Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A few of my favorite photos.

You see, I am not all politics and anger!!! I actually have a creative side.





Sunday, December 9, 2007

United States Defense Strategy

Can you defend America with ham-strung hard power tactics and realist-driven soft power half-measures? The mixture of the two has been a witch’s brew of chaos. Real “Smart Power” is the result of a viable coercive force and the willingness to employ it and a viable attractive force that recognizes the paradigm change from state-security to human-security in a globally interconnected world.


It is the manifestation of "Walking softly but carry a big stick..." It is hard power that provides the time and space for soft power to be effective. This relationship is called Smart Power if both work in concert.


Going forward US defense will be a mixture of public diplomacy, diplomacy, and quick and decisive coercive force. This will not include state building or other "construction" projects that require troops on the ground for long periods of time. Nor will it include projects of attrition like insurgency engagements or peace keeping in hostile areas where it is impossible to tell friendly from foe.


To participate in these building and tearing down projects the US will have to work with regional organizations and/or the UN. Unilateral or Bilateral action is too easily hijacked by liberal global opinion no matter how justified the action. Until the US can bridge the pubic diplomacy divide global opinion will remain heavily against the US and any coercive action it takes.


Anytime the US as the world hyper-power uses force unilaterally or bilaterally it will be characterized as unjust, imperial, colonial and disproportional. Our allies are powerless to come to our aid after the fact because their actions will be seen as unauthentic and forced.


Regional multilateral alliances with significant multinational troop deployments are the only option for any extended ground engagements.


Next, disengagement is not an option in the foreseeable future when it comes to energy security. Until a comprehensive energy program is online engagement with unsavory regions and nations is necessary. Coercive measures by the world’s largest consumer of energy will be seen as imperial, colonial and disproportional. Success in Jerusalem, Beirut and Baghdad is much more important than anything done in Riyadh, Tehran or Damascus. Therefore current coercive measures should be finished only when mission objectives are complete and further coercive engagements should be handled at 30,000 feet with minimal troops on the ground for targeting and bomb damage assessment. All haste and earnestness should be deployed to bring resolution to the continuing problems in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. Without these three countries at peace there is no chance for energy security until and unless comprehensive energy alternatives are found.


At first blush this looks like we are hanging our national security on whether we upset a global audience. Quite the contrary. My assessment takes into account that no matter what we do coercively as a hyper-power there will be a great deal of blowback from a globally liberal and vocal group. The din of this globally liberal group provides time and space for our enemies to operate. By countering with public diplomacy we lessen the enemy’s time and space and increase our own for necessary and justified coercive measures. Unfortunately the US does not participate skillfully or at the numbers necessary to be effective in direct public diplomacy. Therefore, currently, to have any time and space to operate by force we must join regional alliances and other multinational solutions so that we do not, by unintended consequence, provide for our enemies the very arena we work so hard to destroy.


Benjamin Cook

Director, the Organization for Public Diplomacy

www.org4pd.org

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Defending the War in Iraq

Below is my final exchange with a Blogger about the legality of the war in Iraq. It started by my commenting on Noam Chomsky's take on the UN.

Blogger: http://sabbah.biz/mt/archives/2007/11/25/do-the-democrats-have-a-different-answer-on-iran/

__________________

"Until the mischief be grown general, and the evil designs of the RULERS become visible, the people, who are MORE disposed to SUFFER than to right themselves by resistance are not apt to stir." - Locke [emphasis mine]


"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same course, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their RIGHT, it is their DUTY to throw off such government, and to provide NEW guards for their future safety." - Declaration of Independence [emphasis mine]


When Iraq did not avail themselves of their rights or perform their duty to remove Saddam Hussein and when failing to do so became a destabilizing force of attrition and uncertainty to the region it became the right and duty of other nations to confront that destabilization of attrition and uncertainty. Confrontation that, in the scope of historical conflict, is neither unjust nor unnecessarily brutal. The concept of bloodless war and effortless freedom is a new concept not supported by history or "Common Sense".


Evidence of this bloodless concept is the abandonment of Iraq by its citizens of means. The drain of professionals whose education and skills was sorely needed only served to prolong the suffering of those who chose to stay or had no choice but to stay. Further evidence is the depiction of US troops as indiscriminant in their war-fighting. By any fair and unbiased measure of the whole the US military has shown unprecedented restraint -possibly to the detriment of the mission.


Kofi Annan on the Responsibility to Protect –

"This responsibility lies, first and foremost, with each individual State, whose primary raison d’être and duty is to protect its population. But if national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, then the responsibility shifts to the international community..."


What happens when the apparatus of the UN, the Security Council that he later describes, also fails? Like in the Balkans? Or Rwanda? Or Darfur? And when diplomacy is a circular game rather than a useful tool? Then does serving the Purposes and Principles of the UN require stepping outside its framework? What is the higher priority? Certainly not the procedure, but rather the Purpose and Principle.


Can a good argument be made that the Iraq war is itself more destabilizing than Saddam? Yes, but that argument must rely on short sighted and outmoded concepts that don’t take into consideration our global interconnectedness or the historical benefit of liberty and democracy -benefits that take generations to fully realize.


Has the Iraq war been prosecuted well? Obviously not. There have been too many mistakes that continue to cost thousands of Iraqi lives and hundreds of US and Coalition lives. Do these mistakes constitute negligence? I am open to that, but don’t at this time think so.


Therefore, to say that the Iraq war is “illegal” or to use the word “occupation” in a pejorative way is to avoid the facts. Facts supported by modern and historical notions of the rights of man and the obligations of government.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Response to LA Times Piece on Public Diplomacy

Below is a letter sent to Price B. Floyd concerning his opinion piece in the LA Times.


Mr. Floyd makes some fantastic points but misses some of the bigger picture which is sadly typical of old guard diplomats when it comes to public diplomacy.


________________________


Mr. Floyd,

I enjoyed your public diplomacy piece in the LA Times. It seems some of the best "PR" Karen Hughes has been responsible for was accomplished by merely stepping down. I have never seen so much buzz about public diplomacy. You are correct to point out policy as a prime reason for our poor image abroad but you missed one very important issue that is staring us in the face. It is the lack of understand for the concept and power of public diplomacy. Save a few "elite" circles the concept is lost on most people, even our diplomatic corps. Because public diplomacy happens whether we mean to engage in it or not and because the altruistic context of the word "diplomacy" draws our attention away from the fact that the ends of public diplomacy can be malicious, we tend to concentrate on traditional ideas of diplomacy leaving the Public-to-Public aspect of public diplomacy alone. This lack of awareness and understanding does as much to undercut our image abroad as does rendition and secret prisons.

Take for example the global assault on Guantanamo. Gitmo is perceived to be a torture chamber void of human rights by many at home and most abroad. How were calls of condemnation with out suggestions for solutions allowed to go unanswered? Why were those unconcerned with solutions allowed to frame the debate rather than those that understand that many of its prisoner's countries of origin might not want its occupants back and that some occupants might actually need to be in a facility? My best guess is that it was the Administration's and State Department's general ignorance of the continuing convergence of public opinion and global interconnectedness.

Punditry is as easy as opening a blog. Successful punditry is as simple as opening a blog and confirming like minded reader's bias. One does not have to be an expert on Gitmo and the delicate issues surrounding it to be a successful distributor of information. Our failure to engage these distributors where they actually are has been devastating.

The US government can not by definition engage in Public-to-Public diplomacy and direct interference is often seen as propaganda or censorship. But it can take a facilitating role by promoting the concept, educating us on the skills and responsibilities of public diplomacy.

Most important is that those of us "in the know" undertake the task that is grassroots understanding of the importance and power of public diplomacy by teaching the skills necessary to be effective in our communications. While this concept has been around for a while, it is foreign to most. We have legions of public diplomats that can change the US image abroad if we take the task seriously.

Kind Regards,

Benjamin Cook


Saturday, November 17, 2007

If the Internet ain't broke, don't fix it!

Recently, The United Nations sponsored a conference on US control of certain important parts of the Internet. For the most part this conference and its aims represent the clearest example of the dysfunctional relationship the US has with the world and how in this particular case, as in a few others, it doesn’t matter what the facts are only that the US be made to appear the selfish Super-Power.

The primary reason for this conference is benign enough. The idea is that control over the internet be international. That is all well and good and something as borderless as the Internet certainly deserves as much international influence as is prudent -PRUDENT being the key word.

Calls to internationalize instantly or at a rapid pace is not prudent. At the center of this discussion is ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers, a California based non-profit that controls and assigns all domain names. Being a US non profit some feel that US can and does exercise too much control over the Internet. Fair enough, but on balance what has been the record to date of that influence?

Internationalization proponents are quick to point to the sluggish way internet becomes available to developing nations and the language barriers that an all English system provides. The problem is not with the veracity of these issues; rather it is with the solution. Internationalization proponents obviously see a more international solution that will have either some kind of defused oversight (think an EU type bureaucracy with infinite members) or slightly more central oversight (think the UN). The problem with each of these solutions is the track record of efficiency. The EU can be at times paralyzed with inefficiency even when dealing with issues that are broadly accepted. The UN is only able to be effective when there is complete agreement by the big five. This agreement is very rare. Both of these oversight solutions promise sluggish action and there-by paralyze the very solutions to the issues they portend to promote.

The US track record on the other hand speaks for itself. It is the track record that has brought us to this point of global interconnectedness. It is the track record that stands in bright contrast to the other options. It is the track record that has facilitated global conversations from the far reaches of the world allowing better understanding. The current US based solution is not perfect and there is need for international involvement but the current US based solutions is not broken either. Therefore I see no need to fix it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Karen Hughes / Public Diplomacy

In recent weeks I have read article after article about departing Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes’ job performance or lack there of. These articles range between false interpretations of good data to ignorant partisan blather to accurate reporting of the facts without political interpretation. What most have in common is that they recognize the monumental job U/S Hughes had as the person tasked with improving America’s image abroad.

Often read are references to putting Lipstick-on-a-Pig or Polishing-a-Turd. These “thoughtful” literary devices were used to exemplify the writer’s idea of the hopelessly difficult task of selling US policies that are seen in many places as colonial or empire driven. Luckily Karen Hughes didn’t shy away from the task and did the first real work public diplomacy has seen since the days of Edward R. Murrow.

Quickly, public diplomacy simply is any exchange between people, cultures or countries that is not Government-to-Government -which would be traditional diplomacy. A blog by an Iraqi in Mosul read by an American in Charleston is public diplomacy. Starbucks coffee in China is an exchange that can be considered public diplomacy. Sadly, MTV’s Sweet Sixteen program airing in Ireland is also an unfortunate exchange and is public-to-public diplomacy.

