Middle East/N. Africa – The Public Diplomat http://thepublicdiplomat.com a dialogue about public diplomacy Thu, 22 Sep 2016 12:11:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.10 Can the U.S. Counter ISIS on Social Media? http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2015/12/01/isis/ Wed, 02 Dec 2015 01:44:00 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=1887 Originally posted on author’s Huffington Post blog

The continued success of ISIS in using social media platforms for global recruitment has frustrated American officials. In an internal State Department memo published by the New York Timeslast month, undersecretary of public diplomacy Richard Stengel commented on the common perception amongst US allies who likened the terror organization’s global expansion to that of Starbucks franchises.

Led by the inter-agency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), the Obama administration has taken the war on ISIS to social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube, where such initiatives as the Think Again Turn Away (@ThinkAgain_DOS) have emerged. This campaign aims to counter-radicalization and dissuade young Muslims from joining ISIS.
In a recent Op-Ed published in USA Today, Undersecretary Stengel offered his vision of “The right path to counter Daesh.” In this article, he announced the establishment of the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi where American led efforts would foster and promote an alternative narrative to that of ISIS.

For nearly a decade, the American narrative regarding ISIS was based on a 9/11 war on terror worldview. Yet, such a perspective may be inconsistent with that of many Sunni Muslims who view the ISIS phenomenon as a reaction to the oppression of Sunnis and the expanding Shiite-Sunni civil war.

Two key limitations continuously undermine America’s online war of ideas with the terror organization. The first has to do with America’s message. The second has to do with the messenger itself.

As presented, America’s narrative to young Muslims presents ISIS is a brutal terror organization that hijacked Islam. It claims that its Middle East policies aim to fight terrorism and promote democracy and human rights.

Such a narrative may resonate with Western audiences but is disconnected from the post Arab-Spring geo-political realities of the region. For those who view the region in terms of a Sunni-Shiite conflict, America’s foreign policy consistently seems to favor the Shiite over their Sunni rivals.

After decades of exclusive rule and domination of Shiites, Iraq’s Sunnis were stripped of their power by the Bush administration’s experiment in democracy. While the Americans provided the oppressed Shiite equal vote, they did not provide the Sunnis with minority protections or a guarantee of rightful participation in the political process of post-war Iraq. The American supported Maliki government soon sided with Iran and disenfranchised and oppressed Iraq’s Sunni population.

Sunni frustration and distrust of the United States was further amplified by the Obama administration’s mumbled and inconsistent Syria policy that failed to prevent Assad’s slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Sunni civilians.

In the case of both Syria and Iraq, ISIS was the only force to achieve meaningful military victories over the Shiite rivals. These achievements are key to the organization’s global recruiting success as it positions the organization as a legitimate Sunni military power.

What many in the Obama administration fail to recognize is that American foreign policy seems to position the U.S. as an Iranian ally. Such perceptions are supported by the ongoing American-Iranian military cooperation in Iraq and by the nuclear deal that legitimized the Iran regime and its quest to become the regional superpower.

Based on America’s foreign policy in Iraq, Syria and Iran, the U.S. lacks credibility among a growing mainstream who view ISIS as a Sunni counterweight to Shiite regional hegemony.

As a general rule, public diplomacy campaigns both traditional and on social media can only be successful when their key claims and proposed values are consistent with the foreign policy.

Undersecretary Stengel and his team should be commended for their valiant effort. However, the utility of digital engagement is limited when not aligned with government strategy.

In order to successfully counter ISIS online recruitment, both the message and messenger should be of Sunni origin. It is the grassroots Sunni religious leadership not Western powers that can effectively articulate the threat that ISIS poses not only to people of the Middle East but also to Islam itself.

Twitter @GuyGolan

[LISTEN] Public Diplomacy & Counterinsurgency http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2015/01/15/listen-public-diplomacy-counterinsurgency/ Thu, 15 Jan 2015 18:08:09 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=1816 New research shows that the need for winning hearts and minds during counterinsurgency missions may be overstated.


