millions of dollars promoting its own media - like Al-Hurra TV and Radio Sawa. Compared with Arab TV channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, these ventures have not met with great success. They are seen - often justifiably - as outlets for US propaganda.

Writing in the Jordan Times, Zogby notes that "some of the leading proponents of expanding US public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East are approaching the Arab world as if it were the Soviet bloc behind a 21st century version of the 'Iron Curtain'," and making "serious mistakes" in the process. "The expenditure of huge sums on the development of alternative media, a la 'Radio Free Europe' (is) not useful," he says.

He encourages increased visitor and exchange programs - certainly worthwhile, but not an easy achievement in these days of visa delays and, at times, harassment at US airports. Nonetheless, he says, Arabs "want to visit the US, (and) meet Americans." However, he adds, "as long as the US policy in the region remains as it is, these public diplomacy efforts are, at best, fingers plugging holes in a leaking dyke."

One can agree or disagree with this conclusion. But media does not make policy; it reflects policy.

If policy is the only aspect of American life Arabs are interested in, and policy change is required before Arab audiences find America's messages credible, then the US might as well say nothing. This is not a solution; it is an abdication. The challenge is for the US to do a much better job of presenting a more rounded picture of American life. American public diplomacy needs to project fact - not propaganda - against a background of both hope and realism about what America is and what it is not.

Based on what I have seen, Al-Hurra TV is about as "fair and balanced" as Fox News is an oasis of liberal Democrats. It is filled with American "success stories" - there are no warts. The US would be more credible if, first, it made better use of Arab media, and, second, if it revealed itself as a society still wrestling with huge social, political and economic problems. Those attributes might resonate more effectively with Arab audiences. But Arab audiences have no experience whatever in some of the taken-for-granted constructs we broadcast - for example, the concept that ordinary citizens have the power to change policies - and presidents. This notion is alien to most Arabs, who lack the power to change anything. How America works needs explaining.

There are millions of Americans who believe there is an urgent need to change both the substance and the tone of much of US Middle East policy. The current electoral process will be a measure of just how many millions. Meanwhile, the country that virtually invented broadcasting ought to be able to do a better job of presenting itself to Arab audiences. As former US Ambassador Richard Holbrook wondered recently: How can a man in a cave out-communicate the mother of modern communications?

William Fisher served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy administration.

Source: www.arabnews.com

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
Views: 4856
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Older Comments:
I guess "abdul" aka "Abdullah hakim" is back pretending to be a Muslim yet again. Unfortunetly for you, you right wing dullard, you maniacs are being viewed EXACTLY as you should be, as murderous thugs and gangsters who have earned the collective hatred of the world.

The next title should be "MUSLIMS ATTTITUDE" or MUSLIMS' FEELINGS" towards Western countries. I have no doubt that muslims from any country / origin have similar feelings.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. When you opress a people. Demonize their culture, their religion. Steal their oil and property and give it to their enemies. Consider them to be inferior in every way...what did you expect the victims of such vicious oppression to do ? give you a big hug and a kiss ?? I am just surprised that the Muslim world is not more united against the US and Israel. Maybe that is what is lacking in Muslims - unity and dignity.

some muslim countries need not media to get an opinion on US policy but just to open the window in the morning...however it's true that the conspiracy theory is poisoning the muslim world s reasoning ability which is already sick enough...

Of course Jews are over represented in congress, in the administration and in the media. No media outlet in the USA-major ones, would dare to critic or even mention any 100% true stories about any Jew. Thos who are spying on the US, or sucking the economy into their directions, those who surround the president and write his policy.
Did the presedint follow Powel or Rice? Did he follow Wolfowitz, Perl, And Rumsfield?
He did not listen to Powel and Rice as they are his trophy educated slaves. They are not advisors with all meanings of the word. The USA has fought a war or more not in its own interest, but to please Israel. Who dares mentioning the Israeli abuse of Palastenians, who dares to follow up in their nuclear programs?
Who could critic the butcher -Sharon?
Tell me if that is not the behavior of a puppit?

How can a man in a cave out communicate the mother of modern communications? By telling the truth. As Muslims know "truth stands out clear from error". And the truth is that most of the press in the US is run by ALTI's (Americans loyal to Israel) Fox news is just the signal post of how bad objectivity has gotten in the American press. They have stopped even trying to cover up its lack there of. Other signs are how patently false statements from groups like the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" who have been able to lie like dogs about Kerry's record have shifted the vote in Bush's favor even though they have been shown to be republican paid lyers.

As the saying goes: a lie can go round the world several times before truth gets it's shoes on. (and be as immortal as the devil)

The US government is only as fair and honest to Muslims as it isn't a Zionist occupied government. Which is to say not much.

But this is to be expected as Israel is a spiritual discriminator. Jews that support it identify themselves as not understanding the meaning of "thou shalt not steal" while Christians that support it identify themselves as not following Jesus's teachings.

Truth may stand out clear from error but not everyone has the where with all to stick with it in the face of popular error. And they must win their spiritual failure.

How nice for the Institute of Obvious Statistics to tell us what we've always known. Its heartening to know that the opinions of the people of the world regarding America has matured. They now see these brutal and sadistic thugs and gangsters in their true form.

As a Muslim American, I feel saddened about a situation where Americans misunderstand and mistrust Muslims and vice versa. Little has been done about this situation from both parties. For example the American government tried to broadcast some documentaries about the lives of ordinary Muslim citizens living in the US, the main idea behind it was how Muslims are living in peace and harmony with their fellow American neighbors or at work. I don't think presenting an idealist image to the Muslim/Arab world about life in the US is the solution. .Arabs and Muslim keep on hearing stories about the racial profiling Muslims/Arabs are facing, there is no way they would believe that all those stories are made up because most of them aren't although they are not as widespread as they think they are. One might think about this situation as dealing with a teenager, you have to find common ground with him/her if you want an affective communication to occur. On the other hand, if you start by denying the credibility of his claims, then talking to him/her would be fruitless.