Rebranding the Enemy

The Left has developed no end of tricks to manipulate debates without the trouble of making a case or putting together an argument. Many of them have been in wide use for decades without ever being identified, much less counteracted. One example widely seen in recent weeks is a technique closely related to what the PR industry calls "rebranding": taking a group that is loathed for any number of good reasons - terrorists, criminals, druggies, what have you - and subtly reworking their image over time to present them instead as victims.

One group that benefited from this style of makeover was the American criminal class.

During the 1950s, research carried out by criminologists and psychologists was misinterpreted by the liberal elite to mean that criminals were not responsible for their actions, that they had been coerced into violating the law by forces beyond their control, such as poverty, lack of education, mental disorders and so on. "It's not their fault, society is to blame", became the watchword of the day. Newspaper editorials, films, and television programs repeated the concept until, by the end of the decade, it had became the consensus view. It found policy expression through such programs as decriminalization of minor offenses, sentence reduction, probation rather than prison, and a general vilification of the police. In the end, it acted as a major driver of the great crime wave of the 60s, one of the worst disasters this country ever endured, and one still not widely understood.

The same technique has been utilized to reform the reputations of drug addicts, assorted sexual deviants, the Sandinistas, the Palestinians, and other enemies of civilization. As a rule of thumb, if the group is vulnerable to counteraction by the status quo, they become victims. If, on the other hand, they can stand on their own in open defiance, like Castro or the Viet Cong, they're treated as heroes.

Recent days have seen this process applied to the Jihadis. The first example involves Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Al Qaeda's infamous KSM. You don't have to believe the account contained in his confession claiming responsibility for every disaster since the Hindenburg to be aware that KSM is quite a vile piece of work, who at this moment is exactly where he ought to be. It's a little difficult imagining anyone thinking otherwise.

That is, if you hadn't considered Human Rights Watch. No sooner had KSM's hearing taken place than Kenneth Roth,  the organization's executive director, questioned its legality and whether the confession was obtained by torture.
"We won't know that unless there is an independent hearing," he said. "We need to know if this purported confession would be enough to convict him at a fair trial or would it have to be suppressed as the fruit of torture?" 
This was followed in short order by comments from senators Carl Levin and Lindsey Graham -- who were present at the hearing -- calling for an investigation into KSM's treatment at the hands of U.S. forces, thus falling in with the Al-Qaeda's rule 18: always claim you were tortured.  Levin and Graham (who I thought was Republican) displayed considerable sympathy for KSM in their statement: 
"...he views himself as a warrior, motivated by religious teachings, and seeks his place in history."
None of these exercises is complete without the participation of an academic, preferably a full professor. Anthony D'Amato of Northwestern University assured that we were not disappointed. In a short opinion piece D'Amato compared the KSM hearing to the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s, even though the proceeding was not a trial and was not open to public view.

D'Amato was particularly upset over the confession, which, like many, he found unlikely. But instead of attributing it to good tradecraft (KSM taking credit - if that's the word I'm groping for - for many attacks might conceivably take the heat off of vulnerable Jihadi networks), D'Amato compared it to the bizarre confessions of Stalin's victims. The problem with this interpretation is that with few exceptions (the Kirov assassination,   for instance) most of the purge trial "conspiracies" never took place. I don't mean to batter D'Amato unduly - though he doesn't seem to know very much about the purges - but I hope he does believe that 9/11, the Khobar Towers, and the embassy attacks actually happened. One James Fetzer is enough.

KSM was not alone. Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam Hussein's vice-president who was hanged in Baghdad last week for complicity in crimes against the people of Iraq, underwent much the same treatment. It's difficult to imagine an individual better deserving of Ramadan's fate. But here we have the International Center for Transitional Justice, and Human Rights Watch (once again) declaring
"the evidence against him was insufficient for the death penalty."
The UN also wieghed in, with human rights chief Louise Arbour contending that the trial "failed to meet the standards of due process."

