Interfaith Dialogue Need of the Post-9/11 World


Washington, DC: Pakistani scholar and author Dr Akbar Ahmed said in an interview broadcast on the international service of the Voice of America that to be effective in a post-9/11 environment, US public diplomacy needs to be supplemented with expanded interfaith activity.
Dr Ahmed, who heads the Islamic Studies Department at the American University, called it a “great tragedy” that over the past four years US public diplomacy, which was an “important plank” in the war on terror, had been a “real disappointment.”
The VOA program was built around the Bush administration’s efforts to craft a good image of America around the world, especially in Islamic countries. Karen Hughes, a former aide and close confidante of the President, Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has been assigned the task, which many consider impossible given the war in Iraq and the pro-Israeli policy of the Bush administration.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy said it was good that Dina Habib Powell, one of the principal aides chosen by Ms Hughes, was an Arab woman but it would have been better had she been a Muslim. Dr Ahmed disagreed, arguing that Ms. Powell’s not being a Muslim is not a critical factor and that some extraordinarily fine scholars who understand the Muslim world have been Christians or Jews.
He said encouraging the voices of moderate Muslims is a major part of the task if US public diplomacy is to change “hearts and minds.” He said, although the Muslim world is “thirsty” for a reaching out of the hand of friendship, if the United States is to be successful, it will take a lot of “effort, imagination, and compassion.” He joined the other participants in the broadcast in congratulating the Bush administration for its recent initiatives in trying to revamp its public diplomacy efforts.
Ms Eltahawy said the task facing Karen Hughes – and the United States – is huge, and it starts with “careful listening.” She noted that US public diplomacy has a long way to go because, particularly in the Muslim world, there is so much mistrust of the West and especially the United States. According to Ms Eltahawy, US correspondent of the London-based newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, public diplomacy should begin with real dialogue rather than a monologue, which is how the Muslim world perceives Washington.
She welcomed the addition of the a young Egyptian-American, Dina Habib Powell, to Karen Hughes’ staff but was of the view that a Muslim should have been preferred because such symbols are especially important at this time.
Palestinian journalist Daoub Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, said, if public diplomacy is to succeed, then US policy goals - such as the two-state solution for the Middle East - need to be implemented. Otherwise, Washington will continue to face a crisis of credibility. He was “guardedly optimistic” about President Bush’s choice of Karen Hughes as his new public diplomacy adviser because among her other qualities, she has the “ear of the President.” Nevertheless, he cautioned, it was “naïve” to expect public diplomacy to succeed unless it is accompanied by “realities on the ground.”

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