'What we got here is a failure to communicate':
Report cites rising anti-U.S. sentiment in Muslim world

Thursday, October 2, 2003

The State Department has been urged to hire hundreds of Arabic speakers as part of an effort to reach out to the Middle East.

In the movie "Cool Hand Luke", the inmate character played by Paul Newman observed: "What we got here is a failure to communicate."

That message seemed to be the subtext of a report sponsored by Congress which urges the administration to launch a series of steps to improve U.S. relations with the Arab world.

The study reported rising anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world despite a huge U.S. campaign to improve relations with Middle East and other states, Middle East Newsline reported.

Entitled "Changing Minds, Winning Peace," the report called on the State Department to hire 300 fluent Arabic speakers by 2005. The next step would be to hire another 300 Arabic speakers by 2008.

The report said the U.S. diplomatic community has been unable to communicate directly to the Arabic-speaking Middle East because of a language barrier. The State Department has 54 fluent Arabic speakers, the report said. Of this number, about five have been used to appear on Arabic television in the Middle East.

"Often we are not even present for the debate," the report said. Other recommendations call for a U.S. program to translate 1,000 American books in Arabic. The report also called for a new Cabinet-level position to head the U.S. effort to engage with the Arab world.

"A process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety," the report said. "In this time of peril, public diplomacy is absurdly and dangerously underfunded, and simply restoring it to its Cold War status is not enough."

The congressional mandate for the panel, headed by former Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian did not extend to the effect of U.S. policies on anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world.

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