The Promise of Citizen Diplomacy and Cultural Consulting
LCC Institute’s Case for a Cultural Consulting Program (CCP)
Cultural consulting rests on the premise that investment in foreign and domestic markets requires firsthand cultural capital and knowledge that come from working with people from different cultural, religious, and racial backgrounds who provide a rich view and a unique perspective on opportunities of economic development and options of collective action. One may go so far as to say that none knows the Middle-East and navigates it on the ground, for example, better than Middle-Easterners and none knows Africa and navigates it better than the Africans, despite the immense progress attained so far by aerial navigation systems and the creativity and innovations of technology. But that raw accumulation of knowledge by locals of those quarters desperately needs a triage and then an injection by a dose of the practically sensible and economically productive. LCC Institute staff have made good contributions to enriching the cultural landscape taking shape around us thanks to the great work of programs such as the IVLP (the International Visitors Leadership Program) and other initiatives sponsored by the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administrated by a select group of non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting good relations between the people of the United States and those of the rest of the world called NPAs (National Program Agencies), and developed and implemented throughout the US by a network of more than 90 community organizations that are members of the NCIV (the National Center of International Visitors) and distributed across the US. There is doubtless a great work to promote excellence in Citizen Diplomacy being undertaken through the hard work of this amazing network of organizations of citizen diplomats. Here is a testimonial by Northern Nevada International Center to the work of one of our staff at:
The cultural work done is measured by the spirit of dedication and professionalism manifest in our citizen diplomats and our volunteers throughout the United States and by the feedback and comments received from our visitors during their program and also long after they go back home. Every assessment points to the marvelous connections and friendly relations created by the IVLP and other programs in the short, medium, and long run. The visitors who come to the US are exposed for the duration of their stay to a wealth of culture that starts with a welcome reception at Dulles or DCA airports in Washington DC, a visit to the landmarks in the area the next day, and a rich lecture on federalism as a system of government on the first day of their 21-day program in the USA. They partake of the choices made for meetings with their counterparts in the national program and have much of a say as to what tourist attractions they wish to see. Here is a testimonial to the beautiful impressions these visits and programs leave on our esteemed visitors. Below is the translation of an IVLP participant’s feedback and comments about the United States of America and its people:
A unique Visit to America:
It is my first visit to the USA about which I have heard much. I experienced it in suspenseful movies and election campaigns [held] in the midst of the civilized world. I was expecting to see loud quarrels and discrimination against Muslims, as is portrayed by some extremists in the Islamic world, at any moment after arrival or during site-visits. However, the truth that is still hanging on my mind is that since the first moment of [my] arrival at Washington DC airport until the moment of departure, I encountered a new world, one that is so fraught with vitality and beauty…with the order that flows in the various aspects of life like a twinkling pond, with the quietness that is only stirred by a few orders or the whisper of the talkers, with the cleanliness that made this great country a beautiful tableau whose landmarks are drawn by the creative American individual.
LCC Institute believes in the power of cultural consulting to empower global communication and international trade by means of providing platforms to create connections and present lectures and discussions with seasoned professionals and ordinary citizens. These professionals are known to have traveled the world and navigated cultures. They have been on the ground and therefore they master the cultural, physical, and human terrain of the land. When you create and promote channels of communication, understanding and cultural sensitivity follows. In today’s society, we may fail to tap into talent that may be within a few feet from us. But there is every urgent need to bring together all the components of society to get to know one another more:
Muhammad would lay down his prayer rug to perform his daily supplications. In the meantime, many around him show concern. When Joshua befriends him, Muhammad is so pleased and happy to have a friend as caring as Joshua. This latter reciprocates. The two together with Peter would go to a restaurant nearby during their break. Muhammad orders Halal, Joshua orders kosher, and Peter orders bacon. With the passage of time, the amazing cultural awareness gained of one another and the very powerful assets the combination of the three should lead to should allow them to work together, to celebrate the differences, to convert the diversity into an economic value, and to join forces to attain that value for public health and economic prosperity in their communities and in the world.
So on the one hand, we have Muhammad who by the power of the Constitution exercises his right of worship. And on the other hand, we have the public who may be frightened by such an act of supplication. In fact, both are normal human urges. But what makes the divide even greater is the fact that none of the parties knows the other well enough, or tries to know what Muhammad is doing during his prayer (praying is an act whereby the worshiper prays her/his God to grant a wish, such as rain, success, wealth, healing from a disease, or the like) or why the public is showing concern. In fact, the vacuum is worsened because of lack of communication, which prevents getting to know the workings of the mind in order to build safe and constructive relationships and deter and pre-empt mishaps.
