Mohamed Khodr’s Column
“You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.”
“South Wind” by Norman Douglas
Eureka. After three weeks of brainstorming post the September 11 terrorist attack the U.S. government developed the fastest and most efficient strategy to address the Muslim world’s misconceptions of America, its foreign policy, its values, and its openness to Islam. America was finally going to tell its side of the story to the 1.2 Billion Muslims who live in 56 nations with different cultures and languages. America was embarking on a mission of transforming the perceived Muslim “Hate” to a love lovefest for all things American. Our government’s starting premise was that the “hate” as enunciated by Bin Laden has absolutely nothing to do with its foreign policy or its total support of Israel’s occupation of Palestinians, nor with its decade long economic sanctions of Iraq that has killed over one and a half million people, nor with the presence of its military on Saudi soil a decade after the Gulf War, nor its bombings of Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, nor its support of abusive murderous Arab dictators, nor its control of Arab oil, nor its neglect of Muslims being massacred by Russia, India, China, Burma, and the Philippines, nor its 75 United Nations vetoes to protect Israel from any scrutiny or criticism, nor from the endless bashing of Islam in the media, movies, and television, nor from its exclusion of American Muslims from its foreign policy apparatus to counterbalance the heavy Jewish American presence (during Clinton’s tenure 7 of 11 national security council members were Jewish Americans), nor from the use of racial profiling in immigration matters or in our airports, nor from the use of secret evidence mainly against Muslims, nor from the massive indiscriminate roundup of thousands of Muslims simply because of their faith for interrogation in stark violation of their constitutional rights and civil liberties, nor from the establishment of extrajudicial “military tribunals” for Muslims, nor from Bush’s refusal to meet with Arafat while meeting twice with Sharon, the same man who bashed Bush for appeasing the Arabs and refuses to abide by Bush’s repeated requests to pull out of Palestinian cities, nor from the defining American policy of “DOUBLE STANDARDS” that rewards Israel and punishes Muslims for the same act, nor, nor, nor…………………….!!!!!!!!
None of these issues seem to matter to Bush. The answer to “Muslim Terror and Hate” lies in the simple fact that the Muslim world has not been “indoctrinated”, sorry, I meant educated, about the great American values of freedom and our way of life. Muslims are attacking America simply either out of envy or pure ignorance of our culture, lifestyle, and values of Truth, Justice, and the American Way
What the Muslim world needs is a global American advertising and public relations campaign to change the hearts and minds of Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. Indeed what’s needed is a simple message of how free, caring, and tolerant America is broadcast to the “monolithic” Muslim world. It could be called the “Big McFreedom Attack” meant to create a lust for freedom and a love for America among the impoverished, illiterate, and oppressed Muslim world. But wait a minute here, yes we want them to love us but we don’t want them coming here, only that they should love us, buy our mass products, stay home and be quiet.
To head this $20 million public relations campaign for the benefit of 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide, which translates to 1.7 cents per Muslim—what American considers to be the worth of one Muslim’s opinion— President Bush has nominated Charlotte L. Beers (Bush should have realized that an “alcoholic” name may be insensitive to Muslims) to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The United States will be spending one fifth of the money spent to make the movie Harry Potter to sway the newly discovered Muslim world, one fifth of the world’s population.
Ms. Beers, a fellow Texan, was most recently Chair of J. Walter Thompson, a New York based advertising agency, now part of WPP, the world’s largest advertising agency. This advertising executive with no training in diplomacy, lacking knowledge on Islam and Arab culture, whose claim to fame has been selling dandruff shampoo and Uncle Ben’s rice, will be the diplomat in charge of selling Uncle Sam to Muslims who only know America through Big Macs and Coke, sex videos, cluster bombs or sanctions. As has been said, there’s much similarity between Diplomacy and Advertising, both constitute forms of legalized lying. Certainly, the advertising firm of J. Walter Thompson, of which Ms. Beers was associated with knows the value and ramifications of false advertising. The Federal Trade Commission has accused JWT of allegedly engaging in deceptive practices in connection with the advertising it created for the Jenny Craig weight loss program. The allegation stated that J. Walter Thompson lacked substantiation for these claims, and falsely claimed that competent and reliable studies or surveys supported the claims. This case represents the fourth time J. Walter Thompson has settled FTC charges that the agency misrepresented the results of tests, surveys or studies used in advertising it produced. One certainly hopes that Ms. Beers, the Diplomat, would rely on accurate culturally and linguistically based information that is extremely sensitive to the Islamic faith spread among different nations, cultures, and languages. A simple message of “Just Do It” won’t do it. It would behoove Ms. Beers to keep Raymond Chandlers advice in mind: “It is pretty obvious that the debasement of the human mind caused by a constant flow of fraudulent advertising is no trivial thing. There is more than one way to conquer a country.”
