- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

Killing or capturing the murderers who are plotting the next attack on the U.S. is America's first line of defense in the war against terrorism. But there is another nonlethal offensive being waged by the administration that may be far more effective in the long term.
This offensive the first of its kind ever undertaken by the United States is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world's huge youth population. And it will do it through an old technology known as radio, broadcasting what young people like to listen to most, pop music, but also news, features and information that will expose them to local moderate religious leaders and entertainment icons.
The Middle East Radio Network is a creative and promising new venture that has just been launched by the Voice of America in a handful of Arab countries from Amman, Jordan, to Kuwait City. When it is fully up and running, it will be beamed to all the Arab countries in the region and in North Africa, operating seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
The programming will emphasize Arab and American pop music aimed at listeners under the age of 30 who, surprisingly, comprise most of the overwhelmingly youthful Arab population. Nearly 75 percent of the Arab world is under 35. The network will be called Radio Sawa, which means "together" in Arabic.
Spliced in between the music will be news reports, sports, analysis of world events, special interviews with important leaders, round-table forums, weather and a variety of features on social, political and cultural subjects, all delivered in regional Arabic dialects.
Of critical importance, the broadcasts will be beamed over AM and FM radio, a first for the VOA and through digital radio satellite channels that will be able to reach millions of listeners.
"Until now we have only been on shortwave in Arab countries which very few people listen to and on a very inferior signal," VOA Director Robert Reilly told me in a recent interview. "For the first time, VOA will have the capability to reach large audiences in the Middle East."
The underlying communications strategy in this new effort is to effectively reach out and influence today's younger generation the next leadership generation who might otherwise be drawn to the poisonous, anti-American hatred preached by radical and terrorist Islamic groups.
"This is a very tough audience to reach, and this is a very imaginative way to attempt to reach it," Mr. Reilly said. He stressed that the broadcasts will expose young Arabs to the views of tolerant, mainstream Islamic religious leaders to counter the militant, hateful Islamic sects that vie for their allegiance.
"That will be part of it. That is why there will be a strong local component in our bureaus there that will be engaging people who are significant in that region, and who can reach the leaders of the region and get them on the air," he said.
"This particular approach has not been done before. It is bringing to VOA some of the lessons of commercial radio. It is asking the question: If you were a commercial radio, what would you have to do to succeed in the Middle East?"
The project is the brainchild of Norman Pattiz, a successful radio mogul who created the Westwood One radio network, before he became a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees all of the government's broadcasting services.
Mr. Reilly calls Mr. Pattiz "one of the principal inspirations" who championed the idea and pushed it into development faster than most ideas ever get developed in this town.
Congress put up $35 million for the project last year, including $16 million for one-time capital costs to purchase the transmitters. At a time when many Americans are justifiably questioning the way Washington spends our taxes, Congress could not have put this money a pittance in a $2.1 trillion federal budget to better use.
We can kill and capture hundreds more terrorists in the weeks, months and years to come, but the ultimate outcome of this long-term struggle will be for the young minds of the next generation and those who come after them. The Middle East Radio Network is a smart and innovative weapon in the war against terrorism that kills no one. It is a friendly, entertaining, non-lethal and pre-emptive strike aimed at the Islamic world, delivering America's message of freedom and religious tolerance in an irresistible, youth-oriented, pop music format that may be the only unifying cultural force we have going for us right now.

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