In August 2016, Dr. Hosam Mattar published an article in the journal of Contemporary Arab Affairs titled, Limits of US Soft Power in the Arab World. While Dr.Mattar’s paper does an excellent job in theoretically framing the application of soft-power in the Arab world, due to space and topical limit, it had to leave out the practical aspects. Therefore, this article will analyze some of the key practical aspects of US soft-power in the MENA region.
In practical terms, the US soft-power in the MENA region today is applied through the following four methodologies; 1) Defining what constitutes real knowledge, 2) Presenting its entertainment products as the main source of entertainment, 3) Defining gender relations in the MENA region through its secular-liberal paradigm and 4) Using what can be called the dwarfing propaganda method.
Educational aspect constitutes the primary pillar of the US soft-power in the MENA region. The MENA region is filled with American international schools, US educational advisory bodies, US trained teachers, etc. All these elements are dominating the intellectual narrative within Muslim societies where Islam for centuries outlined the principles of what constitutes real knowledge in temporal and spiritual sense.
US soft-power methodology in the realm of education is defining knowledge primarily as information useful for temporal materialistic success and through this disassociating physics, chemistry, math, history and so on from the Islamic legal and philosophical paradigm. While Islam approaches education in holistic terms by examining every subject matter within the monotheistic paradigm, the US educational mechanism examines things outside of the monotheistic paradigm, thus secularizing Muslim societies.
The educational front of the US soft-power is an essential element as it eliminates the cultural filters against US soft-power. Washington has been successful in this realm not only because the political leadership of most Muslim countries does not object to this, but also because the indigenous educational systems have fallen behind due to incompetent and corrupt regimes sustained in power by external powers. Also, it must not be denied that the US educational paradigm certainly does have many positive features, but those positives are overemphasized and the negatives are skillfully brushed aside.
Entertainment is another crucial element of the US soft-power as it is an essential aspect of modernity and the US entertainment industry dominates this sector. It’s global success is mainly due to its ability to frame its message in a way that appeals to instinctive desires of an average person. Since the contemporary global education system is based on the concept of striving to achieve and prioritize ones desires, the entertainment industry acts as a supplement to the successful US version of secular-liberalism and thus builds on and reinforces the paradigm set by its education system. This combined with its vast administrative and financial resources, along with governmental assistance makes the US entertainment industry capable of appealing to a diverse audience.
Family is a basic unit of every society and this unit begins through an interaction between female and male genders. If anyone aiming to exercise some form of influence over a society leaves this aspect untouched, the influence will always be limited. This is something all hegemonic powers always realized. For example, when Britain occupied Egypt, Evelyn Baring (aka Lord Cromer) stated, “…it is absurd to suppose Europe will look on as a passive spectator whilst the retrograde government based on purely Muhammadan principles and oriental ideas [that is, Islam], is established in Egypt. The material interests at stake are too important… the new generation of Egyptians has to be persuaded or FORCED into imbibing the true spirit of Western civilization… the position of women in Egypt, and Mohammedan countries generally, is, therefore a fatal obstacle to the attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western civilization.” The narrative of liberating native women of non-secular and non-Western societies is constantly enforced in Western educational systems and its entertainment industry. This is complemented through a political track by subtly cultivating tribal pre-Islamic paradigm within Muslim societies. For example, in Pakistan, the feudal minded ruling elites along with the Saudis in the Arabian Peninsula are strategic Western allies. These Western allies are notorious for doing very little to eliminate honor killings and even restrict women using basic modes of transportation.
Attaining truth is a life long struggle of every individual. In today’s information overloaded world, this phenomenon has been turned into a cool fashion for the masses to pursue. Therefore, completely concealing the reality of events or totally distorting the truth is an endeavor impossible to perform by anyone. That’s why the US propaganda machine mastered the practice of half-truth propaganda.
The latest best example of this method can be observed through analyzing the work of the US based al-monitor.com website which skilfully provides a superb illusion of objectivity. Al-monitor provides a platform for diverse voices and trends in the MENA region. Some unsophisticated Western media outlets assume that al-monitor is aiming to normalize the Islamic revolutionary discourse by providing a platform for writers putting forward the perspective of Islamic Iran and its strategic allies. Superficial examination of al-monitor may seem so, but a deeper look immediately reveals that for every alternative position, al-monitor puts forward dozens of mainstream views peddling the narrative of Western governments which end up dwarfing the alternative voice. This semi-sophisticated method enforces an image of being an objective cutting edge news and analysis resource. This exact mechanism is implemented by various Western corporate media outlets and in a decently organized manner. This methodology also supplements the educational basis as it perfectly fits in with the relativist philosophy of the Western outlook on life taught in its educational institutions.
All of the four practical elements analyzed above, build on one another almost performing the function of scaffolding. This is due to the fact that these methods are centralized to the required level by the US government. But the mastery of the US governing elites is in their ability not to centralize these methods too much, thus leaving the operational autonomy for those implementing its strategy. This provides the soft-power apparatus of the US government with essential operational flexibility in the realm of soft-power.
The only way to counter the existing US soft-power is to develop similar administrative and operational capabilities on a state level, but base it on a religious paradigm, a system the materialist/capitalist thought can never fully grasp. Thus making it capable of absorbing positive aspects emanating from the current global order and flushing out the negative side effects. This cannot be achieved without having in place a state gearing its governmental institutions towards this goal. The prerequisite for embarking on this path is significant peace and security within the borders of the state initiating this process. Therefore, people should not be surprised why Washington is implementing “stupid” policies in the MENA region that end up creating chaos. It is all deliberate and preemptive, as the MENA region poses the alternative paradigm required in formulating a counter soft-power narrative to the US due to Islam’s all encompassing role in the region.