Empire, Propaganda, and the Death of a Wicked Witch.
Well, talk about paradigms… where would propaganda be without paradigms?
I listened to Obama’s speech… mainly because I’ve been fascinated by propaganda, and I’ve been studying it for years. And I heard once again the parable of American Exceptionalism, the “good” guys who are innocently bringing their goodness to the world.
Not a word, not one word, in the entire speech about the message of Empire that the always oh so good, oh so righteous, oh so victimized United States has been sending out to the world for years.
And of course if you trouble to study it, you might notice that all messages of that nature are propaganda. They are messages to groups of people, and acts upon groups of people, which is how propaganda must be employed if it is to be considered propaganda. All empires use propaganda of all sorts to proclaim their superiority, but as propaganda goes, they don’t say “superiority” openly and honestly, otherwise it wouldn’t be propaganda. And guerrilla warfare uses propaganda in response.
So I was in the Middle East in the days after 9/11. And we had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion. And we had major religious figures like Sheikh Tantawy, the head of al-Azhar – who died recently – who after the attacks of 9/11 not only denounced them as a crime against humanity, which they were, but denounced Osama bin Laden as a fraud … someone who had no right to issue fatwas or religious edicts, no religious legitimacy, no religious training. And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.
We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood. When Robert McNamara in 1965 began the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, he did it because he said he wanted to “send a message” to the North Vietnamese—a message that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.
In this Empire’s case it relentlessly sends a message of humiliation through military occupation on foreign lands, not our lands in defense, but a bizarre form of “defense” that results in garrisoning the world and “protecting” ourselves at home by systematically stripping citizens of their basic human liberties and freedoms in the name of national security. Most recently it has been a message through the killing of Muslims on Muslim soil long, long before 9/11, all of it justified of course, as nationalistic propaganda justifies, with history and the perspective of “others” white washed, again and again, as if any act on their part in response to Empire’s military-driven foreign policy is an attack on the “good guys.”
And who questions this message in the United States?
Look around and you will see. It will be the marginalized. If not marginalized before, they will be marginalized after they speak up, As Noam Chomsky has been marginalized for saying obvious things like, how would the Mandarins in Power appreciate garrisons of Iranians, Iraqis, or even Chinese on our soil or perhaps in Mexico “to protect their interests”? As Chris Hedges became marginalized after he spoke up with all his background in the Middle East, all his ability as a human being, not just a journalist, to see that there might just be another side to this story, and then got metaphorically stoned from a stage after the Iraq Invasion, then got his freedom of speech compromised by his employer the NYTimes, where he’d just won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Middle East and al Qaida.
That’s what happens when anyone dares speak truth to power.
Now Osama bin Laden can move on to the role of martyr. Much as our “leaders” used 9/11 as a point of martyrdom in the endless war involving the emotion of “terror” which, if you don’t personally feel terror, at least you will hear it, over and over and over.
And the propaganda on all sides goes on.
Propaganda is probably inevitable now that humans have developed ways of living that involve these large collective bodies with techniques of mass communication that enable those with the power, be it financial, political, whatever, to speak to a generalized, statistically determinable mass. So if it’s inevitable, what options are available to each of us to deal with it?