Saturday, November 06, 2004

Cheap and transparent propaganda

Propaganda ~
(usually derog) Information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause. Organized scheme for propagating a doctrine or practice.
Ozzy spy chief, Dennis Richardson, dismissed the recent video message from Usama bin Laden as nothing more than “cheap and transparent propaganda” and vowed it would not deter the West from its war on terror. He said Australia was “well placed” to fight a long war — but if Richardson has actually read the full transcript of bin Laden’s speech, his trite remarks may well belie some real concern.

More likely the head of ASIO was simply handed a summary by one of his staffers, and a prepared spiel designed to minimize any impact that bin Laden’s message might have on the domestic audience. No doubt our government also emulated the US State Department’s attempts to discourage the media from reporting the bin Laden videotape.

There is some irony in Mr bin Laden’s unexpected appearance which serves to highlight and confirm Dennis Richardson’s recent warning that the “Iraq war has provided al Qa`ida with propaganda and recruitment opportunities” and that the occupation of Iraq is being used as “another justification or rationalisation for acts of terrorism.”

Of course, it’s not just bin Laden and al Qa`ida churning out propaganda. Our own governments also have very sophisticated schemes for propagating their agenda and shaping public opinion. It may be instructive to compare their opposing representations.

Bush, Howard and Blair say they are fighting to spread freedom and democracy, liberating millions from the torment of tyrants. They claim to have killed or captured most of the al Qa`ida leadership and point to the overthrow of Saddam and the Taliban as evidence that their policies are working. Even the worsening violence in Iraq and Afghanistan is proof that the coalition’s strategy is succeeding.

Yet they insist that our national security, indeed our very way of life, is threatened by radical Islamic extremists who “hate our freedoms” and want to destroy civilization. Western politicians and military spokesmen constantly remind us that we are at war with evil and barbaric terrorists, cold-blooded killers who think nothing of murdering innocent women and children.

We are told that our defence forces must attack the enemy abroad to prevent them from attacking our “homeland”. The threat to our “values” is real and imminent, requiring strong and decisive action. We cannot afford to show any weakness in the face of terrorism, as this will only comfort and encourage the enemy.

Usama bin LadenFor his part, bin Laden says he is fighting
to restore peace to our nation” and he condemns the “oppression and tyranny of the American-Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon”. Mr bin Laden declares that “oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy”.

The Saudi sheik expresses surprise at the West’s failure to learn from the past. “I am amazed at you,” he says, “Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th, Bush is still engaged in distortion, deception and hiding from you the real causes. And thus, the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred.”

He goes on to explain his reasons for attacking America, citing the 1982 US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in which “many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced.” These events “affected my soul in a direct way. I couldn’t forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy.”

Significantly, bin Laden lays claim to the authorship of 9/11.

The sight of those demolished towers in Lebanon “produced an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny, and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors... it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.”

While bin Laden’s efforts to date could be viewed as punishment and just retribution for the West’s past aggression and complicity in the oppression of Muslims, they do not appear to have deterred the West from further aggression. In fact, many would say the terror attacks of September 11 actually provoked the military response that has culminated in the occupation of Iraq.

But remember, this is all just propaganda.

The essence of real propaganda is consistent repetition of the message. The al Qa`ida leader clearly understands this. “Defending oneself and punishing the aggressor in kind... This is the message which I sought to communicate to you in word and deed, repeatedly, for years before September 11th. And you can read this, if you wish, in my interview with Scott in Time Magazine in 1996, or with Peter Arnett on CNN in 1997, or my meeting with John Weiner in 1998. You can observe it practically, if you wish, in Kenya and Tanzania and in Aden. And you can read it in my interview with Abdul Bari Atwan, and my interviews with Robert Fisk.

Perhaps most troubling for our political leaders and military strategists is the al Qa`ida leader’s incisive critique of the West’s weakness in the war on terror, his keen insight into the Bush administration’s real agenda and his obvious enthusiasm for the struggle he has embarked upon.

