The Optics of This War

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The Lebanon crisis could never be contained – even if the war does not physically spread to Iran or Syria, the images of the war have already done their work throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Just as Iraq served al-Qaeda’s strategy by supplying an endless stream of images of “heroic mujahideen” fighting against “brutal Americans” – and became less useful as images of dead Iraqi civilians began to complicate the picture – the Lebanon war offers an unending supply of images and actions which powerfully support al-Qaeda’s narrative and world-view… without the complications posed by Zarqawi’s controversial anti-Shia strategy in Iraq.

Marc Lynch, “we liberals are paying the price”, Abu Aardvark, July 27, 2006
hezbollah tv

Nahariya; first broadcast by Channel 10 in Israel, then on Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV [Lisa Goldman / Flickr]

The destruction of an apartment block in Qana — along with 54 people, 30 of them children — brough Israel two non-stop days of dedicated Al-Jazeera coverage and condemnation from the international press. Hezbollah continues to hold out on the ground but, perhaps more important, looks to be winning another end game of this war: the battle for media sympathy and public opinion in much of the world.

How important are the optics of this war, and who’s managing them better? What links can we draw from the the outcome of the actual fighting to media coverage, public opinion and ultimately diplomacy? Is Hezbollah’s goal in this conflict territory and a prisoner exchange, or is it sympathy and support, the kind that rushes in from the wider Muslim world as the images from Qana begin to spread? Children are dying in apartment blocks in Haifa, too; how does Israel win the diplomatic game when it’s fighting to a draw on the ground and losing the war of images?

Marc Lynch

Professor of political science at Williams College.

Author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today

Blogger, Abu Aardvark

Annia Ciezadlo

Beirut-based journalist

Author, Sheik Up, The New Republic, 7/28/06

Written for The New Republic, The Nation, and The Christian Science Monitor

James Der Derian

Director of the

Info Tech War Peace Project at The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University

Author of Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network

Extra-Credit Reading List

Marc Lynch, al-Jazeera from Israel, Abu Aardvark, 7/27/06

Fourth Generation Warfare, Defense and the National Interest, 12/24/05

Hazem Saghieh, The world through Arab Eyes, openDemocracy, 6/17/04

Annia Ciezaldo, Sheik Up, The New Republic, 7/28/06

Chris Link, Photos that damn Hezbollah, Herald Sun, 7/30/06

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, As the Shells fall around them, Hizbullah men await the Israelis, 7/29/06

Thom Shanker, A New Enemy Gains on the U.S., The New York Times, 7/30/06

Donald H. Rumsfeld, New Realities in the Media Age, Council on Foreign Relations, 2/16/2006

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