Branding American Ideals
Winning the war on terrorism will likely turn on perceptions as well as on capturing members of Al Qaeda or other terrorist networks. For that reason alone, the Bush administration is wise to step up its efforts to shape a more accurate understanding abroad of the nation's core values.
But it must send such messages by supporting a free flow of information, not by stifling other points of view.
In the Arab world, the perception of America is drawn largely from imported US television programs. That's a highly distorted picture, and one that doesn't sit well in Islamic culture.
Charlotte Beers, the former high-powered Madison Avenue executive who was selected to be undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, must find effective ways to explain concepts of freedom, civil liberties, and justice to the Arab world. Her competition is the terrorists' already highly organized anti-American propaganda machine. And she needs to accomplish the task without falling back on traditional, sometimes slick and manipulative, advertising and public relations techniques.
The Arab television channel Al Jazeera reaches millions in the Middle East, but is widely seen as anti-American. The US plans to create a US satellite channel that would compete with Al Jazeera. Yet, reaching Arabs isn't easy. Many don't have access to TV or the Internet. And just 2 percent listen to the Voice of America broadcasts.
New US government-sponsored radio programs, to be offered on AM and FM using more local dialects, also will help. The US also needs to increase the number of its diplomats who can spread American values.
All this, and using Muslims to explain to other Muslims that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, will let truth be a weapon in this war.