Friday, December 10, 2010

Musical Propaganda and How the West May be Writing the Lyrics

"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." -Aldous Huxley
Using music as propaganda is nothing new, Harper's piano playing aside. National anthems can dance us into war and rhythms soothe our conscience over it's human costs.

But it actually plays a much more important role when it comes to propaganda.

In Nazi Germany, there was always music to stir the masses, but what was more important were ditties that could be sung when away from public demonstrations, and this was often done by simply changing the words to popular songs, that citizens found difficult to "get out of their heads".

One example, was the Christmas classic, Silent Night, which was sung as:

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Only the Chancellor steadfast in fight
Watches o'er Germany by day and by night
Always caring for us.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Adolf Hitler is Germany's wealth
Brings us greatness, favour and wealth
Oh give us Germans all power (1)

Joseph Stalin also used popular songs as propaganda, often rewriting the lyrics himself. By tweaking old folk songs, especially those that inspired the 1917 revolution, he was able to create a "cult of personality".

But the interesting thing in modern context is that the Taliban are now tapping into this phenomenon.

When the United States first helped them to gain power, these "freedom fighters" banned all music except religious poems and ‘chants’. This was in part to remove any Soviet influence that may have found it's way into the Afghan culture.

But now the Taliban are using music and Afghan culture to integrate and agitate. And they don't have to change the lyrics to do it.
The Taliban is using the tradition of folk songs to strengthen anti-government discontent, similar to the American protest songs of the 1960s. However, rather than appealing to the morality and intellect of its audience, the Taliban taps into the medium of folk songs to unite a diversified, and mainly uneducated population through culture and heritage. There is a clear similarity with the Stalinist government of the 1930s where folk songs were used to unite an illiterate population, but the Taliban has had no need to rewrite the lyrics to the songs, as the weapon of propaganda lies in the historical and cultural significance of the music ... [they] now enlists singers in their war of propaganda; producing songs praising Taliban martyrdom and damning infidels in a style similar to American rap music.
We can't really fault the exploitation of martyrdom, when the west's war propaganda promotes those dying for their country.

And the Taliban and other "insurgent" groups, have the advantage of a shared history and culture.

And while we may find it expedient to demonize the enemy as "scum", "animals" and "sub-human", in the era of information, via the internet, our own words can be turned against us in rallying the Afghan people.
While Taliban propaganda is often rudimentary and crude, the ICG report says, the Taliban is adept at exploiting local disenfranchisement. Its use of local languages and traditional cultural medium like songs and poems give it greater outreach than that of international organizations and the government. The ICG report also points out that the Taliban has also begun using DVDs and photographs, which it had earlier prohibited. (3)
When Bob Rae visited Afghanistan and determined that there was work to be done, he no doubt saw it as a Peacekeeping mission, and an attempt to change the public perception in that country. Rae is a decent and compassionate guy.

But three more years with Stephen Harper at the helm of any part of it, will not be a peaceful mission. His ideology of the "Clash of Civilizations", will not allow him to do any reaching out, unless it is politically motivated.

He has already aligned himself with the corrupt Karzai government, and his recent bluster, was only blowing smoke.

The Afghan people see the last election in that country as fraudulent. The majority do not support their leader, and they blame the West for their interference into their affairs.

Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich rightly calls western propaganda all fake: Fake Taliban Leader, Fake Elections, Fake Deadline, Real Trouble
“The war in Afghanistan is taking place in a netherworld where facts and common sense have no place. Elections are fake. Our deadline to withdraw is a fake. Now, we learn that a fake Taliban leader has been leading us to believe that NATO was facilitating high-level talks between Taliban leadership and the corrupt Afghan central government we’re propping up. It was truly amazing that our government said we were negotiating with high-level Taliban leadership while at the same time we were stepping up air strikes to wipe them out.
Stephen Harper may have felt that it was prudent to stonewall on the Afghan detainee issue. He may have felt it wise to align himself with a man who is thought to be a monster. And he may have believed that photo-ops with Karzai and the suppression of news relating to torture and the enormously successful drug trade, helped to further his agenda and win support for the war at home.

But the Afghan people are singing a different tune. One that we need to listen to, if we hope to come out of this with any self respect.


1. Bible Bill: A Biography of William Aberhart, By: David R. Elliot and Iris Miller, Edmonton: Reidmore Books, 1987, Pg. 174-175

2. How Effective Can Music Be as a Means of Political Propaganda? By: soundslikethefuture, July 29, 2010

3. Taliban's war of words undermines Afghanistan's nation building: A successful propaganda campaign has weakened public support for the Afghan government and its international backers, according to a new report from the International Crisis Group, By Aunohita Mojumdar, The Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 2008

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