Wednesday, June 29th 2016
Lobel image from
Partnering the creative power of American media with filmmakers and broadcasters in the Middle East to counter extremism was the subject of Dr. Aaron Lobel’s testimony at the June 23, 2016, hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Countering the Virtual Caliphate.” Lobel is the Founder and President of America Abroad Media. His full testimony will surely stimulate every Public Diplomacy professional.
He argued that “the focus of the United States’ strategy should be on enabling, supporting and amplifying the best local partners and indigenous voices in the greater Middle East.” “This approach will yield far better results than trying to manage an information or counter-messaging campaign from Washington,” he argued. He cited examples from the Cold War, and he suggested “how we can unleash the creativity of Hollywood to help transform the Arab drama and entertainment industry.”
Here are a few excerpts:
- Let’s make no mistake: to address the challenge we face today from Islamic extremism we need to design a strategy for the longterm.
- To counter and defeat the ideology behind Islamic extremism, the focus of the United States’ strategy should be on enabling, supporting and amplifying the best local partners and indigenous voices in the greater Middle East.
- . . . the U.S. government should make it a top priority to mobilize, catalyze and unleash the creative power of all of America’s leading institutions that have tremendous capacity to engage positively with the world – Hollywood, Silicon Valley, private philanthropy, NGOs and our universities.
- Communism . . . was at its heart a Western ideology rooted in the philosophy of a German, Karl Marx. By contrast, our country has struggled to understand the ideology that fuels extremism in the Muslim world and how deeply this extremism is connected to the religion of Islam, to the politics of Islamism, to Sunni and Shia sectarianism or to the broader societal ills affected that part of the world.
- . . . countering this ideology is first and foremost a task that must be undertaken by the people of the greater Middle East.
- . . . there are many voices that oppose extremism – both the violent or nonviolent varieties – and who support positive change in the Arab and Muslim World. . . . . doing so successfully means enabling civil society, reformiong the economy, legitimizing pluralism, and instilling equal treatment under the law.
- One sector where there is real potential for positive change and positive impact in the Middle East is the media.
- No U.S. government channel or program in the Middle East, no matter how well-intentioned or produced, can deliver this level of reach or impact.
- One of AAM’s partners in the region . . . is currently developing a large-scale anti-ISIS drama series.
- . . . the anti-ISIS comedy, Selfie . . . was the number one RamadanShow in the Gulf . . .
- . . . one of our media partners . . . has developed the first-ever “Law and Order”-style television series . . .
- While tens of millions of Arabs watch Western entertainment programs, Bollywood films and Turkish soap operas, more than ever before these audiences want their own entertainment programs . . .
- And in their pursuit, leading Arab media executives and their counterparts in the creative community in the Middle East are asking for America’s help. . . . asking for training in the storytelling and scriptwriting skills . . . Hollywood’s help to develop shows with better pacing, better story arcs and with more inherent tension and drama
- And they want to know how Hollywood, historically, helped galvanize Americans and their allies to meet some of the world’s great challenges.
- . . . in the Middle East especially, counter-messaging with a U.S. government stamp on it will never have the same credibility as something produced by a local director, writer or filmmaker in the Arab world.
- Already, the State Department has taken some very promising initial steps to advance efforts of this kind by leveraging its convening power . . .
- In the aftermath of the Orlando attack, this country sorely needs renewed bipartisan energy behind our public diplomacy.
- I believe the United States of America has a vital national security interest in helping to build a successful creative industry in the Middle East that will shape the culture of the region for decades to come.