Talking to each other

The media talks obsessively about the Western need to “win hearts and minds” in the Arab world. It’s as if actions like the war in Iraq and the ongoing occupation of Palestine can be erased or the effects minimised with some good old fashioned PR. If only. We discovered this late last year:

Five years after Arab terrorists attacked the United States, only 33 FBI agents have even a limited proficiency in Arabic, and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism, according to new FBI statistics.

Counting agents who know only a handful of Arabic words – including those who scored zero on a standard proficiency test – just 1 percent of the FBI’s 12,000 agents have any familiarity with the language, the statistics show.

Doesn’t that show a real dedication to understanding the world’s over one billion Muslims? Now the Bush administration really stretches itself:

The State Department has hired two native Arabic speakers to monitor Arabic political discussion forums on the Internet and to overtly participate in them in an effort to correct misperceptions about U.S. policy in the Middle East.
The small “digital outreach team,” which also includes a supervising Foreign Service officer, was created in December by Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, as part of her campaign to prevent mistakes and speculation about the United States from being accepted as truth, officials said.
“We want to make sure that U.S. views are present in the Arabic cyberspace,” said Jeremy Curtin, acting coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs at the State Department.
“The two people who were hired just before Christmas monitor Arabic sites on current affairs in the Middle East and other issues we are interested in,” he said. “They identify themselves as U.S. government employees.”

Two Arabic speakers? That’s going to help. Washington lives and breathes under a fundamentally flawed premise. They seem to believe that the world simply presumes that America’s intentions are good, even if the execution may sometimes be a little clumsy. If only they knew…