Propaganda - Preachers,
Pulpits and Pirates:
methods used by the crusaders
continue until the Muslims
are powerless globally.
The Reality on the Ground!
- Preachers, Pulpits and Pirates
Followers of the news will regularly come across propaganda
disseminated through the media channels. The coverage
of the war in Iraq has ensured that the average person
is aware of this ubiquitous phenomenon. This topic is
of vital importance, largely because propaganda can
have huge effects on public opinion. Although, not always
in a manner desired by propagandists. The power of propaganda
has grown proportionally to the growth of a mass media.
We live in an age where we need to have some understanding
of this phenomenon in order to interpret events with
any degree of clarity. The motives of the propagandist
are useful in building a picture of the world’s
political stage. Those who work within the framework
of an Islamic group, party or movement need to understand
how propaganda can be used against them. It is in the
interests of the kafir governments to misrepresent the
thoughts, opinions and plans of any sincere group of
Muslims. We are all aware of a variety of slanders against
Islamic parties. These slanders are much more powerful
when backed by a propaganda machine which takes them
to a wider audience. The global image of Islam in general
has suffered significantly from negative propaganda.
We should therefore have an interest in finding out
how we can use propaganda effectively to our own advantage.
We should acquaint ourselves with the Islamic rulings
on the issues and whether, in fact, the sharia permits
this at all. States have used propaganda very effectively
in the past. Should the khaliah Khilafah State, when
Allah grants it to us, use propaganda? If so, how is
its usage restricted by sharia?
Having mentioned some of the many areas where an understanding
is important it should be obvious that to comprehensively
cover all of these aspects would be a colossal commitment.
So for the sake of brevity I am restricting my discussion
to examining the use of propaganda by nation states.
Included in this presentation will be some issues relating
to propaganda’s possible consequences and the
implications for the Khilafah.
Most individuals will have a perfectly acceptable intuitive
working definition of the word. It is therefore surprising
that there is such disparity regarding a formal definition.
One definition states; “Propaganda is ... the
deliberate attempt by some individual or group to form,
control, or alter the attitudes of other groups by the
use of instruments of communication, with the intention
that in any given situation the reaction of those so
influenced will be that desired by the propagandist.”
The current Websters dictionary definition is; “The
systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of
information reflecting the views and interests of those
advocating such a doctrine or cause.” Other definitions
include “Material disseminated by the advocates
or opponents of a doctrine or cause: wartime propaganda”
and “Propaganda — Roman Catholic Church.
A division of the Roman Curia that has authority in
the matter of preaching the gospel, of establishing
the Church in non-Christian countries, and of administering
Church missions in territories where there is no properly
At first glance these seem reasonable definitions,
but there is an aspect missing from them all. That is
there is no mention of truth or falsehood. Most people
would associate, with the above definitions, an additional
factor. That is, that those putting out this propaganda
are attempting to alter attitudes of other groups by
foul rather than fair means. This may be by massaging
the truth, by exaggerating and by straightforward lying.
It is propaganda in this sense that we have become accustomed
to. It is propaganda in this sense that I am going to
use of propaganda by states
States can use propaganda to achieve a number of objectives.
- Emphasise misleading statistics to present a glowing
picture of the economy in order to create a feel good
factor amongst the public.
- Exaggerate or invent negative aspects of a potentially
threatening political group in order to discredit
them in the eyes of the public.
present facts at time of war to give a misleading
impression of the war’s progress.
In each case the state tries to manipulate public opinion
to be favourable to the interests of the ruling party.
Presenting the empire- Chaplains on a pirate ship
Long before the Catholic Church gave birth to the term
propaganda individuals and empires were using stories
and images to construct a deliberate picture. The Roman
Emperor Trajan who ruled from CE 98-117, used his wealth
and power to record the triumphs of his reign in a permanent
fashion across the face of Rome. His rule and hence
had glories held benefits that were visible to the people.
