Wednesday, November 7, 2001

The front line of America’s new war is a living room in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Vienia Naber is preparing sweet mint tea for her family gathered around a 21-inch television.
It is Independence Square in Dakar, Senegal, where businessman Mamadou Sarr is growing angry about the latest news from Afghanistan.
It is an apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where 2-year-old Lomesh Vengadesperumal is tumbling on the cushions of the sofa and uttering his first English words: “Finished.” “Died.” “Pentagon.”
As U.S. warplanes pound Taliban and al Qaeda positions in Afghanistan with powerful bombs in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, another war has begun.
It is a war for the hearts and minds of the Islamic world, and so far things don’t look good for the United States.
From Tehran to Timbuktu, from Jerusalem to Jakarta, people scattered across the diverse nations of the Muslim world are increasingly voicing anger at the war effort after seeing television images of Afghan civilians caught up in the U.S.-led campaign.
Taliban officials claim 1,500 people have been killed in the air assault. The Pentagon, which denies targeting civilians, insists that the Taliban claims are exaggerated and says some civilians could have been killed by falling anti-aircraft fire.
President Bush has expended tremendous efforts getting leaders of the Muslim world to support the war effort. But while some administration officials appeared on television programs aimed at the Islamic world, it wasn’t until this week that Mr. Bush dispatched public relations teams to London and Islamabad to help get his message to the public.
Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the September 11 attacks, issued a videotaped message for broadcast within hours of the start of U.S. air strikes on Oct. 7. Last week, in a written message, he appealed to Muslims to overthrow their U.S.-allied governments and install fundamentalist regimes.
In the days after September 11, Muslims across the world described sadness and sympathy for Americans when they watched images of the devastation at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But the tide of public opinion in many countries has turned with scenes of Afghan civilian casualties relayed by national television stations, the Arabic-language Al Jazeera network, even Western broadcasters like CNN, the British Broadcasting Corp. and France’s TV5.
“In the beginning, I had sympathy for the Americans, but when I saw the images, it was different,” said Mr. Sarr, 39, the Senegalese businessman. “They had a terrible effect. It provokes a great deal of emotion in people. We feel more sympathy for the Afghans.”
Similar sentiments are abundant on the streets of Bamako, Mali; at a boutique in Abuja, Nigeria; at an upscale apartment in Beirut, Lebanon; at the mosques of Jakarta, Indonesia and across the Muslim world, 1 billion people strong.
Even in the Palestinian areas, where celebrations on September 11 drew international condemnation, many people were horrified by the attacks but now are equally horrified by the unintended effects of the U.S. war.
In Jerusalem’s Old City, 63-year-old Boutros Naber tells his sons to be quiet as his wife serves him tea and he settles into his brown sofa to watch the news.
“We watch the footage of the victims in New York, and we feel sad. And the footage of the civilian victims in Afghanistan, and we feel sad,” he said. “Because as Palestinians, we know the meaning of being victimized.”
In bin Laden’s written message, delivered to Al Jazeera on Thursday, he appealed to Pakistanis to rise up against their government, calling it a choice between “the banner of the cross” and “the banner of Islam.”
Bin Laden’s al Qaeda network even had a media spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who told Muslims in an Oct. 9 videotape that “holy war is a duty.”
From the beginning of the conflict, the U.S. government has assured Muslims that its war is not against Islam and has sent top officials to appear on Al Jazeera to speak to the Muslim public.
Last week the Bush administration expanded its campaign to convince Muslims that its war is just, setting up a public relations team aimed at the Islamic world and elsewhere and dispatching teams to London and Islamabad to counter anti-American sentiment.
Karen Hughes, counselor to President Bush, said the team of military officials, diplomats and communications specialists will respond to news developments and plot communications strategies “to proactively do a better job of getting our message out to the world about what the war on terrorism is all about.”
Analysts say the effort is necessary to keep together the tenuous U.S.-led coalition.
“We need to have our own public diplomacy program, and that is a very urgent requirement,” said Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel who now directs the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University in Houston.
“It must explain in the languages of the region exactly what we’re about. We have to become much more sophisticated about this.”
Given the sentiments that have developed around the Islamic world, the United States could be fighting an uphill battle.
Ali Al-Korey, a silver-haired Egyptian who has visited the United States several times and sent his daughter to the American University in Cairo, grimaces as an image flashes on Al Jazeera of a wounded Afghan child.
“I think about how I’d feel had this child been my son. I’d certainly hate America,” he said. “Whenever we see such footage every day, every day, every day, those who just opposed [the U.S. bombing] will start to get angry, to lose their temper and to hate.”

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