Narrative Battle – At Ground Zero

The Narrative Battle: “Winning the Hearts & Minds”  in Lower Manhattan

“Life’s tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” John Wayne

The “Duke” is right.  Fighting terrorism is hard enough without “help” from public figures that hand victory to the enemy in the “narrative battle.”  The debate over “The Mosque at Ground Zero” is a case in point.

I don’t believe that the “The Mosque at Ground Zero” is an Islamic conspiracy against the USA.  First, it isn’t a Mosque and second it isn’t at Ground Zero. But what I believe is largely irrelevant. 

By accident or design, this issue gave us an excellent opportunity to shoot ourselves in the foot. And by the lame antics of some of our leading public figures to call into question the values and integrity of what it means to be an American.

In 1904, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for describing the phenomenon of classic conditioning. It involves presenting a neutral stimulus along with a stimulus of some significance.  If the neutral stimulus (ringing a bell) is paired with a significant stimulus (an electric shock) the presentation of the neutral stimulus by itself is often enough to evoke an innate, reflexive response.  Here’s how it works: I ring a bell and simultaneously give you an electric shock which makes you jump. We do this over and over again. Pretty soon I can ring the bell and get you to jump – without giving you the shock. Hence you have been “conditioned.”

Pavlov’s Conservatives

There is a conditioning, a Pavlovian conditioning, going on in the United States as we speak.  It is the contrived and utterly false association of Islam and terrorism.

This is bad for a couple of reasons.  First, it is intellectually dishonest.  Islam is not a monolithic organization.  Muslims do not all think alike, nor do they share the same political beliefs or, for that matter, theological orthodoxy. Second, portraying Muslims as terrorists demonizes descent, law abiding people.

Learn to recognize propaganda when you see it.  Two most common traits of propaganda are to claim your enemy is monolithic and demonic – “they all think alike and we can’t reason with them.” I don’t like propaganda because it is dishonest. I also don’t like being played for a sucker.

The third problem with the erroneous association of Islam with terrorism is that it encourages us to be hypocritical and when that happens we lose “the narrative battle.”

The “narrative” is our story.  It is what the United States stands for.  It’s not a Power Point presentation so much as a story you tell your kids, an allegory or parable.  It illustrates a fundamental truth.  As a risk professional interested in terrorism and national security I have learned a profound truth: the narrative is very important in what we call 4th Generation Warfare – sort of a hybrid form of guerrilla warfare, insurgency and terrorism.  4th Generation Warfare is essentially a battle for the mind.  If we lose our moral compass here….we lose the battle and the war.

If you can discredit the narrative, if by your actions you show the world it’s a lie, you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  You are, in effect, a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. Increasing the rhetoric against “the Mosque At Ground Zero” and against Islam isn’t merely stupid, it is an act of disloyalty to the United States and the principles upon which our society is founded.

I have tried to explain, in other forums, that terrorism is not an end in itself.  It is a stimulus that is meant to evoke a particular reaction.  Al-Qaeda would like nothing better than to see our politicians acting out a hypocritical play – allowing the bad guys”  to steal and discredit our story – “Look! The so called American dream isn’t for you.  Freedom of religion isn’t for Muslims.”

Remember, “Life’s tough, but its tougher when you’re stupid.”


One thought on “Narrative Battle – At Ground Zero

  1. Pingback: In Which David Sirota Saves the Planet | McCoyote

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