What role does the media play in contemporary politics? This question is at the heart of Dr. Noam Chomsky’s book Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (published by Seven Stories). Although first published in 1991, Chomsky’s book remains timeless and pertinent.
Since 9/11, the US government has fed Americans propaganda that portrays Muslims as “boogeymen,” a term used to create “wartime hysteria,” as Chomsky calls it. Images and videos of beheadings and other extreme acts of violence by the Islamic State, in particular, are used to “elicit jingoist fanaticism.” In reaction, American citizens behave as “spectators,” who sit back and watch these events unfold without questioning their validity.
Chomsky’s thesis builds off the idea that the US government manufactures consent by using propaganda as a tool to control the public mind. According to him, the enemies of America are painted as “disruptive and causing trouble and breaking harmony and violating Americanism.” This propaganda has portrayed Muslims as barbaric and Islamic political entities as terrorist groups.
The Islamic State, for example, is characterized in the media as a cancerous cell about to inflict a deadly disease on humanity. If it is not dealt with immediately, the Middle East will be beyond saving; therefore, we must act now to crush the enemy.
“Terrorism” is the most important tool used in the US government’s propaganda machine. Terror has been drilled into our imaginations on a daily basis since 9/11. Terrorism in the American context is always “Islamic,” meaning that terrorism only occurs when a Muslim or Muslim group is involved in the act. Acts of terror carried out by non-Muslims are either completely ignored, or manufactured as simply violence by “crazy” people.
As Chomsky discusses in his chapter on “Engineering Opinion,” American propaganda wants to “whip up the population in support of foreign adventures.” The American state spreads “information” in order to elicit some pretext for a planned invasion or military campaign. This tactic was evidenced in the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State popped out of nowhere and released videos of American journalists being beheaded. Media and politicians told us that this “monster” – the Islamic State – had to be dealt with, or else “radical Muslims” would dominate the Middle East. As Chomsky notes, this “monster” is more of a government-created problem than a real threat. The barbarism displayed by Islamic State in the videos laid the groundwork for US airstrikes and eventually American troop deployment to Iraq, and possibly beyond.
The Islamic State is not the first manufactured monster in recent memory. Over the last decade, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria have all been slandered by the US government. America linked the Afghan government to the events of 9/11, although Afghanistan had little to do with what happened on that day. A similar situation developed in Iraq after 9/11; Saddam Hussein was linked to terror groups and was accused of wanting to use “weapons of mass destruction,” which were never found during or after the Iraq War.
Now, the US has re-invaded Iraq and wants to march through Syrian borders. One must ask: Which country is next? It is only a matter of time, as Chomsky suggests, until “some major monster is constructed that we have to defend ourselves against.”
Later in Media Control, Chomsky turns to American hypocrisy and the double standard of terrorism. According to the US’s own Army Manual, terrorism is defined as “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature … through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear.” If this is the case, the American state would be considered a terrorist organization, but the US propaganda machine will never disclose crimes committed by the US government. Washington instead prefers to investigate “enemy crimes with laserlike intensity.” There is never any reflection on whether we might also be terrorists.
Consider America’s use of depleted uranium. Dahr Jamail, an Al-Jazeera reporter, highlighted the legacy of cancer and birth defects that the US military left behind in Iraq. He described seeing “a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Iraqis in Fallujah continue to see higher rates of cancer, leukemia, and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.
Remember, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Not one of the 9/11 hijackers was an Iraqi. The US painted Saddam Hussein as a “monster,” not because he was a “terrorist,” but rather to justify the US invasion of Iraq. Is that invasion of Iraq not terrorism according to the US Army Manual?
You have likely never heard of depleted uranium in Iraq. Nobody has concluded that the US might be a “terrorist” organization because, as Chomsky notes, in a well-functioning propaganda system, nobody would know about that. Our terrorism is hidden. and silenced.
Just a few days ago, Congress voted to give new war powers to President Obama in his fight against, or alongside, the Islamic State. What is needed to topple the American war machine, as Chomsky suggests, is an American citizenry that “[acquires] an ability and a willingness to think things through.” In light of the propaganda being used against the Islamic State, an informed citizen should ponder some important questions. Who is behind the creation of this State? Who continues to support it? What are the US’s ultimate motives in the Middle East? You will have to conduct your own research to find answers to these questions. You certainly will miss the truth if you look for it in the television or computer screen.