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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

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November 26, 2002

November 26, 2002

U.S. IMAGE IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD: 'POLICY' IS THE PROBLEM

 

KEY FINDINGS:

** Islamic commentators stress that "deeds must match words" in U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East towards Israel and Iraq.

** U.S. "arrogant unilateralism" is why Muslims "view Washington's intentions with skepticism."

** Many acknowledge the "Shared Values" campaign's demonstration of Muslim success in the U.S. but nevertheless complain that Muslim "visitors are...treated as suspected terrorists."

 

MAJOR THEMES

 

Turned off by the (foreign) policy-- Arab/Muslim dailies emphasized that the U.S.' "bad image" in the Islamic world comes strictly from "U.S. foreign policy and Washington's stance on Arab issues." Several regional papers demanded "concrete steps to gain our trust," while Abu Dhabi's Al Ittihad dismissed the "Shared Values" campaign by declaring that it "must be accompanied by a real and clear change in U.S. foreign policies." In previews/reviews of the "Shared Values" campaign, many noted that it "comes in conjunction with beating the drums of war against Iraq" and asserted that it is aimed at minimizing Arab/Muslim street reaction to any conflict. Virtually all regional media stressed that anti-Americanism will abate only if the U.S. shows the same intolerance for Israel's UN "violations" as it does toward Iraq's; Morocco's independent Demain called for the U.S. to "start being fair in the Middle East."

 

'Propaganda blitz' cannot hide U.S. 'arrogance in displaying its might'-- A number of observers bluntly charged that the U.S. "media campaign to improve its image...has been a complete failure." Pakistan's centrist News declared that "by targeting Muslims," this campaign "appears to be another Zionist propaganda tool." Many criticized the U.S.' perceived belief that it has the "right to interfere to reform misconceptions in Arab societies" or to "light a fire under the Islamic world [so it will] behave." Karachi's independent Dawn concluded that U.S. Under Secretary of State Charlotte "Beers has been told to inject Botox-like properties on the wrinkled face of America's ugly unilateralism."

 

Anger over treatment of Muslim visitors, not citizens-- Some dailies suggested that the U.S. was seeking to cover-up the racial and religious discrimination that has occurred since 9/11. Many writers, however, confirmed that the images of "harmony" and "fairness" between American Muslims and non-Muslims, as portrayed in the "Shared Values" campaign, were accurate. Saudi Arabia's pan-Arab Al Hayat said the campaign was "justified," adding that "American society remains a place of coexistence among different cultures and ethnic groups." Malaysia's pro-government Berita Harian summed up a common theme: "It is the foreign policy of Washington towards Islamic countries that is under scrutiny, not the treatment or the lives of American Muslims."

EDITOR: Ben Goldberg

EDITOR'S NOTE: This analysis is based on 23 reports from 7 countries over 31 October - 26 November. Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.

 

MIDDLE EAST

 

EGYPT: "Refusal To Air"

 

In the weekly popular Channel II program "Ra'ees El-Tahrir" (Editor-in-Chief), host Hamdy Qandil talked about (11/26) "the four paid mini-documentaries produced by the U.S. at $15 million to improve its image in the Moslem world. " Qandil indicated Egyptian TV refused to air them based on the claim that these were political advertisements touching its independence. Qandil concluded: "The U.S. would do better saving its money because it will not achieve any results."

 

"The Invasion Has Begun"

 

Leading pro-government Al Ahram's radical contributor Fahmy Howeidi warned (11/19): "Gentlemen, our democratic future has become guaranteed. Fifty Arab women [parliamentarians] from 14 Arab countries went to the U.S. to train in democracy in an intensive program to 'reform Arabs' twisted situation'...the program was prepared by the State Department under the supervision of Elizabeth Cheney.... However, the matter is graver than the travel of 50 women. The Arab scene recently has been dominated by an intensive campaign to reshape public awareness.... Americans have given themselves the right to interfere to reform misconceptions in Arab societies, which is considered an invasion and penetration of Arab societies.... The Voice of America has developed into a more vital program than news reports, now called Sawa.... American - and sometimes Israeli - writers and politicians have made direct, unprecedented presence in the Arab press.... They became defenders of American policy...and spoken directly to the Arab reader about the invasion of Iraq as opening the door for a democratic regime to replace the years of sadness...liberated women in Afghanistan and defended the American targeted killing in Yemen."

