Randall Lane's new book, "The Zeroes," details one of the stupidest moments in the recent history of America's efforts to engage the Arab world. Lane, a magazine industry genius, was hired to turn out a glossy magazine that would show Muslims images of the real America. Except that the real America, the Bush State Department mandated, contained no donkeys:
One of my favorite sections loosely translated to "Window on America." It was a simple conceit: a photo essay showing what America actually looks like, unfiltered. A bass fishing tournament, a breast-cancer walk, the Puerto Rican Day parade--these were exotic images to most Arabs, too often poisoned about the United States by their inflammatory local press. But during one review meeting, held before a star chamber of 10 high-level State Department officials, the co-leader specifically took offense to a photograph from a classic Western scene: campers and pack mules heading out on a rugged weekend expedition.
Our team always remained vigilant about cultural sensibilities, avoiding the bottoms of shoes, or bare arms, or other seemingly innocuous images that could backfire with the Arab audience. This official's concerns, however, were more parochial. She held up the offending photo, as wholesome as a Norman Rockwell painting, and pointed to a pack mule that, by other names, might be known as a donkey. This has to go, she said. Too pro-Democrat. And out it went.