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Responding to al-Qaeda PR – Sept 11 Memories September 11, 2006

Posted by The PR Cassandra in Posts.
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Even though I was just a young girl, to this day I remember where I was when President Kennedy was shot.  The same is true for the Loma Prieta earthquake.  And, for September 11

A gilfriend called, sobbing so hard I could barely understand her.  When I finally could understand and turned on the TV, it was so unbelievable – we were just in horror for all those poor people. 

What I found so detestable, was that this wide-scale murder was being  “promoted” as our “just desserts” for US policy in the Middle East by various and sundry, and those who carried out the massacre of innocents were being hailed (in some quarters) as “martyrs” for God (Allah) on a Jihad – or “struggle” on behalf of Islam

I’ll also never forget the incredible outpouring of patriotism – there were signs and flags everywhere. I brought our local fire department cookies (in addition to donations) – just to reach out and let them know how much we appreciated what they do for others every day and to leave condolences for the brave men and women who gave their lives in an attempt to save others. 

One of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Casa Lupe, in downtown Mountain View, insisted on giving free lunches that day.  I spoke with the young owner who said to me, “This country has been good to us, it is our way of paying a little back.”  That brought tears to our eyes.

It was a day of shock and tears.  And disbelief that anyone could be so evil.  The act was condemned worldwide and the US was the recipient of unprecedented sympathy and love.

I was pretty sure the US would go to war – how could it not respond to this act of war against ordinary people just going to work?  So, I understood clearing al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but I was not so sure about Iraq.

In my opinion, the US and its allies had contained Saddam Hussein.  I remember some prety heated arguments, but from what I knew of contemporary Islam, the only outcome that I saw was civil war and expansion by Iran.  History will judge, but the suffering of the Iraqi people, and those Westerners who have been kidnapped and brutally killed, is also a horror and shocking.

The US is now being assailed by critics on all sides.  Against our policies in the Middle East.  Against the Iraq war.  Against our secularism, which is seen by the religious in the Middle East as immoral, wicked and ungodly. 

Yet, America is one of the most religious countries in the world.  While Europeans have become more secular in their personal lives, Americans have become more religious and observant

Thus, we should be able to find common ground with Muslims. We hold many similar values: family, education, helping those in need and taking our faith seriously. 

So, here we are, five years later, and what has the US accomplished in the PR wars against this enemy?  Myself and others feel that the US has not done a good job of countering al-Qaeda’s media campaign.

Web sites, cassette tapes, videos and using the new 24-hour Arab news channels, such as Al-Arabiya and Al-Jezeera, are the ways that “jihadis” communicate with their base, as well as with the US. 

They send their messages direct – no chance for reporters to ask pesky questions (in fact, they’ve been killing both Western and Muslim reporters at an alarming rate).  And, they and their allies have managed to make the Middle East so unsafe for non-Mulsims, that charities cannot work there and thus show people a different face to the one they imagine we all have.

This is not an easy problem.  But, what could US PR experts do?  Following are some recommendations:

1.  Cultivate al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera – offer academics (no politicians) and other Americans looking to establish good relations with Muslims for business, education or other opportunities.

2.  Send ordinary, religious Americans to mosques throughout the US, to take courses and also to hold talks on the values we share, and, let’s be honest, where we differ.

3.  Muslim women, despite much silly reporting, are well-educated, professional and have a great deal of influence.  Connect professional non-Muslim women with Muslim women on shared issues of concern.

4.  Let the Muslim world see a different face of America – not the “usual suspects.”

So, how can this be done?

1.  A soap opera series whose characters reflect religious values from different faiths, and where we can showcase our values of tolerance, religious freedom and why separation of church and state is a good thing.  This can be shown over satellite TV and distributed through tapes and videos.

2.  Celebrate achievements of American Muslims in the professions, charities and arts and sciences through awards and interviews and school curriculum.

3.  Develop a centralized site of milblogs and other blogs so those in the Middle East can get another perspective from ordinary people caught up in all this.  Must be moderated, so hate-mongers can’t participate.

4.  Develop a chat show where issues can be discussed.

5.  Develop a web site where ordinary Americans can post photos and videos about life in the USA (has to be family-safe).

6.  Develop conferences that bring together business women from the Middle East with those from America & the West.

7.  Work with and support legitimate Muslim charities.

8.  Get to know the Arab and Persian press, as PR people typically do for the US press.  Send them news and stories that are true – do NOT try and plant false stories.  Support the papers with ads.

9.  Own up when America acts in contradiction to its values.  Promote through various media why secular democracies are guardians of religious freedom, and why pluralism is good for all.

10.  Establish US home famillies for Muslim students who want to study in the US for a year or two – high school, perhaps.

And, of course, ask American Muslims to participate on a PR advisory council.

God bless everyone, on a day that is a sad one for America.  Let us also remember that we have no lock on suffering.  Islam is a religion of justice, let’s demonstrate our better qualities – tolerance, charity, love of family & faith and sacrifice.

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