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(December 23, 2002 // link)

Why should it surprise anyone that the voice of the Arab world, Al Jazeera, has its own Washington bureau. While I knew of the existence of Al-Jazeera, I must admit I was struck by Steve Inskeep’s (NPR) interview with its Washington bureau chief, Hafez al-Mirazi earlier this month.

Mr. al-Mirazi explained, in fluent English, of course, that the Arabs, and more particularly, Muslims, need a balanced perspective on issues that affect them. Al-Jazeera is the filter through which global news is passed to the Muslim world. During the first Gulf war, CNN was the only voice we heard, this time around Al-Jazeera will broadcast the war, in a sophisticated and Muslim centered way.

The Muslim world does not see the US as a friend to Islam. In fact, they view the “War on Terror” as a direct affront to the Muslim faith. No where was this more obvious than in the “man on the street” interviews after recent attacks in Somalia and Indonesia. CNN has obviously not done a good job of getting out the message that we should all join hands and fight terror. In fact, we have not even managed to convince the average Muslim on the street that Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. Suffice it to say, people do not believe it just because we say so.

Even European countries are viewing the US as nothing more than a bully. The fact that we seem to exhibit a double standard when dealing with North Korea, (which already has the nuclear capabilities we fear from Iraq) is not helping. Perhaps we need to examine how our message and how it is playing on the world stage, or maybe we need a new PR firm. Which ever it is, the rhetoric out of Washington sounds more like politics than policy. We don’t appear to have a foreign policy plan. If we do, no one knows what it is.

As a player on a world stage, we need to assess our position relative to the rest of the world. The term superpower is no longer relevant and this is evident in light of the fact that as of today, there are Al Qaeda training camps returning to Afghanistan. A young American service man was killed in that country yesterday and hundreds of so called terror cells are being uncovered all over the world. We need a plan. In order to develop that plan we need to assess our goals and the effect of our actions on the rest of the world. Then we need to get our message out. So far the “war on terror” has not even gotten the training camps out of Afghanistan.

While the average American prepares for another brief techno-skirmish, the Muslim world is settling into preparations for a prolonged world-wide defense of Islam. This has the potential to be Somalia on a global scale. The answer is not a further refinement of our internal information gathering mechanism. It is about getting the message to the right people. It is about telling them that we are not all enemies of Islam, but that we are people, like them, concerned with our own security and future.

Of course, all of this assumes that we have a message. But if we are going to fight a war on the streets in Iraq, and Zimbabwe, and Somalia, and North Korea, we need a better understanding of how we are perceived by our “enemies.” We also must better control how they perceive us. As our new Information Awareness Office motto reminds us, “Knowledge is power.” I wonder what Al-Jazeera has to say about that.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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