Wednesday, November 17, 2004

NYTimes > Middle East > On the Ground: Sides in Falluja Fight for Hearts and Minds

The New York Times > International > Middle East > On the Ground: Sides in Falluja Fight for Hearts and Minds:
"In the minds of the people of Falluja, at least, it seems clear who has the edge in this war. Ismail Abdulla, a 55-year-old shop owner, said that on the second day of the invasion last week, as the imam at his local mosque called for prayers through loudspeakers on the minaret, an American sound truck boomed 'disco' - the word that Iraqis use for most Western popular music - drowning him out."

"That will increase the hatred against the Americans," said Mr. Abdulla, who spoke Tuesday in the village of Karma, just north of Falluja, where he had been evacuated by American military trucks, he said.

Another Falluja resident, who asked to be identified only as Said, said that even before the invasion of his city, leaflets routinely fell onto his roof and elsewhere in the neighborhood. He said the leaflets always had about the same theme - that the insurgency was preventing reconstruction efforts in Falluja. But Said and other residents of the city knew that reconstruction was also halting in Baghdad, he said, and so they ignored the American leaflets.

But given how much is at stake here, the Americans are certain to keep trying. Falluja remains a potent symbol of resistance, and both sides see a public-relations victory here as crucial to the broader struggle before elections set for January.

The insurgents may have lost the physical battle, but Islamist Web sites have already begun using the events of the past week as a recruiting tool, presenting distorted accounts of the action in which American troops commit atrocities and insurgents inflict devastating losses on their attackers.

The insurgents have the added advantage of the Arabic-language satellite networks, particularly Al Jazeera, which endlessly repeat video clips of events like what appeared to be the shooting this week of an injured Iraqi prisoner in a Falluja mosque, helping to stoke the flames of Arab resentment.

Falluja was a center not only of military resistance but also of propaganda that has helped fuel the insurgency throughout Iraq. After the Marines first invaded the city in April, inflated civilian casualty figures from Falluja General Hospital inflamed opinion throughout the country, driving up the political costs of the conflict and ultimately forcing the American occupation authority to order a withdrawal.

A flood of insurgent materials also emanated from here: pamphlets, books, posters, tapes and DVD's. The DVD's tend to mix jihadist sermons with video of American tanks and warplanes followed by grisly images of bloodied Iraqi children.

Military officials do not expect the fall of the city to affect the propaganda flow greatly, partly because many of Falluja's militants escaped before the war. That is why the Americans are redoubling their efforts in the propaganda war now that most of the bombs have stopped falling.

I'm afraid we don't get it. The people of Falluja see us as monsters, based on what they perceive as our murderous, monstrous, behavior. Telling people they didn't see what they think they saw seems to work here in the United States, but won't work in Iraq. It only works with us, because we don't believe that we're monsters, that people like us, from among us, can be monsters.

But wait, it's easy for us to believe strangers, Iraqis, muslims, are monsters; It's easy to believe strangers, Americans, Christians, can be monsters. Monstrous acts, committed by strangers, are indelible. Just as we can't forget the World Trade Center, they can't forget what they've seen. Whether we want to believe it or not is as irrelevent as the fact that some muslims couldn't believe Bin Laden was responsible for 9-11.
con·cept: NYTimes > Middle East > On the Ground: Sides in Falluja Fight for Hearts and Minds