The Media War on Terror

“More than half of this battle is taking place on the battlefield of the media, [for] we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of [Muslims].” The speaker was not some public relations executive, but Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Terrorists have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but, for the most part, America and the governments of the other democracies have not. Consider that the violent extremists have their own “media relations committees” aimed at manipulating elite opinion. They plan and design headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communications to intimidate and break the collective will of free people.

They know that communications transcend borders, and that a single news story, handled skillfully, can be as damaging to our cause – and as helpful to theirs – as any military attack. And they are able to act quickly with relatively few people, and with modest resources compared to the vast, expensive bureaucracies of democratic governments.

Today we are fighting the first war in the era of e-mail, blogs, blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras, the Internet, mobile phones, talk radio, and 24-hour news. In Tunisia, the largest newspaper has a circulation of roughly 50,000 in a country of 10 million people. But even in the poorest neighborhoods, you see satellite dishes on nearly every balcony or rooftop.