“Actions not wishes can clear the Arab image”

When my article titled: Public Relations to the Rescue – How the Arab World can work on its image – first appeared in the IHT/The Daily Star daily newspaper, I received a barrage of phone calls from friends and colleagues in Lebanon and the region supporting my recommendations while expressing doubt that the Arab World can ultimately rise to the challenges facing its credibility and proceed with a consorted campaign to clear its image in the US in particular and the West in general.

Similarly, I read email responses that were sent to me and the editor from readers in the US, all in favor of the position taken to reshape the Arab World’s image and work on the next step.

By mentioning the two similar feedbacks to one article, I intended to highlight the habits of varying cultures in expressing their views. The Arab readers preferred to comment verbally, while their counterparts in the US opted for a more effective method of writing to the editor.

Clearly, one of the effective tools in any successful public relations campaign revolve around creating proactive habits, one of which can center on writing to the editors of newspapers or responding to an unbalanced news report in the evening news.

By evaluating the “letters to the editor” section in leading US publications, one can deduce the absence of regular Arab or American-Arab readers’ comments to highly controversial op-eds or features written about the Arab World in general or the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular. Unfortunately, the writer and similarly the editor cannot gauge readers’ responses to their print or broadcast material – be it positive or negative – unless it translates from mere thoughts to actual individual or mass letters or emails. Readers or viewers can also revert to other means such as peaceful sit-ins, boycott of advertisers or mere cancellation of subscriptions.

American Arabs & their Strategic Role

Proceeding with the implementation of a successful public affairs campaign needs to take into account the crucial role that Americans of Arab descent play in the US, not for their mere geographical presence but for their better understanding of US culture, laws and more importantly the US constitution.

While it is unfortunate, but true, that many American Arab organizations present in the US resemble the political, cultural and sectarian divide evident in the Arab World, the fact remains that such organizations enjoy strong grassroots presence and established relationships with various US political and civic leaders.

A major shortcoming in the Arab political or civil actions in the US lies in creation of new entities that are customized according to the beliefs of individuals or certain ideological groups. Every time a group of people disagree with an established organization, they opt to create an offshoot entity that basically carries the same mission, but run according to their individual philosophy.

What the American Arabs should do at this important juncture of Arab-US relations is unite their efforts under one umbrella that can speak in one voice, away from all the negativity that has hindered the advancement of Arab interests and led to where we are today accused in unison for being backward and thugs.

Cost Effective Campaign

There are many reports circulating in the Arab press for a need to launch an English language TV network in the US that can disseminate the Arab position and cast a brighter picture on the true nature of the Arab World. However, financial constraints and regional/political Arab disunity led to the shelving of such proposal.

Ultimately, working on the image of the Arab World is beneficial for everyone, including multi-millionaire Arab businessmen, who are being threatened daily with threats to freeze their assets in the US, under the pretext of the “US War on Terrorism”, which many have nothing to do with it.

The vision for a sound public relations campaign does not entail establishing new TV, radio or print outlets in the US, since not only it is beyond anybody’s budget, but it is most importantly ineffective, especially that US citizens will not leave their national media and shift to an Arab-run English outlet.

Rather, it is important to balance the debate within the existing US media and in the political and educational arena, through the use of academic and sound-proof arguments, delivered by reputable individuals and institutions.

Palestine – a Case Study

Colleges, civic institutions, human rights organizations, moderate political figures, research centers (Think Tanks), etc, should also be part of the PR campaign, in order to mass public support for a final and just solution to the Palestine cause.

Average North Americans’ participation in the political scene is focused on campaigns during local or national political elections or when they feel directly affected by any arising political situation – the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC and the sending of US troops to Iraq are two examples of US public’s exercise in political wrangling.

A major aspect of their involvement centers mainly on writing directly to their representatives in Congress or the Senate and demanding that they take action in one way or another. Such involvement is essential in the case of Palestine in order to mass public outcry against Israeli aggression – even if the message is: no more US aid to Israel; Stop the use of US weapons to kill Palestinians; and so on.

In reality the US public will not move in unison against the Israeli atrocities in Palestine if they don’t feel that their average way of life is being affected. For an average blue-collar from America’s mid-west the situation in Palestine does not constitute an immediate threat for him/her to exert any political pressure against his/her government. But the situation differs when the message is focused on US tax-payers’ dollars going to fund a state that is involved in war crimes.

In another word, the average US citizen needs to understand that his/her hard-earned money is not going towards the improvement of his lifestyle – minimizing medical cost or lowering college tuition – but rather toward killing children, women and young men.

Mobilizing the US public in cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Boston, Seattle, DC, etc., means that politicians will stop and listen to those calls by their constituencies – especially if they constitute a solid voting bloc. The public needs to see the atrocities committed by the Israeli occupation forces in Rafah Refugee Camp, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, to name a few. Roadshows of photographs taken of the massacres in Rafah, Jenin, Nablus and Bethlehem need to be organized immediately in major cities across the US.

A photo can mean a thousand words, as the proverb goes, and no matter how eloquent we are, the horrific photos taken at the Rafah and Jenin Refugee Camps or even of the racist Wall of Separation can stir not only emotions, but also anger and guaranteed response.

This argument proved its effectiveness when Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah presented President George W. Bush during their last meeting in Bush’s ranch in Texas few years ago, with documented footage of the Israeli atrocities in the West Bank. “He was moved,” the Crown Prince described Bush’s reactions. So will the majority of Americans, if they get the chance to see similar photos or documentaries of the massacres and destruction.

The PR campaign in the US can take many folds and shapes, but most important of all is the need to lead an orchestrated effort with many dimensions. It is true that the mainstream press in the US is a major source of pro-Israeli propaganda, but that should not put a damper on efforts to clarify the situation in Palestine.

Multiple messages have created confusion among the target audiences. We need to ask ourselves: what is our main message? Occupation by Israel of Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian lands. Therefore, it is clear in this case that the message brings forth Israel as an occupier, based not only on field accounts, but also on dozens of UN Security Counsel Resolutions.

The issue, as the Israelis deliberately portray, is not about a “terrorist campaign” or a “disputed territory” or even “incursions by the ‘Israeli Defense Forces'”, but rather of OCCUPATION.

Arab investments in major US corporations should not be looked upon in terms of prestige or financial reports at the end of fiscal years for gains or losses, but rather need to be used as pressure tactics, similar to what other non-Arab investors do.

As bleak as the situation may seem, it should not be left up to chance and the will of the hard-line Neo-conservative administration in the US to resolve the conflict in accordance to its ideological belief. All of us hold a responsibility to create a difference, if not for our sake then for the sake of the Palestinian and the Arab image alike.

It is up to individuals, thinkers, groups and financiers to put up the plan and the financial backing to launch an immediate campaign, with or without the Arab leaders’ backing.