Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mr. Internet, Tear Down That Wall!

The Aspen Institute held an event in Washington today entitled, "Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East." Elie Khoury, Chairman and CEO, Quantum Communications, a leading advertising and communications firm in the broader Middle East; and Chairman and CEO, M&C Saatchi, Middle East & North Africa made the trip from Beirut to discuss modern public diplomacy.

He led with a comparison of the Berlin Wall - a symbol of East-West divide for so many years - to today's East-West relations, though today's "East" is the Islamic world. On September 11, 2001, a wall of separation was erected that senselessly divides our species.

When talking about public diplomacy, we have to ask, are there enough tools to make it successful? Do these tools work with Islam? Do we have to wait another half century to see successful results? Does television reach enough people? Radio? The internet? Can Western media play a public diplomacy role?

Mr. Khoury said, "All can reach one, one can reach all."

Even with censorship, quality and pertinent information will eventually get to people thanks to new media. There are 65 million internet users in the MENA region despite the fact that only 1% of online content is in Arabic.

Khoury added that of all websites that are run in the Middle East, only 20% of them are related to Islam, contrary to what the West might think. He lamented that a few psychopaths (my word, not his) have hijacked Islam and use the Quran as a substitute for the Communist Manifesto. See, we all dream the "American dream," no matter what our nationality. You have to remember Americans come from everywhere else. Aside from a tiny minority, most human beings want control over their own destinies, a safe place to raise a family, and the freedom to pursue whatever makes them happy. But there is an imbalance in the world, between haves and have nots, and once when Adam Smith was the promise of having, then followed Marx, Lenin, and Nasr. Arab socialism failed the Arabs, and some have turned to radical Islam.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

New media, social media, whatever you would like to call it, gives us this amazing, amazing opportunity to skip government run public diplomacy and have direct interaction with each other. Isn't it time we start talking TO each other rather than passively-aggressively complaining about each other?