Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What's wrong with the paradigm of winning 'hearts and minds?"

Many of the public diplomacy initiatives targeted at the Middle East focus on "winning the hearts and minds" of the people of the Middle East. To the extent that the objectives and strategies of public diplomacy initiatives are built around the goal of winning the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East, such initiatives are most likely destined to fail.

This failure is inherent in the emphasis on persuasion built around top-down agendas directed at changing the attitudes and opinions of the targets of the message so that they would be more closely aligned with the goals of the sender of the message. Inherent in the idea of winning the hearts and minds is the notion of wanting to change the receiver of the message so that they would be more closely aligned with the sender's agendas. In the context of US public diplomacy efforts, the goal is to ultimately create positions of support for (a) US policies, (b) US corporations that might operate in the Middle East, and (c) US structures in the Middle East that would serve other US economic interests such as its need for oil.

Ultimately, the framework of wanting to win the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East closes opportunities for dialogue. To the extent that US public diplomacy efforts engage with the Middle East only with the goals of serving US economic and geo-political interests, these efforts close opportunities for dialogue.

The culture-centered approach suggests an alternative framework by pointing out that communication initiatives in the Middle East need to begin with a commitment to dialogue that is built on opportunities for listening to the voices of the people of the Middle East. It is only by beginning to listen to the people of the Middle East that we can talk about creating possibilities for communication.

Instead of talking about "winning," US public diplomacy efforts need to begin by being interested in truly understanding what the people in the Middle East have to say.

No comments: