Archive | September 2012

Lights of Japan

What the world needs now is the light of “Resilience.” With thanks to people all over the world, we would like to create things that serve as lights to the world. This film was created for “Japan Night,” a side event of World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 at Davos.

I watched this video for the first time in June as a guest of the global communications strategist from the Prime Minister’s Office, who was giving a speech at the Forum on Corporate Communications.  Afterwards I asked if the film were available on YouTube.  It wasn’t.  I went home and blogged about it on my Tokyo blog.  Here is what I wrote then:

Come for the music. Stay for the story.  This beautiful short film, Lights of Japan, must be seen by more people than those lonely few who visit the Japanese Government Internet TV site.  I have a feeling Lights of Japan has been seen exclusively by a select group of the world’s elite cozying up at Davos.  That’s not good enough.  It must be seen by the masses, because it’s the elite and the masses who are going to rebuild Japan.

When I asked my Sophia students if they had seen the film, they all said no.  Hmm, I thought.  Why is this such a hidden gem?  I realize that it was made for Japan Night at Davos, but it is a public domain film or it wouldn’t be linked to the Japanese government website.

I’m happy to report that it was just posted on YouTube where the global viewing audience is located.  Watch the film and tell me what you think.  What’s your favorite scene?  Mine is that lengthy pause before Nobuyuki Tsujii starts playing the first notes on the restored piano.  The classical music is extraordinary and the first time I watched this I had tears in my eyes.  It is truly inspirational to watch the resilience of the Japanese people a year after the earthquake and tsunami.  The message of resilience and hope is a message that is ripe for the world, so I hope the world will see this.


The Translator

LA Times’ writer Patt Morrison published a terrific interview, “Al Jazeera’s U.S. Translator,” with Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Washington.  Foukara is one of the best minds we have today in global journalism.  This is why I personally invited him to participate in a conference I co-convened with Dr. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, professor and director of the Middle East Studies Program at Syracuse University.  The 2009 conference, “Old and New Media and the Changing Faces of Islam,” included presentations by Foukara of Al Jazeera, Hafez Al-Mirazi, former bureau chief for Al Jazeera, Roger Hardy of the BBC, Lawrence Pintak, Founding Dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University, and my friend, R.S. Zaharna of American University, author of Battles to Bridges: U.S. Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy after 9/11.

The Archetype Public Diplomat

This Washington Post account of what went wrong in the days before the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya is nothing short of heartbreaking and frustrating to read.  To picture Chris Stevens in the city on a public diplomacy mission hits close to home.  I worked at the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s, what was then the sole independent foreign affairs agency devoted to educational and cultural exchange diplomacy.  We saw our mission as “doing God’s work” in that we believed that the way to bring nations together is one person at a time.  Chris Stevens was the archetype of the successful public diplomat, with his casual, breezy, blue jeans style, interest in meeting with the Libyan people, and his reluctance to sit in his office and wait for visitors.

The death of Stevens is a priceless loss to the goals of American public diplomacy in Libya.  He felt safe and at home in a country and region he grew to love.  There were Libyans who attacked the U.S. compound and there were Libyans who tried to save the Ambassador’s life.  We must never forget that.

The Gray Lady’s Old Man

Here is one of the longest obituaries you will ever read.  The newspaper of record lost one of its own.  Arthur Ochs Sulzberger served as chairman of the family-owned New York Times from 1963 to 1997.  He was at the helm when the Times established its free speech heroics by publishing the Daniel Ellsberg-smuggled Pentagon Papers.  Sulzberger’s grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, bought the New York Times in 1896 in order to prove that newspapers could be decent and earn money.  This was during the time of sensationalistic coverage and competition between William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.  The Hearst/Pulitzer style was sex and violence on the front page, moralizing and common man crusading on the editorial page.  The Grey Lady style is summed up in this newspaper policy published by Adolph Ochs in the Times:

It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as early, if not earlier than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interest involved; to make the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to than end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.

Thus the seven-word motto we still see today on the front page: All the news that’s fit to print.

The Gray Lady is showing her age, but at least she has a certain civility missing in so much of our news coverage.  Grandfather Ochs liked to say of his newspaper, “It does not soil the breakfast cloth.”

The Attack of the Offensive Ad

Egyptian-born author and activist Mona Eltahawy  is seen in this video defacing a poster whose anti-Jihad message she finds offensive.

The ad copy reads:

In Any War Between The Civilized Man and the Savage,

Support The Civilized Man.

Support Israel

Defeat Jihad

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority barred the ads for their “demeaning language,” but in July a federal judge ruled that barring the ads violated the free speech rights of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is run by Pamela Geller.  She also co-founded Stop Islamization of America.  Geller became a controversial national figure when she questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship and opposed the Park51 Community Center (aka “Ground Zero Mosque”).  Many groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, have called Geller’s organizations examples of hate groups.  The pro-Israel ADL says that Geller’s activism “fuels and fosters anti-Muslim bigotry in society.”  Here is a National Public Radio report on the controversy.

What would your own ad say in response to this ad? 

Factory of Lies or How to Succeed at Politics

Trust me.  This New Yorker article, “The Lie Factory,” by Jill Lepore is one of the most important reads of the year.  It is, to use her word, “thrilling” to read, though also sad.  You will learn more about the famous author of The Jungle than you ever knew.

Lepore explains why politics has become such a big business, completely out of touch with the people.  We all know this at our core, but we continue to play along by paying attention–cursory though it may be–to political conventions and debates.  We fool ourselves into thinking that politicians want our votes, but that’s just a whole lot of window dressing.

So, is there any hope that American politics can actually be held publicly accountable or is the Walmartization here to stay?

Beyond Labels: The Islamic World and the West

I worry sometimes that news stories like this from Reuters, Dangerous and deepening divide between Islamic world, West,” serve to reinforce a sense of fatalism about our ability to understand each other across culture, religion and region.

For those who believe in a clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and Western democracy, the last few weeks must seem like final confirmation of their theory.

Even those who reject the term as loaded and simplistic speak sadly of a perhaps catastrophic failure of understanding between Americans in particular and many Muslims.

It’s the West versus the Rest, or it’s Islam versus the West.  It makes it hard to reconcile a possibility for mutual understanding when we start out with such Manichean (dualistic) ways of thinking. Take a look at this book title:

While I have not read the book, the title alone makes Islam the object of my Western attention.  It is something to figure out, to hold in some mystery.  The late Columbia University professor Edward Said referred to this mental process as Orientalism, in particular reference to Arabs who reside in the Middle East.

We know from Edward T. Hall that cultures matter, but we should also be careful how we describe each other.  What, for instance, is the Islamic world?  If we are referring to people who practice the religion of Islam, then we must account for the over 1.6 billion who predominantly reside in Asia-Pacific.  (Over 60% of Muslims live in this region.)  But the Reuters article, “Dangerous and deepening divide between Islamic world, West,” is primarily about the approximately 20% of Muslims who reside in the  Middle East and North Africa, not the Asia-Pacific region.  It makes just passing reference to Afghanistan.

We should always read the news with a critical eye, paying special attention to loaded terms that even the Reuters staff acknowledged in this article were simplistic.

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