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Muslims work for its revival and gain rewards from Allah(swt).  

Propaganda - Preachers, Pulpits and Pirates
The methods used by the crusaders continue until the Muslims are powerless globally.

The Reality on the Ground!
Propaganda - 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.

What is propaganda?

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 organized hierarchy.”

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 discuss.

Traditional use of propaganda by states

States can use propaganda to achieve a number of objectives.

  1. Emphasise misleading statistics to present a glowing picture of the economy in order to create a feel good factor amongst the public.
  2. Exaggerate or invent negative aspects of a potentially threatening political group in order to discredit them in the eyes of the public.
  3. Selectively 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 for posterity.

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.

Islamic history

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.

The Crusades

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 Journalism”.

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.

World War II

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 his will.

He tells us himself the ways in which he hoped to achieve his end, and they can be briefly summarised thus:

  1. driving home by endless repetition a few simple points, and using catchy slogans or war-cries;
  2. playing on the herd instinct, and appealing always to groups or to the mass—never to individuals;
  3. avoiding rational argument, and concentrating on securing instinctive reactions, especially to the primary feeling of fear.

The Cold War

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.

Ineffectiveness of propaganda

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 diminishes.

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.

Effectiveness of propaganda

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 bodies.

The techniques employed include:

  1. Misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims
  2. Avoidance of mentioning civilian Muslim casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq
  3. Avoidance of adequately exposing Bush and Blair’s repeated justification changes for invading Iraq.
  4. Fabricated demonstrations like the toppling of Saddam’s statue - and avoidance of accurate coverage of anti-US demonstrations in Iraq.
  5. Media avoidance of US hypocrisy in POW treatment, Guantanamo Bay.
  6. Cynical uses of Ali to promote Western sympathy for Coalition actions while thousands like him continue to suffer.
  7. Cynical avoidance of reporting on the deliberate bombing of ‘unfriendly’ media sources like Al Jazeera and other European journalists.
  8. 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.

How 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 Kufr.

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 values.
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 of emergency.

Muhammad Omar Journal
19 Rabee Al-Awwal
20 May 2003

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