Tuesday, April 28, 2009

(Semi)Narrowcasting to the Muslim World

Much has been made of President Obama's eloquence and balanced rhetoric in his statements to, and regarding, what is sometimes monolithically-termed the 'Muslim World.' The phrase itself is a bit of a loaded term, because it ignores relevant distinctions within the global community of 1.6 billioin Muslims. It is related to objections over the now disused phrase 'Global War on Terror,' because when used in conjunction--even innocuously--they tended to convey the sentiment that the U.S. or the West in general was at war with Islam.

Obama has since made clear that the U.S. is, in fact, "not at war with Islam," and has banished the GWOT from the talking points (the FoxNews graphics department is likely not satisfied with the replacement 'Overseas Contingency Operation')...Despite the fact that the President continues to employ the 'Mulsim world' phrase (most recently in remarks at a student roundtable at a university in Istanbul, Turkey), it is clear that his distinct messages to audiences within that world are, themselves, a recognition of its internal divisions and diversity.

Consider the Administration's messages to the global Muslim community, and how their carefully-selected audiences effectively employ narrowcasting:

1. President Obama gives his first international media interview with the pan-Arab satellite network al Arabiyya calling for mutual understanding and respect, speaking directly to the region's Arab Muslims.

2. Obama records a celebratory message of outreach to the people of Iran for the Persian holiday of Nowruz, implicitly targeting non-Arab Shia Muslims.

3. Secretary of State Clinton concludes a tour of East and Southeast Asia with an appearance on Indonesia's most popular daytime TV talk show, reaching millions of Asian Sunni Muslims in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

4. President Obama wraps up his tour of Europe following the G20 with speeches in Ankara and Istanbul, again calling for mutual respect, speaking to Turkish and Kurdish Muslims and recognizing the United States' short-term image problems in Turkey and the global Mulsim community. He also affirmed the United States' support for the overwhelmingly-Sunni Muslim nation's membership bid for the European Union.

Many public diplomacy observers give Obama high marks for his Administration's willingness to recognize these distinctions and target different segments of the Muslim population worldwide with individually-tailored messages that nevertheless reinforce broad themes of respect, dialog, and understanding. In a recap of the Administration's 100 foreign policy successes in its first 100 days, Ian Goldberg of the HuffingtonPost includes, "Re-engaging with Muslim nations through targeted, positive public diplomacy."

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