In “Spinning the War: Political Communications, Information Operations, and Public Diplomacy in the War on Terrorism”, Robin Brown writes about using the language of war in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many of his points relate to the Frontline film we watched in class, “War of Ideas.” The film talked about the rise of Arab journalism and the United States’ attempt to get its message in those outlets.
“War of Ideas” showed the initial reluctance, refusal even, to show Al Jazeera English in America. As pointed out in the film, airing ideas from Al Jazeera would not harm Americans and could actually teach them something.
Why did it take the U.S. so long to figure this out? I think the answer lies in the mentality of war. It’s natural to reject Al Jazeera when they are seen as an enemy. The phrase “war of ideas” is a dangerous one. Suddenly ideas from the other side seem dangerous, when in reality they are just different. As discussed in class, language and framing are so important to public diplomacy. Brown discusses the damage control done by Ari Fleischer to after the “war on terrorism” became conflated with a “war on Islam.” I am not sure this confusion would have occurred if the U.S. had used what Brown described as the law-enforcement response. Instead, they went with the framing of war. They did the same with the war of ideas.
But looking at public diplomacy from the point of view of a soldier fighting a war means only getting half of the job done. The first half encompasses speaking your message and making sure that it’s heard. The second half, the one that is so often overlooked, is listening to what the other side has to say. There is a fine line between believing your ideas are the best and refusing to even hear any other ideas. What kind of message does it send when the U.S. government broadcasts Alhurra in the Middle East but won’t allow al-Jazeera in America? Such one-sided communication does nothing to help the U.S.’s reputation.
I think the U.S. is moving slowly but surely in the right direction. The country is giving public diplomacy more attention because it has to. Hopefully these efforts take public diplomacy further away from the mentality of war.