It is unlikely he would have recorded any negative events
Later empire builders used visions of wealth and glory
– military and spiritual – to entice volunteers.
Visions of non-baptised souls and mountains of gold
were common in reports emanating from the Spanish and
Portuguese colonies. Early English tracts promised astonishingly
fruitful lands and friendly natives to prospective settlers.
There is evidence that the British Empire in India
in the 1800’s attempted to reinvent itself from
an out and out resource-exploiting invader to a progressive
body attempting to modernise backward cultures. Reporting
on the British Empire, in the 19th Centrury by British
commentators and historians was once described by AJP
Taylor (undoubtedly the most famous British historian
of the 20 th Century) as “chaplains on a pirate
ship”. The chief chaplain onboard was, the James
Mill. This provincial British expert, who never visited
India, proclaimed that India to be a region perennially
fought over by two barbaric religious communities of
Hindus and Muslims. His political creed was that of
utilitarianism. He believed that only the British East
India Company – Mill’s later employer, could
save the pit of darkness known as India. Thus, his actions
reflected his political ideas. Who was around at the
time to challenge Mill’s spin doctorary and lies?
Who was around to point out that Mill didn’t know
what the hell he was talking about? So, Mill’s
view, that Hindus and Muslims constituted two antagonistic
entities became institutionalised in colonial policies
of divide and rule. A policy that was played out much
later in the 1940s during partition. Mill’s thoughts
are thoughts we are still seeing the consequences of.
This notion of remote “experts” setting
the agenda for the empire is something that lives on
in the new American Century. Aloof ivory towered academics
and political has-beens have written much of recent
history. The End of History was once the last word on
global events, and currently the thoughts of Bernard
Lewis are sort sought by the State Department on Middle
Eastern matters. It was once chaplains on pirate ships
that wrote history, it is now Black Beard and Bartholomew-Roberts
themselves that are writing the script.
Much of this approach was, and still is, for home consumption.
There was another element to all this. That was the
export of a distortion of the true to us as Muslims.
The orientalist and missionary attacks were an example
of the effective use of propaganda by a state to effect
its foreign policy in another region. Here selected
‘facts’ from Western culture and Islam were
packaged in such a way as to weaken Islamic thought
in the minds of Muslims and strengthen Western ideas.
Although many aspects of the narration of Islamic history
are controversial, and there are many apocryphal narrations,
we should examine some elements of Islamic history in
this discussion. Whether we adopt a partisan approach,
or whether we are capable of reviewing our own history
in a disinterested and dispassionate manner, we must
all acknowledge that events have been told and retold
by Muslims for Muslims with a particular slant depending
on the time and the place. So within this context we
should ponder on the various narrations that suggests
that Muawiyah used the Friday khutbah to discredit his
opponents. This included Ali (RA);- the blood stained
shirt of Uthman (RA) and the fingers of his wife were
brandished at the khutbahs to ensure public sentiment
was focussed in favour of the issue of revenging Uthman’s
death. It is also interesting to see that the rulers
of old used the main media channel of the time, the
Friday prayer, to propagate their opinions.
West European powers, especially the Church, were very
successful in creating anti-Islamic climate of hatred.
People loathed and feared Muslims and flocked to rid
the Holy Lands this of Islam. Publications at the time
portray Muslims as depraved savages worshipping the
devil represented by an idol in Mecca. Many hymns were
written with the crusades in mind e.g. ‘Onward
Christian soldiers marching as to War…’.
This early anti-Muslim propaganda work is still proving
useful today to powers who need to drum up anti-Muslim
sentiment from time to time.
