Bin Laden, Baywatch and the battle for hearts and minds

There has been much talk in recent weeks about winning "the hearts and minds" of the Muslim and Arab worlds in order to earn their support in the U.S. "war on terrorism." The spectrum of those expounding this view has ranged from armchair generals to columnists, pundits and an endless array of talking heads making the television talk-show rounds.

A common theme has been that, while we may quickly win the military battle in Afghanistan, we will have a much more difficult time winning the war of public opinion on the streets of Cairo, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur and Amman…

…While the United States contemplates Madison Avenue tactics to improve our image overseas, a review of television programming in the Arab and Muslim worlds demonstrates that this will be no easy task. In recent weeks, Arab and Muslim viewers have seen around-the-clock news images of the war in Afghanistan -- with emphasis on the daily civilian casualties of the U.S. bombing provided by graphic photos of the bodies of men, women, and children pulled from the rubble. Except for minimal excerpts, this footage has not been aired here at home by the major networks…

…It is apparent that the United States faces an uphill struggle in its efforts to convince ordinary Arabs and Muslims that its campaign in Afghanistan is not just the opening blow in a new "Crusade" being launched against the entire Islamic world. What will it take to win over these "hearts and minds"? Perhaps what is needed is a deeper look at our nation's flawed foreign policy vis-à-vis the Muslim world. More likely to bear fruit would be efforts directed toward promoting less repression and more democratization in that corner of the world -- and applying a single standard when it comes to human and political rights.

In this regard, our nation's seven million citizens who are both Americans and Muslims can serve as "bridges of understanding" to the Muslim world…


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