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This episode of Alam Simsim was brought to you by the letters U, S, and A
April 28, 2005 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Muppet Diplomacy - USNews and World Reports has a new must-read article: "The White House has approved a classified new strategy, dubbed Muslim World Outreach, that for the first time states that the United States has a national security interest in influencing what happens within Islam. Because America is, as one official put it, "radioactive" in the Islamic world, the plan calls for working through third parties--moderate Muslim nations, foundations, and reform groups--to promote shared values of democracy, women's rights, and tolerance." This means surprising US-funded initiatives such as restoring historic Sufi (i.e. moderate, non-Wahhabist) mosques, saving 11th Century Uzbek Korans, and convincing Pakistani madrassah teachers to quietly add science and math to the curriculum. Oh, and it means we're funding secular and independent media, including "in what boosters are calling Muppet Diplomacy", an Arabic version of Sesame Street. Can cultural revitalization, increased educational access, nascent democratic movements, and adorable lil' Elmo--all paid for with US tax dollars--be an effective innoculant against the tentacles of Radical Islam? Daniel Pipes, The Progressive Muslims' Union, and Reason magazine weigh in. See also a related RAND Corporation report from March, 2004.
posted by Asparagirl (28 comments total)

 
Elmo can always help. He's my hero.
posted by caddis at 5:50 PM on April 28, 2005


I had earlier post this link at one of my sites. It is I think an interesting perspective on the topic:
http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/21891/
posted by Postroad at 5:54 PM on April 28, 2005


AL-STATLER: A Frontpagemag link??? Again???

AL-WALDORF: Yeah! It fucking sucks!

AL-STATLER: Wait, we're a children show, you can't say that.
posted by matteo at 6:09 PM on April 28, 2005


. . .and convincing Pakistani madrassah teachers to quietly add science and math to the curriculum.

That is good news - if it happens. The Washington Post had an article on October 22, 2004 ("Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide") had some interesting information:

". . .a plan by Wendy Chamberlin, then ambassador to Pakistan, to offer President Pervez Musharraf a substitute for Saudi funding of a radical network of Islamist schools known as madrasas. . .Bush promised such support to Musharraf in a meeting soon after Sept. 11, said an official who accompanied him, but the $300 million plan did not survive the White House budget request."

and

"The president and his most influential advisers, many officials said, do not see those factors [poverty, hunger, disease, and displacement] -- or U.S. policy overseas -- as primary contributors to the terrorism threat. Bush's explanation, in private and public, is that terrorists hate America for its freedom."
posted by mlis at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2005


Elmo can always help. He's my hero.

Elmo is Grover after a paint job and a long session of helium huffing.

I do have an .mp3 of the Muppet Show them in Hebrew if anyone wants it. I do recall reading somewhere that the Muppet Show was banned in Turkey because they thought that Miss Piggy would offend Muslim veiwers who consider pigs unlean (I am not kidding.)
posted by jonmc at 6:39 PM on April 28, 2005


unlean as in overweight?
posted by matteo at 6:41 PM on April 28, 2005


This may backfire everyone since at least 2001 lots of plugged in folks know
that Bert has been working with Bin Laden network.

posted by thedailygrowl at 6:44 PM on April 28, 2005


D'oh!

"unclean," dammit.
posted by jonmc at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2005


They've approved the plan, but will they follow up with money? This adminstration is notorious for unfunded mandates and stuff.
posted by amberglow at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2005


Wow, without even clicking any of the links or reading the comments, I just have to ask: isn't this kind of a lengthy or tall post for a bunch of tiny puppet, errr muppets?
posted by Peter H at 7:03 PM on April 28, 2005


This actually sounds like a... sane... approach to our relationship with the middle east and islamic fundamentalists.
posted by shmegegge at 7:11 PM on April 28, 2005


it means we're funding secular and independent media

They're hardly independent if we're funding them. I'm for it, though, if the taint of U.S. involvement doesn't cost these organizations their credibility.
posted by Tlogmer at 7:19 PM on April 28, 2005


What Tlogmer said. I'm sure it won't be funded tho. Is there anything in the new budget about it? And now that it's news, the leaking of this "classified" thing ensures its failure.
posted by amberglow at 7:31 PM on April 28, 2005


Is must-read article related to must-see TV? Life was so much simpler before all these newfangled imperatives from our media overlords.
posted by DaShiv at 7:33 PM on April 28, 2005


On principle, I don't mind this sort of thing. It's in the implementation that one needs to be careful.

