Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Opportunity Wasted

I was excited when I heard that a U.S. Foreign Service officer would be coming to speak to UNIMAS students and faculty about the new Obama administration. "A perfect opportunity to see a presentation of Obama's agenda crafted to the interests and sensibilities of a Muslim and Malaysian audience," I thought. Unfortunately, most of us in attendance were disappointed by the lack of meaningful substance in the talk.

Marrie Schaefer is the Public Affairs Counselor at the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and UNIMAS was her first stop on a tour of Malaysian universities where she will give her talk called "Obama Administration: Transitions".

It is very regrettable that the presentation focused almost exclusively on those less-than-significant things that, in my view, received far too much coverage or emphasis during the campaign: Obama's blackness, his childhood years in Indonesia, his relatives in Kenya, how he met Michelle, his daughters, his Blackberry phone, his basketball and dancing skills, etc. She plugged The Audacity of Hope, advising students that it's not too expensive and that they should get it while they still can. She was given forty-five minutes and spent fifteen on an hour-by-hour recap of the events of Inauguration Day.

The only American in the audience, I was deeply ashamed that this Public Affairs Counselor from the U.S. embassy would assemble a slide show full of stuff straight out of People magazine and expect to be taken seriously in a university setting. It bothers me even more to think she'll give this same talk to so many more Malaysian students and teachers. In my assessment, she's wasting a valuable opportunity to convey useful, meaningful information about the new American administration to some of Malaysia's brightest.