Throughout the course of human history, we have witnessed a number of events that proved to be a source of pain and shame for people across the world. The removal and relocation of Native people in North America, the Second World War, and the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda during the early 1990s are only a few examples. But, while each of these represents the worst aspects of humanity, they’re also an example of the successful use of propaganda.
The fact that wars give rise to intensive propaganda campaigns has made many persons suppose that propaganda is something new and modern. The word itself came into common use as late as 1914, when World War I began. The truth is, however, that propaganda is not new and modern. Nobody would make the mistake of assuming that it is new if, from early times, efforts to mobilize attitudes and opinions had actually been called “propaganda.” The battle for men’s minds is as old as human history.
In its origins “propaganda” is an ancient and honourable word. Religious activities which were associated with propaganda commanded the respectful attention of mankind. It was in later times that the word came to have a selfish, dishonest or subversive association.
Throughout the Middle Ages and in the later historic periods down to modern times, there has been propaganda. No people have been without it. The conflict between kings and Parliament in England was a historic struggle in which propaganda was involved. Propaganda was one of the weapons used in the movement for American independence, and it was used also in the French Revolution. The pens of Voltaire and Rousseau inflamed opposition to Bourbon rule in France, and during the revolution Danton and his fellows crystallized attitudes against the French king just as Yarn Adams and Tom Paine had roused and organized opinion in the American Revolution.
With the passage of time and with the advent of, and advancement in, science and technology, propaganda assumed greater importance. It now has the capacity to reach out to larger populations of several countries, simultaneously, to garner support for a particular cause or a certain point of view that the propagandists want to promote.
What is propaganda, then?
Propaganda is basically information that may be verbal, written, pictorial, or in any other shape, disseminated to target audience to arouse their emotional – not rational – response for a particular cause. The information may be a bundle of lies or distorted and twisted facts concerning a nation or some people or party repackaged as true facts but far less connectable with real facts on ground of that nation or people or party. The information may be in the shape of doctored or loaded videos and audios played on mass media channels to vilify the enemy, demonize the traitors and lionize the heroes. It is done systematically to shape the perceptions, manipulate thinking and direct behaviour to achieve emotional response toward a particular agenda in the mind of, and pursued by, the propagandist.
The propagandist may be an individual or a group of individuals, like politicians, representing a country or its media or organization(s) or reporters or anchorpersons or all of them having taken the task of furthering the agenda of the propaganda-country with which they are associated and hugely paid and benefitted for such association.
Why propaganda is done?
Propaganda is essentially a psychological mechanism that influences attitudes, behaviours and responses of the target group toward a particular agenda. For example, India has illegally occupied Kashmir and in order to prolong its illegal occupation, it would certainly make use of propaganda machinery. The people of the occupied territory would, definitely, reject the justification. But, India’s partisan media would support Indian control over Kashmir in the following ways: (1) the media, if entirely biased will not report at all on actual happenings in Kashmir. So, they will be voluntarily imposing a complete blackout of reporting on happenings in the Valley, considering reporting the on-ground situation would undermine India’s interests as well as its position in the global community; (2) if they report, at all, they will report only distortions, fabrications, lies and deceptions about the ground realities. In this propaganda campaign, every possible voice within and beyond Kashmir will be vilified and downgraded in electronic and print media, talk shows on radio and television, magazines, etc. The specific programmes will be conducted on daily basis on electronic media during the primetime hours for the target audience and in these programmes, the supporters of Kashmir’s freedom will be maligned and disparaged. In fine, propaganda is done to undermine the morale and break the will of the people who resist and reject tyranny and oppression.
Most pertinent examples
1. Iraq War
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” says Winston Churchill. This succinctly describes the American invasion of Iraq. A sovereign country was attacked on the pretext of eliminating the ‘weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)’ that Saddam Hussein regime allegedly possessed as they ‘threatened’ the world peace. By downplaying all UN inspectors’ reports that had negated such a perception, George W. Bush, in brazen defiance of the UN Charter, went inside Iraq to simply devastate it. The government version of WMDs was espoused by American-British media: Britain was only ally of Americans in Iraq War. But soon it was realized that all allegations were totally baseless as Saddam Hussein didn’t possess any weapons of mass destruction and that the war, which killed millions of Iraqis and some invading American and British soldiers, was fought on the basis of a brazen lie. It is now well-documented that George W. Bush spoke lies after lies in his public speeches to find a justification for Iraqi invasion by making his people believe in his lies and the war theory of WMDs that was invented and employed by George Bush-Tony Blair duo only to destroy Iraq.
In his write-up “Nothing’s Shocking: Mainstream Media Manipulation and the Gulf War,” David Hrycyszyn wrote:
“Events which led to broad-based American public support for the war were manipulated just as skilfully as ‘battlefield’ news reporting. Nonexistent Iraqi troop buildups and fictional babies thrown from their incubators set the stage for an eventual US intervention in the Middle East. The public interest was not served by fairy tales such as ‘the defence of Kuwaiti democracy’ being behind US involvement in the Gulf War. Pre-war Kuwait was emphatically not a democracy; the emirate was firmly under the control of the Sabah family. There was no universal suffrage during the rare elections and Kuwait’s human rights record was hardly a glowing one. What was at stake was oil, and the global political power of the West.”
2. Nazi Germany
Another pertinent example is related to the Nazi party during World War II. Through speeches, posters and films, the Nazis were able to convince the German people that the economic depression in the wake of World War I was not the result of governmental failure but was instead the fault of immigrants, communists and other outsiders who were weakening the country. As they continued their rise to power, the Nazis frequently relied on propaganda to justify their actions and promote their beliefs. For example, the Nazi party spread the message that Jews were responsible for the lack of jobs and they were hoarding money; as a result, many Germans didn’t object when Jewish people were imprisoned.
Look at the situation in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, in short, the entire Muslim world. Aren’t the Muslims being targeted through false propaganda aimed at ‘promoting the interests of superpowers’? Aren’t they being vilified and portrayed as terrorists? But, alas, none of the Muslim countries or their representative international and regional organizations, like the OIC, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council has been able to counter this false, baseless propaganda. Muslims must come out of the deep slumber before it is too late. Time to act is now.