US making PR gains in Muslim world -- but apparently not in US media

Would progress in public opinion against al-Qaeda in Muslim nations constitute important news? One might think so, considering the lengthy and difficult war we fight against the radical Islamist terrorists of the AQ network, especially in recruitment. The Washington Post took four days to report this progress, however, and stuck it on page A13, where Walter Pincus briefs us on some real progress (emphasis mine):

The top White House terrorism expert thinks some gains are being made in the worldwide public relations battle against al-Qaeda, as the administration and its overseas allies press efforts to show that Osama bin Laden‘s network is killing Muslim civilians rather than defending its interests.

“More and more Muslim and Arab populations — [including] clerics and scholars — are questioning the value of al-Qaeda’s program,” Juan Carlos Zarate, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, said Wednesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The efforts he described are in line with plans that Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, discussed in February before the same organization. Leiter, who is responsible for strategic communications planning in the fight against terrorism, said the goal is “to prevent the next generation of terrorists from emerging.” …

Zarate cited an Egyptian Islamic group, which includes former jihadist leaders, that recently published a series of books “highly critical of jihadists and al-Qaeda.” He did not say who promoted or paid for the books, but in undertaking this program, Zarate said, “credible voices, outside of the U.S. government,” had to carry the messages.

Another example is a widely circulated letter to bin Laden from a leading Saudi cleric, Sheik Salman al-Ouda, released last September, in which the religious leader asked: “How much blood has been spent” by al-Qaeda attacks[.]

Pincus’ column exists to pull out various items missed by the media over the past week, so don’t blame him for keeping this quiet. We may otherwise have never heard about this assessment. However, the Post and other news media could have covered this a little earlier, given the nature of the war we fight and the necessity of stemming the flow of jihadi recruits.

We have seen signs of this already. Zarate used the recent Ayman al-Zawahiri question-and-answer session as another example of the progress made. Muslims angry about AQ’s targeting of fellow co-religionists probably took no satisfaction in Zawahiri’s assertion that AQ doesn’t target Muslims, massive evidence in Iraq and elsewhere to the contrary. In Iraq, AQ saved its most brutal applications of force for fellow Sunnis who refused to cooperate with their drug-fueled enforcement of shari’a. Despite AQ’s best efforts, Muslims have taken notice of this and begun to get disgusted with the terrorists.

The publi relations front may not be as sexy or as concrete as the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are critical to our eventual success in defeating radical Islamist terrorism. It would be nice if the American media took it seriously.