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Responding to al-Qaeda’s PR: The Speech I Wish had been Given September 18, 2006

Posted by The PR Cassandra in Posts.
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As I listened to US president, George W. Bush, give his address to the Nation on the anniversary of Sept. 11th, I thought what a missed opportunity.  Click here to see the video address – type in “Bush address 2006” and the BBC video player should come up.

My father, a doctor during WWII in North Africa & Sicily, and who was awarded the purple heart and the silver star for saving the wounded and becoming wounded himself, probably would have felt the talk was a correct attack on America’s current “enemies.”  However, I have a different view.  The war my father fought was by nations.  What we face today is a global crisis of violence, around competing ideologies fueled by proxies on all sides.  And what makes me both angry and sad is not only the senseless slaughter, but that so much of the suffering affects the poor, women and children.

Unfortunately, al Qaeda has managed to position itself as equal to the US in its PR campaigns.  This was our chance to de-position them and talk about the real “enemies’ of freedom – poverty, hopelessness, injustice and disrespect.

In our increasingly monetizing everything age, it is difficult to get major news organizations to give up time from revenue-producing programs (especially as most of them are owned by major corporations).  Thus, here was an opportunity to speak not only to America, but to the world.

I was asked what I would have said, and a lively (to say the least) conversation ensued.  Here is the speech I would have given (I hope the White House and Karen Hughes read this):

Good evening.  Tonight, as the United States mourns its 3,000 dead from the unprovoked attacks on helpless civilians, many of whom were immigrants, we also mourn the continued loss of life from the pursuit of a war that we didn’t ask for.  All life is precious.  The world is full of grieving families tonight.  We want to end the grief and suffering, yet we cannot allow our country, our citizens and our allies to continue to suffer from useless attacks by a few people whose harm greatly outweighs their numbers.

America is a religious country, but with a separation of church and state that ensures freedom of worship and tolerance for all.  Some may see this as licentiousness – we do not. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hundus and New Agers, live side-by-side because we are a nation of tolerance, built by men and women fleeing religious oppression.  Has America always acted justly?  No, has any nation or civilization?  No.  But, in an age of instant communication, when the Internet and low-cost phone calls can bring us ever closer – what can we do to close the cultural divide that has all sides screaming across it?

For the West and the Middle East to demonize one another gets us nowhere.  Yet demonizing is the first step toward murder.  Jesus, who is revered by Muslims, worshipped by Christians and considered a rabbi, or teacher, by Jews, said, “Any one who hates his brother is a murderer.”  Why?  Because hate is the first step toward killing.  Islam, like all the great religion, teaches that the loss of one life is like losing a universe.  Our planet is losing too many universes.  Too many poets who will never write.  Too many teachers who will never instruct.  And too many children who will grow up as orphans, if they grow up.

Tonight our country is at war.  Brave men and women are risking their lives every moment.  And we all want them to come home.  But, it is not only our troops and civilians in the fields of war who suffer.

Thus, tonight, I am asking the American people to reach out here at home and across the globe, with a hand of friendship to Muslims in countries everywhere.  It is time we visited local mosques, had exchange students in our homes and developed conferences between academics and conferences for businessmen and women.  It is time for the children of the world to do what their parents can not and begin to unite us. Time for the poets, singers, musicians, artists of all kinds to come together.  For women and students to cross the chasm.

Yes, many things divide us – but many things also unite us.  We share values of family, education and aspiration. 

That is why tomorrow, I will be presenting before Congress a plan for reopening communication with The Islamic Republic of Iran.  It is time not to forget, but to forgive.  It is time to heal and not to hurt.  I will also be proposing positive measures – scholarships and grants for those with a vision of peace.

While we remain vigilent against those who wish us harm – tonight I say to the people of the world: In the Name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate, the time has come to plant seeds of hope and trust to replace the bitter dregs of hate and fear.

My fellow Americans, and citizens of the world, reaching out in friendship is a sign of strength and not of weakness.  our hand is being outstretched – the generosity of the American people is boundless – who there in the Islamic world will meet us?

Good night and God bless you all.

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