Food for Thought

The class presentation about Thai gastrodiplomacy brought up an interesting subject: perceptions about food’s value (how much you’re willing to pay) and the region it originates from. Why are we willing to pay top dollar for French cuisine or Spanish tapas, but unwilling to shell out a lot of cash for Mexican or Thai food? How much of our willingness to pay more for certain kinds of cuisines informed by global north vs. global south or developed vs. developing structures and prejudices? One thought I has was that ingredients in French cuisine might be more expensive than Mexican cuisine (think about all those fancy cheeses). I think this is an interesting question worth more exploration. Anyone have any thoughts on this?



Sports Diplomacy – The Sports Visitor Program

The Sports Visitor Program described on its website as “sports- themed programs” that offer the opportunity to interact with Americans and experience American culture and values. U.S. Missions around the globe select non-elite athletes and coaches to attend the two weeks program, which includes sessions on: “nutrition, strength and conditioning, gender equity in sport, sport and disability and team building.” Also there is emphasis on the visitors’ development of personal action plans for when they return home.

Past events of the programs included Mobility International USA (MIUSA) collaborating with the Pyunic Armenian Association for the Disabled and the Agate Center for Women with Special Needs in Armenia in a two-way exchange program. And Sports United hosting a Sports Visitor soccer program for coaches from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen.

Although trying to remain apolitical, sport has always been a part of international relations, for better (US-China Ping-Pong diplomacy), or for worse (the Honduras-El Salvador Football War). Sport diplomacy as a whole, and this specific program do have merits, as sport is a common language everywhere. It may not be food and medical care but sport can act as a helpful public diplomacy tool.

The U.S. is a leading force in almost all of sports and some American athletes are global icons. The U.S. also has a solid recreational sport culture and infrastructure, which most country could only wish for. That is why, brining non-elite athletes to the states and engaging with them at their countries utilizes the U.S. position as a sports role model, and shows a positive side of the country. Plus, a positive experience for this athletes mean they will have something positive to say about the U.S. back home. And if one of these non-elites will become great, and share the positive experience then that is just gravy for U.S. public diplomacy, as it earned a public figure in favor of the U.S.

With that being said, it is hard to see how young men and women from the Middle East, South America and Africa forget about U.S. actions or non-actions, all thanks to a game of soccer. How can a coach from Yemen or Athlete from Venezuela see this trip to the U.S. for nothing more than a trip when U.S. actions affect their family and country?

A lot can be said against the goal of exposing the visitor to U.S. culture. Does that mean that U.S. culture is the right one? Does it mean the people over at the State Department would want to see U.S. culture spreading through sports? Some could say this is just another way for the U.S to try and Americanize the world. Another point is the reference to American values, will a program like this lead change in gender equality in the Middle East? Probably not, and that is without even pointing the irony of talking nutrition pointers from one of the most obis countries in the world.

The use of sports diplomacy by the U.S. could lead to positive results, but exchange programs are very limited in scope, hopefully the U.S. will gain a few more “ambassadors” around the world, which is something that is not to be disregarded.



Hip-Hop Diplomacy & “Good Muslims”: The Case of Next Level

From Afrika Bambaataa to Mos Def to Jurassic 5 to  Lupe Fiasco, Islam and hip-hop have had a long and close relationship within the United States, and politicized Muslim hip-hop has quickly been gaining in popularity overseas. The US Department of State has been attempting to tap into that sentiment in a few different ways; one of their most recent projects is Next Level, a collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The program plans to send “hip-hop artist-educators” from the United States on an international exchange program. The program will “use popular music and dance to foster cross-cultural creative expression, understanding and conflict resolution in younger audiences in underserved communities and support the professional development of artists in those communities.” Scholar of hip-hop politics and youth culture Hisham Aidi mentions the program as being part of a larger State Department effort to use hip-hop as a means of countering violent Islamism (modeled in part after the way the State Department used so-called “jazz diplomacy” during the Cold War era). Next Level’s website mentions that participants will visit “six countries—in Africa, Eastern Europe, and South Asia,” but according to Aidi, it’s likely that most of them will be Muslim-majority countries.

Next Level, and programs like it, seem relevant because they use an American-born medium that is growing more and more popular with global audiences. The program seeks to empower young audiences by helping them “develop skills and express themselves in ways they wouldn’t have thought possible.” This program will help foster connections between US beatmakers, b-girls and b-boys, DJs, and MCs, and similar folks from other countries, using a political medium (hip-hop) but without an explicitly political agenda, instead couching their mission in the language of things like “artistic collaboration,” “social engagement,” and “outreach”. If Next Level finds success, it will come from being able to simultaneously engage with young people on their own level and promote a distinctly American-born art form.

