Mightier Than the Sword: Arts and Culture in the U.S.-Muslim World Relationship.

Author:Brown, John

Mightier Than the Sword: Arts and Culture in the U.S.-Muslim World Relationship

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2008/06_islamic_world_schneider/06_islamic_world_schneider.pdf; executive summary at http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2008/06_islamic_world_schneider.aspx

By Cynthia P. Schneider, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy; and Kristina Nelson, author of The Art of Reciting the Quran

Reviewed by John Brown

A widely acknowledged expert in cultural diplomacy, former ambassador to Holland, and professor at Georgetown University, Cynthia Schneider co-authored the Brookings Institution's Mightier than the Sword (June 2008), a study valuable for several reasons.

With the exception of Asia (not included in the report), it provides, first, much information about contemporary arts and culture in the Muslim world. Its coverage of current trends includes film and television; international festivals; visual arts; theater and dance; literature; music (including hip hop); and new media. (Facebook, readers learn, is the fifth most visited website in Turkey.) The report also presents useful data on the limited number of organizations, both in the United States and the Muslim world, that are involved in cultural activities that pertain to the Middle East. In addition, Mightier than the Sword contains an illuminating section on how leaders in Arab countries turn to the arts and culture as a means to promote economic development and tourism.

Beyond those contributions, the report lays bare the lack of involvement by the U.S. government (USG) in promoting American culture and encouraging cultural exchanges in the Middle East. The report minces no words:

Although the funding for cultural programs and exchanges has increased under the Bush administration--to a total of $11 million in 2007, up from a nadir of $1.4 million in 2001-the presentation of the rich diversity of American culture, as opposed to pop culture, pales beside what was offered in the Cold War period and what European countries offer today. Without significant increases in funding from the government or infusions from the private sector, accompanied by a shift in approach, the United States will not be able to play a constructive role in cultural life in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Together with the lack of USG interest in the arts and culture, roadblocks to greater U.S.-Muslim cultural interaction are language, lack of funding...

To continue reading