Cablegate: James Zogby Engages Bahrainis and Addresses Abu

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. James Zogby, founder and President of the Arab
American Institute and media commentator, visited Bahrain
May 10-12, 2004. His speaking tour was co-sponsored by
the American Studies Center at the University of Bahrain
and the Bahrain Center for Studies and Research, with
partial funding from PAS. Zogby spoke to a wide cross
section of Bahrainis during two days of well-attended
public lectures at the University, the Bahrain Center for
Studies and Research(think tank), and round table
discussions. Charg hosted a majlis in the DCMR in
Zogby's honor for parliamentarians, business
representatives, and government officials. The entire
Arab diplomatic corps (Ambassadorial rank) attended one
of his public lectures - the hotel ballroom was full.
Given the timing of his visit, the number one topic of
discussion was the treatment of Iraqi POWs in Abu Graib.
The lack of progress on resolving the Palestine/Israel
problem was also criticized by his audiences. His visit
received wide and positive coverage in Bahrain's press.

2. Zogby's visit coincided with a time when American
credibility faces harsh challenges due to local concerns
about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse. Zogby faced tough
crowds and criticism at all of his lectures. One
university student, who also studied in the U.S., accused
Zogby of "painting a rosy picture" regarding the Arab-
American political and social experience in the U.S. A
Bahraini government official asked him if the U.S. would
ever "have a fair and courageous President who could help
solve the problems in the Middle East." A leftist female
columnist launched into a monologue at the Charge's
majlis about "the American culture of killing." She
believes that American culture is one that encourages the
disrespect of other peoples, citing Abu Ghraib prison
abuse as an example. She asked Zogby to take the
following message back to American policymakers: "In
order for the U.S. to change its image in the region, it
should stop killing people."

3. Zogby did an outstanding job connecting with his
audiences. (Comment: The columnist who gave him a hard
time at the DCMR later stood in line to have her
photograph taken with him.) Zogby encouraged his
audiences to be more proactive in shaping American
perceptions about Arabs. "The only way to change
misperceptions is by creating new perceptions." He
called on Bahrainis and all Arabs to put aside their
concerns about visa problems and harassment at airports
and travel to the U.S. He encouraged them to meet with
Americans from all walks of life - not just to visit
Disneyland or the East Coast. This idea was particularly
well received. A senior MFA official agreed that to
initiate real change both Americans and Arabs must see
each other clearly through personal interaction. The
editor-in-chief of an Arabic daily, who introduced Zogby
at one of his lectures, hoped that an American/Arab
dialogue could be built on a foundation of the integrity
demonstrated by those who came forward about the
incidents in Abu Ghraib. The editor praised the U.S.
media who made the abuses public, stating, "Let us not
forget that these atrocities would have gone completely
unnoticed had it not been for the integrity, honesty and
decency of America's press."

4. Comment: Zogby is a master; it is hard to overstate
the usefulness of his visit. We were fortunate to get
him - he told Emboffs that he receives at least ten
invitations a week to speak in the U.S. or overseas. He
accepted the invitation because he had not visited
Bahrain for many years. His integrity as a champion of
Arab-American issues gave him hard earned credibility in
the eyes of Bahrainis. His message that America is not
perfect, but is always working towards that goal, was
particularly helpful. N.b., He also provided a needed
morale boost for Embassy FSNs, some of whom have been
criticized by friends and family for continuing to work
for the U.S. following Abu Ghraib. END COMMENT.


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