U/S Hughes and the State Department as a whole only really work in the Government-to-Public realm. Under Hughes the State Dept. increased its sad little budget ,opened regional Public Diplomacy Hubs in London, Brussels and in Dubai, and Rapid Reaction teams were formed to counter misinformation, conspiracy theories and needless hysteria often seen in online forums, chat rooms and weblogs throughout the Islamic world. These moves by Hughes constitute a wholesale change in direction and performance by the State Department. Both Clinton and Bush “43” had Public Diplomacy officers that worried only about “branding” rather than any kind of exchange. It was a one way communication effort. Much like advertising. The problem is that these actions are actually reactions and are meant to limit damage rather than be a true dialogue or exchange of information. Now, Hughes and Co. have posted a State Department blog (http://www.blogs.state.gov/) where any interested party from all over the world can exchange views with the various State officials that post. This constitutes a proactive exchange and I believe the first of its kind for State public diplomacy.

Efforts like this constitute the State Departments first foray, or should I say unintended consequence, into Public-to-Public diplomacy. By allowing the conversations to be public and open for engagement by anyone Hughes and State have taken an important step towards a global dialogue. Ideas are not presented and then forgotten as was the old “branding” way. Conversations are now taking place, albeit on a small scale.

There is much more to be done in terms of policy and grassroots efforts here at home to be full participants in all forms of public diplomacy. Chief among these is teaching the concept of public diplomacy at a much earlier age. Next is providing the tools necessary to engage effectively in public diplomacy. The number one tool missing in the United States is the ability to speak a second language. It would be nice if more of us spoke Spanish or French. It would be best if we spoke Farsi or Chinese! We have a long way to go and Karen Hughes has barely scratched the surface. The great thing about Public Diplomacy is it is best accomplished by “publics” as the name suggests. So perhaps we should look to ourselves as the responsible party for allowing misinformation, conspiracy theories and propaganda to run rampant amongst our global neighbors?

Benjamin Cook
Director, the Organization for Public Diplomacy
www.org4pd.org

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the Organization for Public Diplomacy

I have started a non profit. It is called the Organization for Public Diplomacy.

www.org4pd.org

Check it out!

B.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An answer to an unsolicited email.

The Email:

Shannon Airport

1 million troops – 1 million dead?



Peace Demonstration at Shannon Airport on Sat 27 October
Time: 2 pm

Location: At terminal building if possible

Otherwise at checkpoint near WESTAIR roundabout.



Between March 2003 and Sept 2007 - 1,059,382 US military personnel have passed through Shannon on 8,698 flights. Estimates for numbers of people killed in Iraq due to US attack and occupation vary from half a million to over one million.



Meanwhile, Aerlingus is abandoning Shannon, and other civilian airlines are likely to follow this example.



An average of 640 US troops on five flights per day have passed through Shannon

CIA rendition planes are still refuelling at Shannon.

No US military or CIA planes are being searched by Gardai

Peace activists are still being are being harassed by Gardai and brought before the courts on spurious chargers



Restore Shannon / Heathrow link

Break Shannon / Iraq DEATHROW link



Likelihood of US air attack on Iraq over the next few months
Shannon and Irish airspace will be used to support this further illegal act of war

Action is needed now to demilitarise Shannon airport and restore Irish neutrality and sovereignty.
_____________________________________________________________________

The response:

'Are you straight?"

'I am.'

'How straight?'

'As straight as a rush.'

'Go on, then.'

'In truth, in trust, in unity and liberty.'

'What have you got in your hand?'

'A green bough.'

'Where did it first grow?'

'In America.'

'Where did it first bud?'

'In France.'

'Where are you going to plant it?'

'In the crown of Great Britain.'

- A greeting of the United Irishmen Circa 1791

I am so glad I found my way on whatever list this is. Perhaps some
common sense and a bit of accuracy will help some of us.

First, the idea of Irish neutrality is what is "spurious". Neutrality
or what some like to consider neutrality happens only at the pleasure
of those that are NOT neutral. The same for pacifists. Both concepts
are utopian concepts that can never actually be achieved. Both
concepts survive only at the pleasure of those willing to stand for
something and defend something larger than an unattainable concept
like neutrality. Ireland is full of people willing to stand for these
"larger" concepts and may God bless their efforts.

Ireland the country that welcomed me and that I fell in love with is
not neutral, at least not in deed -though it may strive to be so in
concept.

Ireland is connected to the US and the non neutral West via economics,
among other things. It is the fact that these non "neutral" countries
stand for something concrete and are willing to defend and protect it
that provides the market relationships necessary for Western progress
of which Ireland is a major part.

Chief among these ideas in need of defense is that of energy security.
I am not defending US consumption practices, far from it. I am
merely pointing out how energy and OIL are the life blood of Western
(Irish) economies. To deny this is folly and perhaps the root of our
major differences. You do not touch one thing or travel to one place
or have one interaction that is not facilitated in some way by oil.
This FACT is immutable. Is this situation a "best-practice"? I think
not. Is it optimal? I think not. Is it correctable? I think so
-with conservation, stewardship and innovation. (Noticeably absent
from this list is fear-mongering, like Al Gore's "End of Days"
scenario.)

This "correction" is not forthcoming in a reasonable amount of time.
So, until the arrival of the distant future we must be pragmatic and
even utilitarian in our energy security policy. WE being the West or
developed world that Ireland is a part of. This pragmatic approach
includes having an influential role in the areas that provide the
energy the West (Ireland) needs. (Not to mention emerging economies
like China, India and Eastern Europe.) This influential role is the
crux of my admonition.

What bothers me most with the current Bush administration is the silly
and cowardly way they continue the failed policy of denying that the
war in Iraq was about energy security, ie... "a war for oil." Because
the cause of "energy security" in and of itself is as necessary a
cause as there has ever been. That cause should be explained clearly
not avoided as is the policy of the current administration. That
cause, "energy security," is axiomatic, a maxim, a heuristic. It is a
moral imperative.

Sadly in order for this moral imperative to be seen clearly many
people must step outside their own bias and out of the narrative they
have placed themselves in. A narrative for Ireland that promotes the
concept of neutrality when in fact Ireland is in the thick-of-it by
action and association –far from neutral. A narrative for many of us
that is an investment in both self-loathing and West-loathing.
Investment in this narrative sadly has some suffering from
true-believers syndrome. Or being so invested in your own bias that
even when faced with facts that counter your position you will
construct walls (read: lies) in your narrative that counter the
cognitive dissonance that occurs when confronted with the truth
-thereby, victimizing you. What is more, when you take it upon
yourself to induct others into your false narrative you victimize
them.

Most wretchedly, once you have induced enough people the process
becomes easier. Your responsibility for the false narrative is
diffused over all that you have convinced of your bias. This
"group-think" will now transform the narrative into doctrine and
promote "mind-guards" to police dissent and deflect any attacks… even
those of reason!

Finally, I find the flaunting of death tolls particularly disturbing
because invariably it is done as an appeal to emotion rather than
reason. It is a distraction if the tolls are void of context as they
usually are. It is sad that many of us pick and choose the value we
place on human life so easily. If we were true humanitarians we would
look not at the cost of human life in terms of our comfort and
emotional well-being but rather we would look at it in a utilitarian
way. A way that sought to preserve the largest number of lives over
the longest foreseeable future.

When we extol the context-less body count we ignore history's lessons.
Lessons that have taught us again and again that freedom, liberty and
happiness are functions of hard work over great amounts of time. Hard
work that translates into men and women standing up for freedom and up
to tyranny. If your narrative suggests that energy security is best
provided in the hands of Saddam Hussein or Mahmood Ahmahdinejad rather
than people of liberty participating in a true Lockeian sovereignty
then you my friend are indeed suffering from a narrative rank with
group-think and self-loathing.

It is important to read this with an open mind but it is even more
important to not assume what is not written here. There is nothing
suggested here-in that says the Iraq war was the proper or best way to
provide energy security. There is nothing here that says the war was
and is being prosecuted efficiently. There is nothing here that says
Ireland should take up arms and join the US in Iraq or Afghanistan.
There is nothing here that says Ireland should take any aggressive
position with its own military. There is nothing here that suggests
Ireland's voice not be heard no matter what it is saying or how
difficult it is for the US to hear. What is written here is an
admonition to Ireland that it is neither neutral nor an outsider
looking in on the US and the broader West. It is a fully vested
player with all the rights, privileges and RESPONSIBILITIES that go
along with the progress and prosperity it enjoys.

So, you don't have to have US military planes, transporting the best
and brightest America has to offer to and from combat, on Irish soil
to be a participant in the battle for energy security. You need only
fill up your car with petrol or take the bus to the City Center or
welcome tourists off of jet planes or purchase a pint from the pub or
any item from any establishment in the whole of the Republic of
Ireland. Like it or not your participation in energy security is tied
not to the military planes in Shannon but the economy and progress you
and the rest of the developed world enjoy daily. To deny this is
either ignorance or hypocrisy of the worst and most dangerous kind.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What The Election Issues Are, And What The Issues SHOULD Be.

I have watched a few debates and I see how the media and candidates characterize the “issues”. I don’t really think the media or the candidates understand what actually will be affecting us in the coming years.


Of course one issue that broadly we all agree on being important is Iraq. But that is where the agreement abruptly ends. Candidates on both sides of the aisle boil down the issue to stay or go. (Absent Ron Paul on the right and this would be a straight partisan issue.) Rarely do we get into the meat of the issue. How do we stay? How would be go? Could the troops really be pulled out in the next year or two? Would this herald the total decay of any peace in the broader Middle East? Who fills the power vacuum? Iran? Saudi Arabia? How do you combat an insurgency that has the tacit support at best and material support at worst of the very people you are trying to help? How do you keep Iranian influence out of Iraq, both political and military? Would leaving Iraq for dead and concentrating on Afghanistan be a solution?


What is not useful or helpful is posturing on Iran like we see on the right. This bravado without consequence is just silly. Looking tough on a debate stage at the cost of foreign relations and diplomacy not helpful. Relevant and informed suggestions on how we actually bring and keep Iran at the negotiating table would be. That could mean a military option but it might not. Broad pronouncements from candidates about bombing Iran only serve to distance current relations and limit options in the future.


Also, what is not useful is the lefts inability to answer clearly any question about a military option. It is obvious that everyone except Hillary Clinton has sold their soul to moveon.org and the dailykos on this issue.(Hillary’s soul still belongs to the money raisers just not on this issue, this is so she can remain “electable” in a general election.) Left candidates are so scared of actually suggesting what options might be on the table that they just obfuscate and hide as to not anger their fundraising cash cow. This far left cash cow is decidedly anti-war. Any war. Any conflict. Any military action other than war. Its tragic influence on the left is only equaled to the undue influence of the Christian Conservatives on the right.


Abortion is NEVER on our collective radar until election time. (Sadly “election time” is now about two to three years prior to the actual polling!) Both parties and almost all candidates USE abortion as a wedge issue. What that means is that this issue is designed to separate and entrench voters. Politicians don’t want moderation. Moderation doesn’t raise money. A motivated base does. Nothing splits up moderation like a wedge issue. Iraq being one, global warming another and abortion being the best. Without getting into the actual issue of abortion candidates use it to their benefit to rally the base and bring in more money.