 

"How Can America Improve its Image In The Islamic World? Not By Media Brochures Alone"

 

Aggressive pro-government Al Akhbar's Islamic page reported (article features a photo of the U.S. Embassy's booklet on Ramadan in America) (11/17): "If the U.S...wants to improve its image in the Islamic world, it should: side with the fair issues of Moslems in Palestine and Iraq; respect the right of self-determination for all countries according to the U.N. Charter and refrain from intervening in any country's internal affairs by seeking to change its regime; it should respect international legitimacy.... It should treat Moslem and non-Moslem [American] citizens equally. Not all terrorism comes from what is Moslem or Arab."

 

MOROCCO: "I Love U.S.-rael?"

 

Independent, French-language weekly Demain Magazine commented (11/4): "The U.S. Government invested $M15 to publicize the 'joy' of American Muslims who live in the United States, to better the image of America in the Islamic world. The TV spot takes 2 minutes and we see Muslims from different origins who live in the United State.... Americans want us to love them. It is very simple. They need to start being fair in the Middle East and impose international legitimacy on their Israeli ally. All the military hardware used against the Palestinians is also made and paid for by the United States. Only when America will be just can it win our sympathy, and then it will not need such expensive ads."

 

"How Does America Improve Its Image?"

 

Islamic Arabic-language Attajdid stated (11/4): "Finally, the United States has become aware that its image is bad and ugly all over the world, particularly in the Islamic world. The entire world is feeling increasing hatred towards Washington, because of U.S. arrogance and injustice in the Middle East.... France is leading this trend in the European Union.... In this context, the U.S. ambassador has held successive meetings with newly elected female members of the Moroccan parliament and with Moroccan journalists who visited America last year and with other Moroccan personalities.... The United States is a powerful but unjust state and to improve its image, it should be a powerful state but fair. Power should serve justice and respect of peoples. With justice for all, America could win the respect and support of all nations."

 

"Televised Campaign To Better The Image Of The U.S."

 

Pro-government coalition, French-language L'Opinion commented (11/1): "This campaign that represents small documentaries is about life of Muslims in the United States and religious freedom. This reality is not always known in the world. These documentaries have been broadcast in Indonesia, the most important Islamic country in terms of demography. Other Arab countries will follow suit. The State Department spoksperson Richard Boucher stated that this communication offensive will be highlighted during Ramadan. He did not give any names of the targeted countries. He also said that these programs will be prime time programs. $15 million will support this campaign."

 

SAUDI ARABIA: "American Naive"

London's pan-Arab Al-Hayat ran a commentary by columnist Bechara Charbel (11/26): "There is no doubt that the U.S. administration's campaign is justified. Since the September 11 attacks, a wave of lies and conspiracy theories have swept over the Arab and Muslim world. The violations committed against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. are unjustified, but still, they are not comparable to the massacre that caused them.... It is only normal that in such an environment of hatred, the U.S. should resort to a campaign to bring attention to a fact-- that no two rational persons may dispute--that the American society remains a place of coexistence among different cultures and ethnic groups under the law and the constitution.... It is difficult for Washington to convince the Arabs and Muslims that what it has been doing since 9/11 will serve to develop their societies, as long as it continues to unleash Israeli brutality."

 

"Propaganda Has No Owner"

London-based pan-Arab Al-Hayat ran a commentary by the paper's Riyadh bureau chief Dawood Al-Shiryan (11/21): "The U.S. media campaign to improve its image so far has been a complete failure...the problem with the American campaign, it is not only a failure but has also turned into a means for incitement against U.S. policy in several Islamic countries, the most prominent one is Indonesia. The programs of the campaign have been met with demonstrations denouncing U.S. policy, demonstrators consider the campaign as part of American hegemony. But this failure has not prevented the campaign from continuing. Certainly the U.S. image as a nation, people and civilization does not need a political campaign to improve it, and the aim of this propaganda campaign is to improve the image of the political system by using some shining pictures of the great American society, but the result is, the campaign has insulted the community and has done nothing to improve the image of the US government. The campaign has failed because it depends on political propaganda, which is connected in the minds of the people as a means to protect lies and twist the facts. In addition, the timing of the campaign has coincided with political and military campaigns, in which Washington is engaged in more than one place in the world."

