Saturday 6 June 2009

'The dangers of identity diplomacy...'

How many 'out' atheists are there in public office in the US? Last time I checked there weren't any whatsoever in Congress.

The notion of any separation of church and state in a country as devoutly religious and intolerant to non-belief as the US is absurd, I'm afraid.

Obama's rhetoric is just as religion-infused as Bush's was. I can't remember a speech by a US President that didn't end with 'God Bless America', or words to that effect, can you?

Like it or not (and I tend not to like it) religion is a way of life, not a lifestyle choice that can be packed away into the background, separated from public life. This is a liberal fantasy peculiar to the US. It certainly has little purchase in the Middle East and falls apart under inspection in the US case too.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm as un-believingly secular as they come but I'm afraid the 'secular state' is a fantasy. There has never been such a thing, so why are we surprised that this is how politics is framed above and beyond the state level?

Framing the whole east-west 'clash' in religious terms also facilitates the illusion that these are simply two alienated sides of one united humanistic coin that must be mediated and reconciled. This trope of 'misunderstanding' deliberately ignores the sorts of issues that speeches can't so easily gloss over like massive socio-economic inequality and decades of imperial-style interference at every level of political life.

'Questioning the Difference between Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy'

Most fundamentally, I think, including the word 'diplomacy' implies a certain semblance of legitimacy.

The EU and NATO use the term 'public diplomacy' to refer to their communications with publics of member states and (in NATO's case) publics in whose countries they are engaged in operations. This is because talking of 'diplomacy' rather than 'affairs' implies that they are legitimate international actors, on a similar level to states.

Within the United States' political discourse 'diplomacy' is usually referred to as being in opposition to militarism thus it is generally seen as the peaceful, liberal option. Talking of public 'diplomacy' then also invokes this implication. Any historian of diplomacy will tell you how weird this interpretation is (one neat aphorism among many on diplomacy is that it is the art of 'saying good doggie until you can find a rock') but that's how its generally talked about nevertheless.

In short, public diplomacy is a phrase used when people want to legitimise and give a liberal sheen to their practices - public affairs is when they don't feel the need to do that so much.

Ultimately PD is whatever anyone says it is. Its most widely held definition is that spoken by the loudest voice - simple as that.

Or as Nietzsche said, "only that which has no history is definable"