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THE PERSUASION MYTH(this is an excellent article)


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November 3, 2003 -- SUPPOSE the Saudi government launched an "information campaign" intended to convince Americans to adopt a strict Islamic lifestyle and that democracy, women's emancipation, open government, human rights and freedom are not in our best interests.

One doubts that the Saudis would change American minds.

In essence, that's the challenge faced by our own efforts at "public diplomacy" - at changing stubborn minds in the Middle East. We persuade the already-persuaded, but don't make a dent in the Arab street's perception.

All men and women cling to their cherished values. It isn't a matter of right and wrong, but of what's familiar, comfortable and reassuring. It's a foolish error to imagine that, if we only find the right combination of reasoned arguments, we might convince the populations of the Middle East to love us and embrace our national values.

Words never alter deeply rooted beliefs - although words can enliven drowsing hatreds.

If you want to change the mindset of another culture, your only hope is to "lead by example," as our military puts it - to demonstrate the incontestable superiority of your approach until it sinks in. The cliché is invincibly true: Deeds speak louder than words.

This doesn't mean that our efforts to provide accurate information to Middle Eastern audiences are completely wasted - only that we must have realistic expectations about their impact.

The prejudice of the campus bleeding heart or the diplomatic dilettante in favor of "reasoned argument" is utter nonsense. When you hear calls for "con- structive dialogue," grab your flack jacket, because the end result will always be greater violence.

You can't win a debate with Osama bin Laden. You can't persuade God's self-appointed avengers to channel their madness into an academic conference. You can't even talk the man in the street into believing that your way of tying shoelaces is better than his own.

Yes, freedom and human rights are objectively superior to oppression and torture. Yes, the cultures of the Middle East are decayed, dysfunctional and unable to compete in the modern world. But the Muslim populations of Eurasia don't want our logical explanations for their failures.

They want revenge for self-created disasters. They want excuses for the inadequacy of their social, political and economic regimes. Arab civilization, especially, has backed itself into a historical corner where it deteriorates by the day. It's humiliating to them.

The downtrodden don't want sober analysis. They want someone to blame. And the United States (along with Israel) fits the bill perfectly - facts be damned.

The failures of the Middle East are no more attributable to the wickedness of the West than the triumph of the West is due to the weakness of the Middle East. But comforting lies are humanity's favorite narcotic.

The cultures of the Middle East are so crippled that they can't even limp along without the psychological crutch of blaming all their ills on foreign devils. No amount of well-intentioned information disseminated by the United States will persuade the Arab masses that we're innocent of the cruelties their own leaders and social systems have inflicted upon them. Men and women everywhere believe their own kind first.

The only hope we have of eventually convincing the populations of the Middle East that our intentions are sound and that our interests lie in their success, not in their continued failure, is to take a long-term view and demonstrate our purpose on the ground.

Still, even if we spend decades doing good in the Middle East, the most embittered Muslims will be unwilling to accept our advocacy of human rights and freedom. We have entered an age of fiery reaction, of ecstatic, irrational rage, of global fundamentalist rejection of the demands of modernity.

Our enemies everywhere praise their God, but prefer a powerful Satan they can blame for their disappointments. We are, and will remain, their indispensable bogeyman.

Our only hope of building a constructive, long-term relationship with the people of the Middle East is to focus on what Americans do best: Work. Starting in Iraq.

Leave the bilious rhetoric to the demagogues. Work to bring positive change. Let our deeds proclaim themselves. Prove our accusers wrong. Prove that our values breed success.

It's an approach that requires enormous patience and fortitude. But it's the only approach that has a chance to succeed. It's easy to dismiss a government pronouncement. It's harder to deny practical results.

Indeed, the greatest informational danger doesn't come from our failure to broadcast positive news, but from the negative effects of our own rhetorical folly. When a general assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense makes public statements that echo Osama bin Laden's bigotry, he undercuts the constructive work done by all of our soldiers in Iraq.

Yet, for all his ignorance of fact and his prejudice of faith, Gen. Jerry Boykin's weird remarks about Islam as a religion of idols offer an exaggerated illustration of an undeniable fact: We lack the deep, nuanced understanding of the Middle East necessary for a strategic debate. Our weapon of choice should be results, not rhetoric.

Ralph Peters's latest book is "Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace."

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I have several problems with this man's opinion. First of it appears as though values and culture are grouped into right and wrong. Of course the American cutlure being the "right" way to live life, run a government, etc. He then lists the several faults he finds in Middle Eastern cultures but fails to point out the shortcomings of American culture. Americans are preaching about equality for men and women across all class groups, but does equality exists in America today? Americans are also preaching about fair elections for government officials, but do fair elections exists in America? I will not dig far into the history books of the American life and culture but I will bring up the past couple of years. Businesses continue to expand to foreign countries exploiting the poor for cheap labor and maximizing profits. The gap between rich and poor continues to increase at an increasing rate. Racial and gender equality does not exist. "American" usually stands for cacausian, this country is not a mix of cultures but one culture predominately on the top of the food chain, coexisting with other cultures. There is no common belief system, but you are not "free" from facing religious persecution. Morality is extinct. Schools are being destroyed and children are doing the destroying. Gunfire at school seems to be commonplace. The current president is accused of "stealing" the election and then entires a war without proof, and the approval of the U.N. which was started by his country. Now these are just random events that float into other countries throught various mediums. With that said where is the argument that this " American life " is supposed to be "the right way"???????????

Yes I agree with one thing that writer said, the mind sets of the world can not be won through rhetoric, but through example. And the onlookers of American life have been taking note since the founding of this country. And their history books, newspapers, news stations report a different story. If American life has not persuaded individuals to change their governments on their own time, with their own sweat and blood, It will not happen ever.

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