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The Link Between Humanitarian Aid and Public DiplomacyPosted by: admin on Mon, 2011-07-25 10:40
Is humanitarian aid a public image builder for donor countries? Though this may seem like an obvious linkage, hard evidence for it is not easy to come by. However, a recent panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington , D.C. provided some empirical support to the notion.
By Caldwell Bishop, AudienceScapes
Humanitarian aid's impact on public diplomacy efforts was not the focus of the panel convened July 21 to discuss a new Pew Research Center report titled Muslim-Western Tensions Persist. The panel (Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, Samer Shehata of Georgetown University, Shuja Newaz of The Atlantic Council and moderator Marwan Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment) led a discussion covering a variety of issues related to so-called “Western-Muslim” relations. The report drew from results of the 23-country Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted in spring 2011. More on the main results later. But first...
In the cases of Indonesia and Pakistan, panelists argued that humanitarian aid appears to have a had a positive correlation with public views of the donor nation among citizens of the recipient countries. Both of these predominantly Muslim countries received post-disaster humanitarian aid from the United States at some point in the past 5 years. In both cases, according to the panelists, soon after the U.S. provided aid, public opinion towards the U.S. moved significantly in a positive direction. For example, in Indonesia, only about 15% of Indonesians viewed the U.S. favorably, at the time of the invasion of Iraq under former President George W. Bush. However, that figure rose to approximately 35% after the U.S. provided substantial humanitarian aid in 2005 to help those affected by the tsunami.
In Pakistan post-earthquake aid in 2005 was met with similarly favorable responses. However, the panelists suggested that with the increasingly positive public opinion towards the U.S., in response to its humanitarian assistance, as compared with support for Pakistan’s leadership, the leadership requested aid workers to leave the country and put out rhetoric that would put a less favorable light on the United States. Their goal was to regain public support for the government and moving support away from the United States.
The Pew Center’s report also offered some statistics which may surprise some observers, especially in the West, on the subject of concerns over Islamic Extremism. In each of the majority Muslim countries surveyed (Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and Pakistan) more than 60 percent of survey respondents said they are concerned about Islamic extremism (the figure reached 78 percent in Palestine. This was on par with levels in Israel and the 6 Western countries surveyed, which ranged from 60 percent in Spain to 77 percent in Israel.
The results appear to contradict general perceptions in the West that Islamic extremism is not a concern among Muslim populations. Indeed, for public diplomacy practitioners in the West, they may find more common cause than they might assume on terrorism issues with citizens in majority-Muslim countries. This could provide a strong jumping-off point for expressing concerns and priorities in the anti-terrorism drive.
One issue I have with the report's analysis is that it seemed to frame the results as "Westerners" and "Muslims," when in fact the frame of reference of the survey research was really on a country-by-country basis and should not be generalized to Muslim or Western populations as a whole. Note that, while Indonesian's attitudes towards the U.S. improved due to humanitarian assistance, the U.S. image was deteriorating among citizens of other majority-Muslim countries who remained influenced by perceptions of the U.S. as a supporter of oppressive rulers or economic inequality.
Caldwell Bishop works with AudienceScapes and is a graduate student at The George Washington University. His research interests are in East Asia, development, economics, the environment and human rights.