Opinion: 'Good' Muslims must counter terrorist PR

The fate of Ken Bigley in Iraq has been a British national obsession over the past fortnight, eclipsing any other news story. I found myself reaching for the radio in the night, a terrified interest shared not just by this nation, but the world. This is, of course, the meticulously planned by-product of those on whom we wage the 'war on terror', an era started on 9/11 when global audiences became global captives, via the news media, to unimaginable atrocities.

With the increasingly regular kidnapping and murder of Iraqi-based foreign workers, the world continues to be held hostage to the pitiless PR instincts of militant terrorists such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who appears to both mastermind and physically undertake the capture and decapitation of his blameless victims.

The internet has become the first source of news now, heightening tension as obscure militant Islamic websites carry footage that is then downloaded for TV. This ensures that the key message is enforced again and again: a message of inchoate rage, insolence and indiscriminate violence - a jihad that the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are incited to participate in.

The intended consequence is for the public to be confused about 'good' and 'evil' Muslims - thus increasing the brutality against innocent people who are then encouraged to join the jihad. The attempt to mobilise the Muslim population to arms and to portray them as terrorists presents an image problem of epic proportions for peaceful Muslims.

It was an important and brave decision of the Muslim Council of Britain to send a delegation of negotiators to Baghdad to try and appeal directly to the kidnappers while communicating to the nation that Islam does not equal extremism.

Everything should be done to help the British Muslim community successfully differentiate itself from extremist minorities. This means more communication of how the community will identify those linked with terrorism.

We have also been awestruck by the ability of the Bigley family to encourage the Government and global media to keep fighting for their loved one.

That's a good message in a complicated political world: show mercy, not hate; mobilise around a simple, single thing - like the life of someone none of us, but all of us, know.

Julia Hobsbawm is professor of public relations at the London College of Communication. Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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