Spanish American War and World War I
The Spanish-American War of 1898 is often perceived
as a conflict almost that was initiated and sustained
though the vehicle of propaganda. Publisher of THE NEW
YORK JOURNAL Randolph Hearst (the Rupert Murdoch of
his time) is commonly believed to have told a reporter
in Cuba, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll
provide the war.” Regardless of the veracity of
that tale, Hearst’s claim in the press that Spanish
mines had sunk the battleship USS Maine, pushed the
nation toward war. His paper’s notorious and ugly
characterisation of the Spanish and generous helpings
of melodrama and sentiment became known as “Yellow
World War I marked the American government’s
first official foray into creating propaganda. In order
to jumpstart enlistment and sell war bonds to a somewhat
isolationist public, President Wilson formed the Committee
of Public Information (CPI). The CPI produced posters,
films and other material that equated the American cause
with democracy, hearth and home. American propaganda
took its tone from British and French efforts which
stressed the brutality of “The Hun” and
the “rape” of neutral Belgium. Worries about
immigration and European revolutions became prominent
in government propaganda in the post-war Red scare.
In the view of the victors World War II propaganda
techniques took on a more sinister tenor – due
largely to the great emphasis placed on the creation
of propaganda by the Third Reich, under the leadership
of a Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels.
Hitler left details of his principles and methods in
his book Mein Kampf, where he states that he learnt
the secrets of successful propaganda from the British
in World War I. He applied the lessons learnt to welding
together the German people into a powerful instrument
for war and conquest. Hitler concluded violence, by
itself, would not achieve his object. History had shown
him that it was ineffective in the long run and that
its effects often recoiled upon the heads of its perpetrators.
He knew that success depended on securing domination
over the minds, thoughts and feelings of the masses,
and on conditioning them by the indoctrination of Nazi
theories, hates and enthusiasms to be instruments of
He tells us himself the ways in which he hoped to achieve
his end, and they can be briefly summarised thus:
- driving home by endless repetition a few simple
points, and using catchy slogans or war-cries;
- playing on the herd instinct, and appealing always
to groups or to the mass—never to individuals;
- avoiding rational argument, and concentrating on
securing instinctive reactions, especially to the
primary feeling of fear.
The very concept of a Cold War (i.e the danger of actually
entering a physical war due the potential of a nuclear
holocaust), was predicated upon a great reliance on
propaganda by both sides. In the United States, efforts
were spearheaded by the United States Information Agency
and Radio Free Europe. At the same time the Communist
regimes presented their best face with “official”
images of smiling peasants and productive workers.
The Qurayshite use of propaganda, though relatively
effective inside Makkah and its surrounds, failed to
destroy the mission of Rasool-Allah (SalAllahu Alaihi
Wasallam). The Aus and Khazraj were not victims of Qurayshite
propaganda. The Negus of Abysinnia, Tufal ad-Duwsi and
Abu Dar al-Gafari werew all able to avoid falling for
the Qurayshite distortions. Within Mecca the Quraysh
had to proceed carefully as the character of the Rasool-Allah
(SalAllahu Alaihi Wasallam) was beyond reproach and
thus very difficult to attack credibly.
In the Vietnam war the body count was to a large extent
covered up by not counting those missing in action in
the casualty lists. However despite government attempts
to portray the anti-war lobby as deviant communists,
they failed for various reasons to maintain public enthusiasm
for the war.
In many dictatorships in the last 50 years there are
repeated elections with very dubious results where a
90+ percent approval rating is given for a particular
leader. This is a failure of propaganda, in that the
people of the country are unlikely to believe these
results and become progressively more sceptical. As
scepticism increases the governments ability to propagandise
The increasing use of satellite media sources in the
Middle East after the first Gulf War made it increasingly
difficult for a particular government to monopolise
information sources and thus present a one-sided picture
of events. Alternative media sources undermine the government
attempts to portray a particular picture, especially
when the government in question is attempting to lie.
Propaganda today is without a doubt most effectively
used by Western governments. George Orwell, in his unpublished
introduction to Animal Farm, described how censorship
in free societies was infinitely more sophisticated
and thorough than in dictatorships because 'unpopular
ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark,
without any need for an official ban'. Western government
propaganda is successful because it is generally subtle,
credible and palatable to both the man on the street
and to most intellectuals. Critical voices are used
to make the official view sound more credible by using
these critics to demonstrate that we live in a free
society where all opinions are heard therefore there
is no need for propaganda therefore what the government
says is likely to be true.
