Danielle Capalbo’s Blog

Cross-cultural dialogue

Posted in Cultural differences, Encounters by Quiet Giant on May 13, 2009

We’ve spent a fair amount of time gaping at really cool, old stuff. Historically significant cultural leftovers that let experts piece together a meaningful narrative of the human story. You know, big deal. But, you know:  thousands and thousands of years old.

Tonight, we caught up with realities of Egypt and the Arab world as they’re unraveling now. Half our group bussed outside the city to AUC’s sprawling, year-old campus and engaged in a two-hour conversation on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with some students.

The dialogue was eye-opening, to say the least. I already had a pretty liberal stance – from a Western perspective – and still left the classroom with a lot to consider.

Generally, the consensus from our Egyptian peers was unsurprising:  The past eight years of systemically destructive American foreign policy also destroyed our image in the Arab world, but Obama means hope here, even if one girl candidly admitted that her heart sank when he named Rahm Emanuel – an Israeli Jew – as Chief of Staff.

“I’m not worried because he’s Jewish,” she said, “but because he’s Israeli.”

(It’s worth noting, of course, that he also appointed Dalia Mogahed, a veiled woman, to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.)

Beyond that, there was the assumption we should clearly recognize our government’s – and media’s – lengthy record of big mistakes. Which made a couple of people uncomfortable but, you know, that doesn’t sound too far-fetched as far as I’m concerned.

Perhaps I’m way too self-deprecating an American, but the reality is:  Mainstream media methodically demonizes Arabs, and publishes stories with a reckless disregard for the whole truth concerning the conflict. Then, mainstream media penetrates households nationwide. Then, Americans practice democracy and vote. Then, politicians (sort of) represent them. So the brains behind mainstream media – not just alternative outlets and foreign papers available online nowadays, because, seriously, how many Americans seek five sources minimum for their daily headline fix –  have a global responsibility to get it right.

“American media – whatever it feeds the public becomes foreign policy,” one of the AUC students noted. “Here, or in Pakistan, we just burn some flags and go home.”

Media also has a domestic responsibility.

“If I hadn’t lived in America for a while, and if I didn’t meet people like you, I would be mad at you,” the same student said.

And who can blame him, when CNN does stuff like bow to Israeli PR policy and refer to the illegal Gilo settlement in the West Bank as a “neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem.” Small concessions like that 1) add up and 2) aren’t so small when they strip a story of vital context or distort the reality of the situation. Plus, they compromise the station’s overall integrity.

This is a polarizing issue. It’s also emotionally complicated to digest, particularly after listening to the typically muted side. It’s not easy, and it’s not straightforward. But you could at least hear both sides. Coverage could at least be fair.

It should be.

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2 Responses

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  1. Tim Daly said, on May 14, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Thank You, Danielle and your fellow Huskies for the enlightening perspective that we heard from your meeting with the AUC students. I always try to keep an open mind but we do get a bit brainwashed at times by the American media. Great stuff!

  2. Nancy said, on May 15, 2009 at 4:53 am

    Danielle,

    Great post, I can’t imagine what you must feel hearing these heartfelt statements (some which you are already aware) spoken from these students in “their” forum (country). I believe that this is quite the experience for you, and will stimulate much thought (perhaps even conflict) and shed light on some of your prior views and ideas. Take it all in, I just can’t wait for you to come home and tell me everything!

    Mommy


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