October 2001
Attack on the US - 2
Hearts and minds.

Hearts and minds are also part of this "war"

We stray from our strict brief this month because of we know hearts and minds matter in any "War against Terrorsm", because of, the important part broadcasting can and will play in outcomes and with much unhappiness as what we see as an inefficacious pursuit of a worthy aim by the US and its allies and a rather more efficacious pursuit of an unworthy one by Osama bin Laden..

What is war?

We start with a definition from the first American President, George Washington: "An act of violence whose object is to constrain the enemy, to accomplish our will."

It's a fairly good definition and it has two parts, the first of which is usually easier to accomplish than the second.
If aims in the current conflict are to constrain the support the Taliban and others have given to al Qaida, then military and financial acts already taken certainly do that.
If however the war is of a new kind, if it is against terrorism worldwide, then the follow up to the constraint, the accomplishing of " our will" is going to be much more difficult. It's also going to involve a battle for hearts and minds on a much wider geographic scale than just Afghanistan, one that indeed has to span the world.
Here we would another American president with experience of war.

From Dwight D Eisenhower comes a comment applicable to the first part of the fight: "What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog."

In the context of a fight for hearts and minds, the fight is across territories that cannot be militarily attacked, against ideas that cannot be militarily conquered but in an area that broadcasters work in daily.

How do you fight for hearts and minds?


We don't think a fight for minds can be fought by censoring ideas.
We don't think a fight for justice can be fought by proclaiming support for justice and supporting those who practice the opposite.
We don't think that you can win minds without some understanding of what has formed those minds and speaking to them. (We suggest here it is worth reading a San Francisco Chronicle item onAfghan traditions) .
We don't think you convince people easily in a language they don't understand. .


If your arguments have the greater weight, the more exposure they get the better.
In a wider context you are better to espouse limited principles than grandiose aims, which may play well at home but are bound to be seen in a different light elsewhere.
You do better if you try and put yourself in the position of your audience before you frame your words and talk to them rather than shouting over their heads.
You need to address different peoples in their own languages.(Note that bin Laden addresses are in Arabic not Afghan languages!).

How have we done so far?.
Pretty badly we'd say.

The technology to speak to the world is there as is the infrastructure through the BBC and Voice of America through radio in most of the world and also through the BBC, CNN and other satellite TV channels, including al Jazeera in richer areas (you don't get much television without a mains electricity supply).

But instead of taking on and defeating bin Laden and al Qaida on the basis of their words and actions, the US seems to have ended up arguing more about whether American and British broadcasters should carry bin Laden comments or segments of an interview with the Taliban leader than it have initially put effort into getting arguments against him put over well.

We really do not think it difficult to convince all but a few deranged humans that flying civilian airliners into buildings is plainly wrong, that they do not favour the idea of love of death being greater than love of life.

But it is also difficult to argue against anyone who responds that it's also wrong for an occupying nation to lob shells into civilian areas of the land it occupies unless you are prepared also to condemn such activities.

Equally we think it not that difficult to argue the superiority of freedom of speech over its absence but you don't promote that idea by allowing your opponents to point to ill-conceived censorship efforts by you, yourself.

"Enlighten the people generally," wrote the second US President Thomas Jefferson, "and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day."

Over stated maybe but the thought is on the right lines. Even bearing in mind the almost complete absence in the US leadership of major figures able to speak languages other than English, in marked contrast to leaders in many other areas of the world (with the noticeable exception of the Taliban leadership), more of the public utterances of those leaders could and should have both taken into account the susceptibilities of a wider audience and have been addressed to them.


None of this alters our views about the nature of al Qaida and the Taliban but it does mean the debate has to be on a clear understanding of the enemy rather than allowing him the advantages that come from being under or over estimated.
It also mans that the US may, as Britain has with the IRA, Spain with ETA, have to accept that it can only constrain terrorist activities not eliminate them.
But it will go much further along the road to elimination if it bears in minds some words of Abraham Lincoln, yet another American President who knew something of war: "I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends."

Any views? Please comment on the above. For that matter, if you can put the time aside, we'd like your "Guest comment" pages this year to stimulate more feedback and dialogue.

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