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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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This issue of killing of innocent people in the United States and within Muslim countries represents the main ethical talking point within al Qa'ida campaigns. Insisting that he has studied shariah evidence and exercised "acceptable reasoning," bin Laden (2002, April 24) asserted that al Qa'ida was "never careless about human lives, especially Muslim lives." In a November 1, 2001 interview, a Muslim journalist asked bin Laden and al Zawahiri, "Do you consider the killing of innocent people in line with Islamic injunctions?" Bin Laden answered, "This is an important issue for Islamic jurisprudence" and began a detailed analysis of the justification for killing innocents, exploring circumstances that make killing acceptable. The first argument directly sanctions killing of innocents when combating an enemy invading Muslim lands that uses "common people as human shields" (bin Laden, 2001, November 1). Very quickly, however, the concept of self-defense turned into the justification for retaliation: "The United States and its allies are killing us [Muslims] in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq.

Therefore, Muslims have a right to launch retaliatory attacks on the United States." Within the message, the logic of self-defense broke down and the right to retaliation was simply asserted.

Ethical Argument: Immoral People Are Exempt from Ethical Treatment When considering ethical responsibilities toward Americans, Al Qa'ida positions its ethical and moral beliefs in the context of respect for religious belief. The organization has drawn not only on duties and obligation imposed by revelation on Islamic believers, but the broader compulsion of all people to follow Islamic moral guidelines. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, bin Laden claimed "that these events have split the entire world into two camps: one of faith with no hypocrites, and one of unbelief--may God protect us from it." Curiously, one of the goals of these campaigns aimed at American publics is conversion--or, at least, the moral obligation to offer conversion as an alternative to an immoral and spiritually barren Western life.

"I am an honest advisor to you," bin Laden (2002, October 6) spoke in an audio message to the American people. "I urge you to seek the joy of life and the afterlife and to rid yourself of your dry, miserable, and spiritless material life."

Al Qa'ida campaigns mirror earlier jihadist proponents--such as Hasan al-Banna (Zimmerman, 2005) and Sayid Qutb (n.d.)--in their condemnation of American materialism, but emphasized the ethical failings of Americans who allegedly ignored the moral issues confronting 24 them in a time of war. Al Zawahiri (2006, April 13) stated on the anniversary of the American attack in Tora Bora, "I had not imagined they [Americans] fear the word 'why' so much.... They do not want anybody to ask why their policies have brought them all these disasters, why the Muslims defend their faith with all this courage, and why they make all these sacrifices." This failure of Americans to question their social values and the causes and effects of their government's policies place them in the group of moral pariahs--a classification of individuals who are unethical because they will not confront moral dilemmas. Al Zawahiri (2006, April 13) expressed moral impatience with Western people who lack the ethical imagination to empathize with Muslims: "Who on this earth would accept to see his land occupied, his wealth stolen, and criminal thieves imposed on him?" Al Zawahiri's accusation that Americans fail to engage moral questions has resonance among Muslims who denounce of the occupation of holy lands by Western invaders (Esposito & Mogahed, 2007). Al Qa'ida campaigns urge Americans to acknowledge the moral obligation this offense imposes on Muslims, to withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim lands, and to free Jerusalem from Israeli occupation (bin Laden, 2002, April 24). Once a religious obligation like this is made clear--especially one that accords with generally accepted international standards of freedom from foreign occupation--only immoral people would resist compliance.

These ethical arguments explored in al Qa'ida campaigns against general citizens in the United States raise serious questions of what duty and obligations Muslims should honor in their dealings with Americans. One goal of these campaigns is undoubtedly to undermine the moral authority of Americans and even to create doubt in Americans about their government's intentions in the Middle East and South Asia.

Ethical Argument Three: Appeals to Individual Responsibility Al Qa'ida public relations campaigns stress individual responsibility with both Muslim and non-Muslim publics. The ethical argument rests on the hypothesis that governments and political entities engage in betrayal of their people and commit atrocities (bin Laden, 2001, March 3). Consequently, individuals must act under the dictates of their own conscience and, moreover, take responsibility for the actions of their governments. This specific ethical principle of individual responsibility and ethical autonomy is stated in the Koran and quoted by alZawahiri (2005, January 30): "Thou art held responsible only for thyself."

In its campaigns directed at the general public in the United States, al Qa'ida raised challenging questions about the ethical responsibilities of citizens in representative democracies.

The American people must "remember that they are paying taxes to their government and had voted for their President [G. W. Bush].... The US Congress is endorsing the steps of the government, which proves that entire America is responsible for the atrocities being perpetrated against Muslims, as Congress is the representative body of the people." This collective responsibility to stop American weapons manufacture and military aggression must be accepted by individual voters. Bin Laden asked "the American people to check the anti-Muslim policies of their government" and "play the same role now that they played during the Vietnam War." In other words, American voters should remove anti-Muslim officials as an ethical duty. Otherwise, American citizens can be classified as enemies indistinguishable from their government, stripped of autonomous moral status, and targeted for terrorist attacks.

Essentially, al Qa'ida has used a religious moral framework to explain its actions and to achieve its public relations goals with the American public. In many instances, however, the organization has drawn on deontological appeals to reason and moral autonomy. The messages 25 provoke questions about what ethical principles al Qa'ida must uphold in its self-defense activities. Bin Laden and al Zawahiri directly indict American immorality and refusal to confront ethical questions; to their supporters, this indictment justifies attacks on American citizens.

Values-based and Power-based Messages RQ3 focused on ethical modes of address (Richards, 2004) to discover whether al Qa'ida primarily used values-based arguments or arguments based on threats. The producers of al Qa'ida campaigns have used a mixture of values-based and power-based modes of address in messages directed toward Americans. In a typical statement, bin Laden or al Zawahiri would list the violations of human values and human rights committed by the American government, outline the ethical responsibilities of the American people, and then follow up with a quid pro quo offer or a threat--a power-based mode of address that strips Americans of individual moral autonomy.

