On Propaganda and Islamophobia
22 October, 2007
By Abukar Aman
The daunting reality facing people of conscience is the seemingly impossible task of controlling propaganda in a free society, and how the protected freedom of the perpetrators increases the vulnerability of their potential victims.
In the past few years, while many good things happened to Muslims in America, dark clouds continue to gather over them as a result of relentless propaganda by certain special interest groups. All one has to do is to randomly listen to talk show radio on the AM dial and hear the overtly expressed hate that hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions in America internalize every day and night. And this, needless to say, makes the backlash of any terrorist attack in the US soil a nightmare scenario for all Muslims.
'But, these are words,' the proponents of status quo argue. 'It is not that they are throwing Molotov cocktail bombs in their homes' they insist in order to minimize the power of words.
Perhaps the most powerful skill possessed by human beings (though not all) is the ability to assemble letters and turn them into words, then cultivate these words into dynamic ideas that shape perceptions, condition attitudes, and change minds. And, like all other skills, this too can be used positively or negatively.
Throughout history, words inspired actions that freed generations from the iron fists of despotism. By the same token, words demonized human beings by labeling their thoughts wicked and their lives contemptible, thus justifying policies of repression and oppression against them.
"We constantly speak of human beings in ways which implicitly deny their humanity - in words which reduce them to being mere representatives of a class, mere symbolic representations of some principle. Bourgeois, Bolshevik, Fascist, Communist... ," said Aldous Huxley in a 1936 speech delivered at the Albert Hall, London. "Not one of these words describes the concrete reality of the men and women to whom it is applied... Most people would hesitate to torture or kill a human being like themselves. But when that human being is spoken of as though he were not a human being, but as the representative of some wicked principle, we lose our scruples," Huxley added.
And history tends to repeat itself so long as we don't use lessons of our past experiences to avert recreating another dreadful chapter. Yesterday it was the Jews; today, it is the Muslims enduring a brutal barrage of demonizing disinformation that some compare to the pre World War II atmosphere.
In this age of Reality TV where the real, the unreal, and the surreal are deeply entangled, few have the ability to decipher the disinformation or propaganda for what it truly is. Few would question: Is stereotyping a major religion in its entirety ethical or even prudent? Is there any historical or a current trend supporting the so-called 'Islamo-fascism' propagated by certain vociferous political and religious provocateurs?
(And assuming their charges were correct) The question that begs an answer is, why are the millions of Muslims in the U.S. not wreaking 'fascistic' havoc? More importantly, why do these provocateurs and their Grand Wizards such as Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, Televangelist Pat Robertson, Daniel Pipes, and Steve Emerson, and the cottage industry of fear, outfits such as FrontPage Magazine, JihadWatch, and LittleGreen Footballs keep ranting and raving hate speech that indiscriminately offends Muslims and only gives more fuel to the radical elements?
Hate speech is described as words uttered, recorded, written, pictured, or communicated in any other means (softly or loudly) that are "intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or a group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion...".
However, as a result of the heinous aggression of 9/11 and the subsequent fear industry, a number of people became desensitized to the dangers of the slithering Islamophobia and its mirrored image, anti-Americanism.
In his radio program on WLW-AM, owned by Clear Channel, host Bill Cunningham had this message for his listeners: "The great war of this generation's time is the war against Islamic fascists... They do not live for life, they live for death. Only through death can they believe they can be with those 72 virgins in heaven and have sex with children for eternity, which is the goal of that religion." And, confident on how frightened into silence Muslims in the US are, when he was asked whether or not he was concerned how his remarks might've offended Muslims, he said he did not get any calls protesting his remarks. So, "I moved on to the Bengals," Cunningham said.
And in the political spectrum, early this summer, while being critical of how in their first two debates the democratic presidential candidates avoided connecting terrorism with Islam, the now frontrunner republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, had this to say: "During their two debates they never mentioned the word Islamic terrorist, Islamic extremist, Islamic fascist, terrorist, whatever combination of those words you want to use, (the) words never came up... Maybe it's politically incorrect to say that. I don't know. I can't imagine who you insult if you say Islamic terrorist. You don't insult anyone who is Islamic who isn't a terrorist."
Now imagine if media routinely described the widely reported sexual abuses committed by individual members of the Catholic clergy as 'Catholic-pedophiliac culture' and blamed everything on Roman Catholicism or the church doctrine. Or, imagine the Zionist brutal oppression of the Palestinian people being routinely referred to as Zio-Nazism or being blamed on Judaism and the teachings of the Torah!
Recently, however, realists such as General John Abizaid who came to terms that in no way is the venomous rhetoric employed by the propagandists in US' best interest started to speak out.
"Adding the word Islamic extremism, or qualifying it to Sunni Islamic extremism ... all make it very, very difficult because the battle of words is meaningful, especially in the Middle East to people," said the former Commander of the U.S. Central Command.
It is crucial to "figure out how we don't turn this into Samuel Huntington's Battle of Civilizations and we work toward an area where we respect mainstream Islam. There's nothing Islamic about Bin Laden's philosophy, there's nothing Islamic about suicide bombing. I believe that these are huge difficulties that we need to overcome, this notion of Christianity versus Islam. It's not that, it doesn't need to be that," he added.
In its true essence, propaganda is different than other forms of communication as it consciously employs half-truths, falsehoods and misleading information to manipulate feelings and attitudes. Propaganda mainly targets the emotion, because emotions stir the targeted subject into a frenzy of impulsive actions.
Hitler clearly understood this. In his infamous Mein Kampf, he wrote: for propaganda to be more effective it "must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect. We must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public. The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous,"
And while it is often projected as 'factual' or 'historical', propaganda has little or no connection with truth or history. "Historical truth may be discovered by a professor of history. We, however, are serving historical necessity. It is not the task of art to be objectively true. The sole aim of propaganda is success," wrote Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.
Accordingly, both facts and history are treated as ever-morphing blocs of information and accounts whose sole purpose is to be conveniently exploited by those who control their access - subjective media, repressive regimes, think tanks, etc.
Today, these gate-keeping entities subjectively frame the debate through relentless disinformation. They box all Muslims with a point of view together - they label some with the dreaded T-word, and frighten the others into utter silence or into an uncomfortable position of having to prove one's "moderate" inclinations all the time.
The propagandists confidently count on their ferocious "noise machine" made of primarily a network of pseudo-media and loyal bloggers with the capacity to repeat any lie long enough to turn it into the prevailing 'truth'.
Recently, a local interfaith body - the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio - that this author is connected with - announced its plan to host an educational forum called "Many Voices of Islam." Its purpose was to provide Muslims a unique opportunity to define themselves and openly share their various spiritual perspectives. The machine waged a hysterical campaign... accusing the association of lack of patriotism, supporting Hamas, and on exposing the country to greater danger.
Ironically, and perhaps while counting on the herd mentality of the frightened masses, this same propaganda machine promotes David Horowitz's spread-the-hate campaign called "the Islamo-fascism Awareness Week" coming to a university campus near you.
Horowitz and his affiliates' hateful mission was first unveiled in George Washington University when students promoting that event plastered provocative fliers all over the university; the most despicable among them being a poster bearing the image of a Muslim man with Islamic attire that read "Hate Muslims? So Do We!"
Meanwhile (and however symbolic), a silver-lining emerged behind the dark clouds hanging over the Muslims in America. Last week, New York's Empire State Building was lit up in green to honor the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.