To be clear, America as a whole doesn’t care about making abortion illegal. We never discuss this issue except during an election and then only at the prodding of a candidate(s). Perhaps we should or perhaps we shouldn’t. The point is we don’t see it as of particular importance to our daily lives or we would behave and converse accordingly.


What is of particular importance is a good Job. Not a job. But a good job. In the US if you want to work you can. Plain and simple. With very few exceptions if you lose your job today you can find work of some kind in less than 1-6 months. It might not be a good job and you might have to move to where the job is but there is a job. Candidates speak in terms of employment or having a job. We now need to look towards how to have a “good” job. One that pays well and has some kind of job security. No one talks about this. We hear faintly on the left that the jobs available are not good jobs. But they don’t follow up with a suggestion on fixing the problem, only pointing out the problem as the left is so good at doing… especially if it ends in a poke at our current President.


What we need is debate on how to move from a society that relied on jobs that lasted 20 plus years and had a pension at the end to a society that is mobile and can learn and use new skills in many jobs and provide for our own retirement. The days of going to work at the factory for 20+ years and retiring is over. Putting a dollar or three into the minimum wage does nothing to fix this problem. We need to hear candidates talking about our secondary system of education not just our primary. We need to hear talk about the systemic problems we face in education that put our workers at a disadvantage the day they graduate from high school and/or college. India, China and Eastern Europe are flooding western job markets and universities. They speak several languages and will work for far less than an American. They are better educated on the primary level and ambitious. What candidate has talked about this?


Plenty of Candidates talk about health care. But what are they saying. Hillary has given us her suggestion. Bravo. I think Edwards has as well. What about the right? Thompson has weighed in but has no real plan. Rudy and Mitt have done the best in terms of detailing how Hillary’s plan will not work. (And it won’t by the way!) But they don’t have a front and center PLAN for fixing the problems of cost, availability and improved quality. Just bashing Hillary-care as socialism doesn’t work. (And it is socialism!) You must give an alternative that matches Hillary’s plan detail to detail. Where is this plan from the republicans?


Fred Thompson is the only candidate to address the fact that there will be NO Social Security in the next ten years or less. He has put forth a plan. It is detailed and it does seem plausible. But unfortunately it is getting very little press. Other candidates only talk around the issue. With the exception of Thompson here we have another instance of candidates hiding rather than confronting an issue that will be devastating to the American people very soon.


Potentially most devastating to the American people is the issue of energy. The energy debate unfortunately is being characterized successfully by the left in terms of only the environment. That in and of itself is innocuous enough, but the apocalyptical version being sold by the far left is the problem. Candidates are lost to useless arguing about the hows and whys of global warming when we could all agree on the need for conservation, innovation and stewardship. These three ideas are universal. But conservation, innovation and stewardship won’t raise money on the left or right. The fight over the world coming to an end will.


And finally, George Bush is not running for president. To debate as if he was is stupid. I don’t see the right doing this only the left. We can certainly reflect and learn from his failures but to use GW as a rallying cry or a way to motivate your base as the left is doing is really really sad. Can not the left run on the issues? Don’t the issues deserve the floor, rather than trashing GW so you can whip your kooky fringe into hysteria, i.e. donate more money. You can’t “throw the bum out”. He is already walking to the door. As the party of opposition in the presidential election the left has some responsibilities. Chief of which is framing the debate on failed policy. This responsibility is NOT met by bashing Bush and leaving out the policy as happens all too often. All you succeed in doing is lowering the level of debate by mischaracterizing the issues.


So as you decide who you are going to vote for this election season I encourage you to go beyond what is the presented face of each candidate or party and go deeper into the issues. Remember, it is we that elect these folks to office and what we consent to we encourage.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Free Burma


Free Burma!

Harry Reid and ilk have NO shame

Democrat Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada has been caught red handed spinning Rush Limbaugh's comments about "phony soldiers" into something it isn't. If one takes the time to actually read what Rush said...and most won't, but if one does it is obvious that Rush is talking about Jessie Macbeth. Macbeth was also caught lying about his service record and exploits in Iraq. Jessie never went to Iraq and is now facing charges for his lies. The left seized on Jessie's anti-war statements that accused troops of murder and mayhem. Jessie was in every sense a "phony soldier".

It is crazy to attack Limbaugh who has donated large sums of money and promoted the troop's causes that included a trip to Afghanistan, which is more than most of us have ever done. Rush is pro-military, pro-troops and gives to troop causes. To be guilty of what Reid is accusing him of is not just out of character but also plainly false.

http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_100107/content/01125112.guest.html

Free Burma


Free Burma!

New Media Puts Spotlight on Burma

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.


-Thomas Jefferson, 1813


Even back in 1813 Thomas Jefferson understood the power of the exchange of information. He understood that no one owns information. Oh, many try to, but time usually tells the tale. He also recognized that by trading information we grow exponentially. We are “expansible over all space” and that by sharing we are “incapable of confinement”. Such is the case in Burma (Myanmar). The military government of that country or Junta have just tried to quell peaceful unrest in their country by physical violence and by turning off the internet to it citizens. For over a week bloggers (new media) acting as citizen journalists made sure that reports and photos flowed to the old legacy media. Now that information has been squelched to almost nothing. Still, reports of death and harassment are leaking out.


This leak by the new media in Burma constitutes what is known as Public Diplomacy. Public Diplomacy is the public conversation between two or more nation’s non-governmental interested parties, which has some measurable effect on a government(s) policy. In this case the effect was more attention paid to Burma. A specific example would be President Bush enacting tougher sanctions on the Junta and calling for action at the UN last week. As well, the military government’s crack down on the flow of information via the internet would qualify because it is a reaction to citizen journalists communicating with other non-governmental entities all over the world.


Beyond the exchange of information being Public Diplomacy it is also what is called Soft Power. According to the father of Soft Power Joseph Nye Jr. Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals…” by attraction rather than coercion. These Burmese blogs do not threaten us or hold us hostage in order to get their message across rather they tell a compelling story that stands on its own merit.


We are not to a point where New Media can drive a story on its own and ensure action. Rather, it still requires the old media to take the baton from the New and then pass it own to our traditional hard powers like the US and China. In any event the role of the New Media in this conflict is unmistakable.


If you want to participate in this public diplomacy and increase the soft power of the Burmese citizens I suggest you log-on and connect with these people via their blogs. You can find a dearth of information on the Burmese blogosphere at globalvoicesonline.com or more specifically:

http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/east-asia/

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why Letting the Iranian President Speak at Columbia University Was Wrong


A very good friend of mine, who is probably the smartest person I know, thinks that letting Ahmadinejad the President of Iran speak this past week at Columbia University was an exercise in free speech. Sadly it was not. It was merely a platform for a blithering idiot’s ruminations. Lee Bollinger the president of the university did, however, do the world a “solid” and put Mahmood in his place -calling him to his face a “petty dictator”. Well, now that I think about it, Lee only said he “Exhibit[ed] signs” of a “petty dictator”. So the president of Columbia didn’t have the huevos to actually call him a dictator. Nice. But I digress.


My good friend a graduate of Barnard College (a part of Columbia University) insists that this forum we provided for Ahmadinejad and the students of Columbia was an exercise in freedom. Free speech and all that. She insists that there is a right to be heard. This is why she is wrong:


1. First and for most there is NO RIGHT to be heard. There is a right to speak freely. But nowhere in the Constitution does it guarantee the right to make others listen or as an extension provide a forum so others can be heard. Over and over on the day of the “forum” I heard countless pseudo-intellectuals call for the “right to be heard”. Sorry. But our laws do not compel others to listen. It only compels them to let you speak if you so chose.


2. Apparently, according to my friend the genius (she also has a Masters degree in International Relations and is attending NYU law school), the constitution sometimes refers to citizens and sometimes to “people” and when it refers to “people” it could mean every person in the world. So, in that light, we try to behave towards others as we behave towards ourselves and extend our constitutional protections as a standard of treatment to the rest of the world. (Gitmo excluded!) So the United States should protect Almondjoy – I mean Ahmadinejad’s right to speak. And…we do. There is a fantastic place where many people from all over the world can hear Mahmood ruminate. It is called the United Nations. Where we are a member and will fight with blood and treasure to protect Mahmood’s, Hugo Chavez’s and any other low-life’s right to speak and waste valuable time that could be spent rooting out corruption at the UN.


3. Another argument is that Mahmood’s appearance would lift the level of debate at Columbia. Well, that is Columbia’s problem if debate is at such a poor level. I personally don’t need the appearance of a terrorist backing, homosexual murdering, woman stoning, genocide threatening “petty dictator” to lift my level of debate. What we do need to lift that level is something other than ultra-liberal education that gives too much credence to relativist and deconstructionist theories and not enough to the benefits of values and principles and what adherence to values and principles can bring about when it is married to a healthy, but limited, dose of relativism and deconstruction. If you don’t know what I mean by “relativist and deconstructionist” principles think of both as the science of NEVER deciding whether to fish-or-cut-bait or poop-or-get-off-the-pot! Mahmood doesn’t raise the level of debate. He lowers it to some ambiguous denominator that does not accomplish a damn thing. (Pardon my Farsi.) Listening to him go on and on about how Iran loves freedom and how Iran loves women made me sick.


4. Finally, there is no value in anything Ahmadinejad has to say because he has proven himself either stupid or “provocative” as Lee Bollinger pointed out. Anyone who denies the existence of the Holocaust is not worthy of academic challenge. Perhaps laboratory study -but I am quite sure that this forum was not billed as a chance to see a monkey in a cage, rather it was billed as an academic exercise that gave Ahmadinejad some sense of equality or peer-status to the rest of Columbia University. There was no “exchange” at Columbia University. Nothing was gleaned from Mahmood that couldn’t have been gleaned otherwise and Mahmood I promise you took nothing away except more contempt for the United States.


So sorry to Columbia University, you are not only wrong but you have actually worked to lessen the thing you have tried to protect (free speech) by letting a propagandist and by all accounts a terrorist have a venue to try to equivocate his countries deeds and rhetoric via obfuscation and pseudo-logic.


Having said all of this and having counseled with my before mentioned dear and wise friend one extraordinary thing did happen because of this incident. My friend, a liberal, gave “props” to our President for his magnanimous view of the Ahmadinejad/Columbia University situation. She also directed me to the US Supreme Court decision of the Texas v. Johnson flag-burning case in which Justice Louis Brandeis was quoted in a 1927 opinion:


"To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."


So here it is today that I expose the evil and invite each of you to do the same. Let your voices drown out the voice of Mahmood Ahmadinejad and all those like him.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

“Democrats Step Up Criticizm of Iraq Findings”


This is a headline from the New York Times dateline September 9th. This is very interesting considering there has been no official reporting of said findings to “Criticize”. General David H. Petraeus has not given his report yet. Sure, his open letter to the troops gives us a preview but that is not the report. That is certainly not the OFFICIAL report.

Normally I look for reasons to attack the Dems. I freely admit it. But this is one of those times I will point to both parties. The pro-war right did almost the exact same thing when the Iraq Study Group report was to come out. These attempts to sway opinion before the facts are clear are a patent example of partisan politics. The kind that puts the party first and the “people’s business” second. It should not be tolerated on either side of the aisle.