I do wish this money was being spent to educate Americans on Muslims though. I'm one of those idealists who thinks if you leave somebody alone they'll have less reason to hate you. Learning about other cultures can do the same.
posted by infowar at 7:48 PM on April 28, 2005


Just to clarify, there have been Arabic versions of Sesame Street for years. The money is being spent on a special Egypt-specific program.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:54 PM on April 28, 2005


inoculant against the tentacles of radical islam!

ah, foreign relations.
posted by blacklite at 9:07 PM on April 28, 2005


There are only two ways to effect change within a system:

From the outside, or from the inside.

In a social system, change from the outside requires violence. It's the story of the explorers, of warriors, of kingdoms and national borders.

And as far as I'm aware, the only time change from the outside has permanently effected change is by wholly overthrowing its government and killing everyone that holds any amount of power.

Change from the inside may require violence, often involves civil uprising, and sometimes is driven by market forces. It's the story of women's rights, Rosa Parks, regime changes, advertising, the industrial revolution, off-shoring, unionism.

It strikes me that change from the inside frequently has lasting effect, and these days often doesn't require killing anyone.

I'd prefer to see change in the mid-East worked from the inside, as described in the FPP. But I'd prefer to see the changes being wrought being on the side of increased equality, human rights, and democracy.

I'm not at all confident that the USA is a democracy heading toward increase equality and human rights within its own borders. I rather suspect it won't be promoting those things when it functions from within the mid-East.

I do think that the mid-East will get there on its own, even without outside influence working from the inside. I suspect it'll be a long process. But, hell, maybe they'll take up democracy at the same rate the West rejects it!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:11 PM on April 28, 2005


Pretty good news...that's the real roadmap to peace. Certainly killing Iraqi civilians and making Halliburton rich weren't functioning as diplomatic methods.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:19 PM on April 28, 2005


Infowair I do wish this money was being spent to educate Americans on Muslims though

Does it work the other way around?

Sorry - I sound to myself like a troll - I'm just afraid that whoever gets 'appointed' to 'educate' is going to do a piss-assed-poor job of it, in either direction.

I dunno, American 'melting pot' vs. an 'amalgamated' sort of culture. An alloy can be less utiliful than the pure metal. Sure, careful blending of elements can result in tremendously more useful materiels, but who gets to decide which element - and how much of it - gets put into the pot?.

I think that an algamatam may be better - concrete strengthens the older it gets, the non-conformity of it's constituen helps make it stronger.

Instead of blasting away with one idealogy, wouldn't it better to try fusing different ideas and try to come out with one that isn't one or the other, but rather, a fusion of the two?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:07 PM on April 28, 2005


Certainly killing Iraqi civilians and making Halliburton rich weren't functioning as diplomatic methods.
Yet those actions--which are continuing and beamed to every home in the Middle East, even tho we're not seeing on our tvs--scream so loudly that they will probably counteract any of these small and more local actions. We're defeating any chance of success for this kind of thing as long as we're still in Iraq and killing them.
posted by amberglow at 10:14 PM on April 28, 2005


Asparagirl posted "including 'in what boosters are calling Muppet Diplomacy', an Arabic version of Sesame Street."

Ah, excellent, a chance to recycle my comments in a more appropriate thread:

Remember the Arabic Sesame Street episode where they thought Mr. Hooper was hiding stink bombs and bad cake and milk that was past its sell-by date?