Dr. Guy Golan and Michael Ardaiolo discuss the effectiveness of public diplomacy during counterinsurgency with Dr. Raphael Cohen.

Just How Important Are ‘Hearts and Minds’ Anyway? Counterinsurgency Goes to the PollsJournal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 37, Issue 4, 2014.

Dr. Raphael Cohen joined the RAND Corporation in August 2014. He has worked on a variety of defense and foreign policy issues, including counterinsurgency, Middle East and European security, intelligence contracting and civil-military relations. Prior to joining RAND, Cohen was a pre-doctoral fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. He previously has held research fellowships at the American Enterprise Institute and the National Defense University’s Center for Complex Operations. A military intelligence branched major in the Army Reserve, Cohen has held a variety of command and staff positions in both the active and reserve components, including during two combat tours in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2007 to 2008. He also is an adjunct professor of Security Studies in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.


photo credit: http://globalcounterterror.com/11/

[LISTEN] The New Face of Global Jihad http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2014/08/27/listen-the-new-face-of-global-jihad/ Wed, 27 Aug 2014 17:03:55 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=1675 56537449-islamic-jihad

A brief history of the Sunni Shia Muslim conflict, and how different militant Muslim groups could affect the current political structure of the Middle-East.

Massimo Ramaioli comes from a small city south of Milan, Italy. He is a third year PhD student at Maxwell School. He studied Political Science at the University of Pavia, Italy, graduating in African and Asian Studies. After interning at the Italian embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, he set his way to London, to gain a second MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He then moved for some six months to Damascus to improve his Arabic proficiency. He has also studied Arabic in Tunis, Beirut and Fes. 

Image credit: www.australiansforpalestine.net

Why “Tyrant” Matters http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2014/07/24/why-tyrant-matters/ Fri, 25 Jul 2014 01:31:17 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=1657 By: Blake Stilwell
Twitter @blakestilwell
In the new FX show “Tyrant,” Gideon Raff (of “Homeland” fame) created a series set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin. The show attracts a lot of negative reviews from television critics, but what it depicts onscreen deserves a second look.Abuddin is ruled by the al-Fayeed Family, a dynastic secular dictatorial regime whose patriarch dies in the pilot and whose son is handed power but nearly dies in a car accident. The story thus far should sound familiar to anyone who is familiar with the history of the region. Though this story doesn’t completely follow the Asad narrative, it could use a lot of help in terms of story and character development as most of the criticism toward “Tyrant” is aimed at the stereotypical characters, flat performances, and borrowed plots.Hitfix’s Daniel Fienberg derided the casting of a white actor in a role written for a Middle Eastern one, though acknowledging the history of some Middle Eastern countries would allow for the main character’s more Caucasian features. Alan Sepinwall, also of Hitfix, touched on how “Tyrant” attempts to be a political drama, with stories “ripped from the headlines… but plays out more like Dallas.” Most damning, Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan criticized the show’s depiction of sexual assault against “nameless women” who are nothing more than “placeholders” as a cliché attempt to make a show seem edgy. It’s difficult to argue that the writing doesn’t need some work, but it isn’t hard to see the graphic onscreen violence means more than an attempt to make a predictable show seem edgier. If predictability and flat characters were truly the threshold of a show’s success, then many of the most popular television shows in America would never have made it past their first seasons.“Tyrant” does depict terrible scenes of violence toward the people of Abbudin, sexual assault and horrendous treatment of women, the difficulties of the average citizen of Abbudin to find work, upward mobility, and exercise basic human and civil rights. The show even touches on the concept of homosexuality in the conservative Middle East. All of these topics are depicted in vivid detail. With this in mind, “Tyrant” creates a setting that most directly resembles the real-world plight of Arab people under these regimes. Here we have a show, written by an Israeli lending a sympathetic hand to subjugated Arab peoples, giving them a voice by showing their plight in one of the few things Americans will listen to anymore: hourlong television drama.Considering Raff’s background and previous work, one might expect a damning treatment of Islam. After the initial screening of the show’s pilot, the Council on American-Islamic Relations slammed the show, saying it depicted “Arab Muslim culture … represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires, and powerless female victims… “In ‘Tyrant,’ even the ‘good’ Arab Muslims are bad.”

