Sunday, April 16, 2006

AcCENtuate the POsitive! (We'll get the rest on CNN.)

When did you last see anything about the middle east that wasn't about violence, fear and mistrust? Of course that's a big part of the picture these days, but I will keep saying that I have neighbours, colleagues and students from all over this region, and well beyond, and they're just ordinary people with ordinary families, and ordinary vices and virtues. Sometimes it's worth reminding ourselves of the obvious.

Muslim colleagues from the UAE, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere invited all us non-muslims to Iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset during Ramadan); our Iranian neighbours invited us to celebrate Norouz (New Year) with them; arab colleagues bring in wonderful food and baskets of chocolates to celebrate family weddings, first grandchildren and so on; and the middle-eastern habit of embracing and speaking to everyone individually as you arrive or depart is extremely contagious (even if it does make everything happen ten minutes late) and it makes the beginning and end of term in our staffroom very heartwarming.

Open-minded people try to believe that extremism is a minority feature of every society, but with the middle east and Islam, non-muslim westerners have to take it on faith, because there is very little in the western media to support the fact that there is so much to celebrate about arab culture. Culture isn't news.

For a while there I was comforted that CNN broadcast News Asia, Inside the Middle East, and other programmes on this part of the world in the USA, because I thought that the rest of the planet, and particularly those traumatised, bunker-minded, post-911 citizens of the US who believe that Poppa Dubbya is their only defence against the howling hordes (and that's just the picture on Europe) were being given an opportunity to see the normality of ordinary people, good people, creative people, just living their lives; to hear ordinary, reasoned discussion of business, the arts, sport, politics from this regional and cultural perspective; to see features on Islam, national profiles, documentaries on the good and the bad over here; to see all these small pieces that make the unknown and foreign less threatening, that go some way to balance the hideous headline stories, and to experience some small measure of hope and goodwill to help fix the terrible situation we all find ouselves in. Silly me. They don't show that stuff in the states. What a waste of media power and resources. No wonder you're scared to death. It breaks my heart.

Even so, there is a whole dimension, a whole way of life, that is no more 'evil' or strange or incomprehensible than yours or mine, and millions of people that it would gladden your heart to know if you just had time, opportunity - and a smattering of arabic to give them a first giggle at your dreadful pronunciation!

We just have to survive this bit.


nzm said...

I don't think that the ME can survive this oppression of favourable news reports and the transmission of the articles that portray the region in the light that most western politicians and bureaucrats want the rest of their countrymen to believe.

I also don't think that the press are entirely to blame for this situation as their owners are often political wannabees or lapdogs.

I'd like to see the ME come out fighting (figuratively) and hire a PR company to start paying for prime time TV slots in western countries to show the good stuff.

I wonder where the line will be drawn between political belief and so much money being offered to air the programs that they won't be able to refuse?

Welcome to the blogging world, Mama Duck!

Seabee said...

M, you've hit the nail on the head. Useless PR is the problem.Or a total lack of it, more accurately. Not paid advertising(yes to placement of documentary programmes though) but classic PR opinion-forming material on an on-going basis.

Just look at the brilliance of the Israelis in that area, built up over decades, gets their point across time and time again, it's a classic strategy that really should be taught, studied, copied.

The DP World ports fiasco wouldn't have happened if there'd been a PR strategy in place from way back.

MamaDuck said...

Hi Guys. You're right nzm - evident from Fox News coverage of the Iraqi invasion and the WMD fiasco. But I think that when there's a crisis, Americans tend to pull together, which is admirable, but also to suppress doubts out of a sense of loyalty, to self-censor for fear of appearing un-American, a trait which this administration has tried to exploit. In such a huge and powerful nation, whose constitution enshrines democracy and free speech, such reluctance to rock the boat is rather worrying. I agree with you both about PR, as opposed to advertising for Nakheel. The American entertainment industry appears blindly resistance to anything that isn't 'box office', ie mainstream urban culture: look how long it's taken for latino actors and themes to penetrate, and the back story to My Big Fat Can-you-make-it-Latino Wedding! The last few months in Perth, Denmark and Paris also suggest minimal integration and understanding. It is a pity about DP, from all points of view. Thanks for dropping by. I'll come visit too!