Hizbullah's postwar PR machine moves into high gear
BEIRUT, LEBANON — Soon after the fighting stopped between Hizbullah and Israel last month, bright red banners began appearing amid the rubble of Beirut's devastated Shiite southern suburbs.
"Made in USA," proclaims one. "Extremely accurate weapons," states another sarcastically.
Other banners superimpose, over Lebanon's national colors, photographs of injured civilians, or Hizbullah soldiers targeting an Israeli settlement with Katyusha rockets. Their slogans employ irony and accusation to convey a message of defiance toward Israel and the US.
The main slogan of this postwar Hizbullah public-relations campaign, 'The Divine Victory,' has been lifted from a verse in the Koran referring to the Muslims' defeat of the Jews. The rhetoric was also used by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently in describing Hizbullah's performance.
The campaign emerged from the chic office into which Hizbullah's PR department hastily moved after its original workspace was destroyed in an Israeli raid. Designed in light wood with sleek computers, executive desks, and elegant black leather chairs, the only reminders of war are the frequent power blackouts and the rubble on the street outside.
"[The campaign] was started by the leadership during the first week of the battle," says Mohammad Kawtharani, its creative director and a member of Hizbullah's media department. "They stated that victory should be declared and a divine victory as well because God was the main factor in the success."
At his office, Mr. Kawtharani pored over a satellite map of one damaged neighborhood in south Beirut with a group of Dubai-based Lebanese Christian consultants brought in by Hizbullah to strategize about relief projects.
"[W]e believe that two messages should be passed on to the other side: the right to resist and the Lebanese nature of the resistance," says Kawtharani. "It's impossible for a whole nation to be terrorists."
Hizbullah is getting across those messages through printing the slogans onto pins, hats, stickers, banners, and flags. Kawtharani said that TV advertisements had been aired by Al Jazeera, Lebanese channels New TV and NBN, as well as "a Turkish station."
Slick as it may be, the campaign has left many unconvinced. "The point of the campaign is not to win hearts and minds – it's to shore up the claim of victory in the full knowledge that that narrative is full of holes," says Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star.