We (US) are losing the "war for the hearts and minds" of the Muslim and Arab world for a lot of reasons, but very near the top is terrible PR.
It always struck me as odd that in Iraq we didn't flood the Arab and Western airwaves with images of Saddam's brutality. Yes, the American media sucks at reporting and didn't cover it enough, but I don't think our government made a very solid PR push either. That meant forcing the mass graves in front of the cameras as we did in Europe in 1945.
Reading Nicolas Kristof's opinion in the NY Times today on the crisis in Darfur and potential remedies reminded me of this. Kristof points out that:
A no-fly zone and a U.N. force are among the ways we can apply pressure, but another essential element is public diplomacy. We should respond to Osama by shining a spotlight on the Muslim victims of Darfur (many Arabs have instinctively sided with Sudan's rulers and have no idea that nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim). [emphasis mine.]
The White House can invite survivors for a photo-op so they themselves can recount, in Arabic, how their children were beheaded and their mosques destroyed. We can release atrocity photos, like one I have from an African Union archive of the body of a 2-year-old boy whose face was beaten into mush. President Bush can make a major speech about Darfur, while sending Condi Rice and a planeload of television journalists to a refugee camp in Chad to meet orphans.
We absolutely should do this in Darfur. We must also refresh our PR strategy in the whole Middle East to focus on only three things. 1) The death that muslims are bringing to other muslims in Iraq and elsewhere. 2) Our desire to champion the rights of ordinary people and leave them *soon* to a better future of their own determination. 3) That the other side offers only death.
Right now I'm guessing too many people believe both sides only offer death, and that has to change.