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NOV 21, 2005

Dubai Chalo!
Dubai ChaloNOV 21: On Wednesday November 30, a huge gathering of journalists, scholars, political analysts, pundits and gurus from both sides of the "great divide" are meeting under one roof in Dubai to initiate a dialogue between civilizations.

More than four hundred personalities have been invited, all expenses paid, by Dubai-based ARY TV's News and Current Affairs Director and Anchorman Dr Shahid Masood.

According to ARY's website, "Dr Shahid Masood started his career as a surgeon but after a successful stint with operation theaters, he trained his scalpel towards healing the political and social wounds of the Muslim world. His pen (his program is also a well-known regular Urdu column in the national press) has cut through many a hard barrier to dig out that rare commodity called the truth."

Having successfully taken up and articulated such burning issues as terrorism perceptions in the west, or the war against terror at home; religious intolerance among American voters, or seminaries in Pakistan; the probe into the 9/11 attacks, or future of the Palestinian nation, Dr Shahid Masood has become a name to be reckoned with when it comes down to presenting a fair view with a bold approach. He has also taken the facts to the public, something Pakistani viewers were not used to.

No wonder then, forces seem to have gyrated towards him, at this time of political and identity crisis in the Muslim world at large, for a "fair view with a bold approach" to issues undermining them and their existence.

Dr Masood et al's objectives of such an ambitious conference are similar to the public diplomacy initiative launched by the Bush administration "to win the hearts and minds of those in the Arab and Muslim worlds. "

President Bush's long time confidant Karen Hughes, who has been appointed Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. State Department, returned this week from Pakistan. Her primary task has been to reach out to the Muslim world.

Ms Hughes says she can't change the United States' image in the short term, because Washington has had to take action -- such as going to war in Iraq -- with which much of the world disagreed. But she has been enlisting help of other willing Muslim entities which are ready and able to help.

Dr Shahid MasoodIn a radio interview to Voice Of America tonight, Dr Masood said that his conference aims to serve as the launching pad of "The Dialogue" - a think tank, albeit research organization, which will use the digital and TV media to research views, current affairs, opinions and analyses from all over the world and re-present them, if needed, to disseminate the same to the Arab and Muslim world in Arabic, Persian  Urdu, Hindi, English and other major languages.

According to him, during his four years stint with ARY as its Current Affairs anchorman, he came to realize that most think tanks and research organizations worked on a preset, predefined premises, assumptions and built their opinion on them. In short, opinions and analyses presented by these think tanks were either biased, effected or had agendas, he alluded to. "It was then I felt the need to organize one which will not only dub these researches into different languages but will also do its own and "present all these  in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, etc."

Being the chief of ARY Digital as well as the Current Affairs anchor of ARY TV, Shahid Mehmood felt he will be able to use "my presence and projection on both platforms to further The Dialogue" he added.

According to some analysts, it may be fair to assume that ARY Gold, which owns ARY TV as well as ARY Digital and other hosts of similar commercial interests in Dubai and elsewhere will be the major beneficiary of such a mammoth media-hyped "Dubai Chalo"  extravaganza, which observers estimate will cost anywhere from $15 million to $25 million. Given the cost involved and the subsequent political cum diplomatic synergy it will create, observers say there may be other major players involved also other than just ARY organization.

Dr Shahid did not clearly indicate who the funding organizations were for the conference and subsequently for "The Dialogue" think tank except that there were many in Dubai and elsewhere backing him and his idea, said a source who had asked him this question.

Related story: Dr Shahid Masood - The Voice of the Voiceless

Keen observers point to several failed efforts launched post 9/11 by Arabs and some other countries, including Pakistan, to create such a platform or a think tank, and the United States' most recent efforts to not only engage the Muslim World in a "dialogue" but to launch public and cultural diplomacy with them with the hope to "soften the edges" created by its policy fallouts.

"It's a good idea if it's kosher. Otherwise "The Dialogue" may end up becoming either a "His Master's Voice" or yet another spin machine for some body out there, said one observer.

Meanwhile the reverberations of "Dubai Chalo" hum hum appear to be slowing the Third World Media down as many big names who have been invited to attend the conference may be calling the 800 numbers to confirm their free flight bookings and hotel stays in Dubai.
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