So in the Muslim world, the dominant conception may be that the US is against Islam and Muslims, especially when some news channels project individual cases as representative of a whole agenda. Think for example of the uproar caused by Pastor Terry Jones’s call to burn Qurans. Read the article in the Washington Post titled Florida pastor Terry Jones Koran burning has far-reaching effect by Kevin Sieff, of April 02, 2011. The masses in the Islamic world initially believed the US government was behind the pastor’s move, not knowing that one of the sacred rights of the individual granted by the Constitution is the freedom of expression, that the US does not have a Ministry of Communication, and that there is nothing the government can do to censure freedom of expression. Hostility subsided eventually when pastor Terry Jones was dissuaded from his promise to burn the Qurans following pleas by former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, government officials, and religious leaders. In Islamic countries, central governments have the authority to enforce public health laws, and the governed expect it to be very involved in preventing activities that may represent a hazard to the community. In fact, nobody in the Islamic world, peoples and governments, will ever defend pastor Terry Jones for burning Moslems’ holy book.
On the other hand, people in the US should continue not to make judgments on an individual or community on the basis of an act of worship they perform, as in the case of Muhammad performing his daily supplications. Instead, one should strive to understand what that act really means or what it stands for in order to learn from others. There is then certainly every benefit to be gained from getting closer to and working with the other instead of drawing premature conclusions about her/him. Muhammad, Joshua, and Peter are in that category of people who wish to go beyond the surface of things, befriend people, make them confident in who they are, build partnerships, and work together for the public good.
There is absolutely no doubt that a plethora of conflicts around the world emerge and take on stupefying proportions because of deficiencies in cultural awareness or understanding.
In a speech of hers, though this may not be related, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about a conflict in an African country over a river’s water resources. Two tribes were reported to be at each other’s throat for river control. The elders from both tribes gathered, argued with one another, and made direct threats. But as they talked under a tree, all of a sudden two women from each camp approached them and gently rebuked them that there was absolutely no reason for them to fight, because the river had long dried up.
Also, thousands die in wars and armed struggle, for instance, because of miscommunication between opposed forces. While astonishing numbers of people around the world do not understand the USA, how it came to being, what it stands for, what it does around the world, and why it does so, there is also a large cultural gap in the US relative to understanding foreign cultures. Understanding worlds’ cultural systems and behavioral patterns through the mechanism of well-informed cultural consulting deflates tensions, reduces the cost of investment, and increases productivity and output.
In numerous Middle-Eastern cultures, people use their hands when they are talking to someone. They fling their hands up and down often. That coupled with a loud voice can be misunderstood and erroneously interpreted as a major threat to life, leading to tragic knee-jerk reactions. This reality led to the introduction of programs to educate US forces on the behavioral patterns of peoples they will be assigned to on missions. The intent is to help the forces to complete a mission with the least amount of deaths and injuries and to benefit both countries and the world in interests that bind them all mutually.
Some facts need to be put forward to the peoples of the world, most important of which is that the USA is the sum of 50 states united into one country called the United States of America under a system called federalism, that each state is autonomous, that most Americans are ordinary people who go about their life like everybody else in the world. They work very hard, take care of their families, pay bills, and mind their own business. It should be made clear that the vast majority of the US citizenry are not involved in world affairs, have almost absolutely no say in the decision-making process to go to war since they delegated that right to the leaders of the Republic, and cherish more than anything else her/his freedom and individuality. As a case in point, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam is not a war of or by the American people. In fact, the American people are a war-weary people, just like the other peoples of the world or much more. The war usually is imposed by external factors that are perceived to threaten the national security of the US such as attacks on the homeland or its interests abroad such as commercial assets. When an attack takes place on American soil, an emotion is stirred among the people, who as a consequence offer their support to the military establishment to prevent other atrocities from happening.
One who is culturally aware will vigilantly note that we live in a world where the launch of a new cultural dialog is an imperative for humanity to move on to the next level of joint ventures and economic development. In fact, this cultural dialog promises to connect actors who have an interest in working together for business development and achieving acceptance for themselves in the various territories of activity with the confidence that there is not a substantial risk for their capital investment (both financial and intellectual) and that there are long-term gains to be made from adopting a cultural awareness approach that advises economic policy that serves all parties involved. When you think of companies that succeeded in foreign lands, you will find that they did so thanks particularly to their cultural awareness and sensitivity, their acceptance among the populace, and their trusted relational networks that base activity on respect of the cultures they visit, contribution to the socio-economic infrastructure of the areas they invest in, and consideration of all the elements that may bring about surprises to them at any moment in the future. For example, McDonalds will absolutely not sell bacon burgers, for example, in a Moslem country, especially in the hardened ones among them, since that is most certainly a clear invitation for a catastrophic consequence.
It remains to be said that having a solid cultural awareness towards other peoples and their cultures, involving them in the mosaics of all interactions, and definitely working with them towards achieving common goals is such a mighty means to reckon with in order to effect a positive image about the homeland for economic progress in lands domestic and foreign.
Abdel Hafid Missouri
LCC Institute President