With the exception of the moderator, Shayma Saiyid, and her efforts at making an impression with her knowledge on international affairs, the session on ‘Cultural Diplomacy’ on the second day of the sixth Karachi Literature Festival was not as dry as it sounds.
Judith Ravin, the cultural attaché at the United States (US) embassy in Islamabad, and American author Christopher Merrill were the speakers on Saturday. After reading the curriculum vitae of the two speakers in the name of introduction, Saiyid passed on the microphone to Ravin. This helped wake the audience from their slumber.
Talking about cultural diplomacy as the exchange of arts and culture between countries, Ravin shared a personal experience. She talked about the time she spent in Mali, West Africa, as a travel guide writer. “It was a remote area,” she said, adding how she was surprised to find a picture of Madonna on a truck in such a far-flung area. “Culture reaches even those places that people cannot.”
She cited the various exchange programmes funded by the US government in Pakistan as examples of cultural diplomacy. “We send 1,200 people to US every year. Not as many come to Pakistan from US. We hope it will be a fifty-fifty ratio someday.”
Saiyid asked her why the US government ‘always promoted male artists’ when it comes to exchange programmes. “Gender parity is our mandate,” she said. “However, it takes the society to assist us.”
Merrill supported her stance by saying that in Pakistani culture, it was more difficult for women to get away from their homes on an exchange programme.
Announcing that Fulbright scholarship applications are open, Ravin told the audience that there is no quota and it’s all about merit. “Intellect is just not enough,” she said. “The applicants should be able to connect with the public. They are cultural ambassadors and we aim to get the best representatives.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2015.
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