Lessons from the past – Hero or traitor?

When the achievement one is striving for is not about personal popularity, a conflict between what needs to be done and what the public perceives to be right could result in a person declared a public enemy.
Today, there is hardly an executive Palestinian who hasn’t been described as “traitor” or to say the least a sell-out, by some party here or there. As sad as it is, funny how a Palestinian leader needs to be killed by the enemy before the general public exonerates him of all the titles it bestowed on him and remembers him in opposite terms starting with “martyr” and not ending with “how can we replace him?”
Only those who hang in their bunkers sending out revolutionary statements for public consumption with no intention of achieving results on the ground any time soon are the ones who remain publicly “clean.”
In the early eighties when I suddenly found myself a spokesperson of the PLO in London, they gave me a small office inside the PLO mission from which we published a newsletter, sent statements to the media and did whatever we could to reach out to the British public opinion. It was a full time job that included a wide range of action from the prestigious act of delivering speeches before unions and political parties to the humble acts of scheming, organizing demonstrations and lobbying for resolutions in our favour.
The ANC of Nelson Mandela was doing very well all over the world and despite the pro-apartheid regime positions of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher public opinion in the USA and UK was dramatically shifting in favour of the oppressed there. Most of Europe was all for economic sanctions of the South African Apartheid regime and despite the rejection of the UK and USA leaders it seemed inevitable that it would happen because in western democracies the public at the end could prevail.
The concept of the UK, which had huge investments in South Africa, boycotting that country in essence meant that the UK would be boycotting itself and the British public was nevertheless pretty much for that! The British public supported the oppressed in South Africa but not so much the oppressed in Palestine.
Here we were, the Palestinians, struggling to reach out for public opinion and here they were, the ANC, way ahead of us already tasting the victory coming their way.
We both had just causes and used armed struggle to achieve our just goals, a right given to us by UN resolutions as well as the knowledge that the occupier understands no other language but violence when it came to the occupied, but they had managed to break through to the regular person on the street in the West and we were still working on it.
During one conversation with ANC leaders in which I was determined to decipher the nitty-gritty details of their success story, I spoke of how we strive to use the media to communicate our just cause but we still have not reached through and asked them for advice.
“To have a just cause is not enough, nor is media. You need to work at a higher level: Perception Management.” I had never heard of that term before nor understood what it meant. When I asked where could I learn perception management, he cracked up in laughter.
The look on my face communicated how I didn’t find it to be as funny as he did so he explained: We learned it from our enemy, and they learned it from yours! Israel is a master in perception management. Perception management is a weapon without which you cannot win your battles; he told me. Yes, I already knew that Israel had a secret weapon of mass destruction in addition to the nukes, but I had no idea what it was.
That conversation launched a very long journey of studying perception management; which led to my posts as adviser in this field for several governments. Since then I have been asked countless times: where can I learn perception management? My answer is: not at school.
Perception may not be equal to reality but it prevails even when it is a lie because the holder honestly believes it is the truth and is willing to defend it as such. Without simplifying the complex science to a rock bottom theory, an important revelation was that action creates perception more so than words because people do not necessarily trust what you say, they trust what they see.
This is why seeing the WTC twin towers collapse, dozens of heads of westerners get chopped off on video in Iraq, Chechnya’s radical rebels take a school hostage, deny children water, then the massacre and several similar events done in the name of “Islam” shifted perception about Islam in the West in a very fast and troubling manner.
Muslim leaders of course went out on television stating that Islam is innocent of the heinous acts and explained that it is a religion of peace not violence, but the voice of violence was louder especially when Muslim masses all over the world reacted to what is perceived by Westerners as “small events” by rioting, destroying property and causing death. Those westerners saw in mass rioting all over the world proof that violence is related to the religion as a whole rather than the few subscribers of Al Qaeda and its likes.
The perception of the Muslim masses that took to the streets was not equal to reality either: they honestly believed that they need to defend their religion and that it was under attack from the West; a religious crusade led by the USA that needs to be fought and stopped before it was too late. Well, “too late” attached to Islam is illogical and if looked at with a clear head outright ridiculous, but the masses whatever their religion or culture can be moved with emotions in acts that will defeat their purpose. When perception is formed in the head it seems very logical to the carrier.
Of course that doesn’t mean that what we say doesn’t matter and it is only what we do that creates perception. We have to package action for public consumption, otherwise that action may be misunderstood. They are inter-related in a manner that vital to success. In the early eighties, Muslims and Arabs correctly perceived the actions carried out by Israel as atrocities but in the West Israel managed to establish them as self-defence. This is true to a much lesser extent today because of the Intifada, a mass action that was demilitarised and packaged in a manner that created a moral dilemma Westerners had trouble with. We lost quite a bit of the gains we achieved in the first Intifada when in the second launched after the failure of the peace process Palestinians used weapons rather than stones and homemade rockets instead of their bare bodies.
