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Arabs Need to Do More to Project a Better Image, Says US Academic
by K.S. Ramkumar
Arab News
March 15, 2004


Professor John Voll at the Advista Arabia conference in Jeddah on Sunday. (AN photo by Khaled Mahmoud)

JEDDAH, 15 March 2004 — In the current wave of globalization, the Arab world has not shied away from the dynamics of change, but it needs to project itself well if the world at large is to know it, a US academic said here yesterday.

"It all depends on how you project yourself," John Voll, professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, told the pre-lunch session on the second day of the four-day Advista Arabia VI at the Jeddah Hilton.

Voll dealt at length with the Arab world as a brand — also the theme of previous speeches — and its religious dimensions. He said Arabs must realize how US immigrants had been actively involved in the country's political processes. Active participation can help clear whatever misunderstandings the host country has about "you or your country."

Islam is an essential part of the Arab world and Arab heritage. One of the problems of understanding the Arab world is the perception that Arabs and Muslims are the same, with no distinction drawn between Arab and non-Arab Muslims, said Voll, who is acting director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

"For instance, there is no difference perceived between, say, Iran and the Arab world in America. They all think both are the same. And one cannot ignore the fact that Arab Christians are a great resource," he added.

Voll has lived in Cairo, Beirut and Sudan and has traveled widely in the Muslim world.

"Religion is an important element and should be used for constructive work to forge unity, peace and harmony," he said.

He felt that the Arab world's image crisis could be effectively dealt with through a smart utilization of communication skills.

Dr. Sadek Al-Malki, professor of economics at the King Abdul Aziz University, who chaired the session, said it was time that all the religious dimensions of the Arab world were thoroughly examined and analyzed. He wanted efforts to continue toward removing the misunderstandings about the Arab world and the Muslim Ummah in the Western world.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Talal Dhulaymi, chairman of the GCC Advertising Association and the Promoaction DDB, also highlighted the Arab image crisis. "We do have problems with the ‘product,' but we definitely have more problems with the ‘message' that requires comprehensive evaluation and change. Advertising, PR and marketing communications are tools that could be smartly utilized to make a difference."

The Kingdom was the largest Arab market east of the Mediterranean, representing more than 50 percent of the advertising spend in the GCC, he added.

 

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