For the past two weeks, the Friday khutba (sermon) at my mosque has been about the American assault on Falluja. Yesterday at the end of his khutba the imam dedicated all of the du'a (prayer) to the residents of Falluja, and prayed for the "ground beneath the invader's feet to quake". While leaving the mosque there were several people collecting money to aid the Fallujans, and flyers like the one pictured above were being handed out. There were also two separate protests held yesterday in Manama and Muharraq against the occupation of Iraq, and in support of the insurgents of Falluja.
It's hard for me to take a strong stand on either side. On the one hand, the (possibly foreign) terrorists who are beheading people need to be dealt with. On the other hand, it's not entirely clear who the insurgents in Falluja are, and I don't think that bombing an entire city is much of a solution.
What is clear however is that the Americans have once again done a terrible job of their PR. With the stories and pictures coming out of Falluja about ordinary residents and refugees, and especially the video footage of the wounded insurgent that was shot in the head point-blank by a US marine, this operation is turning in to another Abu Ghraib. The Americans are just terrible with PR, and it seems to be a defining policy of the Bush administration to specifically not care about how they are perceived by others. The reality however is that in the short term, PR will be as important (or more) as the actual operations that take place on the ground. While the US forces have done many good and bad things for Iraqis, they don't seem to see the strategic value of highlighting the good things. Whenever the Americans hold a press conference the generals look so very smug and proud of themselves when describing how they demolished building with their huge bombs. But when it comes to describing the reconstruction efforts they are bland. It's strange that they haven't tried to spin things in Iraq for Iraqis, even though we saw them do a great job of spinning things in Iraq for Americans during the recent elections.
This lack of good PR is obvious to me sitting here in Bahrain, the home of the US Navy Fifth Fleet. Most of the major embassies on the island make a significant effort to get people to understand the states they represent through frequent cultural, musical and artistic events, such as the Leonard Eto performance on Thursday night that was arranged by the Japanese embassy. The British Embassy arranges events through the British Council, and the French Embassy has the Alliance Francaise. The events are well publicized so many Bahrainis show up. The American Embassy however rarely holds such events, and when they do they don't do enough to publicize it among Bahrainis. The result is that their events are attended mostly by American nationals and other expats. These events might seem trivial, but I believe that it makes a big difference as it allows us to look beyond the portrayal of Americans in camouflage on Al-Jazeera.
In the way that the passive attitude of most Muslims is ultimately to blame for our negative portrayal in the US, so is America ultimately to blame for its negative portrayal in our parts. It's sad. Everyday I see how more and more of my friends and family are rejecting anything American, because they don't have the means to interact with real Americans and the values they stand for.