After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the US State Department envisioned a magazine as a potential vehicle to make inroads to the Arab world. The State Department has a history of similar, but more succinct, publications, most along the lines of "Surrender or we will kill you ... have a nice day." Though delivered free of charge, usually from 30,000 feet, they weren't great on fostering friendly dialogue.
The new approach Arabic language magazine is called Hi. It targets Arabs aged 18 to 35, and is sold on newsstands for about $2 an issue in more than a dozen Mid-Eastern countries.
The July premiere featured a cover story on the positive experiences of Arab students in American colleges, along with articles on yoga, sand boarding, and marriage counseling -- complete with a photo of Oprah operative Dr. Phil.
Oprah would be an interesting choice by the State Department to battle Islamic fundamentalism. Envision scores of pissed off Afghan women walking the streets of Kabul wearing a burka with "Oprah, a man did this to me!" printed on it. Talk about rocking the Kasbah.
"I think it's a great magazine. I would like to subscribe to it myself," said Mohammed Nawawy, an Egyptian-born journalism professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts and expert on the Arab al-Jazeera TV network, in a Washington Post article. But Nawawy suggests that the magazine might be addressing the wrong problem. "The problem with young Arabs is not how they perceive US culture or the American way of life. They're watching American movies and wearing American jeans and lining up to get visas to come to the United States. The problem is how they perceive United States foreign policy, and that can only be changed by actions on the ground in Iraq and Israel."
He might be missing the bigger point. After enough ad nauseam stories about Ashton and Demi, what shade of ecru to wear this season, and what the Hell was Britney thinking this time, the collective Arab mind will get as bogged down with meaningless Madison Avenue sludge as that of the US populace, making what happens on the ground an incoherent haze.
And beside, maybe there's more to the magazine than just furthering American values. If they can just get Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Mullah Omar to subscribe, the US Intelligence community might stand a chance at actually finding them.