Mr bin Laden describes the results of the war on terror as “positive and enormous,” that have “by all standards, exceeded all expectations.” He attributes these satisfying results to his clear understanding of the “Bush administration, in light of the resemblance it bears to the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military and the other half which are ruled by the sons of kings and presidents”.

Our experience with them is lengthy, both types are replete with those who are characterised by pride, arrogance, greed and misappropriation of wealth. This resemblance began after the visits of Bush Snr to the region... he was affected by those monarchies and military regimes, and became envious of their remaining decades in their positions, to embezzle the public wealth of the nation without supervision or accounting.

The similitude of the Bush administration to the corrupt regimes of the Middle East “made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration.” The West’s paranoia gives bin Laden a significant advantage. “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.

These mocking words may well have played on the minds of US counterterrorism advisers as White House officials met to consider elevating the terror alert level in the wake of bin Laden's video message. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others favored raising the alert level, but homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, FBI director, Robert Mueller and other senior officials disagreed. A decision to raise the terror alert would have cost America millions of dollars and effectively affirmed bin Laden's claim that he has US officialdom running scared and jumping at shadows.

Mr bin Laden also claims he has an advantage due to al Qa`ida’s “experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat... So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

But Usama bin Laden does not claim sole credit for “achieving those spectacular gains. Rather, the policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy their various corporations - whether they be working in the field of arms or oil or reconstruction - has helped al Qa`ida to achieve these enormous results.”

Mr bin Laden is, of course, a brilliant and highly refined propagandist with a wry sense of humor. He is well aware that “it has appeared to some analysts and diplomats that the White House and us are playing as one team towards the economic goals of the United States, even if the intentions differ.”

And it was to these sorts of notions and their like that the British diplomat and others were referring in their lectures at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. [When they pointed out that] for example, al-Qaida spent $500,000 on the event, while America, in the incident and its aftermath, lost - according to estimates - more than $500 billion. Meaning that every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs.”

The economic consequences of the war on terror are key elements of bin Laden’s propaganda. He reflects on the size of the US deficit and claims “the mujahidin recently forced Bush to resort to emergency funds to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is evidence of the success of the bleed-until-bankruptcy plan - with Allah’s permission.”

It is true that this shows that al-Qaida has gained, but on the other hand, it shows that the Bush administration has also gained, something which anyone who looks at the size of the contracts acquired by the shady Bush administration-linked mega-corporations, like Halliburton and its kind, will be convinced. And it all shows that the real loser is ... you.”

Now this is very clever, bin Laden is employing the arguments of Bush’s domestic political opponents and casting aspersions against the president’s competence and integrity. This is not likely to damage Bush’s reputation among his supporters, but it certainly highlights the question of his real agenda and suggests al Qa`ida understands the White House better than Bush understands bin Laden.

Military strategists will tell you, it pays to know your enemy.

The most scathing criticism of the president occurs in bin Laden’s assessment of the US response to September 11. And here again, we get a glimpse of the Arab millionaire’s sardonic humor. According to bin Laden, the plan to fly planes into US skyscrapers required that “all the operations should be carried out within 20 minutes, before Bush and his administration notice.”

It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would abandon 50,000 of his citizens in the twin towers to face those great horrors alone, the time when they most needed him. But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers, we were given three times the period required to execute the operations - praise due to Allah.”

Continuing his attack on the president’s competence and credibility, bin Laden recalls that “the thinkers and perceptive ones from among the Americans warned Bush before the war and told him: All that you want for securing America and removing the weapons of mass destruction - assuming they exist - is available to you, and the nations of the world are with you in the inspections, and it is in the interest of America that it not be thrust into an unjustified war with an unknown outcome.”

But the darkness of the black gold blurred his vision and insight, and he gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America.”

There you have it, an eminently plausible conclusion.

Propaganda generally has a grain of truth to it.



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