But Islam has yet to be a central theme of the show. In four episodes, the customs of the religion are only seen twice, once when Bassam (Adam Rayner) is looking to find his friend Fauzi (Fares Fares) in a mosque and again depicting a prayer before an unemployed man self-immolates because he can’t make an income to support his family (sound familiar?). Islam is not enemy. Nor should it be, because for the regimes the al-Fayeed represent, religion is used as a tool for those regimes to maintain power.

Instead, what you find is a condemnation of the atrocities committed by the regimes over the last 70 years. Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz writes:

“… setting the show in Abbudin, a distant desert land that seems to borrow its real-life events from Egypt, Syria, and Libya. When you give your country a fake Middle Eastern name, you risk turning it into a stand-in for all Middle Eastern countries.”

That’s exactly the point. Abbudin is not a real Middle Eastern dictatorship. It’s every Middle Eastern dictatorship. The story references brutal crackdowns, torture, executions, mass killings like the kinds under the dynastic Asad regime in Syria, use of chemical weapons against their own people, similar to the gassing of Kurds under Saddam Hussein, the fraud and misuse of national funds, even the targeting and rape of female citizens as Uday and Qusay Hussein were said to do. Mass arrests, martial law, and brutal repression are a daily way of life for many in these countries.

There’s also a rebuke of the United States for allowing it to happen. This policy is personified by the character John Tucker (Justin Kirk), the US ambassador to Abbudin, who regularly sits in on Presidential council meetings, giving the rubber-stamp “OK” to the President to do what he needs to maintain stability, a real policy of the US toward many autocratic nations.

The brutality, inequality, and opulence deserves more than critical judgment for its onscreen violence. These horrifying depictions are a real infection of the Arab world. “Tyrant” depicts these things in full intensity because toning it down would dilute the message: These are real people who are struggling to live under a brutal regime. The victims on this show are representative of millions of oppressed people living in the Middle East right now.

American society often subsumes values portrayed in popular television (the Cosby Show, All In The Family, Will and Grace) and film (The Jazz Singer, Good Night and Good Luck, Supersize Me). Americans learn about international events through late-night comedy shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The United States government is co-opted by regimes like the fictional al-Fayeed to further its own interests at the expense of the millions of subjugated people. If media is the means by which we now learn and grow, then a television program showing an honest representation of whom we support might be able to make American viewers rethink US support for these countries, the lives of Arabs living under brutal dictatorships, and the extreme measures they take to liberate themselves.

Image credit: hulu.com

[LISTEN] Music Diplomacy in Timbuktu http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2014/04/07/listen-music-diplomacy-in-timbuktu/ Mon, 07 Apr 2014 17:38:55 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=1576 Could music reunite a war-torn Mali? “Return to Timbuktu” follows Malian musicians spreading just such a message.


Michael Ardaiolo and Dr. Guy Golan discuss Return to Timbuktu, a documentary in production about how music could reunite a war-torn Mali, with Michael Meredith and Amit Nizan.

Michael Meredith is the director of Return to Timbuktu. He is a filmmaker and photojournalist, and has covered topics ranging from theater in Havana to the war in Afghanistan. His previous films include Three Days of Rain and The Open Road, both of which he wrote and directed.

Amit Nizan is the supervising producer of Return to Timbuktu. She is an accomplished marketing professional who is now applying her advertising production roots to independent film. She has won creative and effectiveness awards in the advertising industry, having produced commercials and videos for the Martha Graham Dance Company, Nextel, A&E, and, most recently, NBC News.

