Losing Arab Hearts and Minds: The Coalition, Al-Jazeera and Muslim Public Opinion
Author: Steve Tatham
Publisher: Hurst, 2006
Steve Tatham's book starts with the observation that the 9/11 attacks horrified not only western citizens but also moderate Muslims around the world. Consequently, an unexpected degree of solidarity appeared to flicker in the international community. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was wide condemnation of Al-Qaeda acts, and a majority of those polled had a favorable sentiment towards the United States and all that it stood for. Yet within two years the pain and distress of that event and the unifying sympathy it elicited throughout most of the world was squandered, not necessarily through the invasion of Afghanistan, but through the subsequent war in Iraq which many of the closest friends of the United States did not support. Tatham argues that having largely lost international support, the United States failed to get its justification and messages across to skeptical international audiences, particularly in the Arab world. The massive efforts of the Coalition's covert information operation -- the leaflets and radio broadcasts, the text messages and e-mails -- were only partly effective in the absence of honest and transparent engagement with the region's media.
Unlike in the Gulf War, the medium for the Coalition's messages in 2003 was not exclusively CNN or the BBC; the Arab world had developed its own TV channels, and their reach and influence were to become an important dynamic in the conflict. The most influential of these were Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, and Abu Dhabi TV.
From humble beginnings in 1996, Al-Jazeera, in particular, has grown in size and output, and today broadcasts 24 hours a day to an audience estimated at more than 35 million people. As CNN became the face of the 1991 Gulf war, so Al-Jazeera defined the first conflicts of the twenty-first century -- coming of age in Afghanistan (it was the only broadcaster officially allowed into the country by the Taliban government) and becoming a major influence in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Indeed, as the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote: '[Al-Jazeera] is not only the biggest media phenomenon to hit the Arab world since the advent of television, it is also the biggest political phenomenon.'
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