Tonight I attended a dinner honoring a group of international journalists from Northern Africa who are here at Syracuse University as part of the Edward R. Murrow Journalism Program sponsored by the State Department. After dinner we had an hour-long dialogue led by Dennis Kinsey, Program Director for our dual degree masters in public diplomacy program.
Many journalists said that while they like the American people and American movies, they are not supportive of the Bush-led War on Terror. "That's your war, not ours," said one. Several times they said that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda were underwritten by the U.S. Government during the 1980s, so in effect the war on terror is an outgrowth of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" failed policies.
They brought up U.S. support for Israel as perpetuating Arab beliefs that the U.S. does not have a fair and balanced approach to the Middle East and North Africa. I wondered if they thought the U.S. could even broker a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians given the fact that the U.S. is not going to roll back its support for Israel.
When asked why Americans didn't hear more from moderate Arab voices, the journalists said that such a perception is a falsehood based on stereotyping. The vast majority of Arabs are moderate and do not support violent extremism. This is not a silent majority, but a silenced majority. The extreme is what makes news. Sounds like the if it bleeds, it leads syndrome of our mainstream media.
Finally, to no one's surprise, they all hoped that Obama will win on November 4th. His candidacy gives them a sense of hope for change (hmm, I've heard that somewhere). In particular, they have faith that an Obama administration will signal a U.S. that listens more to what the rest of the world has to teach us about themselves. Since we all have a 2 to 1 ratio of ears to mouth, sounds like a plan.
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