What might be generically termed as ‘red scares’ or to bring it up to date, the ‘global terror network’ have an extremely long pedigree, some five hundred years to be exact. In fact, the idea that there are secret networks with the objective of overthrowing the ‘established order’ can be traced back to the witch hunts against women that first appeared in the 15th century, not coincidentally with the rise of capitalism.
Over these five centuries, the demons have changed genders, names and means, but one thing has stayed constant, ‘secret terror networks’ whose one objective is the destruction of the state.
Interestingly, in spite of trying for five hundred years, not a single one has come anywhere near to succeeding, indeed, as the historical record shows, the existence of these alleged ‘networks of terror’ are either totally fictitious or actually created by the state in the first place.
Almost without exception, such ‘threats’ emerge at times of crisis, crisis that is to the established order, either of an economic or political nature, or, where the state needs to pursue an immensely unpopular policy that needs a justification that the ‘normal’ means of persuasion is incapable of delivering.
For the last two hundred or so years, the mass media has been an essential vehicle in the process but in fact one of the first documented uses of the printing press was the production of propaganda leaflets by the state during the witch-hunts conducted against women in the late 15th century.
Nobody likes change, especially radical upheavals, and that’s a fact. It means taking a step into the unknown—better the devil you know and all that stuff. It takes a total loss of faith in the established order for such radical transformations, or revolutions, to occur and such events happen very infrequently, but when they do, especially over the past two centuries, they tend to occur at around the same time. This is because the world and the dominant economies are so interconnected regardless of the different local conditions that revolutions tend to spread like wildfire.
The first wave of revolutions to take this form was in 1848 or the Year of Revolutions as it was called. Not coincidentally, they happened during a series of capitalist economic crises that swept Europe and at a time when the newly organising industrial working classes were getting their act together. The old order, based on the land and the artisan was being swept away by the factory and the rise of industrial capitalism.
One of my favourite historians is Eric Hobsbaum whose Age of… series captures the Victorian period superbly. In the second of the trilogy, Age of Capital 1848-1875 he says
Nobody likes change, not the least the agrarian and artisan worker, both of whom possessed their own tools and skills which to some degree gave them a measure of control over their own lives. Forced removals which totalled literally millions of people via the Enclosures Acts that were enacted by European states during this period were obviously resisted and likewise brutally repressed by the state. Accompanying the repression was a concerted propaganda campaign that sought to present resistance to the Enclosures Acts as the work of ‘communards’ and typically of ‘foreigners’.
One need only look at the way the rising middle classes were conscripted by the ruling order of the day to resist the ‘anarchy’ of the ‘great unwashed’ which included arming them and using them to ‘defend’ the state including occupying bridges and city centres across England during the 1848 Chartist Uprising.
And, as the 19th century progressed, and the rise of organised political parties of the working classes developed, so too did the state’s propaganda war against ‘anarchists’ and ‘foreign agitators’. So there is nothing new in the current hysteria being conducted around the ‘war on terror’, merely its scale. And indeed, during the 19th century, a series of repressive ‘sedition’ laws were passed designed to function in exactly same way as the current ‘anti-terror’ legislation does.
What should surely be apparent is the fact that without the complete cooperation of the corporate and state-run media the propaganda campaign being conducted in the name of the ‘war on terror’ would be impossible to execute.
What I think is worth commenting on is the subliminal nature of the propaganda campaign. Firstly, unfounded assumptions are made about fundamental facts; opinions are presented to us as a fait accomplis. A current case in point is the way Ariel Sharon’s life has been promoted in the corporate/state media.
The history of Israel and Sharon’s role in the removal of Palestinians from their land and as importantly from history is entirely missing from ‘news’ accounts. Instead, Sharon is a ‘hero’.
This from an alleged profile of Sharon on the BBC’s Website. No mention of the fact that Haganah was a terrorist organisation, involved in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that resulted in the deaths of dozens of British troops and diplomats.
Under the heading of “Tough Commander” we read
So instead of being presented as a mass murderer, he is as far as the BBC is concerned merely a “tough commander”. So much for the BBC’s so-called objectivity.
So too with Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon and Sharon’s complicity in the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in Shatila refugee camp. Instead, the invasion is presented thus
That is the sum total of the BBC’s references to Sharon’s involvement. Most importantly, it is the context within which these facts are reported. Sharon is the “tough commander” his only objective is considered a noble one, namely
So illegal occupation, mass forced expulsions and mass murder are presented to us transformed into “total security”. This is rewriting history on a massive scale.
Contrast this with BBC’s coverage of Saddam Hussein’s crimes
This is from a piece by the BBC’s John Simpson titled “Saddam’s strategy for martyrdom”. And what of Sharon’s history? Can we expect John Simpson to write a comparable piece? Was Hussein “not merely … bloodthirsty” but merely a “tough commander” I wonder?
Of course critics will argue that comparing Sharon to Hussein is outrageous but both are according to accepted definitions, mass murderers. I’ll let the reader draw the appropriate conclusions concerning the nature of the mass media’s coverage of Sharon and his actions, never mind his words!
Were these words uttered by an Arab or an Iranian politician can you imagine the hysteria in the Western media, but these are the words of Ariel Sharon in 1982. Nevertheless, as Sharon lies in a coma, the euologies flood the airwaves.
How are we to explain the massive contradiction between the way different people and most importantly, events are presented in the Western ‘news’ media?
In the case of Israel, it is most obviously a means justifying the ends process, and down to a single phrase, “Israel’s security”. Note that John Simpson alluded to the same reasoning behind Saddam’s actions but contextualized it in an entirely different setting. There is for example, no use of the phrase “bloodthirsty” when referring to Sharon, but note that Saddam’s son Uday, is “unspeakable”. The implication is that Sharon is motivated by a noble cause—Israel’s security—but Saddam has some baser motive, I assume power, money, or even because he is a psychopath, but obviously land is not considered as base, even if it belongs to somebody else, especially when that someone else is an Arab.
Hence within the rhetoric another message is embedded, one that is not spoken, merely inferred, namely that Jews, or Israelis have rights that Arabs, or Palestinians don’t. Rights that justify Sharon’s and the state of Israel’s actions. These are ‘rights’ that are deeply embedded in Western thought concerning the lives of Arabs. Simply put, Arabs have less rights than Jews, or Europeans, hence they are less human. Once this assumption is made, it enables the John Simpsons of this world to interpret the actions of Ariel Sharon entirely differently than the actions of Saddam Hussein and in turn, ascribe an entirely different set of values and motivations to them.
Once we understand this fundamental process, it enables us to interpret everything that gets thrown at us on the TV, on radio and in the print media. But it does mean that we have to dump an entire universe of assumptions about the ‘Western way of life’, which in essence assumes that we are superior, that ‘our’ culture is superior, that we are not bound by the same set of laws and values that govern ‘lesser’ beings. Let Ariel Sharon’s words speak for themselves, as at least he has the saving grace of being open about his desires, unlike the craven hypocrites who work for the BBC and the rest of the corporate media.
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