What's happening in these trials is unprecedented. They mark the first time that the victims, rather than a third party or international tribunal, have sat in judgment on their tormentors. If any similar proceeding deserves disdain, it's the Hague Tribunal, which spent years on the preliminaries of Sloboban Milosevic's trial before he finally died of a heart attack. In Iraq they know the virtue of keeping things humming. While the Iraqi effort may have its failings - as any pioneering attempt will - the regime trials will be studied for generations. And we can be sure that tyrants across the wide world are having sleepless nights every time the trap falls open in Baghdad.

A little closer to home, we find yet another aspect of the same routine. A high school in Colchester, Connecticut has, in the kind of role-playing game that delights modern educators, sent teenage girls walking around wearing burqas. They got precisely the kind of response - catcalls and insults - that you'd expect from a place packed with teenage boys. But the teachers and administration were no less than aghast:
"It's unacceptable," Superintendent Karen Loiselle said. "It's imperative students who are victims of those comments report them immediately and it will be taken very seriously. In this case, it has opened an important conversation."
These role-playing games, introduced in the 60s by a third-grade teacher named Jane Elliot, have never achieved anything apart from instigating the kind of behavior they were supposed to suppress. This exercise is no exception. But it's distinctly possible it wasn't meant to be. It happens that the entire affair was arranged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Once that's understood, it begins to become clear why American girls were sent around wearing the major contemporary symbol for human degradation. It wasn't to "start a conversation", or to bridge gaps between ethnic groups. It was a con game to kick off a confrontation, in which Muslims - and not just any Muslims, but those of the most reactionary type - could be portrayed as victims. And the teachers and administrators of Colchester, as unworldly and ignorant as almost all such, fell right into it.                                

Is there anything involving Muslims that the media won't attempt to exploit? Well, now that you mention it... Between March 4 and 7 an event took place in St. Petersburg, Florida that may well rank as one of the most important of 2007. The Secular Islamic Summit was the first international gathering of moderate Muslims on record, featuring speakers Ibn Warraq, Irshad Manji, and Wafa Sultan, among many others, calling for an Islamic reformation based on principles of tolerance, separation of church and state, and individual rights. It's a brave effort, one deserving of all support - and one that went virtually unmentioned in the American media.

Similarly, in late March the moderate American Islamic Forum for Democracy offered to pay the legal costs of bystanders threatened with lawsuits by the imams taken off the airliner in Minneapolis last November. The imams have threatened to sue a number of passengers who may (or may not) have reported their activities. It's difficult to see this as anything other than intimidation, and unfortunately, it's the exact sort of thing many judges enjoy waxing Solomonic about. In that context, the Islamic Forum's offer comes as a breath of fresh air.

But how widely was it reported? Not at all. A single story in the Washington Times , and that was about it.

Because, of course, there are no victims involved. The legacy media, with its customary inability to adequately address issues of complexity, has come up with a working template: that Muslims are victims and common Americans, whether in government or out, are the victimizers. Nothing about Muslims as citizens, nothing about Muslims as compatriots, nothing about Muslims as allies need ever see print or airtime in their universe.

The danger of this should be obvious. The Jihadis are working night and day to strike at this country, and eventually they will succeed. When the blow falls, the entire newsprint facade of "Muslim as victim" will be blown to pieces, a collateral casualty of Jihadi efforts. The attempt to rebrand the likes of KSM and Ramadan will fall apart. Leaving what in its place?

Leaving absolutely nothing, certainly no image of Muslims as individuals worthy of respect. We may then see the backlash against Muslims that we've avoided for so long. As has happened all too often, the media will have been instrumental in creating the very situation it claimed to be trying to prevent.

It's all unnecessary. It is not, and has never been, the media's place to carry out psychological warfare campaigns against its own audience, no matter how lofty the purpose. Simply reporting the news is more than enough. And "news" includes events such as the Secular Islamic Summit and the admirable gesture of the American Islamic Forum. With the time that's left over, they can delve into the true nature of KSM and Ramadan, not to mention organizations like CAIR. And with that information on hand, Americans can probably be depended on to draw the proper conclusions on their own.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor for American Thinker.