PR Strategies and Four Lions’ “Bombing the Mosque”

I’ve been thinking a little, in the last couple of days, about how one changes a paradigm in public opinion, be it in society as a whole, or in a particular community or subset of the population.

My experience in framing a narrative around an issue to move people towards a desired outcome is that you pick a message that resonates with people (a reason to change your mind – based on analysing the situation and identifying needs/wants), and you repeat that message from every available platform. Any platform. Whenever you can. Even taking opportunities that don’t look related and making them related. Until your message gets traction. If it’s a good message it will stick, and you’ll start hearing other people repeating your views until it hits some sort of tipping point (if you’re a Malcolm Gladwell fan) where people believe they’ve come up with a position using their own common sense.

There are shortcuts you can take to get a message across. But they involve a price, usually some harm to the party advocating the position and some collateral damage. Which brings me to possibly my favourite scene from Four Lions, where the most extreme extremist is advocating picking an unlikely terrorism target, the mosque, in order to radicalise the moderates. There’s a language warning on this clip.

This sort of strategy is pretty stupid – but sometimes you’ll look like you’re bombing the mosque (doing something self destructive and stupid) when you’re representing, or presenting, an issue that is controversial and goes against the mainstream. That’s not always the case though. Sometimes changing, or challenging, the “orthodox” position gets a silent majority on side, sometimes pointing out error can bring change (like Wilberforce did), other times it’s worth just taking a stand on principle and paying the price.