 

"Again, The Bush Administration"

 

London's pan-Arab Al-Hayat published an op-ed by columnist Rashid Khashana, stating (11/14): "The United States has launched a large TV campaign in the Islamic world during the month of Ramadan in an attempt to improve its image. The campaign comes in conjunction with beating the drums of war against Iraq.... The Americans plan to focus, among other things, on showing that American Muslims are assimilated in American society, enjoying unrestricted freedom of worship. Yet the political and cultural dealings with Islam is dominated by folkloric appearances, such as issuing a stamp on the occasion of Ramadan, or inviting American Muslim leaders to have Iftar with officials. President Bush will do just that on the Eid at the White House this year, as he did the year before. But that cannot be compared with the access that Jewish organizations enjoy. It is clear that dealing with the Islamic culture is restricted to appearances, while its civilized aspects are being suppressed. This is not restricted to within the U.S. More serious is that the hawks of the current administration have started an unprecedented campaign to change the educational curricula in the Arab and Islamic countries, for which they have allocated $20 million, as if Pentagon experts are more knowledgeable about Islamic civilization than its own people. The planners of the TV campaign claim that it aims at improving America's image, we note that the campaign expresses the view of a single American team, which is the one that is controlling the administration in a way that is similar to the practice in Third World countries. Yet the views of the majority of the Americans, who reject the war against Iraq remain missing..."

 

"Muslim Life In America Series"

 

Pro-government Al-Watan reported (11/10): "Egyptian TV has refused to broadcast an American propaganda series during the month of Ramadan aimed at improving the image of the U.S. in the Arab world. Hassan Hamed, President of the Egyptian TV and Radio Federation, said that Egyptian television does not air political ads at all."

 

TUNISIA: "Come See The Actors...!"

 

A commentary by senior editor, Manoubi Akrout, in independent French-language Le Quotidien stated (11/2): "Once more, the Americans are tangled up in an absurd strategy. Their TV campaign to ameliorate their image does not help much, since the essential is absent.... Americans are so convinced of their wisdom that they are concentrating their campaign on the life of Muslims in the United States and on the freedom they have in practicing their religion. This is so funny! Because what we understand from this campaign is that Americans just need a small cloth to polish their image, and that's it! In reality, Americans need much more than this to improve their image within the Arab-Muslim world. They need to show the world that they no more tolerate the Israeli behavior in violating the UN resolutions.... In fact, Americans should stop covering, in this unacceptable manner, the Israeli actions.... To ameliorate their image the Americans should stop their hostilities against the Iraqi people.... If Americans want to ameliorate their image, they should work on giving the UN its role of guarantor of international law. They should stop using as an alibi the struggle against terrorism that allows them to interfere in countries' sovereignty.... They should stop as well making the entrance to their country a door, which is open to humiliating Arab visitors. Americans should not forget that Arabs are the principal investors in the U.S. economy."

 

UAE: "Attempts By The U.S. To Improve Its Image"

 

Mohammed Al Hammadi commented in Abu Dhabi-based Al Ittihad (11/6): "Before starting a publicity campaign to improve its image, the U.S. must know what requires improvement...the image or the reality...Those in the U.S. who believe the negative U.S. image among Arabs is due to Arab ignorance of the U.S. are certainly mistaken. We understand the U.S. But the U.S. must understand us. The bad image is drawn from U.S. foreign policy and Washington's stance on Arab issues and human rights, especially in Palestine. Any media or diplomatic initiative must be accompanied by a real and clear change in U.S. foreign policies prior to improving the image. If the U.S. spends millions of dollars and succeeds in improving its image, but later recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moves its embassy to Jerusalem, then what kind of a good image will the U.S. have among Arabs?!"

