Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rules for Playing On the Islamic Home Field

With the 50th Super Bowl around the corner, sports metaphors abound this time of year. The PSYOP Community finds itself playing in ‘home fields’ around the world. Many of today’s AOs are in the Islamic world, an area of the world and a culture that are foreign to many of us.

I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture sponsored by the Safe Communites Institute, a part of the USC Price School of Public Policy. The speaker, Dr. Doron Pely is the Executive Director of the Sulha Research Institute (see: and a colleague of mine at TALGlobal (

While we are taught that it’s often dangerous to generalize, sometimes an educated, Kentucky windage leveraged analysis is a better place to start than one of ignorance.

Today’s posting is a synthesis of the hour and half lecture. The data upon which it is based comes from a few sources. The essence is a comparison of perceptions of Israeli’s by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and vice versa – the perception of Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israelis. Arabs gathered Arab perception data while Israelis collected Israeli perception data.

The gross generalization is that these perceptions will closely align with perceptions of the “West” by Islamic populations in areas of conflict, especially those AOs with active military operations.

How does the target audience perceive you?

According to the research, the West is viewed with the following descriptors:
·      Bad, dishonest and uneducated.
·      Cowardly and cruel.
·      Violent with a lack of pity.

The research also indicated that the West is perceived as lacking understanding of Islamic culture and lacking in empathy. This last point is critical because empathy is a critical prerequisite for conflict resolution.

Research also showed that the Palestinians were split pretty evenly as to whether they felt it was beneficial to achieve a peaceful settlement. This point means that most Islamic conflict AOs will start with the West playing catch-up in gaining the trust and confidence of the population.

The New “Normal”

Those of use who have studied psychology in Western Universities learned the classic Maslow hierarchy of needs as shown below. (Diagrams courtesy of Sulha Research Center)

However, the Sulha Pyramid below shows a juxtaposition that is fundamental to understanding Islamic culture. Notice that the basic physiological needs are in the middle of the pyramid with Honor & Esteem needs as the base and Belonging as the second layer. 

Prior to wrapping up, let me offer the best practices provided in the lecture.

1.     Mind the rituals.
Short cuts won’t cut it. Building trust and respecting the process is a key to success.

2.     Watch the state of Honor.
Honor as fundamental in Islamic culture as fundamental as food and drink in the West.

3.     Mind Precedents
Just as you would with a court case, do some research to validate that what you want to do now has been done in the past.

4.     Remember your role.
A critical nuance is that those with power ‘pull’ while those who perceive themselves as victims will ‘push’. Pulling implies indirect pressure.

5.     Keep the constituencies in mind.
Consider each party’s perspective.

6.     Use creative reframing.
Constantly insure that you are in empathy with the process while framing your positions.

We in the PSYOP community need to be lifelong learners, sometimes this also means we need to search for new perspectives that help us optimize our efforts in diverse AOs.

Reader input encouraged!


William Tarbush said...

Mr. Deitz,
What is the primary difference between pulling and pushing when voting? What does each look like and how do I become a "puller"?

Lawrence Dietz said...

@ William - I'm clearly not an expert, but my thought is that pull/push would refer more to the campaigning than voting and means an indirect rather than overt attraction.

Doron Pely said...

Larry's response is correct. The terms "pusher" and "puller" refers to the operational and psychological temperament of the sides (disputants). In that case, the victim's side will expect to be pulled (tempted) into the process and through it, while the strong side (including the perpetrator in some cases) will be expected to do the "pulling", meaning tempt rather than coerce the other side through the process. The end game is restoration of honor (primarily for the victim's side), and coercive measures are never good tools for restoring honor.
Hope this helps. Thank you both. Best, Doron