Aug 31, 2009

America's Flawed Communication Strategy in Afghanistan

Much of this week’s reading had to do with the development of international communication methods over time and how they were used by dominant imperialist powers to expand their reach over the developing world. From the printing press to telegraph communication through cables to the expansion of the newspaper industry to radio and eventually television and Internet, the history of global communication can be traced back to its use as a propaganda tool.

In reading about how imperialist powers have used these modes of communications to gain some kind of presence or control in the developing world I began to think of the United States’ role in Afghanistan today. In the reading it stated that where the BBC has been historically seen as more balanced, the US international communication strategies have been seen as much more concerted efforts to transmit a very specific message. In particular, the United States saw the role of the radio in being able to reach the highly illiterate populations of the developing world.

So this makes me wonder why the United States has not invested more thought, effort, and finances into reaching the various Afghan satellite television stations broadcast from both Afghanistan and America? If, “[t]he extent of empire could be used as ‘an indication of the efficiency of empire,’” then the United States’ presence in Afghanistan can neither be considered far reaching nor efficient and well understood by the people of the nation.

Many of the programs on these stations are call-in shows where a talking head commentator pontificates about religious, political and cultural issues. Even the more liberal / moderate figures on these programs often heavily criticize the role of the United States and NATO in Afghanistan, with their callers often following suit.

With so much negativity being targeted at America’s role in Afghanistan from so many sides one has to wonder why the US hasn’t taken a more definitive role in finding ways to express their true goals and intentions in Afghanistan through these media outlets? Yes, there is Voice of America in Farsi (and I believe Pashto) on one of the independent stations broadcast from Kabul but there have to be other ways for the United States to use this form of international communication to better inform the people of Afghanistan on the purpose of the US’ mission in Afghanistan.

After all, like many of the people of the developing world the United States hoped to reach through radio, the majority of the people in Afghanistan are illiterate. It would seem only logical that the United States would use the television medium which has such a wide reach in Afghanistan to try to engage with the Afghan people. Along with being highly illiterate, the majority of the Afghan population is under the age of 35, another fact which would make the use of television so important to the success of the US mission in Afghanistan. If “communication has always been critical to the establishment and maintenance of power over distance,” then why isn’t the United States doing more to reach the people of Afghanistan through various media outlets?

1 comment:

  1. Ha! You hit the point there!

    I remember Hosseini saying in "A Thousand Splendid Suns" that Titanic was THE HIT of all times in Afghanistan about a decade ago. To continue your point - WHY don't they promote their "peace/democracy-building" mission through popular culture that would appeal to the younger Afghan population? The mere HUGE contrast of the cultural values - between the American and the Afghan, that is - encourages the Afghans to reject it outright, and makes the more fundamentalist message (the Taliban among them) closer to heart.
    You are right - a conscientious and sustained effort should be made to REPLACE the currently aggressive rhetoric, in order to primarily educate and (really) CONVINCE the Afghan people that a brighter future is what the US is fighting for...