Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fighting Fire with Fire

Those who are familiar with a recent Rand report on "The Use of the Internet by Islamic Extremists" for the House Intelligence Committee hearings on Terrorists' Use of the Internet will be familiar with how political discourse on the subject is increasingly focused on rhetorical countermeasures, particularly those labeled as "public diplomacy" efforts.

In situating digital discourse in relation to U.S. public diplomacy, it is interesting to examine the so-called "Zarqawi bloopers tape" that was released at an official Coalition press briefing and is now widely available for distribution on iFilm. Zarqawi appears in white New Balance running shoes, and the footage in these "outtakes" shows him fumbling with a weapon that has jammed; later a flunky next to Zarqawi burns his hands on a hot gun barrel.

Slate magazine points out in "The trouble with releasing Zarqawi's outtakes" that it would have been strategically better to have the Arabic-speaking media release the material, rather than delegate the task to coalition commanders who have been associated with other forms of cultural humiliation and emasculation. (In other high-tech news, the same military briefing included coverage of the new "plasma screens" for the command center for the Iraqi joint task force.)

Furthermore, as The Washington Post has reported, a PowerPoint presentation about the value of Zarqawi for U.S. public diplomacy has been something of an embarrassment to the administration.



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