by Gertrude Samuels, Staff Writer, The New York Times Magazine.
"The United Nations cannot achieve its purpose unless the peoples of the world are fully informed of its aims and activities.
"General Assembly resolution, 1946.
With the reconvening of the General Assembly, many in the world organization admit they are puzzled by this major question: Are the people of the world really informed about the U.N., created of, by and for them?
In the United States there are indications of widespread indifference and misconceptions. Many earnestly believe, as one educated Miamian put it, that "the U.N. is canceling the United States Constitution". Despite the new "Geneva spirit", high tensions remain in the U.N. that keep people I skeptical about whether any world organization can serve this country's best interests.
In other parts of the world there is a somewhat clearer understanding of the U.N.' s aims, for millions in the less developed areas are now benefiting directly from U.N. projects. U.N. doctors and nurses are rescuing their children from the menaces of malaria and tuberculosis; U.N. technical missions are improving their farm crops and industrial ,output; U.N. "social engineers" are guiding their inexperienced Governments in ways to improve their living standards.
But even in those areas, the U.N.'s humanitarian efforts directly touch the lives of but a fraction of the population. There are many in Asia who have never heard of or are suspicious of the U.N. The Afro-Asian Bandung conference held this year, was, among other things, a rebuke to the United Nations as "Western dominated".
Informing an indifferent and often hostile public has always been one of the problems of the U.N., made thornier by its own self-imposed regulations. It may not promote or interpret its work, but must rely primarily on the cooperation of existing media, and on governmental and voluntary agencies to get its story told. Any suggestion of "propaganda" has always been frowned on.
The bridge between the U.N. and the people is the Department of Public Information. Staffed by some 270 persons of thirty countries, including editors, writers, film and radio technicians and photographers who cover the day-to-day events in the headquarters building in New York, D.P.I. serves the daily press, radio, television and movies, and prepares factual publications for world-wide distribution.
Not only does D.P .I. have to contend with public apathy, but also it must face delegates with distinct - and widely varied - notions of what approach , should be taken to a story. Practically every line of publicity must , therefore be made as bland as baby food, since D.P.I. has to please sixty delegations before informing the public. And D.P.I. is one department that has been considered expendable at the U.N., many diplomats believing that publicity is a luxury, that the U.N.'s deeds can speak for themselves.
At the moment, this belief is on the wane, however. The growing importance of Asia, with great populations emerging from their colonial status; the coolness between Occidental and Asian peoples; the concern of the U.N. over the atom - all these developments have been making delegates more publicity-conscious.
This new awareness was dramatized last November by Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold's selection of Ahmed Shah Bokhari, former Ambassador to the U.N. from Pakistan, as Under Secretary for the D.P.I. He has chosen an Asian who has dedicated his life to a better understanding between the Orient and the Occident, and who, perhaps more than anyone else at the U.N., is a synthesis of the cultures of both worlds.
Now in his fifties, Bokhari is a craggy-faced diplomat, extremely urbane and sophisticated in Western ways, or - to use one of his favourite words - a "cosmopolitan". A writer in a number of languages, a one-time actor and student of Shakespeare - he has translated many of his plays, as well as those of Shaw, Ibsen, Galsworthy and Wilde, into his native Urdu - Bokhari has been in diplomatic service long enough not to want to look the part.
He dresses informally, sometimes in flannels, drives his own car, and mixes with gusto at parties. He is also as absent-minded as the proverbial professor (which he is - on leave as principal of Lahore College), forgetting his raincoat when it rains and leaving the windshield wipers going on his car while driving in the sun.
Before his appointment to D.P.I., Bokhari was chiefly known in the U.N. for his off-the-cuff speeches as Pakistan's permanent representative and as an unofficial spokesman for Asia. His talks crackled with humour and bite, always enhanced by a sense of timing as shrewd as Bob Hope's. Bokhari built a reputation for speaking his mind: few who heard them will forget his words during the sharp debate on Tunisia and the colonial question when he told the Security Council that, by its refusal to discuss the issue, it was inviting the people of Asia to "go to hell".
It is apparent that Hammarskjold, who is deeply concerned with the problems of underdeveloped areas, picked Bokhari for the information job because of their common interest in this field. In addition, Hammarskjold regards Bokhari as a genuine man of the world. Born in Peshawar, then India and now Pakistan, Bokhari attended Punjab University where, at first, he studied physics. But, even while he was doing experiments, he was reading poetry "under the counter". The switch to literature was inevitable and Bokhari took honours first at Punjab and later at Cambridge, where he was elected Senior Scholar of Emmanuel College. (Fascinated by dialects, he once studied Cockney for six months.)
