< < <
Date Index
> > >
NYTimes.com Article: Muslim-as-Apple-Pie Videos Are Greeted With Skepticism
by saima
11 November 2002 00:52 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >
This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by saima@aftabassociates.com.

Muslim-as-Apple-Pie Videos Are Greeted With Skepticism

October 30, 2002


JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 29 - Rawia Ismail, a vivacious
young teacher in Toledo, Ohio, her head covered with an
Islamic head scarf, appears in a United States government
video that will have its first public showing this week on
national television here in the world's most populous
Muslim country. 

The Lebanese-born Ms. Ismail is shown with her three
smiling children in her all-American kitchen, at a school
softball game, and in front of her class, extolling
American values. 

"I didn't see any prejudice anywhere in my neighborhood
after Sept. 11," says Ms. Ismail. 

The portrayal of Ms. Ismail as a woman who practices her
Muslim faith in America with ease is one of the images that
the Bush administration is offering to the Muslim world as
an example of how America is not at war with Islam. 

The message, in four videos about American Muslims that are
to be shown here and in other Islamic countries, is one of
tolerance at home and a desire to reach out abroad. 

But viewers who have seen the videos were skeptical about
whether life for Muslims in the United States is really so

The videos are part of a major campaign, conceived by a
former Madison Avenue advertising executive, Charlotte
Beers, who is under secretary of state for public
diplomacy, to sell the United States to a skeptical - and
in places, hostile - Muslim world. 

They tell the stories of a prominent doctor, Elias
Zerhouni, the Algerian-born director of the National
Institutes of Health; a Libyan-born baker, Abdul Hammuda,
in Toledo; a Brooklyn-born medic with the New York Fire
Department, Farooq Muhammad; and Ms. Ismail. 

The theory underpinning the videos, and newspaper ads and
radio spots that will accompany them, is that the United
States is a misunderstood place. In reality, the message
implies, America recognizes Islam as an important religion
and one of the fastest-growing in America. 

Another feature of the broader campaign is a new radio
station, Radio Sawa, that broadcasts in the Arab world,
playing pop music in Arabic and English and providing
top-of-the-hour news from an American point of view. Muslim
academics from Asia and the Middle East are also being sent
to the United States for study tours. More than 20
principals of Islamic schools in Indonesia visited the
United States this summer. 

At a preview of the videos here today, presided over by the
American ambassador, Ralph L. Boyce, and attended by
Indonesian journalists and academics, the reception was

Indeed, inside the State Department, some diplomats who
have lived in Islamic countries criticized the scripts
before their release for being patronizing and too
simplistic, department officials said. 

Some adjustments were made, they said. But according to
today's viewers, not enough. 

No East or Southeast Asia Muslims appeared in the videos,
even though the videos were being introduced in this
region, they said. It was as if the State Department
believed Muslims only lived in Arab countries and only
those Muslims migrated to the United States, several in the
audience said. 

The most telling critique came from Rizal Mallarangeng, a
television host and political analyst who has just finished
eight years of study at Ohio State University. 

Mr. Mallarangeng praised the State Department for trying to
overcome the hostility in the Islamic world toward the
United States. 

But, he said, the videos' story lines missed the
complexities of being a Muslim in America. 

"I have friends like this," he said referring to the
characters in the videos. "They want to be good Muslims and
good Americans. This is a bipolar way of life and the
question always is how to solve the perpetual conflict." 

There were straightforward matters, said Mr. Mallarangeng,
like how a Muslim student could pray the requisite number
of times while attending an American public school. 

"How does a student find a place to pray?" he said. "At an
American public school there is no religion and I
understand. But what does the religious father of a Muslim
student say at home about this?" 

Others in the audience said that by presenting a picture of
universal tolerance in the United States, the videos
bordered on being propaganda. 

Mr. Muhammad, the Fire Department medic in Brooklyn, for
example, speaks of working with colleagues of the Hindu,
Christian and Jewish faiths. "We're all brothers and
sisters," he says. Dr. Zerhouni, of the National Institutes
of Health, says, "The tolerance and support I have received
myself is remarkable," and, "I don't think there is any
other country in the world where different people from
different countries are as accepted and welcomed as members
of a society." 

Rosita S. Noer, who just completed studies at Harvard, said
she found the scenes "too hard-sell." 

"When I was in Harvard Square after Sept. 11," she said, "I
heard young people saying very hard things about Muslims." 

For the videos to make a more convincing case to skeptical
Indonesians, said Muhammad Rusmadi, a journalist at the
Islamic newspaper, Rakyat Merdeka, he would have liked to
see American Muslims actually living alongside people of
other religions. "It would be good to see American Muslims
interacting with American Jews," he said. 

It would be even better, said Mr. Rusmadi, for American
officials to go to Islamic schools and to make their case
directly to students. 

The videos shown today are intended for a number of Islamic
countries. So far, the Egyptian government has declined to
allow them to be shown on its television stations, saying
it does not accept paid programming from a foreign country,
an American diplomat in Cairo said. But the embassy was
still pursuing the case, he said. In Pakistan, the programs
have not yet been offered to the government-run television
station because of the uncertainties in the aftermath of
the recent election, in which militant Islamic parties
showed surprising strength, an American official there

Indonesia was chosen as the first country to see the series
of videos because it is the most populous Muslim country, a
State Department official said. Neighboring Malaysia is
scheduled to begin airing the series next week. 

Discussions about showing the videos are under way with a
number of countries in the Middle East, including those in
the Persian Gulf. There are no plans at this time to show
the series in Saudi Arabia, the State Department official
said. Officials hope to show the videos in Jordan but have
no definite schedule yet. 

In many countries, the videos will be shown on
government-run television and will need to win the approval
of government censors. In some places where American
foreign policy is a major source of irritation, this may be
tough. The target audience is the "nonelite," 15- to
59-year-olds, he said. In all, $10 million to $15 million
will be spent on production, research and buying television
time. The advertising company McCann-Erickson produced the
videos based on the State Department's research. The
department hopes the videos will run in many of the target
countries through Ramadan, which begins in early November
and ends in early December. 

Ramadan was deemed a suitable period for the videos because
it is a time when Muslims concentrate on family and
spiritual life, themes that the videos try to reflect. 

Special efforts will be made to give audiences here in
Indonesia, elsewhere in Asia and in the Middle East the
chance to respond to the videos and the print campaign
accompanying them, the official said. A special booklet in
local languages with articles about Muslim life in the
United States will be distributed with a tear sheet in the
back asking readers to send their reactions to either a
local post box number in the country or directly to the
State Department. 

The characters in the videos, like Ms. Ismail, will also be
made available for two-way satellite interviews. 

To the protests that the characters presented a pretty
veneer to the complicated picture of Muslim life in
America, Mr. Boyce said, "We will take that on board." 


For information on advertising in e-mail newsletters 
or other creative advertising opportunities with The 
New York Times on the Web, please contact
onlinesales@nytimes.com or visit our online media 
kit at http://www.nytimes.com/adinfo

For general information about NYTimes.com, write to 

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >