Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lost & Found in Translation

It's not exactly hot off the presses, but this Doonesbury strip from a few weeks ago has Jeff Redfern attempting to gather intelligence in (excrescent) Pashto. It gets at the heart of a few PD issues: lackluster U.S. attempts at polling--our foreign opinion polling budget is a fraction of the overall PD budget, and considerably lower than that of many transnational corporations--and language/cultural barriers that prevent any real progress on the ground. It's also telling that Jeff launches straight into his second, and even his third question before the elder answers the first. Asking the questions is a step in the right direction, but listening to the answers is even more important.

Of course, some people are genuinely interested in starting a dialogue. This post from the Sandbox (the military blog on Doonesbury's webpage) discusses a new Facebook page and the Afghani interpreters who launched it:

The interpreters are very important to our mission, adding the ability to communicate with and teach Afghans of all types. The Afghan National Security Forces are obviously key partners, and they need to be able to apply the principles of COIN* in their own country. It is, after all, their fight as well. They are the ones who are going to have to live here in the future.

It raises an important question for PD and all international communication. Who speaks and who listens, and how do we move towards a common understanding?

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