1 October 2005
All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those toward whom it is directed will understand it… Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise. – Adolf Hitler
It is well worth asking the following question: Why, specifically, was the phrase ‘war on terror’ adopted as a slogan by the US/UK authorities? This may seem a somewhat redundant question, after all, it describes in theory a response to the actions of ‘terrorists’, who are, we are told over and over again, bent on firstly, destroying Western ‘civilisation’ and then replacing it with a fundamentalist version of Islam.
That such an idea is ludicrous, let alone unattainable even if every Islamic state on the planet united their forces and attacked the West, doesn’t of course, figure in the propaganda campaign of the West.
Instead, we must set the idea of the ‘war on terror’ in the context of several hundred years of imperial and colonial rule that resulted in a deeply inculcated mindset that has made a significant segment of the population of the West highly receptive to a propaganda campaign that uses xenophobic and racist motifs to put the ‘frighteners’ on them.
Consider also the timescale involved, over a decade of an increasingly hysterical campaign of demonisation that started with Saddam Hussein in 1990, culminating in 2001 with 9/11, a campaign that also set the stage for domestic repression.
Was this a carefully conceived and long term plan? I doubt it and in any case, it doesn’t really matter whether it ‘evolved’ over time or not. What is important is that it fits the ‘classical’ pattern laid down in the 1930s by the Nazi propaganda ministry, who were the first to formalise mass propaganda campaigns and to identify and define the essential elements; the ‘big lie’, repetition, the use of stereotypes, fear as a weapon of control and manipulation.
Without the corporate and state media and in an age of global, ‘instantaneous’, blanket distribution of essentially the same message (with regional variations), such control would be impossible.
Given the history of the West, it appears that it is incapable of functioning without an enemy, or at least the appearance of one, which brings me back to my opening question, why?
The question can be answered on several levels, firstly as a justification for a particular mode of production that requires a reason to invade countries, commandeer resources, control markets and so forth.
On another level, is the use of an archetypal enemy as part of a strategic campaign, for surely without at least a core of domestic support, most, if not all such policies would be impossible to implement.
This brings me to the third level, for failing any kind of ‘legitimate’ support base, the same instrument of fear can be used to enforce a policy by curbing and ultimately repressing dissent. And here, note that the ‘progress’ of the sequence of anti-terror legislation – which given the decades of IRA bombings has nothing to do with actual events – that has, with each successive Act, become broader, more general, more inclusive of ever greater numbers of people, and all the while we get no ‘safer’, no more secure.
All that happens is that the state gains ever more control over its citizens, preparing for ‘der tag’, for it represents a state that is weak and illegitimate, increasingly so as it happens in spite of the fact that there is little or no organised opposition.
At first sight this might seem to be a contradiction, for if there is no organised opposition, what has the state to fear? What has to be borne in mind is that without legitimacy, the state is powerless, it acts in a vacuum and as its actions become ever more extreme – invasion, mass murder – it can only justify its actions by inventing an enemy at home, a domestic enemy within our midst, invisible and evil. An enemy that is per se an extension of the foreign enemy, whether ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ or the ‘Red Menace’, the label is irrelevant.
Once set in motion, ‘negative feedback’ kicks in, the state has no choice but to resort to ever more extreme measures or else it is revealed as a sham, acting only in its own interests, not that of its citizens which it claims to represent, and which it claims to ‘protect’.
And it is revealed by even the most innocuous of events, for example the brutal ejection of the 82 year-old man, Walter Wolfgang from this week’s Labour Party conference for shouting out “rubbish” when Jack Straw, the foreign minister was speaking. And it’s instructive to note just how vulnerable the state is at this critical juncture, revealed by the flood of ‘mea culpas’ from Blair downwards that poured out. But again, the media’s reaction was based not on principle but on the fact that the man was 82 years old. No comment regarding the use of the Terrorism Act to detain him when he tried to re-enter the conference.
Again, the increasing repression inevitably has to include the creation of ‘thought crimes’ such as the one proposed by the home secretary to make it a crime to “glorify terrorism”. Predictably there is no definition of the term, it amounts to a catchall phrase that could include almost anything including no doubt works published here including the latest essay by Yamin Yakaria entitled ‘Why the World Loves Usamah and Not Bush’, not that I agree with the idea as I consider the ideology of Usamah as reactionary and retrograde, but again that’s just my opinion. The essay advances the notion that by comparison, Usamah has many more followers in the Muslim world than does Bush and for obvious reasons but does it “glorify terrorism”?
Again, without the total complicity of the media, such actions are not only impossible to carry out (short also of suppressing the media) but impossible to justify. Thus far, aside from a few squeals of indignation from a handful of ‘liberal’ commentators, there are no indications of either the corporate or state media getting worked up about the increasingly repressive legislation on the statute books, far from it. In fact for the most part, the mainstream media have joined the clamour for the clampdown as any review of the press reveals revealing the incestuous relationship between the corporate/state media and the state.
A search of BBC News’ Website reveals only one article that contains the phrase ‘thought crime’. Titled ‘Dangerous thinking?’ the piece does raise the issue of ‘pre-emptive’ laws such as those proposed by former home secretary Blunkett in 2004 but that’s it.
A search using the phrase ‘glorifying terrorism’ produces 31 ‘hits’ but because the BBC’s search engine is so awful, it doesn’t look for the phrase but instead retrieves any article that contains both words. Out of the 31 articles only 16 actually refer to the subject and out of these not a single one addresses the issue of the media’s relationship to the issue. Only one article, not authored by the BBC but by a lawyer, Simon Gallant, titled ‘The law and inciting terrorism’ looks at the relationship between ‘inciting terrorism’ and the Human Rights Act but has nothing to say about the implications of the proposed legislation.
A search of the Guardian’s Website using the same phrase produced only one article titled ‘This is an act of censorship worthy of Joseph Goebbels’, Simon Jenkins, Friday September 23, 2005, not exactly indicative of a media worried about the implications of the proposed legislation. To his credit, Jenkins does say:
This [proposed] extension of censorship renders any apologist for any liberation struggle vulnerable to prosecution. I find it astounding that people such as Falconer, Clarke and the rest of the cabinet can sit round a cabinet table and pass a measure worthy of Joseph Goebbels.
The entire enterprise becomes a slippery slope, down which the state slides, with each step speeding up the process culminating in total state control. There is only one outcome to this process; either total repression or removal of the government, ultimately by any means necessary given that normal, democratic methods would no longer be permitted.
Will it come to this? History would indicate so, for once the state acquires such draconian powers it is unlikely to give them up voluntarily. We need only look at countries that have adopted comparable laws whether it be Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, through to the various Latin American dictatorships and how they were removed, not that removing them necessarily guarantees removal of the legislation, for ultimately it is only through political involvement and action of the citizens that we stand at least the chance of restoring that which we have fought so hard to attain, namely freedom of expression and the right to voice our opinions no matter how odious they may be (to some).