As chair of the Global Alliance (GA) for Public Relations Dan Tisch, APR, FCPRS (@dantisch) recounts an experience that he describes as a career highlight – “the unique privilege to be one of the few non-Muslims be part of the dialogue and offer perspectives, to listen and learn” at the first Global Congress for Muslim Public Relations Practitioners. (Read more about the GA in a previous post.)
Dan admits the congress was not what he expected, but he’s not really sure what he expected.
A former member of GA board from Malaysia invited Dan to participate in the event held in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011, which was largely attended by moderate Muslims deeply concerned about the gulf that has grown between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.
“The one interesting conclusion that a lot of people seemed to come to was that the Muslim public relations community itself needs to become larger, more robust, more vital, more professionalized,” says Dan. “There are already many outstanding Muslim public relations professionals in the world, but the focus needs to be on young professionals.”
The focus of the congress was not a matter of pointing fingers, but rather pointing the way to solutions.
Themes of unity and diversity in public relations resonated with parallels to unity and diversity in the Muslim world represented by different countries, political regimes and cultures.
In addition to Dan’s involvement from Canada, countries represented included Iran, Sudan, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia among others.
A congress speaker who stood out in Dan’s mind was the former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“He stood out for me in part because he was a person of great status from Malaysia and but he also took the time to participate in the “rebranding of Islam in the world,”” says Dan. “He was really focused on the connections between age old elements of Muslim principles [with an analogy to] public relations. He talked about justice [and] he talked about accountability.”
In terms of justice he touched on ethics, telling the truth and counseling clients to do things for the good and just of society. While in terms of accountability, he discussed reporting with clarity and transparency by engaging stakeholders and governments.
Dan recalls another speaker defining the concept of shura – building of consensus.
“What could be more relevant to public relations? The idea that no decision by an authority has legitimacy unless implicit in it is the consent of those who are governed by it,” says Dan who adds that the idea is weakened without consent.
For Dan’s own presentation, he focused on unity and co-creation.
Dan described unity can be achieved through conquest (one wins, the other disappears) or compromise (coming to an uneasy coexistence).
By building a little more on the idea of unity, he added the idea of co-creation that brings together a diverse set of players to the table with nothing but the motivation to create something new.
“Personally, I have considerable sadness at some of the attitudes that have developed about Islam in the west in the last ten years,” says Dan. “For me it was partially thinking and learning about and wanting to go there to better understand how we in civil society, who aren’t part of government, can help bridge that divide because we can’t leave it to government alone.”
One such initiative that Dan mentioned was the Islamic community center planned to be built two blocks away from the Ground-Zero in Manhattan. While the initiative led by another speaker at the congress – Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative – gained international attention, Dan remembers being outraged at those who were outraged at the plan. For him, it was an opportunity for dialogue and to build a bridge for diversity.
“The larger and more powerful the industry can become in the Muslim world, the greater the odds that the voice of moderate Islam will become the dominant one in the world when we think about that faith,” adds Dan.
When asked what fellow CPRS members can do to build upon the work of the congress, Dan offered, “we need more people who are developing broader expertise and deeper expertise in all dimensions of communications, who are thinking critically of the role of communication in society, educating themselves, reading perspectives of communicators of other parts of the world because it enriches us in what we do. It also makes the foreign less foreign.”
Read more about Dan’s experience at the Global Congress for Muslim Public Relations Practitioners in the Argyle Communications blog.