Word Games

 
by William Bowles • Tuesday, 10 January 2006
   
 
Eighteen forty-eight, the famous ‘springtime of peoples’, was the first and last European revolution in the (almost) literal sense, the momentary realisation of the dreams of the left, the nightmares of the right, the virtually simultaneous overthrow of old regimes over the bulk of continental Europe west of the Russian and Turkish empires, from Copenhagen to Palermo, from Brasov to Barcelona…. Henceforth there was to be no general social revolution of the kind envisaged before 1848 in the ‘advanced’ countries of the world. – Eric Hobsbaum, The Age of Capital 1848- 1875

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

The men who officially presided over the affairs of the victorious bourgeois order in its moment of triumph were a deeply reactionary country nobleman from Prussia, an imitation emperor in France and a succession of aristocratic land-owners is Britain. The fear of revolution was real, the basic insecurity it indicated, deep-seated. At the very end of our period the only example of revolution in an advanced country, an almost localised and short-lived insurrection in Paris [1871], produced a greater blood-bath than anything in 1848 and a flurry of nervous diplomatic exchanges. Yet by this time the rulers of the advanced states of Europe, with more or less reluctance, were beginning to recognise not only that ‘democracy’, i.e. a parliamentary constitution based on a wide suffrage, was inevitable, but also that it would probably be a nuisance but politically harmless. This discovery had long since been made by the rulers of the United States. (p. 15)

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’.

As a young man he joined the Jewish underground military organisation Haganah, and fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948-49 after the creation of the Jewish state. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/2001/
israel_and_the_palestinians/profiles/1154622.stm

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

In the 1950s he led a number of punitive military operations – one incident in 1953 when 50 houses in the village of Qibya were blown up, killing 69 residents.

Another in 1955 resulted in the deaths of 38 Egyptian troops in the Gaza Strip.

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

Mr Sharon masterminded Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 … [it] also resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen in two Beirut refugee camps under Israeli control … Mr Sharon was removed from office in 1983 by an Israeli tribunal investigating the 1982 Lebanon invasion, finding him indirectly responsible for the killings

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

The one aim in life for the former soldier and veteran politician is to ensure total security for Israel on his terms.

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

It is a simple enough justification. If the job of keeping Iraq together required it, Saddam believed, then any amount of force was justified. He did not kill people merely because he was blood-thirsty; in fact, unlike his unspeakable son Uday, Saddam seemed to gain no particular pleasure from having people tortured and murdered. It was simply something that had to be done. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4371490.stm

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!

Tell me, do the baddies of this world have a bad time? If anyone tries to touch them, the evil men cut his hands and legs off. They hunt and catch whatever they feel like eating. They don’t suffer from indigestion and are not punished by Heaven. I want Israel to join that club. Maybe the world will then at last begin to fear me instead of feeling sorry for me. Maybe they will start to tremble, to fear my madness instead of admiring my nobility. Thank God for that. Let them tremble, let them call us a mad state. Let them understand that we are a wild country, dangerous to our surroundings, not normal…

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.

Even if you’ll prove to me by mathematical means that the present war in Lebanon is a dirty immoral war, I don’t care. Moreover, even if you will prove to me that we have not achieved and will not achieve any of our aims in Lebanon, that we will neither create a friendly regime in Lebanon nor destroy the Syrians or even the PLO, even then I don’t care. It was still worth it. Even if Galilee is shelled again by Katyushas in a year’s time, I don’t really care. We shall start another war, kill and destroy more and more, until they will have had enough…

    
 
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