Frank Rich, a New York Times Columnist, commenting on Ms. Beers appointment wrote:
“Maybe we’re losing the battle for Afghan hearts and minds,” he wrote, “in part because the Bush State Department appointee in charge of the propaganda effort is a CEO (from Madison Avenue) chosen not for her expertise in policy or politics but for her salesmanship on behalf of domestic products like Head & Shoulders shampoo. If we can’t effectively fight anthrax, I guess it’s reassuring to know we can always win the war on dandruff.”
It’s difficult to fault America for its arrogant, simplistic, short sighted, media driven, and ignorant understanding of the complexity and myriad influences on the world stage. After all this is a geographic land isolated by two oceans that sought to escape the problems of the world into a vast blessed hinterland where individualism, pioneerism, entrepreneurship, ethnic cleansing and slavery were an accepted feature of life. It wasn’t until World War II that America entered world politics as an innocent naive superpower. Yet despite its immediate dominance in world affairs America believed that its sheer economic and military power was sufficient to ensure its desired outcomes. Tragically and incommensurate with such supremacy America failed to develop its educational, cultural, and political system to provide its people with a better understanding of the world where such great power was yielded out of Washington DC. It’s enough for Americans to know that they are the beacon and hope of the world, that America is the greatest nation on earth, that we are the richest and most powerful, and that Christianity is the supreme religion. Anyone different from America regardless of race, color, religion, geography, was simply the “other”, the Un-American, and the inferior. The overriding issue for politicians were domestic issues of money and votes without any international considerations for political decisions. Thus Truman recognized Israel due to his need of New York’s Jewish money and votes and George Kennan defined America’s post world war policy as simple containment of the easily recognizable enemy, “Communism.” The enemy of my enemy is my friend even if he kills his own mother. American children were not exposed to world religions, world cultures, languages, and history. Americans hardly travel abroad which increases their isolation and susceptibility to fear the “other”, the unknown. Thus what patsies we become for media “experts” who spoon feed us our thoughts. Such “experts” are truly the terrorists of misinformation and manipulation.
So where hence sprouts America’s opinions, thoughts, ideas about the world if not through a rigorous educational program? Why the mass media of course. Advertising has become the “opium of the people” in the West. Annually, it’s a $215 Billion industry (1999) that shapes our lives, our families, our culture, our consumerism, our politics, and to a large extent our world. Media demonization of an identifiable enemy is enough cover for our government to pursue unjustifiable policies such as in Palestine and Iraq. Demonization is successful for short term policies but dangerous long term whereby our policy options become identified with the “demon du jour” and thus limiting and cornering our politicians to consider alternative policies while the “demon” and status quo remain such as in Iraq.
We are “good, civilized, free, tolerant, respect human rights, value life, Christians”, they are “evil, oppressed, dictatorships, uncivilized, intolerant, abuse women and human rights, don’t value life, and infidels”. Rhetoric become reality for a nation constantly indoctrinated. End Result, as Bush says: “LET’S ROLL”. To Americans that translates to “Let’s Kick Some Butt.” America does thrive on a simple dichotomy of alternatives. President Bush’s ill-advised speech of either you’re with us or with the terrorists paraphrases his philosopher Jesus’ admonition in Luke 11: 23 where he teaches: “He that is not with me is against me.”