I do have to point out Sen. Harry Reid. His insistence on calling it the Bush Report rather than the Patraeus report is beyond the pale. This is attacking not just Bush (which we expect) but also General Patraeus. This is calling Patraeus a dishonored liar, incapable of an honest assessment of Iraq. Reid has placed himself and to a large extent the Democrat party in the position of losing if the US wins. If Iraq is successful the liberals have egg all over their faces. Reid now has to answer for statements that declare the Iraq war lost. His answer? “Patraeus is an untrustworthy liar.” Not to mention Ambassador Crocker who will also participate in the report.

Thus far Petraeus has given us no reason to think that he is anything but a capable military leader and an honest broker. He seems to be a call-it-as-he-sees-it kind of guy. Why then would Reid feel the need to preempt the Patraeus report? How does that raise the level of debate? How did Republicans attacking James Baker raise the level of debate on the Iraq Study Group Report? We can do better than the “Harry Reids” of the world. We can do better than this kind of political posturing to rescue errant proclamations of failure in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ding dong the witch is dead....

I finally finished my dissertation. (you can read it below) I am very happy with it though it was shorter than the allotted word count.

I am hoping that the fact that there is no academic information on my topic will help with the lack of words. It is hard to find consensus when you are writing about something for the first time. No one has ever put together the links between blogs-public diplomacy- soft power- and democracy. Let's hope my readers understand what I am trying to say!

WOO HOO. My course work for my Masters degree is out of my hands!

Something to Say and Somewhere to Say it: The Rise of the Middle Eastern Blog

Something to Say and Somewhere to Say it: The Rise of the Middle Eastern Blog

Benjamin Parrish Cook

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MA in International Security and Conflict Studies, Dublin City University, 2007.


Contents

1. Acknowledgements

2. Abstract

3. Abbreviations

4. Introduction

5. The Blog

6. Penetration, Usage and the Digital-Divide

7. Select Middle Eastern Blogospheres by Country

8. Censorship and Harassment

9. Raising Voices

10. Habits of Democracy

11. Blogs as Public Diplomacy

12. Soft Power

13. Conclusion

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of: Collen Reiling, Willis Catoe, Mike and Judy Cook, Aine Bonner, Molly Wallace, Dr. Maura Conway, Dr. Francesco Cavatorta, Imad Shawa, Shay Duffy and Arthur Gaffney. I would also like to thank all the bloggers in the Middle East for taking the time to share with the world. I would like to say a special thanks to bloggers Sandmonkey, Across the Bay, Nah·det Masr and the before mentioned Imad Shawa. Finally, free Kareem![1]

Abstract

This paper examines the growth of Weblogs in the Arab world and posits that through the use of weblogs a habit of democracy if formed and a deficit in freedom lessoned. Simultaneously the collective power of these weblogs constitutes Public Diplomacy, both direct and indirect. This Public Diplomacy is effecting changes in public opinion and in turn governmental policy. This phenomenon is an example of Soft Power. The attractive nature of these online conversations lessens the need for coercive acts that might be used to give weight to an issue.

Abbreviations

European Union – EU

Information and Communication Technologies – ICTs

Middle East – ME

United States – US

Weblog – Blog

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. -Thomas Jefferson

I foresee a universal information system (UIS), which will give everyone access at any given moment to the contents of any book that has ever been published or any magazine or any fact. The UIS will have individual miniature-computer terminals, central control points for the flood of information, and communication channels incorporating thousands of artificial communications from satellites, cables, and laser lines. Even the partial realization of the UIS will profoundly affect every person, his leisure activities, and his intellectual and artistic development... [T]he true historic role of the UIS will be to break down the barriers to the exchange of information among countries and people. -Andrei Sakharov, 1974

The Middle East (ME) is often spoken of in terms of a freedom deficit. Chief among these deficiencies is freedom of speech. Generally speaking the typical Middle Easterner has to contend with state run media and a lag in modernity that puts him or her at a real disadvantage when wanting to voice an opinion or hear another’s. As ME states creep towards some since of modernity voices that were once stifled or censored are beginning to break thru the state imposed silence.

Bursting on the scene post US invasion of Iraq was the weblog or Blog. The weblog empowered both Iraqi civilians and US troops to give an uncensored unedited view of the conflict. Shortly after, Israel invaded Lebanon and blogs from both sides of the conflict exchanged information that was normally the purview of the legacy media; including casualty reports, troop movements and most of all local sentiments about the conflict as it happened. Israelis were talking with Lebanese via weblogs and as an extension the world. News outlets carried and covered the conversation posted on blogs. The importance of the blog had been publicly established in the Middle East as not only a source of information but a conduit for an exchange of ideas without filters or editorial controls.

Jump ahead to today, as blogospheres grow in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia there are still many serious hurdles to negotiate. Middle Easterners that want to express themselves online have to contend with poor internet penetration rates, censorship of all kinds as well as state pressure to conform. This pressure often takes the form of cursory restrictions by internet service providers but sometimes it goes so far as to imprison a blogger for “crimes” against the state.

As a whole the Middle Eastern blog community is becoming self-aware. It is making moves to index and network its voices so that they take on the added power of being collective voices. The importance of these ME voices has not been lost on the rest of the world. Internet sites dedicated to expanding the reach of ME voices, and in fact all global voices, have become not just popular but also key to gathering and disseminating information through out the world. As the ME blog’s importance spreads and the voices that were once made silent are heard an interesting phenomenon occurs. Middle Easterners begin to see the weight of their voices. The world shrinks. International, regional and local relations are affected, even if minutely, by the collective strength of the exchange of information that is the Middle East blogosphere.

This new strength that has traditionally not been available to the average Middle Easterner in Iran, Iraq, Jordon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine or Saudi Arabia has great potential. It has the potential to change policy by means of attraction rather than coercion. These blogging voices can bridge gaps that at one time were polluted with government spin and misinformation and make connections that once were improbable. What is more, the expectation and the confidence that one’s on voice can be heard, should be heard and has a right to be heard will help close the freedom deficit and create some of the much needed habits of democracy for the Middle East.

The following details the new frontier in global voice that is the Middle Eastern blogosphere. Presented is an analysis of the state of the blogosphere, its hurdles and its future. As well, how these blogs help to create important habits of democracy and how these habits play a role in the ME and its continuing struggle to be heard. Finally, points on how this exchange constitutes Public Diplomacy and through this diplomacy how these voices are in effect Soft Power influencing policy and world public opinion.

The Blog

What is a blog (weBLOG)? Generally an online journal meets the criteria of blog when it is regularly updated and past posts are archived and dated. Additional criteria may be attribution through linking and Real Simple Syndication (RSS).[2] As this new media evolves what a blog is will certainly change. Blogs are “new.” The Internet as we recognize it is still only in its teens and blogs are slightly younger. Blogs numbered in the twenties before 1999. Now in 2007 if you ask the blog index and search engine Technorati to search for blogs containing the term “Middle East” it returns 933,070 results.[3] Even more interesting is that only one third of blogs out there in the aether are in english.[4] Blog growth is exponetial. The amount of blogs online was doubling every 5.5 months in 2005 according to Technorati.[5]

Today you can find blogs all over the world touching on as varied subjects as the people who write the blogs, from an 18 year old Chinese girl living in Hamilton, New Zealand introducing herself to the world via MySpace[6] to an American student in Dublin Ireland going on about his pub adventures via Blogger[7] to a mother of three in Mosul Iraq trying to make sense of her chaotic life.[8] Each of these people is an active participant in the new media of blogging. Each contributes to a massive dialog that is largely unfiltered, unedited and patently democratic. It is these great strengths that are also blogging’s great weaknesses. Many have observed that blogs are certainly a source of information, but what kind and what value is this information? Do blogs exist in a “State of Nature” bouncing off of each other with little direction but self exposure and preservation? Or is there method to the madness. These questions are valid and only time will tell if this new media coalesces into something important and powerful or if it is simply a place for the self important to bloviate.

Penetration, Usage and the Digital-Divide

The ME region has experienced exponential growth in internet penetration but that is mostly because of the large deficit of internet availability. In other words there is much room for internet availability to grow. Within this still small but growing group of people that have an internet connection there can be considered a ME blogosphere, and as a subset a blogosphere for each country, and in many cases a local blogosphere for some cities. There is only spotty data for the demography of a Middle Eastern blogger except that internet usage as a whole falls down traditional lines, which is to say that it is dominated by males.[9]

A few words on “blogosphere”, a blogosphere is simply a community of blogs. Merriam Webster’s Open Dictionary defines it as “The combined collection of all blogs and bloggers on the entire Internet from all parts of the world.”[10] While this definition is true it is also incomplete.[11] Any community of bloggers of almost any size could be considered a blogosphere. There is a Middle Eastern blogosphere, a Jordanian blogosphere as well as a Lebanese blogosphere, each a community of varying size. Or as Marc Lynch puts it “currently there is less of an "Arab blogosphere" than a series of national blogospheres loosely linked at key nodes in each. Most aggregators (such as Saudi Blogs, Jordan Planet, Kuwait's Safat, and Bahrain Blogs) adopt the national mode, as does Global Voices Online. Some newer aggregators, like iToot ("we find the best and freshest voices from across Arabia and around the world") and Dwenn ("the forum of Arab bloggers") try to break this down and select blogs from around the Arab world.”[12]

From 2000 to 2007 the availability of the internet in the Middle East has grown almost 500%.[13] Sadly this still only accounts for a 10% penetration rate. One issue that is stifling internet in the ME is high connectivity price. The Arab Network for Human Rights found that consistently throughout Arab states the cost of internet in the home was prohibitive to all but the very rich. Pre-occupation Iraq was around $1 per hour online. The United Nations Development Program assesses Arab countries in 2003 as having only a quarter as many computers in the home as in the non-Arab developed world.[14] The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) put “the cost of Internet access in a low-income country [at] 150 times the cost of a comparable service in a high-income country.”[15]

Of course affecting usage and not necessarily penetration is the fact that the internet is still an English language medium and some say a Western cultural medium, though becoming less so every day.[16] Up until 2005 there were no online blog templates like Blogger or LiveJournal in Arabic. As well, some bloggers thought government censors were more concerned with what was posted in Arabic rather than English.[17] Arabic speakers worldwide account for 5% of the world's population but only 2% of the world’s Internet users.[18] Creation of online content at one time required some knowledge of English based Hyper Text Markup Language or HTML. Now with the advent of web based publishing no HTML knowledge is needed for the common soul to publish content. Sites like Blogger and LiveJournal allow the creation and distribution of content without knowing a line of code and only basic English.[19] Europe and Saudi Arabia have colaborated to bring another in a long line of Arab search engine online, Safawi (Arabic for Sandstorm).[20] There has been a struggle to have a leader among Arab search engines. The newest project is Onkosh (Arabic for unearth). It promises to be the most arabesque yet concentrating on the needs of Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) and being the first search engine that “understands” Arabic rather than just reads it.[21] Bilingual blogging communities like Itoot try to bridge both English and non English speakers.[22] Still, sophisticated content requires programming and programming is done in English.

