Friday, April 25, 2008

The Real Victim of Propaganda

On the 18th of April, 2008, a couple of Dutch soldiers were killed and a couple more were injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. One of the soldiers killed was Lt. Dennis van Uhm who was the son of Gen. Peter van Uhm, who took over command of the Dutch forces the day before. The Taliban claimed to have specifically targeted the young soldier with a mine according to their spokesperson. The Dutch government dismissed the claims the same day saying that they doubted the Taliban even knew before hand who the young soldier was. Link to story.

China claims Tibet as part of one-China and says that the "splittist" Dalai clique had been behind the recent violent demonstrations by Tibetans resulting in many mainland Chinese losing their lives and property. It says that it found evidence to show that the Dalai Lama instigated the protests. The Dalai Lama denies that he played any part in inciting the riots and condemned China's heavy-handed crackdown. According to Tibetan sources, more than a hundred Tibetans lost their lives but according to the Chinese this figure is about 20 or fewer. Link to story.

Muslim scientists and clerics, at a 2008 conference in Qatar, have called for the adoption of "Mecca time" to replace the GMT. The conference was titled Mecca, the Center of the Earth, Theory and Practice and is representative of a growing trend in some muslim societies where it is claimed that all scientific knowledge is already in the Quran and it only needs unearthing (pun intended) by the scholars and clerics. A certain geologist at the conference held that unlike other longitudes, Mecca was in perfect alignment with the magnetic north. Link to story.

All the stories presented above have elements which test our credulity. One comes across many instances of such stories in the news or information put out by various organizations, groups or nations (I have selected the above 3 due to their recency and exemplary nature). Some of the claims made in these stories seem outrageous to those of us exposed to multiple viewpoints through multiple media sources (some of which may be biased, making "multiple" the crucial word in that sentence). We wonder whether the person, group or government claiming something, which seems extraordinary, really expect us to believe what seems questionable to begin with. Why does their evidence seem so one-sided? Why do they never entertain any other view-point? Why is their claim never subject to outside examination? Why is their claim seldom, if ever, falsifiable? And ultimately, do they really believe what they say, even when it sounds like an outright lie?

The claims in these stories would fit nicely under the sobriquet of propaganda. They are especially formulated statements to present a world-view that furthers a particular agenda of the entity that presents them. But you think, "Sheesh, this is pathetic! I would never believe this drivel..." In fact, I have thought this for years. But, we are missing the real aim of those who create and disseminate these statements. The purpose of propaganda is not to convince those outside of a regime, religion, system or group. If anyone outside buys into propaganda that is a bonus for the creators of the propaganda. Propaganda is, in fact, aimed at in-group members who are provided these strident and unbalanced views, as if there were none other, in order to bolster their conviction in and support of the system they may be exposed to.

In the examples above, the Taliban claim is meant to portray the Taliban (see picture for some members) as being more coordinated and powerful than the forces of the west fighting them. It may not be believed by most in the west but, for those in Afghanistan whose allegiance is being vied for by the administration of Afghanistan, this statement may serve as further evidence that the Taliban is indeed a force to be reckoned and one that might actually be more than a match for the forces of the west.

A friend who was in China recently attested to the stridency of the Chinese media in whipping up the masses against the Dalai Lama. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is portrayed as being a devious person who is against Chinese peace and prosperity. The media makes no mention of the Dalai's call for non-violence or his requests for Tibetan autonomy rather than independence, leaving the Chinese people to draw the conclusion that the Dalai Lama wants to break up China violently. As to China's claim that very few Tibetans lost their lives, it is a claim that can only be met with dubiousness given all the other evidence of Chinese activists who disappear or are thrown in jail. It is unthinkable that the nation of the Tienanmen debacle would let the demonstrators in Tibet escape even as it accused them of killing Han Chinese and destroying their property. But sadly, many of the Han Chinese who claim Tibetans as their countrymen, do believe it.

For the Mecca story, oh where to begin! Anyone with the most rudimentary geometry lessons should be able to tell that one line passing through a certain point cannot be more "perfectly aligned" with that point than all the other lines passing through it. The Mecca longitude is no more perfect than any other longitude passing through the magnetic north of the planet earth. Yes, the GMT is a relic of the colonial past but it is a standard that is adopted by most of the world at the present time. (India is on an offset time zone but that is another story which predates colonialism and doesn't dispute science or geometry.)

This Mecca news item brings to mind an incident. Last summer when I was taking a train between Belgium and the Netherlands, I sat across from a person who turned out to be a muslim of (most likely) north African descent. He was a manager at McDonalds. He was dutch. The conversation at some point turned to belief systems and he believed in Allah and Mohammad and how Allah created earth and mankind etc. etc. I asked him why this planet under this sun was chosen by Allah of all the millions of other sun/stars in the universe? He said, "What other sun?" I thought he was joking but it eventually dawned on me that he really could not comprehend the existence of other suns and planets; a star was just a twinkle in the sky.

I told him that scientists have seen other suns and planetary bodies through telescopes and science conjectures a lot about celestial bodies (and I didn't mean angels). He flatly refused to believe in what I was saying. I had no way to show him anything then so I got his email address to send him the evidence. I have still not done it because I don't know where to begin and why anyone whose world view had been so constricted by agenda-driven information (such as that propagated by imams the world over) should believe some random websites about the existence of stars and planets out there in space. And even if they did believe me, I am sure it could also be attributed to Allah the magnificent and munificent. There is no science other than the science already revealed in the Quran it would seem.

Propaganda isn't half as hurtful to you and me as it is to those whom it is truly aimed at.

[Click on picture to see credits.]

No comments: