February 09, 2006

Get Your Propaganda Right Here: Cartoon Lies, and Stoking the Hatred

May 2005: Newsweek publishes a story saying, among other things, that American forces desecrated the Koran as a means of manipulating prisoners at Guantanamo. This did not even rise to the level of "news": such stories had been reported long before. And, of course, we now know that Americans had done and continue to do infinitely worse things. Thanks to the infamous Bush administration, the use of torture is now the official policy of the United States. (And the recent law prohibiting torture has more loopholes than you can imagine. It's much less than worthless: it is a figleaf of civilization covering the complete embrace of barbarism. My full series, On Torture, is listed here.)

The Bush war propagandists proclaimed with deafening unanimity: "Newsweek is directly responsible for the rioting and the deaths that occurred in Afghanistan after its story appeared. Freedom of the press doesn't mean you can or should publish anything you think is a 'story.' We're at war! It is the war between civilization and barbarism! Newsweek hurt America and helped our enemies. They're on the other side! That's the evil leftwing media for you!" In terms of what follows, let's remember just two examples I noted in my first post about the Newsweek story: Drudge's huge headline: "THE NEWSWEEK RIOTS," and the phrase that, predictably, Michelle Malkin injected into every war propagandist's discussion: "NEWSWEEK LIED. PEOPLE DIED."

The allocation of blame and moral culpability was of particular interest, especially given the rightwing propagandists' usual praises for personal and moral "responsibility." As one perceptive commentator noted:
What is singularly lacking from the rightwing hatefest currently sweeping across the Internets is condemnation of the killers themselves. ... The rightwing line is therefore that these murder[er]s are within their rights, are acting with justifiable outrage in killing people because of what was allegedly done, or not done, to their precious book.
He went on:
As everyone from Glenn Reynolds to the fools at Powerline to the moronic Michelle Malkin line up to condemn Newsweek, the only thing that matters to them is that they can score a few points against what they perceive to be the dreaded leftwing media. If that means turning a blind blog to the Islamic terrorists murdering people just because of a true-or-false account of damage being done to the Koran then that's just fine by them.

Score one for the case of Islamic terrorism courtesy of the rightwing scream machine.
{That post references the entry of mine that I've now reposted.)

So the killers weren't to blame. The "liberal" media led them to believe their religion had been attacked; their response was perfectly understandable. It was all Newsweek's fault -- which is to say, it was all the leftwing media's fault. Free speech? Freedom of the press? We're at war, you pusillanimous, traitorous piece of filth!

February 2006: After simmering for months, a huge controversy erupts over the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammed. Obligatory points for the cognitively-impaired: One, I am very close to being an absolutist on freedom of the press and free speech generally. Two, violence and killing, except when necessitated by self-defense, are wrong. On the first point: simply because you properly have the right to say or print something does not mean that you should. Just as in our personal lives, being honest does not require that you say everything you think to your friends and acquaintances -- especially when what you think may be deeply hurtful to no good purpose -- newspapers, TV networks, etc. need not print or broadcast anything and everything, when the news or commentary value may be very limited or even highly questionable. This last point is emphatically more relevant when there exists a population in the many millions that may be deeply offended.

And the point is still more relevant when the most extremist elements of that population are bent on doing us very serious harm. Thus, in an ironic twist of fate, it falls to me -- someone who opposes every aspect of Bush's foreign policy, including the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq -- to remind the war propagandists: We're at war, you idiots! Are you trying to get people killed??!!

The answer, of course, is: Yes, they are. Back to that in a moment.

The war propagandists have once again framed this controversy in a way that is deeply dishonest. As the Newsweek onslaught less than a year ago demonstrated -- and that example could be multiplied hundreds of times -- freedom of the press is not exactly a consistently high priority for them. What they truly want, as I pointed out in my entry about the Newsweek brouhaha, is a George Creel press, as in World War I: a press that prints "nothing but good news," 24/7. If they can't achieve official censorship, they'll settle for de facto censorship, achieved by relentless intimidation.

But in the case of the cartoons, the war propagandists now tell us that every news organ in the world is obliged to print them. Nothing less than the future of civilization is at stake. I do not exaggerate: "This really is a case of civilization against the barbarians."

What utter propagandistic crap. Here's just one obvious question, among many similar ones, for the war propagandists: If Newsweek should have suppressed its story about the Koran because, among other reasons, it might get people killed (on the assumption, in the propagandists' world, that news stories in and of themselves are lethal weapons), shouldn't newspapers and others refrain from publishing these cartoons -- when we know the reaction to them is getting people killed?

Here is an excellent summary of what is actually at stake in the cartoon controversy. That post notes the major pieces of misdirection and camouflage involved. In terms of the broader issues that are implicated, note the concluding paragraphs:
US foreign policy has been the single most influential factor in building the political structures of the islamic world, and we didn't give a shit about it as long as the oil kept coming and we were given the russkis whatfor. We installed the House of Saud, the House of Saud funded wahhab. We installed the Shah and we propped him up when we knew him to be every bit as noisome as Saddam Hussein (who we also installed and propped up and sold lots and lots of arms to - fun fact: he was developed as an asset by the CIA under the senior George Bush). We funded the Taliban and taught them to fight. We were perfectly OK with the governments we supported in the region ruthlessly shutting down free speech, and we were perfectly OK with the people of those countries being kept ignorant and poorly informed about the world.