British correspondents remember Bokhari warmly as a "man of ideas" during World War II when, as director-general of broadcasting for India, he helped to interpret the War's aims for all Asia and sought "to popularize the same war we were fighting".
Bokhari's least known accomplishment to the Western world is also his proudest the writing, under the name of Patras, of several humorous short stories which often portray the little man trying to be a big politician and stumbling on situations that he doesn't understand. In 1950, Bokhari became chief of Pakistan's delegation to the U.N.
Today Bokhari continues to impress those who meet him with his charm and wit. But there is a hard, serious core beneath the surface. He does not suffer fools gladly, and his intellectual vanity and brusqueness have rubbed more than one diplomat the wrong way. Under the charm, there is the impatience of the egocentric; Bokhari has been known to wheel away abruptly from a conversation that bored him. He has also been known to coddle a grudge for years - this happened with a photographer who once wrote a critical caption on a picture of him. Both his humour and his earnestness are evidenced in an incident that occurred soon after Bokhari moved into his D.P.I office. He decided to remove a huge map of the world from his wall. When a colleague protested, Bokhari replied that people who come to the U.N. should know geography. "Anyway," he laughed, "Australia was hidden behind the sofa, and that won't do."
Out of his long experience with the cultures and aspirations of many countries, Bokhari has developed his own idea of how peace can be promoted through the U.N., and of how people can be better informed of the U.N.'s aims. Its essence lies in making cosmopolitanism a positive, forceful way of life, and in encouraging a world movement of cosmopolitan leaders.
The dictionary defines a cosmopolitan as "one whose sympathies, interests and culture are not confined to his own race or country - from the Greek cosmos, world; and polites, citizen". The other day Bokhari amplified this definition.
"In my short lifetime," he said, "I have seen my country grow in importance, and I think I'm not wrong in saying that the vital point of history is shifting eastward. This does not mean that Europe and its civilization have suddenly been emptied of importance. But it does mean that people like me, who have every reason to feel grateful to the West I as we certainly do - realize that unless we do something about the tremendous gap of understanding that exists between Asia and the rest of the world, there will inevitably be the most enormous cultural waste in history. Suspicions are splitting the world.
"Yet all over the world there are people interested in people - leaders in anthropology, music, literature, art, science, poetry. Many are at home in their field in any country, whatever its culture. They are the cosmopolitans, and their numbers are growing. They are probably the coming aristocracy of the world - aristocracy in the sense of a certain grandness of sympathy rather than of wealth or position. And the future of the world is in their hands - in cosmopolitanism. They offer the only way out. Perhaps the most important development in the world would be a movement as far away from chauvinism as possible.
"This does not mean that each nation's sovereignty is to be broken down or demolished. But it does mean that sovereignty must be sublimated. At this point of the world's development, it's important for nations to understand that 'your sovereignty' and 'our sovereignty' have greater responsibilities than ever before -for peace and freedom, and for better living throughout the world."
In the past, D.P .I. has been reticent to the point of coyness about promoting the U.N. works that are aiding the world. For the future, Bokhari feels that the department has the task of promoting the concept of cooperation among people. He maintains that the V.N.' s economic, social and technical programmes, by their very nature, are helping nations to understand one another - that the backbone of the whole U.N. programme is the concept that those with resources are to come in contact with those with needs.
He thinks that D.P.I. must proudly show the world how this is being achieved by the U.N. - this promotion of what the preamble to the U.N. charter calls "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".
Fundamentally, Bokhari believes that people are misled about the U.N. rather than hostile to it, that they simply don't have the information about what's being done for their benefit. By stimulating talk about the U.N. in all nations, by encouraging cosmopolitan leaders everywhere to get the facts to the people "so that the world will not walk blind" - in this way Bokhari hopes to penetrate public apathy.
"The U.N. cannot be sold in the way that a commodity is sold," he says. "Internationalism is a tiny baby with, so to speak, sixty nationalistic nurses. The surprising thing is not that the darn thing is weak, but that it is living at all."
On a typical day at the U.N. (though he says every man has four or five "typical" days), Bokhari arrives at his tenth-floor office overlooking the East River about 9 A.M. Fully half his time is spent "upstairs with the Secretary General" - sometimes alone on political matters relating to international peace and security; sometimes for discussions with delegations or with the nongovernmental agencies, along with such key people as the Secretary General chooses. To such circles of "quiet diplomacy", Bokhari brings his political sense, his diplomatic experience, his European background -clearly the bridge-builder, in the public relations sense, among people of various cultures.
