Opinion

The Great Debate

Torching U.S. power

The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.

The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, although President Barack Obama and other US officials have rightly condemned the pastor’s previously intended actions, the episode has exacerbated anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world. This comes at a sensitive period at the end of Ramadan, when debate is also still raging about an Islamic group’s plan to build a community center, which includes a mosque, near Ground Zero in New York City.

It is this latter issue that has apparently enraged Pastor Jones whose backpedaling on the Koran burning only came after he announced an alleged agreement with the community project’s leaders whereby the building would be located further from the World Trade Center site. Although the pastor’s claims of a deal reportedly have been denied by some of those involved in the project the risk remains that he could resume prior plans to hold his “International Burn a Koran Day.”

The re-invigoration of anti-Americanism caused by this episode presents a major political headache for the Obama administration whose public diplomacy has — over the last two years — helped restore US standing across much of the world. But there is still much work that remains. The 2010 Pew Global Attitudes Survey released in June shows that in nine of 15 countries public favorability toward America lags behind that recorded at the end of the Clinton administration a decade ago.

from The Great Debate UK:

Does the Internet empower or censor?

What if the Internet is not really a utopian democratic catalyst of change?

The Web is often seen as a positive means of instilling democratic freedoms in countries under authoritarian rule, but many regimes are now using it to subvert democracy, Evgeny Morozov, a contributing editor at "Foreign  Policy", proposes.

The Internet can actually inhibit rather than empower civil society, Morozov, argued in a lecture on Tuesday at London's Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Social media platforms are being used by certain governments to create a "spinternet" to influence public opinion. They are also being used as part of a process of "authoritarian deliberation" to try and increase the legitimacy of authoritarian rule, he said.

from Commentaries:

Why Russia needs America

In the wake of President Obama's decision to scrap the U.S. missile defence shield in eastern Europe, many are pondering Russia's response. The relationship will remain in the spotlight this week, when President Medvedev heads to the U.S. for the G20 summit. Although the precise nature of Russia's reaction remains to be seen, it has a big incentive to improve relations. It badly needs American investment and co-operation to help solve serious economic problems at home.

Critics of Obama's decision worry that it will "embolden" Russia, causing more aggressive behaviour abroad. Yet they forget that the Bush administration's antagonistic policies failed to provide security to Russia's neighbours. These policies didn't prevent Russia's war with Georgia, the repeated gas disputes with Ukraine, and a serious cooling of relations with countries such as Poland. Far from being restrained, Russia's confrontational attitude had a lot to do with its perception that the U.S. was busy encircling the country with missile bases and alliances.

The critics also imply that Russia is preoccupied with external expansion, but that hardly seems appropriate today. Russia's GDP is set to plummet by 8 percent this year. Russian analysts estimate that the country needs up to $2 trillion to renovate its dangerously clapped-out infrastructure. In major industrial cities, Russia's dilapidated factories are mulling huge job losses. For the foreseeable future, Russia's leaders are likely to be preoccupied with thorny domestic problems.

Faced with such daunting challenges, it's entirely logical that both Medvedev and Putin say they are keen to kick-start American trade and investment. Responding to Obama's decision -- which he described as "brave and correct" -- Putin immediately linked it to economic issues. He called for the U.S. to back Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and scrap Soviet-era trade restrictions against Russian companies, especially those that regulate technology transfer to Russia.

from FaithWorld:

Lots of advice for Obama on dealing with Muslims and Islam

President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country "to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia.  Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama's premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:

Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

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