Just as the right and the (koff) "credible" center are willing to pretend that our own homegrown extremists are valid voices and adjust our laws and what we teach our own children in public schools for them as though they represented mainstream religious thought because their preachers tell them how to vote.

it's a bit precious for us to turn around and deplore the way people who have lived their lives in a world we built and maintained think about us. If we had given a shit about them at any time in the last sixty years this would not be happening.
Bingo. It's not only "precious": it's transparently false.

That same post notes the other significant aspect of this latest propaganda campaign, one that is even more dangerous. We are now inundated with stories about rioting Muslims, at the same moment that the efforts to demonize Iran are picking up steam. This point is amplified here by Will Bunch:
Amid the rubble of the worldwide uproar over the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, the Bush administration sees an opportunity -- to whip up ill will toward two of the many Islamic countries involved in the protests. In an amazing coincidence, they just happen to the two countries where the neocons have long coveted some type of military action in Bush's second term: Iran and Syria.

Here's what Condoleezza Rice said today. ...


The funny thing is, and we don't say this much about Madame Secretary, on one level she's totally right. Iran and Syria are clearly among the nations stoking violence-prone mobs. That's abominable and should stop immediately.

However, when we were growing up there was a TV game show called "You Don't Say," and its motto was, "It's not what you say, it's what you don't say." And boy, is that true in this case -- because Rice made no mention of the countries that had done the most to inflame the controversies -- Egypt, Pakistan, and most notably, Saudi Arabia.

When the rest of the world was paying little attention to what was once a local issue over cartoons in one Danish newspaper, the Saudis were right in the thick of things, making sure it became a big deal.
And now the war propagandists and the Bush administration are cashing in on the resulting uproar.

Just as the propagandists' concern for press freedom comes and goes depending on who the target of their hatred is, so too does their allocation of moral responsibility. In the case of Newsweek, everything of importance was the magazine's fault. No other individual moral agency was involved at all, according to the warbloggers. But with this latest controversy, printing cartoons that are likely to offend and inflame many Muslims becomes an act of nobility, and a requirement in the campaign for morality and civilization. Now, everything is the fault of those Muslims. We are repeatedly told that those Muslims are "barbarians," that they are "crazy," that they embody the antithesis of civilization. In short, those Muslims -- as one largely undifferentiated, collective mass -- are dehumanized and reduced to objects.

That makes it a lot easier when you start to bomb them. Again.

This is part of a broader frame of mind, one that the warbloggers embody in a particularly dangerous and repellent way. I offered this excerpt yesterday, from Robert Merry's discussion of some observations by historian Robert Nisbet, concerning the specifically Western "Idea of Progress":
Nisbet offers a penetrating insight into all this when he notes that the Idea of Progress has always been essentially "Eurocentric." By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he writes, "the spell of the idea of progress--and with it the Eurocentric view of the entire world--had grown to such proportions that little if anything in the world could be considered in its own right. Everything had to be seen through the West and its values." Implicit in this was the view that other cultures were inferior to the West, and hence universal progress required that these inferior cultures embrace the Western heritage.
The Bush administration and its most rabid supporters have internalized this view completely: at best, other cultures are inferior to the West. At worst, they are "barbaric" -- and not even human. This pattern of particularly vicious racism is a commonplace in American history, especially in wartime, as I just documented (see here, too). It arises from the same worldview that has resulted in racism within our own borders, as I also discuss in that entry.

We are further told, and a majority of Americans appears to already believe, that a potentially nuclear Iran would be "the largest threat" facing the world. That is "unacceptable." After this latest propaganda onslaught, when the bombing starts, we won't even be bombing people. So what's the big deal? Those subhumans are "barbarians." They riot and kill over cartoons. They're crazy! And the very future of civilization itself lies in the balance.

In this manner, the stage is set and the required cultural atmosphere is created for the next chapter in Bush's campaign of destruction.

The propaganda campaign now underway is sickening in every way. And I realize that one should not expect the war lovers to utilize facts, logic, or consistency in their approach. I only wish that the self-contradictions and ludicrous inconsistencies they allow themselves were not so patently transparent -- and that more people realized how utterly laughable and dangerous this kind of campaign is. It merits emphasis again that with regard to every major point, the arguments now being employed in the cartoon controversy are the exact opposite of what the war propagandists argued in connection with the Newsweek story -- and it appears that almost no one even notices.

But if and when the bombing starts -- again -- and when a majority of Americans accepts it with barely a protest, you shouldn't wonder why more people are not horrified by the resulting destruction, bloodshed and death. The ground is being prepared right now.

AND: Still More Cartoon Lies: Authoritarians for "Freedom".