Visit the Indiegogo campaign for Return to Timbuktu here.

[LISTEN] Palestinians in Israel: Identity, Democracy & Peace http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2014/03/07/listen-palestinians-in-israel-identity-democracy-peace/ Fri, 07 Mar 2014 20:00:09 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=1411 Arab citizens of Israel face questions of identity living in a Jewish state amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Dr. Guy Golan discusses Palestinians in Israel and the effects of being an Arab minority in a Jewish state on identity, democracy and peace with Dr. Dov Waxman and Omnia Al Desoukie.

Dov Waxman is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York  (CUNY), and the co-director of Northeastern University’s Middle East Center for Peace, Culture, and Development. He is the author of The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation, and the co-author with Ilan Peleg of Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within. He is a regular contributor to Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading national newspaper, and a frequent television commentator on Middle East affairs.

Omnia Al Desoukie is a media studies candidate at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication. She is also a former independent journalist in Cairo.


photo credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

[LISTEN] Public Diplomacy & Democracy http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2013/11/06/listen-public-diplomacy-democracy/ Wed, 06 Nov 2013 15:00:13 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=770 Does a democratic government predicate effective public diplomacy, or is it simply inhibiting a coherent message?


Michael Ardaiolo discusses how public diplomacy affects different forms of government with Dr. Erik Nisbet and Ryan Suto.

Erik Nisbet is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University. His research focuses on public diplomacy and foreign policy, mostly in terms of American-Islamic relations; comparative democratization, primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia; and science, health and environmental communication, focusing on barriers to effective communication. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2008.

Ryan Suto is a Research Associate at Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. He earned a. M.A. in international relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, an M.S. in public relations from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and a J.D. from the Syracuse University College of Law.

[LISTEN] John Prendergast & NGO Public Diplomacy http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2013/11/05/listen-john-prendergast-ngo-public-diplomacy/ Tue, 05 Nov 2013 15:00:12 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=759 From the Clinton White House to the Enough Project , John Prendergast has refined the art of engaging with publics.


Michael Ardaiolo and Jennifer Osias discuss the similarities and differences in governmental and non-governmental public diplomacy as well as the perils of celebrity diplomacy with John Prendergast.

John Prendergast is a human rights activist and best-selling author who has worked for peace in Africa for nearly thirty years. He is the co-founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity affiliated with the Center for American Progress. John has worked for the Clinton White House, the State Department, two members of Congress, the National Intelligence Council, UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.


photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

[LISTEN] The Al Jazeera Effect & International Broadcasting http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2013/11/04/listen-the-al-jazeera-effect-international-broadcasting/ Mon, 04 Nov 2013 15:00:33 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=741 The Al Jazeera effect sparked an international broadcasting arms race. How much of an audience can governments buy?


Dr. Guy Golan discusses the Al Jazeera effect and how other governments are attempting to copy their success with Shawn Powers.

Shawn Powers is an assistant professor at Georgia State University. He specializes in international political communication, with particular attention to the geopolitics of information and technology policy. He co-leads a project on civic approaches to religious conflict at the Georgia State University’s Transcultural Violence and Culture Initiative and is the associate director at the Center for International Media Education.


photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

[LISTEN] Covering the Arab Awakening with GlobalPost http://thepublicdiplomat.com/2013/10/17/listen-covering-the-arab-awakening-with-globalpost/ Thu, 17 Oct 2013 14:00:52 +0000 http://thepublicdiplomat.com/?p=646 As the media landscape shifts, Charles Sennott and GlobalPost try new tactics to cover global events on the ground.


Dr. Guy Golan and Steve Davis discuss the media coverage of the Arab Awakening and the crisis in Egypt with Charles Sennott, vice president, editor-at-large and co-founder of GlobalPost.

Watch Egypt in Crisis, a film exploring Egypt’s “deep state”—the military leadership that has apparently held on to power all along, created by Charles Sennott and FRONTLINE.


photo credit: GlobalPost