Public Relations or War of Words

The cover story in Newsweek’s latest issue (February 11) is titled “The Bible and the Quran”. It seeks to search the scriptures for roots of conflict and seeds of reconciliation, yet trips up by ignoring a fundamental taboo in Islam, by reproducing sketches depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The US-based magazine has either ignored or defied a well-recognised ban by the entire Muslim world on all paintings, drawings, illustrations, personifications or interpretations of the Prophet. Egypt, which is home to the Al-Azhar Institution, is considering banning Newsweek, while news reports have confirmed that Indonesia and Bangladesh have already done so.

This latest saga is being viewed by many Muslims as another manifestation of the hostility displayed by media institutions against Islam, especially since September 11. This perception is further fuelled by the utterances and stances adopted by the United States, Britain and others which is interpreted as extremely provocative and insensitive to Muslim beliefs.

With bombing raids in Afghanistan and Iraq still continuing and the intense military siege of Palestinian territories by Israel causing murder and mayhem in dense civilian areas, there can be no doubt that a massive anti-Islam propaganda campaign is underway. The US/Israeli axis of aggression realises that along with the military engagement, a propaganda war must be waged in order to maintain worldwide support for their war on terrorism.

The Bush administration has beefed up Voice of America by doubling its Arabic short wave programming from its current 9 hours a day to 18 hours daily. In addition to investing half a billion dollars to set up a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week satellite channel programme directed only to Muslim countries, the USA also recently set up Voice of Free Afghanistan.

According to Impact International, the British Foreign Office gave the BBC World Service 181.1 million pounds as grant-in-aid so that the Corporation could run a free news service in several world languages. This was not charity: it was foreign policy!

This enormous battle to win the hearts and minds of Afghans as well as the world’s one billion Muslims represents the flip side of the coin – a military operation as well as a propaganda war, disguised as a public relations campaign.

The difficulty confronting the US/Israeli axis however, is that this will be no walkover. There is no hope that despite countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia enjoying political patronage of Washington, President Bush would be the darling of the Muslim world, with streets named after him in every Muslim state.

Another major furore in the race to sell the war on terrorism to the Muslim public, involves Israel and its Zionist supporters. Front-liners such as Richard Perle, head of the Defence Policy Board, Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Keith, an undersecretary of Defence, as well as front-liners in the media, Congress and the American Jewish leadership continue to advocate the expansion of the war on terrorism. They are pushing to squeeze countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan and Lebanon.

Bush’s attack of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil” coincides precisely with the goals Israel has identified as crucial, including broadening the enemies’ list to include Palestinian groups. This display of superpower pugnacity challenges the world to allow Bush the right to bomb or invade any hapless country that by his wisdom, might be deemed uncooperative or laggard in a fight the president has starkly cast as civilization vs. barbarism.

Latest reports indicated that America’s transatlantic allies are uneasy with the ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric. Many political pundits are suggesting that the anti-terrorist partnership Europeans built with the United States is extremely fragile. Some feel that they are hooked onto a superpower locomotive that is out of control, with an engineer who sees no reason to heed their warnings.

(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)