In terms of culture the ME is still dominated by tribal and Islamic influence.[23] Mistrust of things Western is the standard it seems rather than the exception. Ali Mazrui and Alamin Mazrui writing in the Harvard International Review suggest that “Islamizing” modernity to include media would help the region come to grips with the digital divide it is now experiencing. In fact, they suggest it could usher in an Islamic “Reformation”.[24]

Each of these contributing factors increases the global digital divide.[25] Countries in the ME experience a lack of participation, competition and effective regulation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).[26] From the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development 2006 report:

Regardless of how we measure it, there is an immense information and communication technology (ICT) gap, a “digital divide”, between developed and developing countries. A person in a high-income country is over 22 times more likely to be an Internet user than someone in a low-income country. Secure Internet servers, a rough indicator of electronic commerce, are over 100 times more common in high income than low-income countries. In high-income countries, mobile phones are 29 times more prevalent and mainline penetration is 21 times that of low-income countries.[27]

ICTs have been tagged as the main determinant for the marked acceleration in productivity seen in the US since 1995, and hopes are that it will “leap frog” developing countries into productivity as well.[28] The ME seems ripe for sustained growth in Internet Penetration. As ME countries continue to liberalize, stabilize regulation and continue to grow infrastructure the ME enjoys two key factors that may bolster Internet use, a younger age demographic and relative high level of education. Both of these factors bode well the Middle East’s growth in internet penetration.[29]

As more people come online in the ME more content is available to see. The much debated idea of Tim O’Reilly’s era of “Web 2.0” suggests that as countries in the ME comes online they will be not just consumers of content but creators.[30] This ownership of content that is culturally accessible to many more Middle Easterners than just the English speaking demographic should grow usage and usefulness. The ME blog has become the content of choice at the moment. While other content trickles in like Ikbis, an Arab based YouTube video and photo hosting site, blogs are off and running. In fact a prevalent Jordanian blogger told journalists that statistics from Arab internet service providers and larger blog service providers put a ten fold increase as the expectation for this year.[31]

Select Middle Eastern Blogospheres by Country

As explained earlier each country has a blogosphere. ME countries are starting to enjoy great growth in these loose “country-centric” communities.[32] A quick check of Saudiblogs.blogspot.com[33] counts eighty-plus Saudi Arabian blogs. Here Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran laments the control Arab governments use to have over information:[34]

For a very long time, almost everyone agreed that media in the Arab world did not reflect the reality of things in a part of the world that has been plagued with wars and conflicts over the past six decades. Some ten years ago, satellite TV channels started to invade the region ushering in a new era for Arab media, especially with the introduction of channels like al-Jazeera, which changed the way we received our news. However, Arab media remained for the most part either owned and/or controlled by governments, and the few alternative news sources available were highly censored and access to them was limited if not nonexistent.

The now defunct jordanplanet.com has splintered off into a smaller Amman Jordan city-centric blogosphere. The Kuwait blog portal kuwaitblogs.com has links to hundreds of Kuwaiti-centric bloggers. The Iraqi blogosphere is one of the most active blogging communities on the net. There is no shortage of things to talk about. One doesn’t have to resort to small talk to fill up space on an Iraq blog. Global Voices Online provides and very good blog-roll, or synopsis of a selections of blogs, from all over Iraq.

After having given up Iraq as a lost cause and moving to Jordan, Konfused Kid has had his faith restored. As he writes:

I am as optimistic about Iraq as a dead skunk on the side-road, … all the things I see and hear everyday… all serves to confirm my deductions about the future of the country-to-have-been.

You could only imagine my own shock as I found myself trying hard as a I can to resist swelling tears as I was watching the Iraqi team win the semifinal on a penalty shot against South Korea

Yes, I do realize that probably it may have no effect on the bloodbath back home, and things could be darker than one would ever imagine, but what this thing did for me, and hopefully for many other Iraqis, is that it reminded us that there is indeed something that is common between all of us that is real and genuine, a deep chord that is resonating still inside, whether it was already present and we lost it, or whether we are all hoping for that could transpire practically in the future, in any case, for the first time in my life, I believe in Iraq with conviction, and that is certainly enough.

Sunshine brings us another post where you feel a lifetime could have passed for all the events that happened in a week. She writes:

“It has been a messy week , full of events , some were good , some were bad, in addition to tragic events mentioned in the media…” but there is way to much to do it justice here you just have to read it for yourselves.

Aunt Najma goes by car from Syria to Mosul and comments on the towns she passes:

The road to Mosul and the first few neighborhoods are devastating, ruins all over, the walls of the houses have way too many holes caused by the bullets, there were remains of bomb cars and the street was very damaged.

M.H.Z. is in the Kurdish-Iraqi city of Arbil and gives us the definitive guide, from its origins to its modern history. From its people:

Most of the people here are so great, they always say that we are dear guests, they always say how sorry they are for Baghdad, and how beautiful it was, and how they wish that we all go back home someday so that they could come visit us in Baghdad.

to its contradictions:

When the Iraqi soccer team got the Asian cup, celebrations were all over the world, the Iraqi flag was seen everywhere, except in Arbil, it was banned, and the police prevented the partying people from raising the Iraqi flag!!. Well, it’s too simple, if it’s not Iraq here, it’s OK for foreigners to hold their flag, and If it was Iraq, it’s also OK for natives to hold their flag, can you decide? It’s just like the roaming mobile devices, they work all over the world except in Arbil, it’s a fact, may be that’s it?[35]

Reading these few but representative posts it is perhaps easier to see the importance of blogs in Iraq and the broader ME, if for no other reason than a means of catharsis.

Lebanon sports a very large and active blogging community that as previously mentioned was prominently featured in the legacy media’s news coverage of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and it played an important role in showcasing the abilities of a blogosphere and the effects it can have on current events. Lebanon’s blogosphere is split between Arabic, English and French making it difficult sometimes to navigate. The blog aggregator openlebanon.org lists many of Lebanon’s premier blogs.

The Palestinian blogosphere like the Iraqi blogosphere is never at loss for important and engaging content. The website palestineblogs.org boasts 256 blog feeds and is one of the most intuitively arranged aggregators I have observed. A quick perusal of palestineblogs.org’s offerings and you find politics as usual as well as anti-Zionist, anti-Western and anti-American posts that could be considered factual or conspiratorial depending on details and inclinations.

Finally, the Egyptian blogosphere. Egypt has a large and growing blogosphere. Egyptian blog aggregator omraneya.net collects and sorts blogs in both Arabic and English.[36] This fully indexed and searchable website provides a great view into Egypt’s blogosphere by providing intuitive coverage to hundreds of blogs.

Egypt has been in the forefront of traditional news coverage when it comes to blogs, partly for good reasons and partly for dubious reasons. Recently an Egyptian blogger received an award for journalism, the first time a journalism award has gone to a blogger anywhere.[37] Egypt’s Wael Abbas received the 2007 Knight International Journalism Award, an award which recognizes individuals who have raised the “standards of media excellence in their countries.”[38] Wael’s story is similar to those through out the ME. Bloggers, unhappy with the state run media coverage of important events, have taken matters into their own hands. These independent reporters gather news, including video and audio, and disseminate it to the world.

This independent action is not without risk. Egypt has jailed many bloggers for crimes against the state or against Islam.[39] This brings us to the second reason why Egypt is “famous” for bloggers. Freekareem.org is a website dedicated to freeing blogger Abdelkareem Soliman. Soliman was imprisoned for speaking against the Mubarak regime and defaming Islam. His supporter’s campaign to free him has reached far and wide to include: rallies, fundraisers, a MySpace profile, a FaceBook group, featured on CNN, al Jazeera, the BBC, Amnesty International, Fox News, The Economist, al Arabiya, the Guardian and the US State Department websites and news to name but a few. Even members of the United States Congress have taken up Kareem’s cause.[40]

Even though harassment is potentially around every corner important conversations continue, for example In the conversation below an Egyptian professor tackles three issues in the Middle East: hate culture, conspiracy theories and western views of the Middle East.[41] First an excerpt from his actual blog:

It is again the same culture that burned the consulates during the famous Danish cartoon protests in Syria, and killed a old nun in Lebanon in protest of the Pope's remarks accusing Islam of violence! These ignorants didn't know that what they really did was to proove his point!”

From the comments:

حفصوتشا ام مصطفيتش said...

what shall we say ?!!?? again its the wahabyah dogma that invaded the pure and simple rules of human living wihtout any consideration to others…

…i dont think that it was muslims who did the 11/9, its way beyond our abilites otherwise we could have done somehting long time ago, and lets say that it was done by arabs, i would assume that they were only puppets in the hands of bin laden whos another puppet in the hands of the states itself.”

The blogger responds:

Nah·det Masr said...

I think as a community we have a problem in the tolerance department… However, I strongly disagree with you regarding the perpetrators of 9/11 since I have seen a TV show on Aljazeera, where Khalid Shaykh Mohamed described the details of their planning of their crime…”

Finally an American comments:

howie said...

For an American...it is "easy" to talk about how people need to self-critic, debate, explore, criticize...but in much of the Arab world, people who write articles like this one and end up like Kareem [in jail] or worse. What were the authors own words about being afraid to speak his opinion in the mosque?
I admire you and the sites I am finding like this one.”

Nah·det Masr responds:

Nah·det Masr said...

Howie, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I am sure that all of us humans share the same universal set of values…

Blogging is magical in that you get to express your true beliefs and thoughts under the false sense of security and anonimity. The good surprise is that you find that many people share your thoughts!”

This exchange highlights how an important global issue can bounce thousands of miles in and out of multiple cultures and experiences. The blogger here is an Egyptian professor that has ceased updating his blog. I hope it is because of a busy schedule and not something more nefarious.

Censorship and Harassment

Middle Eastern regimes are finding out that censorship has its costs. In our global and interconnected world what happens in Egypt doesn’t stay in Egypt. It ends up on the front page of the New York Times or on CNN and on thousands of blogs across the world. It becomes a rallying cry. It coalesces resistance to the establishment rather than break it down.

