ABUSE OF A BENEVOLENT DEVELOPMENT AGENCY
Some five years ago, I contacted the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the USA and Canada concerning the abuse of its long-earned good name as a benevolence agency by the American media. One programmer had intentionally used the name of their very agency in a TV series which glorified violent tactics of the CIA in defense of the homeland.
At that time, I was living in Mexico and I was watching FX-TV when a program I'd never seen before came on the air. It was called THE AGENCY. It sought to both glorify and humanize the CIA as a weekly television drama.
In this particular episode, an American-Palestinian working for the U.S. government was forced to become involved with a terrible terrorist group of sadists in Palestine, who were threatening to kill his nearest family members if he didn't agree to cooperate with them. Two other CIA operatives followed the man's trail back to Palestine by posing as MCC workers from Canada.
I was irate as I observed the storyline enfold. THE AGENCY portrayed the two covert CIA agents disguised as MCC's volunteers working with the Palestinians for most of the episode. As I watched, it dawned on me how this sort of program might draw CIA-enemy fire to unsuspecting MCC (development) volunteers around the globe
I immediately sent e-mails of enquiry out to MCC representatives in Pennsylvania and in Ontario."Had they seen their good name services drug through the grime and sludge of an imaginary--but representational-- CIA counter operation?" " Was MCC worried at all that their benevolent work and their volunteer workers around the world would not only be defamed-but would have their lives and their work threatened by groups who don't understand the difference between TV portrayals and real life activities of the MCC?"
Let me explain!
I have known 100s of Americans and Canadians who have volunteered to work with MCC in the four corners of the globe to empower peoples in developing countries over the past four decades. I, myself, donated money to some MCC projects and their educational projects in Nicaragua while I lived and taught there over a decade ago. Over the past three decades, I have regularly donated to MCC projects--especially in Palestine, Lebanon, South Asian and Indonesia in recent years.
In short, I was sincerely worried by the fact that this program, THE AGENCY, was endangering (or was potentially endangering) benevolent efforts around the globe now and probably in the far-distant future. This long-term worry of mine had been spawned by the recognition that I was watching a rerun of that program of THE AGENCY in my Monterrey, Mexico home. I thought: "Someone in the future in Taleban regions of remote Asia might see the program and unfairly link MCC efforts with CIA ones."
What if this episode (and others like it) are played over-and-over again around the world or in specific regions until slowly the local population in a particular part-of-the-globe equate benevolent development work with working hand-in-hand with the CIA. In other words, it wasn't only defamation of MCC's projects that I was worried about, I was worried about the negative educational and propaganda value that all America TV series and movies receive in every corner of the globe. Basically, reruns can run forever.
Having lived in over ten countries (including some in the Middle East) and having traveled to or done volunteer work in many others over the prior decades, I know how much supposed-knowledge about America is acquired and misunderstood through media, film, and other cultural exports.
Just last month, I heard an Arab-expatriate here in Kuwait claim that the reason the young people in Kuwait and other Arab lands drive so recklessly is because of what they see glorified constantly in American cinema and film. (Currently, Kuwait is the second most-dangerous country to drive in.)
I laughed to myself at the blame-game represented by this Arab man's claim that the American media could encourage disrespect for human life on the roads of Kuwait. On the other hand, as an educator, I have to recognize that there are many things children and youth don't learn from their parents--but rather learn from TV, play station, and film.
Five years ago, one of the MCC-USA offices, whom I wrote to via e-mail, did get back to me. After further investigation of the matter, the representative admitted that MCC had received some other concerned letters and phone calls concerning that episode of THE AGENCY. However, after contacting various active MCCers, the benevolent agency had determined that there was no evidence of backlash against MCC workers (or their projects in the Middle East or around the globe). Meanwhile, MCC-Canada never replied at all to my enquiry.