Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dr. Strangelove v. the Culture Club

Are European nations moving beyond a military solution towards Afghanistan, and will a policy of cultural engagement work? Al Jazeera explores the question in this video.

Cultural engagement, of course, is a broad net that covers diverse activities like photography, writing, dance, theater, music, sculpture, architecture, sports and cooking. Some of the discussants also included activities like counseling and hosted dialogue as part of the process. Kenyan youth leader George Gachara reflected on his efforts at cultural engagement following post-election violence:

We came together as young people and decided that as a country we have come to the brink of collapse, we have seen how bad things can get, but then we stepped back and get a chance to rescue and save the soul of our nation. So we decided to come up with very simple and creative projects that create a safe space for engagement amongst young people from different communities where they can reflect, they can dialogue and they can also enroll in activities that reconcile their own activities.

Gachara seemed hopeful that such collaborations would forestall future violence in his country. But will it work in Afghanistan? Ahmad Majidyar suggests that coalition forces could achieve greater success by developing locally-based solutions, instead of importing solutions from D.C. which aren't compatible with the local culture. Robin Davies of the British Council also emphasized the importance of local input. In response to a Facebook query asking why culture, ideas and opinions should be forced on others in a democratic society, Davies noted that cultural dialogue is a multi-directional, collaborative process:

Cultural dialogue and cultural relations is a relationship. It's a two-way process. It is not the imposition of one culture onto another culture.... This is a dialogue, this is mutual understanding, this is educating, sharing and connecting with people.

Neal M. Rosendorf would certainly agree. We recently read "A Cultural Public Diplomacy Strategy" for class. In it, Rosendorf argues that cultural diplomacy is essential to U.S. foreign policy and reputation reform. One point Rosendorf raises that does not come up in this video is the issue of financing. Currently, the U.S. government allocates considerably more money to the nation's military budget than it does to its diplomacy budget, indicating a lack of appreciation for the benefits of skillful cultural diplomacy. But as Rosendorf (and General Stanley McChrystal) would argue, military victory is impossible without the support of the other nation's citizens. Sure, sure, the best things in life are free--but some of the really essential things cost a mint. And they're worth investing in.

1 comment:

  1. Was happy to see "cooking" in your list of cultural engagement activities :D