And Bert and Ernie, following Oscar the Grouch's instructions burst into Mr. Hooper's store, and Ernie clubs old Mr. Hooper in the stomach so the poor old guy folds over on himself, while Bert goes behind him and tis his hands together and then Ernie shoves the black hood over Hooper's head and snickers "No more chances for you, old man!"

And then they chain Mr. Hooper to the floor of his own convenience store and Bert and Ernie start smacking Hooper around, with Ernie saying "Ok, old man, tell us where the stink bombs are!" and Bert chiming in a second later with "Yeah!"

And then back and forth they hit old Mr. Hooper in the pointed hood. Ernie: "Ok, old man, tell us where the past-due milk is!" Bert, all in a nasal voice: "Yeah, old man!" until finally Mr. Hooper sags down unconscious.

And you think it's over but they take the hood off Mr. Hooper's bruised face and they bring the Cookie Monster in on a leash and Mr. Hooper wakes up and tries to scramble backwards and Bert and Ernie haul back on Cookie Monster's leash and then set him snapping at Mr. Hooper's legs, and you see the crazy fear in Mr. Hooper's old tired eyes.

And in the end it turns out that Mr. Hooper never was hiding any stink bombs or germy old milk or that bad yellow cake they accused him of hiding for The Count, and even The Count didn't even have any of those things either.

'Cause that was the funniest part, at the end, when Bert and Ernie finally took the handcuffs off Mr. Hooper and he flopped onto the floor, and Bert kinda looks down and tells Mr. Hooper all diffidently, "Yeah, hey, sorry, but we had to do that, you know, to bring you the Gift of Democracy" and Ernie just nods his head and shrugs and old Mr. Hooper just lays there like he can't move with his unblinking eyes staring up at Bert and Ernie's American flag.

If our childhood memories are of Sesame Street, the Arab world's memories are of innocent brothers and uncles who got caught up in sweep and sent to Abu Ghraib and never returned.

And I suspect what I wrote is closer to what a lot of kids in Iraq and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are going to see the next time America's Sesame Street plays on their TVs. And unlike me, they won't afflict you with words, they'll grow up to strap on bombs and head to America for their own fiery apocalyptic version of the American Dream.
posted by orthogonality at 11:46 PM on April 28, 2005


In spite of the imperialistic undertones, overall this could be a good thing for the world. Exactly the sort of thing Americans should have done in the wake of 911 - back when everyone was on their side, and could have helped out - rather than deciding to destroy a country who posed no real threat to Western democracy. Unfortunately the more unilateral this appears the less benefit it will have in the long term.
posted by bruceyeah at 12:56 AM on April 29, 2005


Al Mo.
posted by ori at 4:48 AM on April 29, 2005


So the U.S. Government is simultaneously trying to take the God out of schools in Pakistan, and put God back into the schools stateside?

Awesome.
posted by patnasty at 7:54 AM on April 29, 2005


Yes, they embrace the ideal of freedom of religion, as long as the religion is Christianity.
posted by caddis at 8:49 AM on April 29, 2005


PurplePorpoise: I look at it more as spending money on our (USian) needs vs. spending money to get other people to like us. My belief is that Americans knowing more about Islam, the various Muslim belief systems, etc would help Americans be able to engage in a positive interchange, not one where ignoarnce breeds an unhealthy preposition to violence as th emeans to solve differenences.
posted by infowar at 8:59 AM on April 29, 2005


*shakes head*

Remember those ads that were supposed to tell Muslims how wonderful it was to live in America and how America loved Muslims? They were pulled for a reason.

*raises glass to another marketing flop*

They're doing it for domestic reasons. Outside of the US, no amount of taxpayer-funded PR is ever going to make people forget about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the thousands of civilian victims, and the zero-to-stellar rise in terrorist attacks in Iraq. If they really believe that, they're as crazy as the craziest mullah.

But hey, thanks for trying... Muppets to the rescue!

(I love the 'convincing to add science to the curriculum' part. And 'women's rights'. And 'tolerance', ouch ouch ouch...)
posted by funambulist at 4:02 PM on April 29, 2005


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