BACK TO : PUBLIC DIPLOMACY (PD) and CULTURAL DIPLOMACY (CD)
Boucher Reviews U.S. Public Diplomacy to Muslim World
27 August 2002
Boucher Reviews U.S. Public Diplomacy to Muslim World
(Says effort to better mutual understanding "needs to be long term")
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher commented upon the efforts of the United States government to reach out to Muslim and Arab audiences, saying the effort of increasing mutual understanding between the two "needs to be long term."
Speaking at the August 27 State Department briefing in Washington, Boucher said the Bush Administration was actively seeking to answer
"fundamental questions" of how Americans relate to Arabs and Muslims.
He said all of them have "a lot more in common than people think."
The spokesman drew attention to the U.S. government web page "Muslim Life in America" () which,
he said, shows "values that are shared by the United States and Muslim populations all over the world."
Boucher said the United States is aware of its negative image abroad and understands that it faces opposition to some its policies, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq.
But, he said, the Bush Administration will "make our strongest efforts and best efforts to get people to understand what we're doing and why we're doing it."
In order to convincingly make those arguments "you have to have, I think, a willingness to listen," he said.
"And in many ways, that's where identification, values, conveying a sense of who we are, what we stand for, what we're about, is necessary to lay the ground for the arguments on policy to take place and to take place in an atmosphere where we can understand each other," he
Boucher said U.S. public diplomacy efforts worldwide were hampered by budget cuts in the 1990's. With the end of the Cold War, the United States has redirected some programs geared towards former Soviet bloc countries towards the Arab and Muslim world, such as a program for Arab journalists to visit the United States and "to report themselves on what they see going on here," said Boucher.
But, he said the U.S public diplomacy efforts "are going to have to take time before we kind of, hopefully, see some kind of turnaround in the general attitudes towards the United States."
Following is an excerpt from the August 27 State Department briefing:
QUESTION: Let's try another one. Public diplomacy. It's been about a year now. What has the administration done to improve our image in the Muslim world?
MR. BOUCHER: A big question. I would say, look at it generally this way: We have gotten out there to explain what we're doing in all kinds of new ways in the last year, but we've also started to get at sort of the underlying questions of who we are and what we stand for in ways
that are probably more long term. So we've had people on Arab media.
We've had Arab journalists in to report about the United States. We've helped -- we've used programs that were directed in other directions, like programs for Eastern European journalists to learn about the United States, and use those now for Arab journalists to learn more about the United States and to report themselves on what they see
going on here.
We've had speakers out. We've had more exchanges, more of our exchange programs devoted to that part of the world. And we're also looking at sort of fundamental issues like the ties, the fundamental values that are shared by the United States and Muslim populations all over the
world. So you'll see on our web pages things like "Muslim Life in America," information that we put out in brochures and other web pages and video releases and things like that being prepared that we can sort of deal with these more fundamental questions of how we relate to people in that part of the world and how we can actually find ourselves with a lot more in common than people think.
QUESTION: Do you have any way of measuring your success in this, because there are some polls and critics that say that the image has only gotten worse?
MR. BOUCHER: The effort needs to be long term. I think we all understand that you can get some explanation, some acceptance, some understanding for policy. I think the understanding that the United States is not waging a war against Moslems has sunk in. That's been part of everything that we have tried to do and say.
I think the understanding that terrorism is a threat to us all, not just to American society, but to all governments that aspire to some sort of freedom, some sort of stability, some sort of modernization, that has sunk in.
So in some ways you could say some of these points are getting across. On the other hand, yes. The polls are out there that show that the disposition, the general disposition of people's attitudes is quite strong often, often quite strong against the United States. And we
have to deal with that. But have to deal with that -- it's a very long-term proposition. In part, it's a long-term proposition because we were absent from the playing field for many years and as we cut our budgets and restricted our operations and redirected them elsewhere in the '90s.
So many of these more longer-term efforts are going to have to take time before we kind of, hopefully, see some kind of turnaround in the general attitudes towards the United States.
QUESTION: Richard, excuse me. On the Muslim Life in America thing you just mentioned, has the State Department ever responded or taken a position on the allegation by these three religious figures that that website is actually unconstitutional because it promotes one religion over another?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've discussed that here before. We certainly don't view it that way. I will see if there's been some more legal reaction that was required anywhere.
QUESTION: Richard, how do you respond to critics who say that the public diplomacy campaign as it stands right now really misses the point and that it's not so much about Muslims or the Arab world being upset with the United States because it believes either the war on terrorism is aimed at them or because it believes the United States is
not friendly towards Muslims in this country; but rather, it has to do with US policy, and that until the US addresses their concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian situation and Iraq, the polls are going to continue to reflect negatively against US policy?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we understand that around the world there are people who will disagree with US policy. We'll make our strongest efforts and best efforts to get people to understand what we're doing and why we're doing it and to get them to agree with US policy, whether it's the efforts that we're making with the Israelis and the Palestinians or the effort that we all need to make to stop the threats from Iraq.
The issue is a little more than that, though. To make these arguments convincingly, you have to have, I think, a willingness to listen. And in many ways, that's where identification, values, conveying a sense of who we are, what we stand for, what we're about, is necessary to lay the ground for the arguments on policy to take place and to take place in an atmosphere where we can understand each other.