Three documents that directly address American audiences illustrate this pattern. In his October 6, 2002 letter, bin Laden posed two essential questions that allowed him to explore the injustices the American government--and by proxy the American people--have committed against Muslims. These include attacks on Muslims in Palestine for over 80 years, support for corrupt Middle Eastern governments that oppress Muslim people, and invasion and occupation of Muslim majority countries (Bin Laden, 2002, October 6). Then, using the pronoun you to directly address Americans, bin Laden argued that Americans who elect their officials and pay taxes are not innocent of these crimes against Muslims. Next, Americans were chastised for a series of moral failings including usury, separating church and state, and "permitting acts of immorality, and you consider these acts to be pillars of personal freedom" (bin Laden, 2002, October 6, p. 167).

Bin Laden's values arguments extend into a lengthy list of numbered items and subcategories detailing American injustices, including worldwide violations of human rights.

Finally, the letter makes seven requests of American citizens that include a plea to "deal with us [Muslims} and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of subjugation, theft, occupation" (bin Laden, 2002, October 6, p. 171). The letter ended with a threat, or power-based, mode of address predicting that Americans will end up destroyed by the Islamic Nation that draws upon the power of God.

Discussion The over-arching question of this research study asked whether al Qa’ida acted ethically in its public relations campaigns involving American publics. The findings point to ethical arguments based primarily on religious morality and on the assertion that Islam holds the only valid revelation from God. Bin Laden (2002, October 6) wrote in his letter to Americans, "It [Islam] is the religion whose book--the Qur'an--will remain preserved and unchanged, after the other Divine books and messages have been changed" (p. 166). Al Qa'ida offered a single solution to bring Americans into the ethical fold: conversion. DeGeorge (2006) examined objections to religious revelations as the sole tests of morality. These revelations are not universally accepted, and, consequently, must be combined with ethical arguments based on rational standards so that a broad base of people can accept the moral principles. Al Qa'ida failed to meet the rational standards ethical test because its public relations messages excluded American publics from participation in ethicality simply by virtue of their categorization as nonbelievers.

Further, al Qa'ida did not meet the other requirements of inclusiveness that mark ethical public relations campaigns. When bin Laden (2002, April 24) explained how al Qa'ida determined exceptions to sharia law, the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number 26 was only applied to Muslims, not to the entire world population. Moreover, al Qa'ida violated the universality standard that would also have assured respect of the American citizens as ends in themselves, not simply as voters who can achieve al Qa'ida's goals (Sullivan, 1994).

Finally, al Qa'ida showed little respect for the autonomy of Americans as rational beings capable of moral reasoning (DeGeorge, 2006). Al Qa'ida directed ethical challenges to American citizens during its public relations campaigns. The most important posited the individual responsibility of American voters for their democratically elected government's policies toward Muslims in the Middle East and other regions. This moral issue was raised in the context of selfdefense--a behavior that could easily be defended on deontological grounds as universally ethical. The logical flaw in al Qa'ida's perspective is that retaliation is an act of self-defense, but those being retaliated against are denied moral status simply because they have not converted to Islam. While Americans may apply reason in their ethically suspect secular system, their reasoning powers have failed to bring them to the revelation of Islam. Consequently, self-defense seems reserved for one group--Muslims--who are constructed as the only victims of massacre and killing (bin Laden, 2001, November 1). No right of self-defense is accorded to American citizens. This argument results in an asymmetrical position that violates the universal applicability rule.

In summary, the goals of al Qa'ida public relations campaigns directed toward American publics between 1998 and 2006 included denigrating the ethicality of American political leaders;

challenging the ethical values of Americans; asserting the ethical responsibility of American publics, even when they failed to explore moral questions; and implicitly using American publics to achieve jihadist objectives in the Middle East. The organization's campaigns used value-based modes of address, with limited power-based threats employed after argumentation (Richards, 2004). Ultimately, the public relations campaigns were unethical, not because of extreme language use and threats, but because they failed to treat American publics as autonomous, rational beings who deserve participation in moral dialogue. Moreover, al Qa'ida messages to American reveal contradictions involving profound ethical questions such as the right to selfdefense and the slaughter of innocent people.

Results from this study support the need for objective standards that can be used to judge the ethics of public relations campaigns (Tilley, 2005). Even well intentioned campaigns to combat extremism can produce a paradoxical effect when their creators ignore objective ethical standards. To return to bin Laden's insight in 2001, intense public relations campaigns can turn supportive publics against organizations and create fear and demoralization instead of the bolstering their determination to confront an injustice. Pincus (2008, April 28) has suggested that currently the justifications of violence have backfired on al Qa'ida and turned some of its Muslim publics against the organization. This study offered insights into ethical standards related to the status accorded to individuals that can help us more accurately evaluate extreme public relations campaigns.



al-Zawahiri, A. (2004, February 4). Al-Zawahiri audio recording reacts to Bush State of Union; Vows attacks on U.S. [Audio tape]: English translation of FBIS Document ID: GMP20040224000121.

al-Zawahiri, A. (2005, December 7). Al-Qa'ida's al-Zawahiri predicts failure of U.S. "Crusade" against

Muslim states [Video tape]: English translation of FBIS Report Document ID:


al-Zawahiri, A. (2005, January 30). The emancipation of mankind and nations under the banner of the Koran [Audio tape]: English translation of FBIS Document ID: GMP20050131000021.

al-Zawahiri, A. (2006, April 13). Four years after the Tora Bora battles; From Tora Bora to Iraq" [Video tape]: English translation of OSC Report Arabic Document ID: GMP20060413550001.

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