 

"Road Map And Propaganda Blitz"

 

Hashem Ahelbarra wrote in Dubai-based Gulf News (11/4): "U.S. envoy William Burns paid a visit to the region in a bid to make a case for the 'road map' for achieving peace and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005...Both the timing and the substance of the U.S. design carried by Burns dealt a blow to his mission. Two questions impose themselves. Why now, when the prospects of an imminent war against Iraq poison the air? And whose purpose should a vaguely drafted plan, poor in details and commitments, serve?...Now that the U.S. is engaged in a public diplomacy of a genre never seen before in a bid to refurbish its image in the region, a propaganda blitz would not do the job by itself. To achieve that goal, they first need to answer the question they have been avoiding: have they really been embracing a 'messianic' policy in the Middle East to spread the principles of freedom, peace and prosperity, or just to secure a balance of power?"

 

ASIA-PACIFIC

 

MALAYSIA: "Futile Ramadan Public Relations Exercise"

 

Government-influenced English-language New Straits Times had the following editorial (11/16): "This Ramadan -- despite the Islamophobia throughout the Western world -- seems extra special for Malaysians and I hear Indonesians too, because greetings appear to have poured in every day since the start of Ramadan from the U.S. -- from both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. Wishes for a blessed Ramadan are narrated in the form of migrant Muslim happiness and prosperity in America, delivered through prime media time and space. If the Malaysian media were ideologically obsessed and fanatically biased, or even if they were not free as proclaimed by Western media pundits, then any amount of money cannot buy such space and time. Furthermore, because it is a well-intentioned American-Muslim non-profit organization, we remain trapped and it becomes difficult, in the spirit of brotherhood to counter such overt American hypocrisy -- which on one hand speaks of "either you are with us or you are with them" and then on the other, constructs and maintains its ideological diplomacy most pervasively. It used to be called propaganda during the war years in America. However, the question that comes to mind -- (to) what extent do these scenic pictures of happy American -Muslim families and successfully employed American-Muslim migrants speak for all of the Muslim people in Republican America? So they say, public relations is a friend of the rich. To be enriched, ideologically, one needs to win the hearts and minds of people and more than anyone else, it is big business and big government that must woo the public for power, expansion and prosperity."

 

"Washington's Questionable Agenda"

 

Government-influenced English-language weekly Malay Mail had the following commentary by writer Askiah Adam (11/17): "Millions of dollars are being spent by the United States government on advertising its good faith in the war on terrorism. If the US is against Islam, these advertisements appear to be asking, would it allow the religion to be practiced freely in the country by its citizens? The emphasis here must be on the word "citizens" for, in America today, only American Muslims are privileged to be thus without encountering problems from the INS. Yes, it may be true that Muslims in the US are indeed free to practice their religion, teach it to their children and maybe, even to proselytize but, some are now unwilling to be openly recognized as Muslims. Even accepting that its Muslim citizens have freedom of religion, how is it expected to buy the empathy of other Muslims when they experience problems entering the country? To even the impartial observer, this is a cynical campaign that insults the intelligence of the average Muslim. If the aim is to convince the Muslim world that its actions against Iraq are above board then it has to be matched with a firmer hand against its Middle East ally, Israeli. Until that happens, Muslims the world over will continue to view Washington's intentions with skepticism. One very important factor stands out above all else. In an Iraq that sees Saddam replaced through conventional means, neither the United States nor Britain has a share in the country's oil wealth. That America's oil companies were openly vying for an Iraqi presence so soon after the recent Republican victory makes credible the long held allegations that American policy in the Middle East is driven by the oil imperative."

 

"State Department Ads Off Target."

 

Government-influenced, Malay-language Berita Harian had the following editorial (11/10): "The U.S. State Department is off target with its ad campaign. The intention is to show that Muslims in America are living in peace, without any discrimination or oppression. This PR campaign has had some influence on the media. Some time ago, there were news reports on investigations by the FBI on Arab immigrants to the U.S. - in a search for suspected terrorist sleeper cells. With the launch of the PR campaign, such news of invasive methods by government agencies have disappeared from the pages of the major newspapers. In its place are stories of how American Muslims and non-Muslims are meeting to establish better relations and so on. In contrast, the INS has issued a directive that all visitors from Islamic countries will require visas. Also all visitors from said countries are to be thoroughly scrutinized by immigration, customs and FBI. With that in mind, we can surely say that PR campaign is way off its mark. We have never said that American Muslims were badly treated. However the visitors to the U.S. are, from the minute of arrival into the U.S., are treated as 'suspected terrorists' and are 'profiled'. This is the discrimination by America, which we are condemning."

 

"American Campaign Is Confused About How To Woo Islamic Countries."

 

Government-influenced, Malay-language Berita Harian had the following editorial (11/9): "It started off at the end of October with a ABC News Niteline show that features the efforts of the White House to dispel the idea that America hates Islam. This is followed by numerous reports from different news organizations that show America is not anti-Islam. Recently on Malaysian and Indonesian TV, a video clip of a Lebanese-born schoolteacher and her life in America is shown as proof that America is not about to launch a war against Islam. However this campaign seems off its mark. The Muslim world never has criticized America for its treatment of its Muslim community. It is the discrimination of the Bush Administration towards Islamic countries and their communities that has been criticized. The Palestinians who have to endure oppression without any respite in sight. Iraqi citizens who live under the threat of war. Malaysian students who face gender discrimination in applying for their visas to the U.S. It is the foreign policy of Washington towards Islamic countries that is under scrutiny, not the treatment or the lives of American Muslims."

 

"Washington Launches Program To Win The Hearts Of Muslims"

 

Government-influenced, Malay-language Berita Harian's reporter Wan Esuriyanti Wan Ahmad who is in New York on a UN fellowship filed this report (11/4): "In its efforts to gain support to attack Iraq, local American media are working with the U.S. Government to disseminate the information that American does not have anti-Islamic sentiments. The media report that Muslims in the country enjoy the American lifestyle and have the same opportunities as anyone else. On ABC's News Niteline was a report on the efforts of the White House to remove the perception that the administration was anti-Islam. The report also tried to show the support being given to the American Muslim community. At the same time, the U.S. Government has released video clips of American Muslims--which have already been aired in Indonesia, and soon in Malaysia. However, the New York Times has reports that the video has been heavily criticized by viewers in Indonesia, because the Indonesian public is suspicious about the real lives of Muslims in America. This strategy of selling America is being viewed as another propaganda effort to get international support for its own agenda. In any case, it cannot be denied that in America, particularly in New York City, there are residents of many religions and races. There are about eight million Muslims in America and 700,000 in New York. The New York community in general, does not discriminate against Muslims or practitioners of any other religion.... In my travels to Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and other states, all I saw was community harmony. Many Americans did not support their government's efforts to go to war nor were they interested in discrediting another religion. This would be the same for the media organizations as well. There would be news reports that would be biased or in favor of a certain agenda, but there would also be reports that were fair and balanced. I am reminded by the words of Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad...that to defeat your enemies, you need to know and understand them. The Bush administration may not accept this, even at a time when they are trying to tell the world that they are not anti-Islam in the face of the anti-American sentiments from Muslims feeling that U.S. policies are against them. If Iraq is such a threat to world peace and needs to be stopped, America should realize that as a superpower, it will also be looked upon to stop the threat to Palestinian peace. If America wants to punish Iraq for having weapons of mass destruction, what of other countries such as North Korea or Israel. If America wants to eliminate anti-American sentiment, it needs to show that its policies will not bring suffering to others. Unfortunately, America is only showing its arrogance in displaying its (economic and military) might and Iraq continues to be its target."

 

PAKISTAN: "Shared Values"

 

GEO TV, a new, popular but somewhat sensational Urdu-language news channel based in Dubai owned by the "Jang" group, ran a report (11/8) on "Shared Values." They ran clips of some of the ads noting that they were being aired in Malaysia and "some other Muslim countries." Reporting was mostly accurate, but emphasis was placed on the "large budget" for the project. Sardonically, the commentator closed noting that: "this is a USG effort to show how well Muslims are treated in the U.S.," but "we all know from the stories that we hear from our friends and relatives that the reality is different."

 

"Too Late The Ad"

 

A letter to the editor by A. R. Jerral run in the centrist News (11/8) stated: "These days large advertisements are published in national newspapers on behalf of the council of American Muslims on the life of Muslims in USA. This sudden PR blitz is amazing. Why now? Is it to forestall the likely reaction of Muslims in the light of prospective attack on Iraq? This Council of American Muslims for Understanding will render better service to the Muslim world if they can create understanding in Americans especially make Mr. Bush understand. By targeting Muslims in Pakistan or elsewhere this organisation appears to be another Zionist propaganda tool."