Much has been said in the news about the “Great Fire Wall of China” filtering words like “democracy” and “freedom” and how Western companies such and Yahoo and Google are facilitating this censorship. The ME is similar. Countries often filter for things that are morally questionable and promote dissent.[42] To help combat this, the organization Reporters Without Boarders created the “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents.” In it they suggest ways to blog anonymously and to get around filters and censorship.[43]

In Iran an increasing number of people put more weight on what they read in blogs than on what they hear from state run media.[44] Bolstering this interesting point is the fact that in 2005 Farsi was the third most popular language used in blogs.[45] Iranians have had and continue to have a well organized and cutting edge blogosphere. Censorship in Iran remains an issue. Former President Mohammad Khatami’s acknowledges the need for the exchange of views in order to have a democratic society, but he has one caveat. The exchange can not lead to “chaos”.[46] Possibly suggesting that blogs operate in a “state of nature” and that government interference is needed to quell the “chaos”. Iranian bloggers in 2004, in an act of solidarity, protested government interference by renaming their blogs the names of shut down reformist newspapers.[47]

All across the ME regimes have used a dearth of excuses to justify censorship and harassment of bloggers, seemingly for the public interest. Kianush Sanjari from Iran was arrested in October of 2006 and released in January, 2007. The charges against him were never clear. Amnesty International suggests that often charges of “acting against state security” and “propaganda against the system” are common in these cases. [48]

In Syria the popular blogging site Blogspot has been banned and blocked. Recently Syria announce that it would continue its censorship by banning website and blogs that operate under pseudonyms, citing that the anonymity of these sites aids in the spreading of lies and propaganda.[49]

The pseudonym in the Middle East is more than just a screen name or handle. It is the first line of defense against retribution -retribution not just by harassment, or jailing but also the possibility of bodily harm. Things that are possible in the relative anonymity of cyber space are appreciably more difficult in reality so the pseudonym is invaluable and the Syrian state knows this. State run media for some and sectarian death squads or prison for others stand in the way of individual expression in parts of the ME. Many of the ME blogs reviewed refer to friends, family and relatives only by initials or by pseudonym. Even with the anonymity of the internet the reality of what is at stake makes prudence first and serves as a reminder of how real the freedom deficit is in many parts of the Middle East.

Raising Voices

While large scale plans from the West to promote the raising of Middle Eastern voices have not yet happened, smaller organizations have taken it upon themselves to showcase these conversations.[50] Chief among these is Global Voices Online. Started in 2004 by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon Global Voices Online indexes, sorts and promotes English language blogs from all over the world. There is an editor for each country assigned. This editor sorts through the relivant posts and selects a representative batch for viewing. The presentation of this select group is called a “blog roll”. It takes a reader only a few minutes to get the pulse of a particular countries blogosphere. More than just reading a post from someone living their life in Ramallah, blogs allow for a conversation.

Commenting on blogs is promoted. Comment and response have been known to go on for weeks even months. In areas of particular distress like Iraq or Lebanon these conversation are important. Interested parties are able to discuss the conflict as it happens. Never before has there been an unedited public real-time conversation between the constituents of the combatants. The blogs of Lebanon and Israel during the latest conflict exposed a desire for information from sources other than traditional news media. It also demonstrated the real consequences of coercive actions and the benefits of attraction. Bloggers in Israel and Lebanon participated in real-time discussions about events as they happened rather than the usual post mortem that is traditionally reserved exclusively for journalists, pundits and politicians. In the 33 day Israeli-Lebanese conflict of 2006 bloggers on both sides of the “border” engaged in discussion about the war as it unfolded. Israelis posted dismay at their country or sometimes just well wishes and prayers. The Lebanese would often try to distance themselves from Hezbollah adding that not only do they not support Hezbollah but they fear that the conflict would put more power in its hands.

The US State Department has made moves towards a facilitating roll for ME bloggers, though they are sluggish. A more active role would have seen the US government facilitating the discussion between the Israeli and Lebanese bloggers. This type of soft power runs directly counter to Hezbollah, and works in lock step with the United States stated goals of a strong democratic Lebanon and a safe and secure Israel. Had this tactic been used during the conflict it would have stood out in direct contrast to Hezbollah’s practice of censorship and coercion, further increasing the US’s standing in the region as well as the standing of the Middle East blogosphere.[51]

One of the most important facets of any developing countries blogosphere is their diaspora. All over the world native Middle Easterners that enjoy the freedom to blog without fear facilitate conversations inside their home region. Roba al-Assi a blogger from Jordan and contributor to Global Voices Online estimates that only 50% of Jordanian bloggers actually live in Jordan.[52] Tony Badran is a Lebanese native finishing his doctorial work in Near East Studies at New York University and is the creator of Across the Bay[53] a blog about Lebanon and Syria. Mr. Badran is also a research fellow at the Brussels based Center for Liberty in the Middle East, an initiative to support democracy in the Middle East.[54] He suggests that fostering ties to these citizens abroad builds credibility for local blogospheres.[55]

Global Voices Online gathered suggestions at a recent blogging community forum assisted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard School of Law. Here are suggestions from actual bloggers from countries like Jordan, Kenya, Venezuela, Egypt and Cambodia:[56]

support new bloggers by linking to them, commenting on new blogs. this is important to helping to build a blogosphere.

create a home like a weblog ring, create a space for the community to be gathered

outreach and training to teach young people how to blog in schools, etc. holding seminars.

local media writing about bloggers helped publicize and caused a lot of people to start blogs.

starting out in tech, then moving onward to broader subjects… political, social issues, more debate, etc. more focused on quality of conversation…

not all new bloggers know what an RSS or Atom feeds are. Creating a local aggregator has been very useful and became very popular.

These suggestions at first blush might seem obvious and simplistic but consider that many countries are only now starting to develop a sofistication for all things “internet.” It is easy to take for granted knowledge that is basic to societies that have been online for decades. As well, technology in the areas in question grows at a dizzying rate. What is today’s Blogspot, Google and RSS is tomorrows Geocities, AltaVista and BBS.[57]

Another important facilitator of Middle East voices is the Bitterlemons group of webpages to include bitterlemons.org, bitterlemons-international.org and bitterlemons-dialogue.org. “[Bitterlemons] is edited by Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher. [Khatib is a Palestinian public servant and academic. Alpher is a former member of the Mossad and is a consultant on Arab-Israeli issues.] Bitterlemons… editors decide on a topic and invite four writers or interviewees to discuss that subject [online]. This group of websites provides a forum for all interested parties to make “intelligent and articulate views” public.[58] And while this group of websites, partially funded by the European Union, is not exclusive to bloggers or creators of online content it does act as an additional conduit for raising voices.

Habits of Democracy

What is democracy? Can there be more than one kind? What are the elements of a democracy? Is there a conection between the blogs, the internet and democracy? Democracy is a word that gets batted around a great deal. Along the way it has picked up contexts and meanings that may or may not be appropriate. To continue the discussion of Middle Eastern blog’s contribution to democracy it is imperitive that democracy be clearly defined.

There is no short definition of democracy. Democracy without its context is always something less than democracy. Most simple definitions mimic this:[59]

the political orientation of those who favor government by the people or by their elected representatives

a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them

majority rule: the doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group

Add the context and it looks like this:[60]

Sovereignty of the people.

Government based upon consent of the governed.

Majority rule.

Minority rights.

Guarantee of basic human rights.

Free and fair elections.

Equality before the law.

Due process of law.

Constitutional limits on government.

Social, economic, and political pluralism.

Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise.

One very famous definition is that of Abraham Lincoln "of the people, by the people, and for the people."[61] Things become further complicated when terms like illiberal and liberal democracy are used, or constitutional democracy. Each of these describe a facet of democracy rather than the whole. In other words, a description of a piece of context rather than the whole.

What is present in every definition, though more visible in some, is the importance of voice. Clearly the people must voice their will in order for it to be followed and protected by a democratic government. Therefore it can be said the first step towards democracy is voice. It is a necessary but not sufficient piece of the democracy puzzle. If one lives in a society where their voice is stifled then they live in a country with something less than democratic rule. Often we associate the “vote” as the first part of the democracy puzzle, and when that vote is an accurate representation of a citizen’s voice it is. But if that vote is in any way lessened or tampered with it is worthless as a piece of democracy because it no longer represents the voice of the person who cast it. Votes are not the only time a citizen’s voice is heard in a democracy. In order to govern there must be debate. In order to carry out the peoples will that will must first be ascertained. The people’s voices must be heard.

In societies where the importance of voice is not common or established there is no chance that the government represents the will of the people. Democracy is more than the sum of its necessary parts. Real democracy relies on the advance of a “democratic civic culture.”[62] Diane Ravitch, former US Secretary of Education refers to this culture as "the behaviors, practices, and norms that define the ability of a people to govern themselves. A totalitarian political system encourages a culture of passivity and apathy. The regime seeks to mold an obedient and docile citizenry. By contrast, the civic culture of a democratic society is shaped by the freely chosen activities of individuals and groups. Citizens in a free society pursue their interests, exercise their rights, and take responsibility for their own lives. They make their own decisions about where they will work, what kind of work they will do, where they will live, whether to join a political party, what to read, and so on. These are personal decisions, not political decisions."[63] By existing in one of these “civic cultures” we might take for granted the fact that we have rights and freedoms to express ourselves. What is more we expect to exercise these rights and expect to have these freedoms protected. According to Ravitch living under a system of government that does not allow these rights and freedoms perpetuates “passivity and apathy.” This passivity and apathy equals a loss voice or at least the expectation that ones voice carries no weight.

Often people assume that these tendencies towards democracy are innate. That our creator endowed us with these habits in tacked and we need only summon them given the opportunity. Yet people struggle with minority rights, social and economic pluralism, and tolerance. Perhaps a more useful idea is that the yearning to be free and the exercise of liberty is innate and natural and democracy is how it is best practiced and protected. Democracy is something to be learned not called forth. One hopes to be a habitual user of democracy.

A habit implies repetition. Something must be done over and over or practice again and again for it to become second nature. As explained before the Middle East suffers from a deficit of freedom. Passivity and apathy are rampant after years of totalitarianism. Today weblogs and the internet are providing much needed repetition so that an important habit is formed. The habit of believing that ones own voice carries weight and that that voice constitutes a vote and a say in ones own destiny.

The Madrid Conference on Terrorism, Democracy, Safety and Security in March of 2005 listed the internet, and certainly as an extension blogs, as “a foundation of democratic society in the 21st century, because the core values of the Internet and democracy are so closely aligned.”[64] Global Voices Online details this alignment as follows:

· Both the Internet and Democracy codify humility -- which is the understanding that anyone may suggest a better way of doing things and have the opportunity to convince others.

· The Internet is fundamentally about openness, participation, and freedom of expression for all -- increasing the diversity and reach of information and ideas.

· The Internet empowers people to communicate and collaborate across borders and belief systems.

· The Internet unites families and cultures in diaspora; it connects people, helping them to form civil societies.

· The Internet can foster economic development by connecting people to information and markets.

· The Internet introduces new ideas and views to those who may be isolated and tempted to political violence.

· The Internet is neither above nor below the law. The same legal principles that apply in the physical world also apply to human activities conducted over the Internet.

As has been prodicted by both Thomas Jefferson and Andrei Sakharov blogs and the internet are bringing people closer. The world is flattening. Blogs are allowing us to discuss this situation. What stars would have had to align for the average person in South Carolina, USA to converse candidly about Islamic extremism with an average Egyptian in Cairo before the internet? Before blogs?

