The Questionable International PR Team Countering ISIS

Ronn Torossian CEO, 5W Public Relations
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This week, the American and United Arab Emirates governments opened a multinational messaging and engagement program to counter ISIS online, via social media and other digital platforms. Its name is The Sawab Center, Arabic for “the right path,” and according to media reports, the cost of this center is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars. The two governments and other allied nations hope this effort will help counter the Islamic State’s sophisticated online propaganda.

Yet, the people chosen to lead this important initiative each have a record of criticizing America, or American allies.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel and UAE Minister of State Anwar Gargash will run these efforts for their respective countries, and Rashad Hussain, the U.S. special envoy and coordinator for strategic counterterrorism communications is a spokesperson for the effort.

Richard Stengel, a former Time magazine editor who is the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs is leading the efforts of the Sawab Center on behalf of America. Stengel had “mistakenly” previously tweeted support for Hamas, which the U.S. recognizes as a terror organization. While at Time, he oversaw and promoted an article titled, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”

The week prior to the article, Stengel made an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to reveal the new cover and cover story, which contained claims such as, “Israelis don’t care about peace because they are making money, enjoying the sun, they don’t care; they have sidewalk cafes in their “bubble”; no urgency for peace.” He then said, “the sad truth, really, is that the wall with the West Bank has actually worked” — a “sad truth” that terror attacks have been thwarted?

Questioning American superiority, Stengel has described President Obama as the “Drone President,” and asked “Why wouldn’t a foreign power use drones over here to someone that that their court says is a terrorist who is operating in the United States?”

Rashad Hussain, as a law student at Yale University protested that Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian’s prosecution was a “politically motivated persecution” calculated “to squash dissent.” Al-Arian has been an outspoken supporter of suicide-bombing and chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” After two jihadist suicide bombers murdered 18 people in Israel in 1995, al-Arian referred to the decedents as “two mujahidin martyred for the sake of God.” Hussain wrote in a 2008 Brookings Institute paper that, “The primary cause of broad-based anger and anti-Americanism is not a clash of civilizations but the perceived effect of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world.” If he believes this Muslim Brotherhood philosophy, then perhaps he will spin a philosophy for Sawab that if America changes foreign policy, ISIS may not continue to kill infidels.

Then, there is the UAE representative, Anwar Gargash. An avid user of Twitter, Gargash has questioned foreign involvement in the Middle East, as recently as one week prior to the July 8th announcement of the Center’s opening. On June 29, he tweeted, “It’s is perhaps a luxury to lecture us from far. In the Arab world we have to be practical, the storm of extremism/ terrorism continues.” America’s partner in this information war, Gargash has often tweeted articles that criticize American intelligence and ISIS  responses. He has also called for Washington to be harsher with the Netanyahu government.

Gargash has taken anti-radical Islamic positions, noting, “[W]e have seen our religion hijacked over the last 10-15 years by fundamentalists and we have seen the results.” This contrasts with the Obama administration, which still refuses to describe a radical Islam problem. 

Given President Obama’s countless foreign policy failures, one shouldn’t hold out hope that this plan to spend tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars countering slick ISIS propaganda will accomplish much. While this weekend the ISIS JV Teamreleased new video showing their biggest massacre of people yet, the slaughtering of 1,700 prisoners in mass graves, the men in charge of America’s PR against ISIS have a questionable record when it comes to their view of terror.

Ronn Torossian is an award-winning Public Relations executive, having been named PR executive of the year by the American Business Awards. He is the author of “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations.”