America the Beautiful has been dumbed down by a mass media and pop culture that has ensured the loss of independent thought and reason among its citizens and replaced it with a simple Pavlovian response to the “product or idea du jour” being sold. Just spoon feed me the bottom line and don’t bother me with details. As Marshall McLuhan said: “Madison Avenue is a very powerful aggression against private consciousness. A demand that you yield your private consciousness to public manipulation.”
Thus while Bush and Blair are militarily “reordering” the Muslim world to change their propensity to “hate us”, the more important psychological “reforming” of Muslims is dependent on Beers successful mass marketing of images and sound bytes meant to hypnotize Muslims into “submitting” to the West rather than to God. According to Stuart Chase “Sanely applied advertising could remake the world.” Muslim nations should be viewed more than potential military bases and a source of cheap oil. There is nothing in Islam that prohibits the Muslim world from developing close alliances with the West for the mutual benefit of both worlds. It is Muslim and Christian ignorance of and abandonment of faith that historically has allowed both followers to veil their human arrogance and greed in religious terms. There is no Christian scripture to justify the Crusades, Inquisition, Slavery, Ethnic Cleansing, and the Holocaust as there is no Islamic scripture to justify September 11. Let’s follow the teachings of Muhammad (P) and Christ and not the Anti-Christ.
America once again tackles historically and politically complicated issues in a world alien to most westerners with the same gusto it tackles the selling of Viagra, Enerex, Monistat, and Vagisil. America is supreme in selling sex, music, fashion, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola, but has supremely failed to sell morals, values, love, and tolerance to its own people but nevertheless expects a “superwoman” ad executive to sell “America the Beautiful” to Muslims dying from American bombs and sanctions. This will be the “mother of all advertisements” if it ever succeeds, which is seriously doubtful. Sadly, and as usual for American politics, Ms. Beers is not reaching out to American Muslims to assist her in her “Voyage to the Abyss.” Perhaps Ms. Beers should begin such a marketing campaign at home directed toward Native Americans and African Americans asking them to drop their pain and grievances and forgo any “hate” and call for reparations. If that is successful then we can talk about the next campaign, perhaps asking Vietnamese and Cambodians to “live and let live”.
In its time of crisis since September 11, America discovered that it had no Muslims or Arab, Farsi, or Urdu speaking people in its Intelligence services. The FBI and CIA had to advertise to hire such individuals. Thus despite the decades of conflict in the Arab and Muslim world involving the United States, despite the fact that one third of the world’s nations are Muslims with seven Million Muslims calling America home, our Intelligence community demonstrates our national ignorance, neglect, and prejudice toward Muslims who honor and revere Moses and Jesus Christ. .
Mr. President, you can do more to enhance America’s relationship with the complex Muslim world by respecting them and offering to listen to their grievances as well as sharing ours. Courage to stand up to Israel’s domination of our MidEast policy to bring peace and security to both Israel and Palestine will do more to generate good will within the Muslim world than any “image” makeover. Avoiding the required confrontation with Israel to do the right thing and leave the occupied territories and simply depending on thirty second commercials to assuage pained Muslims reinforces America’s weakness, duplicity, and double standard in dealing with the Muslim world. Additionally, we must provide real economic and educational aid to the Muslim poor instead of the billions we grant Israel, the world’s sixteenth richest nation. As you’ve said many times, action speaks louder than words or “pictures.” A true respectful dialogue and alliance with the Muslim world will not only bring peace and prosperity to both worlds but will go a long way to eliminating terrorism. The Muslim world with its geography, religion, family morals, and large population is a natural ally to America and the West. Islam can never be the enemy of the Judeo-Christian faith nor of world peace and prosperity. Those are core Islamic beliefs. We must eliminate the forged and manipulated barriers between both worlds for political and economic expediency.
We must stop looking at the Muslim world as a “‘Muslims-R-Us” store where we can buy, sell, build and destroy Muslim foundations at will. Let’s export our freedom, our democracy, our tolerance, our technology, and our smart ideas not our smart bombs. Only dumb politicians have to depend on smart bombs to get their point across.
Mr. Bush, in this case, “It Doesn’t Pay to Advertise.”