Before studying the numerous examples of present day
propaganda, it is helpful to sidetrack for a moment
and have a quick look at propaganda methods.
1) Appeal to Authority, 2) Assertion, 3) Bandwagon
and Inevitable Victory, 4) Obtain Disapproval, 5) Glittering
Generalities, 6) Vagueness, 7) Rationalisation, 8) Simplification,
9) Transfer, 10) Least of Evils, 11) Name Calling or
Substitutions of Names or Moral Labels 12) Pinpointing
the Enemy, 13) Plain Folks or Common Man, 14) Social
Disapproval, 15) Virtue Words, 16) Slogans, 17) Testimonials,
18) Official Sanction, 19) Personal Sources of Testimonial
Authority, 20) Nonpersonal Sources of Testimonial Authority,
21) Incredible truths, 22) A double-cutting edge, 23)
Insinuation, 24) Card stacking or selective omission,
25) Presenting the other side, 26) Lying and distortion,
27) Change of pace, 28) Stalling, 29) Shift of Scene,
30) Repetition, 31) Fear of Change.
The domestic propaganda generated since the September
11th bombings has allowed the Bush administration to
push forward an aggressive and world shaking foreign
policy. This has relied on a domination of the mass
media coupled with active cooperation from these media
techniques employed include:
- Misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims
- Avoidance of mentioning civilian Muslim casualties
in Afghanistan or Iraq
- Avoidance of adequately exposing Bush and Blair’s
repeated justification changes for invading Iraq.
- Fabricated demonstrations like the toppling of
Saddam’s statue - and avoidance of accurate
coverage of anti-US demonstrations in Iraq.
- Media avoidance of US hypocrisy in POW treatment,
- Cynical uses of Ali to promote Western sympathy
for Coalition actions while thousands like him continue
- Cynical avoidance of reporting on the deliberate
bombing of ‘unfriendly’ media sources
like Al Jazeera and other European journalists.
- When an English translation has been provided for
an Arab speaker all Islamic words are neglected. Also
the Arab or other nationality is always emphasised
over the Islamic identity.
Twelve years ago things were no different. In the
previous Gulf war it is interesting to recall that
media stated 90% accuracy of bombs. In actual fact
90% of bombs were dumb bombs. And of the much-vaunted
Patriot missile systems not a single one managed to
shoot down an incoming missile. Domestically, Bush
has effectively used fear of Islam or WMD or other
dictatorships to divert public attention from serious
issues at home including the dire state of the US
economy where third world levels of poverty can be
found in some areas.
In the UK the art of subtlety is much more developed.
A recent quote from the Jonathon Freedland in the Guardian,
wrote “America, after all, still sees itself as
the instinctive friend of all who struggle to kick out
a foreign occupier - and the last nation on earth to
play the role of outside ruler." ('Emperor George',
Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, April 2, 2003)
A day earlier, Hugo Young had described how when John
F Kennedy talked of "genuine peace... Not the peace
of the grave or the security of the slave" he found
"an audience that believed" him - his words
"articulated a credible ideal, infused with internationalist
generosity." ('Blair has one final chance to break
free of his tainted fealty', Hugo Young, The Guardian,
April 1, 2003)
Both these quotes are ostensibly from a broadsheet
paper that is supposed to be read by intellectual liberals.
If one looks at what is being said you can see the idea
being pushed is that America and Britain are fundamentally
benevolent and are very reluctant participants in the
gruesome business of war. Thus, Martin Woollacott notes
that a bloody battle for Baghdad "risks sullying
the liberation which is the larger Anglo-American aim".