 

"Information Vendors & Spin"

 

In an op-ed in national independent Dawn, Anjum Niaz wrote (11/7): "Pakistan with its 'crumbling infrastructure' is being called a 'nuclear Yugoslavia' because Islam has had 'no more success in quelling ethnic and tribal animosities than Communism had in Yugoslavia,' and the 'Punjabis, through military and civil service, run the other provinces in imperial fashion much as the Serbs did'.... In today's multiplicity of moral certitude that competes for attention, it does the heart a world of good to hear yet some others speak well of Pakistan.... On another level, they shine in comparison with the State Department's stultified effort to win over a billion Muslims via paid ads costing the $15 million. Clumsily packaged by its Wisenheimers (who perhaps have never left their shores) under the stewardship of Ms Charlotte Beers, the high priestess of spin, slicked away from the ad world of Madison Avenue by chief Colin Powell and installed as his undersecretary, Beers has been told to inject Botox-like properties on the wrinkled face of America's ugly unilateralism. Drawing pointed criticism, officials here say that in initial focus group testing, some Arabs and Muslims found the videos so offensive that the US embassies there sent urgent messages to the State Department, urging not to release them. But the indefatigable Ms Beers has reportedly tweaked the videos, insisting the ads are just one piece of a much broader media campaign, including websites and even a new radio station, all designed to tell what they call the real American story. In a shoulder-to-shoulder contest, Karen Hughes - the woman who gave up Bush for her husband and son, jettisoning a job which no woman had ever held before and go back to live in Texas - monitors long distance the Office of the Global Communication housed in the White House. Word has it that a strenuous search is under way thumbing through the nation's rolodex for Muslim names smelling of sweet success. And sure enough, profiles of prominent Pakistani-Americans (many professional hustlers) are trickling in to be short-listed, selected and sounded. Others are more wary and not biting. 'It's a tough sell,' says one, 'especially when the US wants to go into Iraq caring two hoots about Arab and UN wishes.' 'Remember the first rule of marketing?' mulls another Pakistan-born American, while preferring to sit this one out, 'the product that you sell has to be good.' Carrying medicines and food to the Muslims of the world is not enough. So what's the great rush? Well, Bush wants to light a fire under the Islamic world to behave and fall into line with the US, ideally to fall in love with Uncle Sam and its 'liberties.' The rising anti-US crescendo is making the Texan president's patience wear thin. While publicly he's demanding results, privately insiders confide 'the president is a very worried man'.... A slew of authors, reporters and advertising kingpins like Charlotte Beers are information vendors with their own individual spin."

"Why Such Expensive Advertisements?"

 

Dr. Arshad Khan of Peshawar wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the rightist Pakistan Observer (11/6): "I have noticed a few half-page advertisements probably sponsored by the US Government wherein we are told of how great life is for Muslims in the US. Does the US Government take us to be so naive that we will be influenced by these advertisements? Why is there such need for these expensive advertisements? It is like telling Palestinians how great life is in the occupied territories. My advice to the US Government would be to quit fooling us and rather take some concrete steps to gain our trust. Deeds must match words, otherwise only the press would be benefiting by getting US dollars for these advertisements."

 

"A Deplorable Campaign to Hoodwink the Nation"

 

In the (10/31) pro-Islamist Urdu-language Ausaf, an editorial appeared stating: "it is a pity that some sections of the electronic and print media are trying to establish the impression that the U.S. is the biggest well-wisher of the Pakistani nation. Through this deplorable campaign, sometimes the U.S. diplomats are shown painting a school wall and sometimes a U.S.-based Pakistani doctors' association tells fairy tales of Americans' excellent attitudes with Pakistanis. One of the important objectives of this insulting advertising campaign is to get across the view that during the last 55 years Pakistan's politicians, scholars and social workers could not serve their people and now all this will be done by the U.S. but for this, Pakistan will have to first compromise on its sovereignty and give in to all U.S. demands."

 

##

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November 26, 2002 U.S. IMAGE IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD: 'POLICY' IS THE PROBLEM



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