Monday, 14 March 2011

Public Diplomacy: Modern Approaches

The events of September 11th changed the way that many countries carry out their public diplomacy campaigns. This is particularly true in the USA where it became clear that their image in the Arab World was extremely negative and had played a part in motivating those behind the attacks.

The post 9/11 era saw beginning of “the battle for hearts and minds” (Leonard, Stead and Smewing, 2002: 2) of those in the Middle East. The USA began new instruments of public diplomacy including the broadcasting of Radio Sawa (Radio Together), which plays Arab and Western pop music to a listener base across the Arab world. Additionally, the Government funds and supports Alhurra Television (The Free One) to the same target audience. This aims to spread the image that the USA is not the enemy of the East and to portray the positive aspects of American multicultural society.

However, despite the efforts of the American government to improve their image in the Middle East, they are perhaps undermining their work through their policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestine-Israel conflict. The propaganda in the Arab World finds the American invasion of Iraq and the civilian causalities in Afghanistan an easy target for the development of anti-American feeling. So while their diplomacy efforts have improved, their message appears to be inconsistent with some of their actions in the East.

Indeed, the majority of respondents to a survey in five Muslim countries in the Arab world stated that if the US hopes to improve its image in the Arab world then it must back up the public diplomacy efforts with changes in their policies on the ground, and adopt an even-handed policy on the Palestine-Israel conflict. (el-Nawawy, 2006)

The USA is not the only example of a country becoming more concerned with their image in the East post 9/11, and most countries in Europe have made attempts to ensure that they develop a more positive image in the region. A clear example of the impacts of a poor image, aside from 9/11, is the reaction to the Danish cartoons of prophet Muhammad in 2005 and 2008 (when they were reprinted). A series of protest started in the Middle East, Danish products were boycotted and embassies were attacked.

After the first incident the Danish Government failed to act in a way that dissipated the row: refusing to meet with 11 ambassadors that were representing over half a million Muslim people (Hervik, 2006). In the aftermath of the second printing the Danish government appears to have been more aware of the negative impacts of a poor image in the East and it reacted to the crisis with transparency, open dialogue and the involvement of locally based immigrants from the Arab world which proved effective at reducing the tension created (Andreasen, 2008)

In stark contrast to the modern public diplomacy policies that can be seen in the US and the rest of Europe, France is risking provoking negative reactions and criticism from the Muslim world through the banning of full-face veils in public. This law does not come into force until April 2011 but it will be interesting to see if this legislation has a negative impact on France and their relations with the Muslim world.


Andreasen, U. (2008), “Reflections Public Diplomacy after the Danish Cartoon Crises: From Crisis Management to Normal Public Diplomacy Work” in The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, Vol. 3, No 2, 201-207

BBC News Europe (2010), 14th September, accessed 12.3.2011

Collins, S. (2003) “ Mind Games”, NATO Review,, accessed 12.3.2011

El-Nawawy, M. (2006), US Public Diplomacy in the Arab World: The News Credibility of Radio Sawa and Television Alhurra in Five Countries” in Global Media and Communication, Vol. 2, No 2, 183-203

Hervik, P. (2006), “The Predictable Response to the Danish Cartoons” in Global Media and Communication, Vol. 2, No 2, 225-230

Leonard, M. Stead, C. and Smewing C. (2002), Public Diplomacy, The Foreign Policy Centre: London

1 comment:

  1. I also find the case of the full-face veil ban in France particularly interesting. I’m wondering how the Muslim community will react. Especially, that France is a home to the majority of Muslims living in the EU. French officials argue that the veil oppresses women and that it is a concern to the national security? However, what about the human rights and the freedom to religious expression?
    Face veils will be outlawed virtually anywhere outside women's own homes, except when they are worshipping in a religious place or traveling as a passenger in a private car. Although traffic police may stop them if they think they do not have a clear ‘field of vision’ while driving and might be fined €150 for wearing niqab. (Chrisafis, 2011)
    This, definitely, is a serious step which can result in increasing anti-French attitudes.
    Nevertheless, France is not the only country which decided to ban the full-face veil. It is also in Spain, in Barcelona, where women are not allowed to walk freely in their traditional face covers. Also in Syria, female students wearing a full face veil are barred from Syrian university campuses.
    This ‘trend’, in my opinion, is a breach of human rights. I’m just wondering what those women in France will do now. Currently, they are still able to go out and enjoy their lives, whereas later they probably will be imprisoned in their own homes because none of them will decide to go out without covering their faces….

    Angelique Chrisafis, Full-face veils outlawed as France spells out controversial niqab ban, Thursday 3 March 2011