Then there are staff conferences and meetings with delegates, reporters, people in the specialized agencies (World Health Organization, Technical Assistance, etc.). Bokhari leans almost entirely on informal personal contacts, inviting in or lunching with one or two radio people at a time; a couple of reporters or publishers; a group of university people. He is also developing more and more contacts with opinion leaders in other fields. He has been meeting with artists, playwrights, explorers, business men - some on their first visit to the world's capital.
There is little time for peaceful meditation at the U.N. This is usually left for his simply furnished, three-storey house near the U.N., a home filled with books, unframed paintings from Pakistan and sculpture from everywhere; and on its own stand, like a pointed reminder, a huge, handsome folio edition of Shakespeare.
"I am what I am because of these interests," he tells the visitor, "and if I cannot pursue these interests, I cannot be happy in my job or do justice to it."
Sometimes, on a restful Sunday, Bokhari drives back to the U.N. to walk alone in the rose gardens, to read and to think. He likes his pot of China tea at 6.
In his D.P.I. work of "injecting the U.N. into the thinking of the world", Bokhari is aided by: A press and publications division, which serves some 140 newspapermen and bureaus from thirty-three countries. It prepares summaries of meetings, arranges press conferences, and sends "clip sheets" about U.N. happenings to newspapers throughout the world that lack their own U.N. coverage.
A radio, television and film division which broadcasts news and features around the clock in twenty-four languages; sends records and transcriptions to all parts of the world, and makes film documentaries for TV and theatre showing.
A lecture division which arranges talks by members of the U.N. There are many on D.P.I.'s staff who recognize that the U.N. story remains untold and mysterious to most of the world, despite the constant activity of these divisions. The explanation may be found in the U.N.'s resolve not to "propagandize". This has led to a kind of closing of the doors, which has frustrated members of the press greatly.
But those on the D.P.I. staff hope for a change under Bokhari. "People have to get some measure of the U.N.' s work and significance," said one staff man, "if they are to realize their own relationship - or oneness with other people in all parts of the world."
Members of D.P.I. and the press in general are heartened by Bokhari' s dislike of red tape and protocol. Within some D.P.I. lower echelons there is often a stiff-necked attitude toward providing facilities for media that have shown hostility to the U.N. or to anyone considered "below the salt". Even at a recent D.P.I. reception for the news media, most press photographers were omitted as being not comme il faut. These days, Bokhari may as often be found lunching with reporters in the press bar or cafeteria as with Ambassadors in the exclusive dining room.
During his first year in his new post, the Asian diplomat has been on trips r out of the country a good deal -to Peiping with the Secretary General concerning the imprisoned American airmen; to Geneva on various conferences. The straight information services have been continuing without any radical change. But Bokhari' s personality is making itself felt in two ways now: (1) there is more emphasis than before on contacts with opinion leaders - in the media, in government, in education - partly by Bokhari himself, partly by strengthening information centres in twenty-one countries; and (2) D.P.I. is placing more emphasis on the substance of the job, the deeper political meaning of the V.N. , rather than leaving it for history to record the U.N.'s deeds.
The Bokhari touch is just beginning to reveal itself. This is his first Assembly in his new role. He is meeting former fellow delegates as D.P.I. chief. For the first time in this new status, he is meeting the several hundred more correspondents who have been pouring in from allover the world for the Assembly. The informal gatherings, social affairs, press conferences which each Assembly stimulates are Bokhari' s cup of tea and his opportunity to make his policies felt.
"The D.P.I.", he says firmly, "has the responsibility of interpreting one part of the world to the other to promote peace and understanding. This is not a specific responsibility, but something one should not shirk."
He adds that it is useful to explain the failures as well as the successes. "As long as you can get people to regard the V.N. as a factor which must be taken into consideration - even as a target for criticism - the idea of a world parliament is establishing itself."
And that approach leads Bokhari right back to his crusade - to that small band of leaders, the cosmopolitans, who will carry a light into the darkness and with that light kindle other lights. The cosmopolitan's task of educating the world may be an awesome one, Bokhari concedes, and it calls to his mind a story of a boy in Syria.
The boy was sent to school to learn the alphabet. A year passed; he still did not know the first two letters. When five years had passed and he still did not know them, his father cried out, "Why is it that you can't even learn the first two letters of the alphabet?" The boy answered, "Because after say 'a' and 'b', you'll ask me to say 'c' and 'd'. Then I shall have to learn arithmetic and history and geography. And there will be no end to it. So, I will just not let it begin."
Bokhari thinks the cosmopolitans can make the learning process begin -for all men. He has faith that they can keep the people informed.
The New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1955. @ 1955 by The New York Times Company.