Today more than ever, cross-continent communication is imperative. Some of our greatest social problems—war, racism, misogyny—stem from a lack of dialogue between different groups of people. One of the greatest disconnects is between Eastern culture and the West’s perception of it. In North America, both on the streets and in the news we see and hear evidence of racism towards the east. We hear “Islamic” and we think “terrorist”—not because we want to, but because we’ve been conditioned to.
While some attribute this racism to 9/11, we can not point to the attacks on the twin towers as the starting point of the disconnect between the east in west. Instead, we must understand September 11th as one chapter in a lengthy narrative of miscommunication between east and west that has been unfolding for centuries.
Today, we have the possibility to write a new and potentially peaceful ending to that story. Today, we have the technology to speak to one another in a way that was never before possible, and— call me an idealist— I believe that social media can be a gateway to world peace.
Yes, I said it—World Peace. It’s that catchphrase that no one seems to talk about anymore save for the Green Peace activist or the crowned beauty queen. But I believe that social media makes global conversations possible, yet we still face our greatest obstacle yet: language.
While we may be able to reach our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, if we don’t speak their language, we’ll never understand their culture; for language is synonymous culture, as any linguist will tell you. Social change on a global level can only take place when there’s open dialogue between the East and West—a dialogue grounded in empathy and understanding rather than difference.
MEMRI (short for the Middle East Media Research Institute) is an organization committed to bridging the gap between the Middle East and the West. By making Middle Eastern media available and accessible for English-speaking audiences, Westerners are better able to learn about the Middle East—about the complexities of their problems, the nature of their beliefs, and the media that circulates their culture.
Even as I write that last sentence, I’m troubled with my own use of pronouns. “Their” culture, and “their” problems. The truth is that we’re becoming a global culture, and the language of “us” and “them” is just as damaging as outward acts of racism and terror.
MEMRI recognizes that the problems of the east must be understood in a global context, and that communication is integral to the process of social understanding. They translate Eastern media—from news reports, to interviews, to talk shows—into English,acting as the modern-day Rosetta Stone for contemporary media.
Here’s my top five reasons why this organization should be a global priority for interested donors. Even if you don’t have the money, you can donate your translation services or media skills to take part in a project that is revolutionizing the relationship between east and west and leading the way to —yes, I’ll say it again—World Peace.
Reason #1: To Foster Accurate Cross-Continent Communication
MEMRI relies on public funding to build communications between the east and the west. This means that their translators, web specialists, and researchers are all funded by public investors. When it comes to global discourse, we should all want the best communications team possible—individuals who are trained not only in linguistics, but also invested in humanitarian ends. When funding falls short, we deprive MEMRI of the possibility of sustaining an accurate and empathetic team.
Reason #2: To Foster Meaningful Social Connections:
The more I learn about the social issues unfolding in the Middle East, the more I come to understand how social injustice is a global issue rather than a location-specific problem.
Take women’s issues for example. Just watch this video of Pakistani actress Veena Malik defending herself against an Islamic religious academic. While Malik’s struggles are individual, they’re not dissimilar from the problems of western women; like many women in the west, Malik is misrepresented in the media and her voice competes against the narrow-minded ignorance of the male authority. The video has patriarchy written all over it. MEMRI’s translation and circulation of this video has made Malik’s story accessible and conected her to a community of global feminists. MEMRI connects communities of similarly-interested people, making it easier for groups across the world to pool together, express their rights, and demand change.
Reason #3: To Aid Imperative and Innovative Research
As the MEMRI website states, your donation will fund primary source translations and original analyses that enhance all kinds of research, in legal and legislative fields, in academic forums, and within media and communications studies. All this research will allow the public to gain a more in-depth understanding of the complexities of the Middle East.
Reason #4: To Ensure Accountability in the News
It’s no ‘news’ that we’re culturally skeptical of the news; every form of media—from the printed word to television to the internet—can be (and has been) problematized in terms of the politics of representation. Today more than ever, people question (or ought to question) what’s presented to them as “truth” in the media.
Just this morning I read an article in The Globe and Mail about photoshopped images and visual misrepresentation. The article centered on the death photo of Osama Bin Ladden that was circulated on the internet and then later disclaimed as a staged recreation. Writer Michael Posner argues that photos have been doctored since the invention of the camera, and the array of technological tricks is only broadening. Posner ends with a point that’s worth repeating, as it applies to all forms of media, not simply just photoshopped pictures: he says that both news sources and readers must rely on the integrity of their sources to convey the truth. I’ll intensify his point and argue that we need not rely on the integrity of these sources, we—as readers— need to demand accurate representations from the media.
What does all this have to do with MEMRI? It’s simple: if we’re only reading western news sources and if we’re only exposed to western media, we’re not getting an accurate picture. MEMRI allows us to access a bigger picture, to see how news stories are being interpreted, filtered, and even photoshopped for Middle Eastern audiences.
Reason #5: Your Donation is Tax Deductible:
This is the what’s-in-it-for-me factor. Since MEMRI is a 501(C)(3) organization, your donation is tax deductible. A 501(C)(3) is the name given to an American nonprofit association that operates for educational purposes to foster national and international communications. You can even set up your donation as a gift in denominations that range from as little as $25 to as much as $25,000.
Ready to donate? Want to learn more? Click here.