I see two main sources of irony in the use of hip-hop to counter anti-Western extremism: first, in that mainstream white society has all-too-often demonized hip-hop by making racist or ignorant assumptions about it, but is generally okay with the medium if it promotes American foreign policy goals; and secondly, that so much early, political American hip-hop critiqued these exact institutions that marginalized lower-income communities and communities of color. Both of these things make it seem a bit strange that Next Level is attempting to capitalize on hip-hop’s overseas popularity by promoting a state-sanctioned, sanitized version of it. Furthermore, critics of programs like Next Level ask “how exactly ‘Muslim hip-hop’ exerts a moderating influence on Muslim youth.” With extremist Islamist views coming from both inside and outside the hip-hop world, Aidi asks, “Can a performance by an African-American Muslim group really push young men away from extremist ideas?” and, in a case of hitting the nail directly on the head, asks “What ‘different narrative’ are these groups presenting?” If it is just the narrative of “empowerment” and self-expression promoted on State Department websites, how much does this differ from the narratives ISIS and similar groups use to recruit young Muslim men? But it seems the different narrative is more so one of Western values and pro-American sentiment discreetly encoded into the work of the Next Level artist-educators, and this seems a far more complicated message to ensure is delivered and internalized by participants. But then again, Dave Brubeck said he believed jazz helped end the Cold War; perhaps the State Department has some reason to believe that hip-hop can help end America’s fight against Islamic extremism.


Evaluation of ShareAmerica


 ShareAmerica is the U.S. Department of State’s platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.

The ShareAmerica team is part of the Bureau of International Information Programs, which works with U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.

The idea behind ShareAmerica has good points as well as bad. The simplicity of the website creates a nice user-ability. The images on the website are bright and compelling. The idea to create a platform were people from all over the world can connect with Americans is a good idea.

However, The website has many flaws. The first flaw is, who are they connecting too? And how can they interact with the website? The website is fundamentally a good idea but I believe it will lack traction unless there is a response from the other side or a way to interact through this website with Americans other than reading articles they could find on their own by searching the web. There is no way to see what is trending, or make comment or connect with others. I don’t believe there will be much of a return rate.

The only way it will be somewhat successful is through Facebook. However, I don’t think the stories are catchy enough like Buzz Feed. The Facebook page was started on July 14th, 2014 and they have 9,616 likes. On each story on Facebook there are no more than 60 likes on each story and very few comments. I do not think that this is setting out to do what it is suppose to do. Structurally, They only offer 6 languages, which excludes many parts of the world including Russia, India and parts of Africa.

Overall, while there is an attempt to reach people worldwide through a modern platform. I believe that there needs to be more connectivity to Americans via commenting and discussion platforms on the website itself and not rely so heavily on Twitter and Facebook.


A public diplomacy program worth examining is the Shared Values Campaign created by the U.S. State Department. The campaign aimed to combat anti-American sentiment in the Middle East by showing Muslim Americans describing their positive experiences living in the United States. The hope was that these images would show people in the Arab world that America doesn’t hate Muslims. The campaign, which cost $15 million and was designed by a Madison Avenue marketing executive, used a combination of television advertising, speaking tours, print publications, radio broadcasts, and outreach programs.

There are several downsides to this campaign, which is generally regarded as a failure. The first relates to media effects and how these kind of campaigns impact the way audiences perceive reality. When the message was mediated by audiences in the Middle East, it didn’t come off as it was intended. Instead of identifying with the concept of “shared values,” people thought it was disingenuous (particularly in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq).

Another is the content of the campaign, or rather the lack of it. The campaign completely ignored issues that were relevant to resentment of the US in the region – namely the history of US intervention in the region. Nobody was upset about or even wondering about how American Muslims were living. The response was generally “who cares? What about the Arab-Israeli conflict?” The creators didn’t have a firm grasp of the audience they were tailoring it to. The campaign answered questions nobody was asking. Perhaps the campaign would have landed if it had addressed issues relevant to the public’s opinion of the US.


Japan vs. the Truth: The Denialism Narrative

Japan has been launching a campaign against accusations from survivors and researchers about their role in human trafficking in the World War II era. “Comfort women” were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Government, and were mostly from South Korea, although many were taken from other areas in Asia such as China.