Blogs as Public Diplomacy

The earliest know use of the phrase “public diplomacy” was from the London Times in 1856. It was used to describe how then President Franken Pierce should act unto his own populace as he acted abroad[65]; this is not really what it means today. Much later in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, designed to persuade the citizens of foreign nations of the decency of America's foreign policy ambitions. Bureaus were established abroad to distributed pamphlets and movies. “In 1953, President Eisenhower created the U.S. Information Agency, whose mission was to understand and influence international public opinion. The USIA operated exchange programs and the Voice of America. It also created American libraries around the world and published the Washington File, which provided daily updates about Washington's policies and pronouncements... [After the Cold War] the USIA, with more than 4,000 employees, was merged into the State Department…”[66]

During this time the Edward R. Murrow Center of Public Diplomacy was established and the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Edward Gullion, coined the phrase as it is recognized today. Gullion’s notion is summarized as follows:[67]

Public diplomacy… deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. It encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy; the cultivation by governments of public opinion in other countries; the interaction of private groups and interests in one country with another; the reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy; communication between those whose job is communication, as diplomats and foreign correspondents; and the process of intercultural communications.

Public attitudes, international relations beyond traditional diplomacy, interaction of private groups, the reporting of foreign affairs, communication between those whose job it is to communicate and intercultural communications all deal directly with the concept of blogging and will be explored later on.

It is important to note that the term Public Diplomacy has a bit of a checkered past. Public Diplomacy was once considered to be propaganda. International Relations at the time had no concept that Public Diplomacy worked public-to-public rather than just nation-to-public. Parsing propaganda from Public Diplomacy can be done by the 2005 Edelman/Technorati study that suggests that bloggers believe “average people” are three times more trust worthy than authority figures.[68] This leads us to explore briefly the idea that propaganda has come to reflect a negative connotation not found in its early meanings. It is a fine line easily traversed. Propaganda, as defined by Princeton Universities WordNet, is “information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause.”[69] This seems harmless enough, but as described early in reference to “democracy” it is the context that matters. According to the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Diplomacy it was this negative context that Gullion was hoping to avoid by using the term Public Diplomacy instead of propaganda.[70]

The definition of Public Diplomacy, it is fair to say, can include propaganda with its negative context in tow. As well, Public Diplomacy may also be described as the public conversation between two or more nation’s interested parties, which has some measurable effect on government policy, and it is this public-to-public meaning that is assumed throughout the rest of this work.

There are two types of Public Diplomacy. Direct Public Diplomacy is when interested parties actively try to influence policy. Indirect is when policy is influenced passively by actions taken for reasons other than policy change. A blogger that reports daily the travails of his or her country in hopes of drawing attention to them would be an example of direct Public Diplomacy. A blogger like Jordanian Roba al-Assi whose blog And Far Away[71] is a collection of ruminations on everything from shoes to college exams is an example of indirect Public Diplomacy. Roba’s blog may still influence others by passively dispelling myths and stereotypes about Middle Eastern women without directly posting about such issues. Or it may bridge divides by showing common interests. Try this exercise and imagine a young woman in Jordan, now read this review of an American restaurant chain in Jordan by Roba and see if your minds eye has pictured the proper young ME woman:[72]

Fuddruckers holds a lot of emotional significance for myself. There isn’t any other restaurant that my tastebuds know so well, not even the cliche, international flavors of MacDonald’s and Burger King. During our last 5 years in Riyadh, my parents took us there for lunch every single Friday. We loved our Friday outings at Fuddruckers, and they were an essential part of our weekly routine… Most Amman residents know that Fuddruckers had previously tried to open in town back in ‘98, but it was too expensive and went out of business a very short time later. Now with the franchise with different owners, the new restaurant looks very different than the old one… last Friday, we decided to go to Fuddruckers. We left the house at around 3, and when we got there, the waiter told us that we had to wait outside for 45 minute to be served! Much to our annoyment, [sic] we ended up going to Apple Bees next door. We tried our luck again this Friday, and we discovered that the secret to securing a great table at Fuddruckers on Friday’s is to go while the Friday prayer is on. [emphasis mine] We would recommend you try The Works Hamburger and the Rib-eye steak, we also believe that they make the best damn onion rings on earth.

She is not talking about Riyadh North Dakota or Amman West Virginia. This blogger is in the Middle East discussing the same problem I have at my local chain restaurant. What is even more interesting is that Applebee’s is also the “outlet” restaurant for my group of friends as well. This is a great example of indirect Public Diplomacy. The traditional media has often been accused of only showing ME women in full hijab. The only stories many people know are the stories from Iraq and Palestine of suffering and extremism. This post represents a significant portion of residents in places like Tehran, Beirut and Amman.

An example of direct Public Diplomacy is this exchange of views on the blog Yaba Yaba an Israeli blog:[73]

I’ve been reading many Lebanese blogs. Much more than is good for my work, but then - I already admited I can’t really get any work done. I read them because I am want to know what is going on in Lebanon, what people are feeling, and frankly - I don’t trust the media.

And everywhere I go there are Israeli comments. Arguing, explaining, sympathising, provoking, apologizing. Now, I know we’re a vocal nation, but still - why are Israelis - some of them in shelters - so keen on reading and answering Lebanese bloggers?

And more then that, I wonder - what does a Lebanese feel when he sees 20 Israeli comments on his blog?..

Here someone from Lebanon comments.

Hello,

Thank you for inviting me to write a comment on your blog.
You asked me to write on why we, Lebanese, see the conflict, and the israeli people in general.

Well, first of all, I only speak for myself.
I’ll be very brief in describing my point of view.

I am first of all very deeply saddened by all the civilian deaths on both sides. Nothing is worth on child’s life.

As for the reasons of the conflict, I am no fan on Hizbullah (HA). As nasrallah so nicely put it the other day, they “are fighting the war of the islamic nation, whether the lebanese want it or not”. .. Furthermore, I invite ALL the israelis, from ALL factions of the society, to go post their comments on how they see the lebanese, on my blog, like many others of their counterparts already did. It’s here:

http://jeansouc.blogspot.com/2006/07/how-lebanese-are-seen-by-israelis.html

Thank you yishaym, for giving the opportunity for the lebanese to express their thoughts on an israeli blog…

I don’t read many israeli blogs, I don’t know many addresses.
Thank you for the tip, will go pay this blog a visit.

Finally Yaba Yaba somes it up perfectly.

You can’t shoot people in blogs. You have no choice but to talk. And listen. Judging by the cross commenting, Israelis and Lebanese want to hear each other, even when the message is hard.[74]

This direct exchange across battle lines is the essence of direct Public Diplomacy. This frank conversation cuts through the rhetoric and spin and asks those affected to comment.

Gullion’s definition as mentioned before when dissected describes not just Public Diplomacy but weblogs as well. Public attitudes; blogs if nothing else are the public display of inclinations and attitudes. International relations beyond traditional diplomacy; as cultures and societies become more interconnected and globalized and as the concept of Human Security trumps National Security what happens in countries thousands of miles away becomes much more visible and can have an effect on countries traditionally disaffected. Blogs are becoming the chronicle of record in many of the places that have state influenced media. Interaction of private groups; Non Governmental Organizations have seen the potential of a connected society, a society that blogs will play an increasingly important role in. The organization One Laptop Per Child has set the goal of providing a laptop for ever child in a developing country. The connectivity potential of this effort is staggering. The reporting of foreign affairs; as mentioned before, blogs have fast become the go to source for the pulse of a developing situation. Be it a conflict or social uprising blogs continue to provide real time information. Communication between those whose job it is to communicate and intercultural communications; the legacy media was at first slow to see the importance of blogs. Now most major media outlets use blogs as an off the cuff avenue for the traditional journalist to comment and report. In terms of intercultural communications, no medium has provided the connectivity that blogs have provided. It is now possible to participate in global conversations thousands of miles away with cultures and societies that you may never have the chance to meet with face to face, all done from the comfort of your desk or easy chair.

Blogs by themselves can be very powerful but together they can define a debate, characterize a war or hold a government accountable. They can even work to free a political prisoner. How is it that blogs can do these things? Blogs do not have special police powers or seats in a parliament. Blogs don’t have standing armies or militias. Yet blogs have influence. This influence is Soft Power.

Soft Power

According to the father of Soft Power Joseph Nye Jr. Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals.”[75] Soft power is getting what you want by attraction rather than coercion. Thomas Jefferson said it thusly, “Not in [my] day, but at no distant one, we may shake a rod over the heads of all which may make the stoutest of them tremble. But I hope our wisdom will grow with our power and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”[76] Soft power means the other guy looks at you and says “I want what works for you to work for me too, show me how you do it.” Hard power is saying “I have had enough and you will do this or face the consequences.” Blogs have Soft Power via Public Diplomacy. Blogs persuade via conversation and debate. Blogs persuade via credibility derived from numbers and equality derived from access. Every blog post is subject to an immediate fact check. Blogs have the potential to be fact checked hundreds if not thousands of times. Contrary views are only a click away.

Some say that blogs do not reach an appreciable amount of readers to effect serious change. Marc Lynch writing for Arab Media and Society disagrees and suggest that “the relatively small number of blog readers and participants might suggest a built-in ceiling for the political impact of Arab blogs. But volume might not be necessary for political influence. Since much of the new energy in Arab politics comes from relatively small groups of activists, a technology that empowers their efforts could have a disproportionate impact. Arab blogs are read by political activists, journalists, and politically influential elites (as well as foreign scholars and governments), and independent Arab newspapers increasingly cite blogs as sources for their stories. Thus, even a handful of creative, engaged, and effective political bloggers can make a dramatic difference.”[77] Lynch relies on a quality over quantity estimate.

This attraction in essence lessens the perceived need for coercive means in the Middle East. If voices are expected to carry weight and there is reason to believe that these voices are being heard perhaps less emphasis will be placed on spot lighting causes via coercion and more emphasis will be placed on spot lighting causes via dialogue. There seems to be a real opportunity to facilitate this dialogue for the betterment of the region.

Conclusion

Blogs have come a long way in a short time. The exponential growth of the internet and with it blogs ensures that any kind of prediction as to the state of the blogosphere and what its capabilities or tendencies will be is foolish. What is useful and popular now may be outdated and useless in a year’s time. It is safe to say that a seed has been planted. The habits of democracy have an opportunity to take root. Voices have a better chance today in the Middle East than they did yesterday and will have and even better yet chance tomorrow. Facilitation of these voices is the key if we are to close the digital divide and reduce the freedom deficit.

Among bloggers and governments there are several steps that can be taken as a way to increase soft power and therefore decrease the perceived need for more coercive measures. Chief of which is the continued fight against censorship. Turkey, one of the most democratic of the regions states, banned YouTube because of videos that had anti-Ataturk messages which are illegal. In two days the ban was lifted after an international cry of foul went up and after the videos were removed from YouTube.[78] Other countries in the region have much worse records of censorship and harassment. As previously mentioned Egypt has imprisoned bloggers as has Syria. Jordan has shut down bloggers websites by contacting the sites administrators and Saudi Arabia blocks all content it deems immoral or in opposition to the government.[79] Syrian dissident in exile Ammar Abdulhamid sits on the board of the “Committee to Protect Bloggers, a US-based NGO that sheds light on the travails of bloggers worldwide” he advocates for those bloggers who deal with harassment and censorship as he has[80].

