US diplomats wanted propaganda war against Osama ahead of 9/11

"We frequently hear reports that some in the lower middle and lower classes, both urban and rural, consider UBL (Usama bin Laden) an 'Islamic Hero', because the US has named him "Public Enemy Number One".

That said it's our impression that the majority of Muslims, at least in Pakistan, do not necessarily support this view.

The pending distribution of UBL "wanted" posters and matchbooks in Pakistan may increase UBL's stature as a kind of folk hero," said a State Department cable dated January 26, 1999. The diplomatic cable urged US to consider a new raft of anti-Bin Laden propaganda through the Voice of America radio station, interviews with Bin Laden victims, "commissioned articles" in the local press and an anti-Bin Laden website.

"Although that would appear to be counterintuitive – that the masses don't use the internet – almost all Islamic and Islamist groups do indeed have internet access and use it extensively," it said.

"We are unlikely to make much inroad with UBL's hard-core supporters because they are true-believers absolutists and tend to think and react emotionally: Facts are less important to them than emotions.

They are not open to persuasion.
Further, we face a formidable for among those who are churning out and disseminating pro-UBL propaganda and taking active measures," the cable said.

However, the US diplomat posted in Islamabad argued that a large number of Pakistanis, mostly middle-class are not automatically anti-US and are not ideologically committed to Osama bin Laden.

"This middle ground, or at least somewhat susceptible to reason, or at least to other information, should be our primary target.

The message crafted for them would also be welcomed by educated, westward-looking elite of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, who feel threatened by UBL's advocacy and violence and theological obscurantism," the cable said.

"The focus of any enhanced USG public diplomacy effort should be to portray UBL and others around him as criminals, both by international and by Islamic standards.
Where possible, responsibility of the movement al -Qaeda should be emphasised, not just UBL as an individual," it said.

US authorities say the elusive al-Qaeda chief could be hiding somewhere along the unruly Af-Pak border region.

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