The Abe administration has both actively denied their military’s role in the exploitation and abuse of these women by painting historical record and first-person accounts as “lies designed to discredit the nation.” They deny that the imperial government orchestrated a system of human trafficking and coerced prostitution, simply referring to these women as “camp-following prostitutes.” In 1993, the government apologized with the Kono Statement which admitted that women were coerced or taken against their will and lived miserably. Shinzo Abe said he will uphold the statement, after a Japanese panel released the results of their study on its origins, saying that it was guided by concern that South Korean public opinion on the issue was damaging Japan-South Korea relations. They went on to say that investigation into the issue was carried out with feedback from the South Korean government; yet both Chinese and South Korean governments denounce the panel feeling that it was convened to cast doubt on the sincerity of the Kono Statement. They charge the Abe government with refusing to confront the truth and chastise them for attempt to revise history.

Recently, the Japanese government sent Kuni Sato, the Foreign Ministry ambassador in charge of human rights and humanitarian issues, to meet with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, to compel her to changes elements of her 1996 report on wartime comfort women, which was compiled after interviewing former comfort women and researchers in Japan and Korea. In the report, Coomaraswamy referenced a book by Seiji Yoshida (d. in 2000), a former solider in the Imperial Japanese Army, who said he had taken part in abducting over 200 women from Jeju Island, South Korea during the war. From the book the report states that Yoshida confesses to having been part of slave raids in which, among other Koreans, as many as 1,000 women were obtained for ‘comfort women’ duties under the National Labor Service Association as part of the National General Mobilization Law.” Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan, had published his story and further mentioned him in 16 articles throughout the 1990s. In August, Asahi retracted these, stating that Yoshida lied and his stories couldn’t be confirmed; however they still claim that there is solid evidence that the Imperial Army kidnapped women from other parts of Asia. Prime Minister Abe called him a crook and criticized Asahi’s reports on the subject, saying that because of their “false reporting” the issue has spread across the country.

Japan is actively trying to remove the designation of comfort women as sex slaves, especially from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Their obsession doesn’t stop with denials of their own transgressions; they also challenge reports from the United Nations on more recent war crimes committed by other countries, particularly Sri Lanka. As the largest single aid donor to the country, Japan remained neutral in the UN Human Rights Council’s vote in March to investigate war crimes allegedly committed within the final months of the Sri Lankan Civil War (which ended after 26 years in 2009), with the Japanese parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs Seiji Kihara saying, We are not ready to accept biased reports prepared by international bodies.”

Shinzo Abe is from a mainstream Japanese conservative family and the nationalism, historical revisionism, and”denialism” of his government is no accident; as a loser in WWII and antagonist in conflicts between it’s largest neighbors China and Korea, Japan has been taking a servile role for the past 70 years. Abe wants to bring back Japan to its former glory and push back against the U.S. and escape from the “postwar regime” its found itself in. However in doing this, Japan is deepening the wounds it has caused and further harming relations with other Asian nations.

– Laurel B.


Israel’s Narrative, As Seems for a Far

Israel, according to many, has been nurturing, at least for some extent, a victim’s narrative. This side of the Israeli narrative, draws from the old testimony, Jewish folk stories and Jewish history, and incorporates them into the Israeli identity.

Without going into how the “state of Israel” and the “Jewish people” became synonymous when discussing the Israeli narrative, the Israeli-Zionist main assumption within the Israeli narrative is that the Jewish people must be able to defend themselves. The Jewish people and Israel do have a basis for that notion: the 1942 Jewish expulsion from Spain, the pogroms, the Holocaust. Also more recently the 1948 war between Israel and all its Arabic neighbors, the 1967 October war, the ‘Yum Kippur’ war of 1973 and various terrorist actions against Israelis worldwide, calling for destruction of the Zionist entity.

The list above shows that Israeli narrative has a ground to stand on, meaning and that “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” And Israeli leaders for years have been using the victim narrative for political ends, warring that the only democracy in the Middle East will soon be lost.

Along the years, U.S. support grew financially and politically and in a non-partisan matter. According to some reports, Israeli was able to reach nuclear capabilities, while being able to prevent others in its region from doing the same. And Israeli-European relations are shadowed by past anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

The problem with Israel’s narrative today, is that some around the world, and within Israel, refuse to keep the perception of Israel as a victim particularly in response to some of its actions and its military abilities. Israel had cemented its position as a regional force, and shouldn’t play the weak side, they say.

Israel nourishes other, newer narratives regarding its global position as. Ideas such as the start-up nation, celebrating the knowledge and abilities Israeli high-tech companies have to offer. Or, the only democracy in the Middle East, showcasing an island of stability in the war-torn region. These new ideas help promote Israel world-wide, in a positive light, but are watered down and sometimes ignored by the victim façade the small country still choses to portray.