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Branding Enemies; Creating Battlefields

By Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich


During the Cold War, the two super powers realized that there was no logic in engaging militarily given that each had the benefit of resorting to nuclear weapons, thus, with the exception of a few proxy wars, their 'war' became a war of propaganda to win over minds and hearts.  Today, the Bush White House is following the same pattern of warfare replacing communism with Islam.  However, much like everything else this administration embarks on, the disastrous consequences of this war have not been deliberated.


While an ideology such as communism was relatively new to the people who embraced it at the time, religion is part and parcel of a peoples' make up.  By definition, it is a part of their cultural repertoire. People's behavior is derived from their cultural deposits.  Given that culture is the "collective mental programming of people", and decisions and actions of people are strongly affected by their cultural background, religion as part of the culture plays a role in their decision making, albeit we may not be aware of it (unless we practice it or politicize it).  While under normal circumstances the role that religion plays in our life may not be significant, or it may simply be a 'deposit' passed down the centuries, it will manifest itself if assaulted.  Offensively invoking religion (Judaism and Christianity are over 2000 years old and Islam is over 1500 years old and part of people's cultures) would be akin to provoking someone/s to take a dagger from their cultural repertoire in defense versus a simple needle to mend a cross-cultural fabric.


In post 9/11 America, this Administration, falling short of being able to explain why America should find itself faced with enemies, made every effort to showcase America as a land of liberty while it 'branded' the enemy as Moslem terrorists.  It convinced the people that 'they hate us for our freedoms' while itself took away the very freedoms that America enjoyed in order to secure 'us' from 'them', the 'Moslem terrorists' - the freedoms we had to sacrifice to compensate for the bigotry bestowed upon us were the Patriot Act, the NSA eavesdropping, and the opening of our mail.   


What is unfamiliar to most is that branding a state (and/or belief system) is not only a modern practice in promoting a state to attract investors, tourists, etc. (Cool Britannia vs. Rule Britannia) much like one would brand a product or a company, but it has also become the modern warfare tactic to demote a state.   A state's reputation, identity and power on the international stage are vital to its geo-strategic existence among its neighbors and the global community, and of importance are factors such as whether it is pro-Western or a rogue state, an ally that can be trusted, or a terrorist.  One of the most successful image makers or brand makers, Charlotte Beers, was commissioned to re-brand Osama bin Laden as a mass murderer among Moslems.  Not an easy task given that he was considered a hero by many.  But the more successful task was attained of branding millions of Moslems as terrorists (although the present author is not aware of the brand maker responsible for this irresponsible task).


Having successfully divided the world into 'us' and 'them', two imagined communities were created which were set on an endless war with each other.  The image of the terrorist Moslem was further engraved in the minds of the 'us' with the timely release of the Mohammad cartoons, arousing the rage of the Moslems around the world.  Although the reaction of Moslems around the world successfully portrayed them as 'savage and barbaric', it also proved branding had its limitations.  While branding may curb a state/people, it may also empower them.   The war on Islam empowered the Moslem world in that it united them against injustice, and they had the opportunity to vent out their frustrations. The solution to this dilemma lay in Islam itself; the division of Islam and the sectarian divide that had been dormant but could be resurrected to re-brand the enemy.


To this end, the Sunni-Shiite branding has served to divide the 'Moslem terrorists'.  More importantly, the brand makers have been hard at work tarnishing the image of Iran and presenting it as the 'rogue' state and the  'state sponsor of terrorists'.  It is noteworthy that there is not a single Moslem country in the Middle East that is more compassionate towards the United States than Iran, yet the image portrayed by brand makers is that of a terrorist state. 


While the 9/11 attackers, al Qaeda, the Taliban , and the insurgents responsible for killing Americans are all Sunni Moslems, the image makers (brand makers) have convinced Americans that Iranians Shiite Moslems, and Iran in general, poses the biggest threat to the United States and its democracy, liberty, and freedom.  This, in spite of the intelligence report given by Negroponte that the biggest threat to America is al-Qaeda.  The branding has been so successful that the Moslems of the Middle East are ready to take up arms against Iran, fearing its growing Shiite power.

However, the danger lies not only in an escalation of violence in the Middle East, the like of which we are witnessing, but the overflow of bigotry into our own borders, the subsequences of which will smear our proud heritage. Evidence points to what lies in store for us for the success of branding has witnessed the opening of a first 'terrorist free oil' gas station, claiming U.S. dollars used to purchase gas made from Middle East oil funds terrorism.  "We believe that we are financing our own demise by purchasing crude oil from the Middle East," spokesman Joe Kaufman said.

Entry visas are being denied based on religion though the reason given is suspicion of terrorism. 


Surely we must proudly look to the past and be reminded that this country was founded on the basis that many who came here, came to escape religious persecution.  Though many were secular, the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they thought to be correct.  With the escalation of hostilities among us, and growing by the day, how do we treat the Moslems among us today and how will they be treated tomorrow?  Those Moslems who are married to Christians, who have children of a mixed marriage, are they to be shunned as terrorists, interned, or will be learn to ignore the people who are hard at work taking American values away from us?  


About the author: Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich has lived and studied in Iran, the UK, France, and the US.   She obtained her Bachelors Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing her education in Middle East studies and Public Diplomacy. Soraya has done extensive research on US foreign policy towards Iran and Iran's nuclear program. She can be reached at


... Payvand News - 2/5/07 ... --

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