The best summation as to where the Middle East blogosphere might go is by Marc Lynch he posits both an optimistic view and more of a realist view. Lynch suggests that governments “won’t take” blogs “lying down” and as blogs become more relevant expect tougher state action against them. Or on the optimistic side “Arab regimes could recognize the value of blogs in contributing to a more engaged public sphere and learn to tolerate online political criticism. Since blogs reach small audiences, they could be seen as an unusually safe way to allow publics to let off steam and to serve as "early warning" indicators of trouble.”[81]

Bloggers and the blogging community including sites like Technorati and itoot.net have an important role to play. New and innovative methods should be explored to promote disparate views from all over the region and the world. Sections of these websites should be dedicated to cross conflict blogging. Websites like Global Voices an organization that supports“bridge bloggers” or bloggers that discuss their region or country with a global audience are making significant strides in this direction.[82] Bloggers need to keep their blogs open to different views by inviting guest bloggers from areas prone to censorship. By doing so they can contribute in a way that immortalizes censor-prone views so they can not be taken offline. Like Journalist Michael J. Totten’s Middle East Journal who has guest blogger Sand Monkey an Egyptian blogger in Cairo self describe as “cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled” and further asks you to make a donation if you support “Neo-con American Right-wing Zionist Christian Imperialist Conspiracy in the Middle-east!”[83]

Blogs are democratic by nature, each its own vote. Like all votes, by itself it is not very weighty but the aggregate of many like minded votes is powerful. Places like itoot.net network and sort thousands of Arab bloggers.[84] Here one vote turns to many one voice joins many and attraction rather than coercion hold sway. The soft power of the Middle Eastern blog is in its infancy. As connectivity grows in that region so will the volume of the blog voice. Internet usage in the Middle East has grown 479% since 2000. Sadly that only represents a 10% penetration compared to 69% in North America and 38% in Europe.[85] Optimistically that leaves room for growth. Realistically these statistics serve to further illustrate the great deficits of the Middle East. If the Middle East continues its current growth in internet usage and leverages it to become more of a participant in the global conversation then that is a true seed of democracy.

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Internet World Stat, Usage and Population Statistics http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats5.htm Retrieved 9/4/2007

Landis, J. (2007) Censorship of Websites Announced by Syrian Ministry of Tel. Syria Comment http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=341 Retrieved 9/4/2007

Lynch, M. (2007) Blogging the New Arab Public Arab Media and Society http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=694 9/4/2007

Mazrui, Ali. Mazrui, Alamin. (2001) Digital Revolution and the New Reformation Harvard International Review http://hir.harvard.edu/articles/1001/2/ Retrieved 9/4/2007

Norton, Quinn. (2006) Bloggers Shrink the Planet Wired http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,72319-0.html?tw=wn_story_page_prev2 Retrieved 9/4/2007

Noyes, R. (2006) CNN's Robertson Now Admits: Hezbollah 'Had Control' of His Anti-Israel Piece News Busters http://newsbusters.org/node/6552 Retrieved 9/4/2007

Nye, J.S., (2003) Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power The International Herald Tribune http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/news/opeds/2003/nye_soft_power_iht_011003.htm Retrieved 9/4/2007

Open Net Initiative Middle East and North Africa http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena Retrieved 9/4/2007

O’Reilly, T. (2005) What is Web 2.0? O’Reilly Net http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html Retrieved 9/4/2007

Princeton University Word Net http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=propaganda Retrieved 9/4/2007

Princeton University Word Net http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=democracy Retrieved 9/4/2007

Rauch, J. (2006) In Arabic “Internet” Means “Freedom” Reason Online http://www.reason.com/news/show/117328.html Retrieved 9/4/2007

Sifry, Dave. (2005) State of the Blogoshere. Technorati http://technorati.com/weblog/2005/08/34.html Retrieved 9/4/2007

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information The Internet In the Arab World
A New Space of Repression?
http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/net2004/all.shtml Retrieved 9/4/2007

Trotten, M.J., (2007) http://michaeltotten.com/

Tynes, N. Arab Blogging G21 Magazine http://g21.net/midE20.htm Retrieved 9/4/2007

United Nations (2005) Digital Divide Report United Nations Conference on Trade and Development http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/iteipc20065_en.pdf Retrieved 9/4/2007

United States Department of State. (2007) Digital Outreach Team Created to Counter Misinformation about the U.S. in the Blogosphere Public Diplomacy Update February 2007 http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/80924.pdf Retrieved 9/4/2007

United States Department of State. Defining Democracy http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm Retrieved 9/4/2007

United States Department of State. The Culture of Democracy http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm6.htm Retrieved 9/4/2007

Yahoo News (2007) http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070309/ap_on_hi_te/turkey_youtube Retrieved 4/27/2007

Yishaym (2006) More Lebanese Blogs More Israeli Comments Yaba Yaba http://yishaym.wordpress.com/2006/07/22/more-lebanese-blogs-more-israeli-comments/ Retrieved 9/4/2007

Yishaym (2006) Blog People Blog Yaba Yaba http://yishaym.wordpress.com/2006/07/20/blog-people-blog/ Retrieved 9/4/2007

Additional Sources Consulted and Frequented Blogs

Across the Bay http://beirut2bayside.blogspot.com/

A Heretics Blog http://amarji.blogspot.com/

SERENDIP http://fleetingperusal.blogspot.com/

Iraq the Model http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/

Iraq Pundit http://iraqpundit.blogspot.com/

Arabisto http://www.arabisto.com

Pew Research Center http://pewresearch.org/pubs/236/a-blogger-portrait

Blogging the War: A Guide http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42614-2003Mar28.html



[1] http://www.freekareem.org/

[2] Gill, Kathy, E., (2004) How Can We Measure the Influence of the Blogosphere? Pg. 1.

[3] http://www.technorati.com/search/middle+east

[5] http://technorati.com/weblog/2005/08/34.html

[6] http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=67870277&blogID=216777696&MyToken=ba7bd429-b9d5-435a-9483-0774a58825ca

[7] http://arenablog.blogspot.com/

[8] http://youngmammy.blogspot.com/

[9] http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena

As well, there is one notable exception; Jordan is 50/50 male to female. http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/net2004/all.shtml

[10] http://www3.merriam-webster.com/opendictionary/newword_search.php?word=blog

[11] Merriam Webster does not have a definition for blogosphere. The best definition is found on Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blogosphere

[12] http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=694

[13] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats5.htm

[14] http://www.reason.com/news/show/117328.html

[15] http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/iteipc20065_en.pdf

[16] http://hir.harvard.edu/articles/1001/2/

[17] http://g21.net/midE20.htm

[18] http://www.itp.net/index.php?view=article&id=487633&Itemid=1&option=com_content

[19] Blogger and LiveJournal are websites that provide free subscriptions for online journals or blogs and require only minimal familiarity with the internet in order to post.

[20] http://www.itp.net/index.php?view=article&id=487633&Itemid=1&option=com_content

[21] http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/cairo/

[22] http://itoot.net/about.php

[23] http://www.gwu.edu/~elliott/news/transcripts/mepolicy1.html

[24] http://hir.harvard.edu/articles/1001/2/

[25] http://www.unctad.org/templates/webflyer.asp?docid=6994&intItemID=2068&lang=1

[26] http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/iteipc20065_en.pdf

[27] abid

[28] http://www.cjtc.ucsc.edu/docs/dd_cdp881.pdf

[29] abid

[30] http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html

[31] http://g21.net/midE20.htm

[32] ibid

[33] Saudiblogs.blogspot.com

[34] http://www.bitterlemons-international.org/previous.php?opt=1&id=168#687

[35] http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2007/08/11/landing-at-the-iraqi-blogodrome-39/

[36] http://www.omraneya.net

[37] http://www.gulfnews.com/region/Egypt/10150346.html

[38] abid

[39] http://www.freekareem.org

[40] ibid

[42] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4271062.stm

[43] ibid

[44] http://hrw.org/reports/2005/mena1105/5.htm

[45] ibid

[46] ibid

[47] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3677984.stm

[48] http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/01/489b68d8-b5d0-425d-9027-d4a2e825809c.html

[49] http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=341

[50] It is important to note that the US State Department has put in place some plans to facilitate blogging and has actively lobbied for the release of jailed bloggers. On its website it chronicles the plight of jailed bloggers all over the world from its press release office page. As well the State Department has bloggers on staff that routinely engage Arabic language blogs to dispel myths and conspiracy theories. The State bloggers always identify themselves as such. More about this at: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/80924.pdf

[51] CNN reporter admits Hezbollah “had control” of his news story. http://newsbusters.org/node/6552

[52] http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/wiki/article/Ten_Ways_To_Build_Local_Blogosphere

[53] http://beirut2bayside.blogspot.com/

[54] http://www.mideastliberty.org/ourteam.php

[55] http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/wiki/article/Ten_Ways_To_Build_Local_Blogosphere

[56] abid

[57] Geocities was one of the webs first “free” webpage creators now part of Yahoo. AltaVista was an early and popular search engine still in use today and BBS is short for Bulletin Board System and is a forerunner to blogs.

[58] http://www.bitterlemons-international.org

[59] http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=democracy

[60] http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm

[61] abid

[62] http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm6.htm

[63] abid

[64] http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/wiki/article/The_Infrastructure_of_Democracy

[65] http://uscpublicdiplomacy.com/index.php/newsroom/pdblog_detail/060418_public_diplomacy_before_gullion_the_evolution_of_a_phrase/

[66] http://www.gannettonline.com/gns/mideast/diplomacy.htm

[67] http://uscpublicdiplomacy.com/index.php/newsroom/pdblog_detail/060418_public_diplomacy_before_gullion_the_evolution_of_a_phrase/

[68] http://www.infobaeprofesional.com/adjuntos/herramientas/13/1001341

[69] http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=propaganda

[70] http://uscpublicdiplomacy.com/index.php/newsroom/pdblog_detail/060418_public_diplomacy_before_gullion_the_evolution_of_a_phrase/

[71] http://www.andfaraway.net

[72] http://andfaraway.net/blog/2007/09/02/urban-review-fuddruckers/

[73] http://yishaym.wordpress.com/2006/07/22/more-lebanese-blogs-more-israeli-comments/

[74] Yaba Yaba http://yishaym.wordpress.com/2006/07/20/blog-people-blog/

[75] http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/news/opeds/2003/nye_soft_power_iht_011003.htm

[76] http://harpers.org/archive/2007/05/hbi-jefferson-softpower

[77] http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=694

[78] Yahoo News http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070309/ap_on_hi_te/turkey_youtube

[79] Open Net http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena

[80] Bitter Lemons http://www.bitterlemons-international.org/previous.php?opt=1&id=168

[81] http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=694

[82] Global Voices http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/top/about-global-voices/

[83] Michael J. Totten http://michaeltotten.com/

[84] http://itoot.net/

[85] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats5.htm