Back to the eighties, the PLO was still calling for the creation of one state for Muslims, Christians and Jews over the historic land of Palestine occupied in 1948 and 1967. Despite back-channel communications sanctioned by the leadership to a few, the rest of us were not allowed to engage with the enemy.
We grabbed every chance to be on the media and having become a student of perception management I had matured in how I saw the media and how I planned to use it.
So the minute I was invited by a British television channel to be interviewed in a news segment, I went, because we had always grabbed the rare opportunity when we are invited. Israel was always well represented in all media and when I arrived at the studio to my unapparent shock an Israeli politician was there, sitting in the chair next to where I was asked to park myself.
What do I do? Do I stay and not look at him or God forbids he addresses me, not answer him back? Or do I walk out, gift him the platform and the proof that we are so radical that we are not willing to be in the same room with an Israeli? He may have been betting on me walking out, but I did park myself next to him looking straight at the cameras that were already running despite the fact our segment wasn’t there yet. It seemed like a decade of silence had passed before the anchor addressed us. Neither one of us wanted a chitchat.
On the air, he was first asked a question and what counted in his answer were the standard statements: We are a democracy; this is why they want to destroy us. They want to destroy us. They want to drive us into the sea! I remember well that he also said again “they want to destroy us!”
Now I could have nodded and as typical tried to explain why we want to destroy Israel and insist that we don’t really want to throw anyone into the sea, but I didn’t.
“We want equality. We as Muslims and Christians want to be equal on our land with Jews. We want a state where there is no racism and apartheid, this is our right as human beings and this right is an irrevocable right of all human beings may they be Jewish, Christians or Muslims,” I said.
He may have been surprised that I stayed for the show, but he was shocked when I said that. With a raised voice and pointing at me now he blurted: tell me! Don’t you want to take down the Israeli flag and call the whole land of Israel, Palestine?
I said calmly: these are symbols that people use to achieve meaning. Your flag is the two rivers with a Star of David in the middle referring to Eretz Israel, all territories that lie between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. Will you occupy Jordan, Egypt and Iraq to meet the criteria of your flag? Syria and Lebanon included or not? I am talking real life of real people. As humans, we Muslims and Christians want equality for the three faiths in one state. We call it Palestine. You want to call it Israel, fine, will you give us equal rights in Israel?
He answered way too fast with a smart grin on his face: but you will change Israel to Palestine if we do, you will be the majority… we would be destroyed by demographics..
I closed the encounter with: In a democracy, doesn’t the majority rule Sir?
Alas, the interview was very successful; I won the debate with the British public that couldn’t believe their ears! So Israel is a state of apartheid just like South Africa is! I was profoundly congratulated by the hosts because they had never “seen a Palestinian do so well.” I walked out wondering, will his government wipe the floor with him for all the booboos of the interview?
The second day my dear colleagues in the student union held a meeting to discuss my success: The traitor Ramzi Khoury didn’t only dare go on television with an Israeli, but he gave up our flag and inadvertently recognized Israel too!
Lesson: Perception Management is so badly needed with my own people before we use it to reach out to the Brits!
The situation was contained. Why? Because of who I had been: a dogmatic student leader who will slap someone over drinking coke instead of Pepsi.
I went to the meeting and shouted them into submission and used the opportunity to give a lecture on diplomacy. Deep down inside, I walked out of that meeting feeling defeated despite the victory. I knew the lefties were going to continue to slander my name and that I will give them enough fuel to do it, because I have no other option.
I also was wondering how realistic a goal was a single state for three faiths when Israel is so much more powerful than us and our brothers, the Arabs, are never going to unite on our behalf to make the dream a reality.

To be continued next week..

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About Ramzi Khoury

Ramzi Khoury is an opinion columnist and satirist who publishes a weekly page, Piece of Mind, at the Saudi Gazette and elsewhere every Wednesday, Ramzi E. Khoury started his career in Granada Television in the 80s working on documentaries and since then has worked in the print, television and radio media all over the world. In addition to reporting with international news agencies he held several posts in the media including Chief Sub Editor/Political Editor of the Jordan Times, Editor in Chief of the Arab Daily newspaper and Secretary General of the Arab Media Organization. He continues to be adviser to several newspapers, television and radio stations as well as online media. He has worked with numerous satellite channels on television programs, documentaries and news and is often invited to offer his political analysis on television and radio stations from all over the world especially on Mideast and related issues. Currently based in Malaysia with extensive travel in the Middle East and Europe Khoury advices governments and private sector organizations on Perception Management with focus on issues related to politics and religion including the divide between the Muslim World and the West and is active with several non-government organizations. Before Malaysia he was based in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Palestine, Jordan, USA and the UK in order.

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