Saturday, August 09, 2003

The U.S. government has a message for young Arabs:


Hi is a new magazine funded by the State Department, published in Arabic, targeted at Arabs ages 18 to 35 and sold on newsstands in more than a dozen countries. It costs consumers about $2 a copy. It will cost American taxpayers about $4 million a year -- minus whatever advertising revenues it can generate.

"This is a long-term way to build a relationship with people who will be the future leaders of the Arab world," says Christopher W.S. Ross, special coordinator for public diplomacy at the State Department. "It's good to get them in a dialogue while their opinions are not fully formed on matters large and small."

The premiere issue of the glossy, full-color 72-page monthly appeared in July with a cover story on the experiences of Arab students in American colleges and shorter articles on yoga, sandboarding, singer Norah Jones, Arab American actor Tony Shalhoub and marriage counseling -- the latter story illustrated with a photo of Dr. Phil McGraw, the Oprah-spawned TV tough-love guru.

It doesn't contain a word about the American invasion of Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan or al Qaeda. Nor will future issues. The magazine's editors and its State Department funders plan a resolutely apolitical magazine.

"This is a lifestyle magazine," says Fadel Lamen, Hi's Libyan American managing editor. "It's a new phenomenon in the Arab world to do a lifestyle magazine that doesn't touch on the political."

"Arab Music Invades the West," proclaims the cover of the second issue, now arriving on Middle Eastern newsstands. That headline touts an article on Sting, Lenny Kravitz and other Western pop stars who have collaborated with Arab musicians. The issue also features stories on Internet matchmaking, digital art and Hispanic life in the United States, plus a short item on Adam Sandler's revelation of what a lousy student he was in high school.

"There are plenty of political magazines," says Ross. "This is, in a very subtle way, a vehicle for American values. There have been people in Congress who have said, 'Why can't we explain our American values?' Well, here is one way to do that."

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