('Freeing Iraqis will not be a single act, but a long
process', Martin Woollacott, The Guardian, March 28,
2003) The point here is that rather than feeling disgust
at the obvious aggression and greed of the invading
powers the reader is pushed towards feeling sorry for
these powers when the realities of war interfere with
their fundamentally altruistic mission. Put simply,
the whole thing gets reduced to “It is really
bad that innocent civilians have to die while the Iraqis
are being freed”. The result is that the reader
has been diverted away from the real underlying issues.
is it being used ineffectively today?
After the September 11 2001, the US spoke about establishing
a body which would distribute disinformation. We never
heard about it again. The rise of independent media
sources has to an extent lessened trust of the state
especially amongst intellectuals. An example of this
is the UK organisation Media Lens keeps tabs on UK media
and exposes propaganda, hypocrisy and double standards.
It sends alerts to its members and directly challenges
members of the media it uses their egos (i..e desire
to be seen as objective) to prompt responses from them
and it then publishes these dialogues. During the war
on Iraq al Jazeera was one of the most visited sources
of information. There were numerous alternative news
sources on the internet. Various polls in the UK demonstrated
a lack of trust in the official media. This phenomenon
will have to be actively managed by Western governments
and though possible will be difficult due to the cynical
nature of people in general and the cynical and suspicious
nature of an increasing number of Western intellectuals.
Another current example of state propaganda’s
failure is evidenced by the almost total distrust of
what is being said by the government in the Islamic
world. It seems that years of unsubtle media manipulation
by dictators has taken its toll and Muslims who due
to their problems are quite politicised are unlikely
to have much trust in what are perceived to be government
mouthpiece medial agencies.
The Khilafah and its use of Propaganda
Propaganda can be both a useful and problematic tool.
It now remains to apply the lessons from history and
current study to come up with some recommendations to
how the Khilafah State should view this tool.
The sharah via statements made by Rasool-Allah (SalAllahu
Alaihi Wasallam) such as “War is lies/deception”
seems to permit the Khalifah a great deal of leeway
in using propaganda for State security in the time of
war. It stands to reason that at times of peace this
power is extended so that the Khalifah can mislead the
enemies of the state by setting political traps, such
as mobilising the army on one border in order to disguise
a variety of planned actions in another location. The
use of the media by the State to spread Islamic concepts
internally and externally is a necessary. This notion
(dawa) does not fall under the pejorative definition
of propaganda that this discussion has been confined
to. Islam is the truth therefore by using mass media
to publicise Islam you are not attempting to mislead
in any way. The State would be expected in this area
to accurately represent Islam, and accurately represent
Controversies may arise as to the use of careful presentation
of data by the Khalifah in the realm of; economic problems
such as unemployment by statistical tampering with measures,
law and order issues. We can not attempt to address
the solutions to these issues here. In one respect,
Alhamdolillah, it is unlikely that at times of war the
Khalifah would find it necessary to cover up the number
of Shahadah (Martyrs) in Jihad, as contrary to the Western
public opinion the number of Shuhadah should be a source
of motivation to the Ummah.
The Islamic injunctions regarding honesty are very
strong and unambiguous, the effect on the public will
be negative in that they will lose trust in the Khalifah.
After decades of living under untrustworthy rulers it
is imperative that we build a strong relationship between
the institution of Khalifah and the Ummah. A deceptive
Khalifah will lead to a weakening of this relationship
and thus an inevitable weakening of the State.
Propaganda in its pejorative sense is a huge subject
with a long history. Its effects on society can be powerful
but it is a dangerous and dirty tool which if used carelessly
is likely to backfire in the context of Islam, is as
in Islam speaking the truth is of the highest values
and leaders should be the embodiment of the highest
We should study it in order to understand the political
manoeuvres of the Western powers in order to defend
the State and in order to undermine the credibility
of these powers when we spread our dawa.
Finally we should ensure that Khalifah is advised fully
against the dangers of this tool and its use should
be prohibited in all domestic contexts other than states
19 Rabee Al-Awwal
20 May 2003
Send us an email to confirm your thoughts below,
do you agree with this article?: