This is a guest post by AKUS
A question to me from Irish (Leni) about my article “The Brainwashing of Britain” deserves a longer reply than a comment in the thread. Irish asked:
Can you, outside a totalitarian country – brainwash a whole nation? Don’t disagree that some are influenced by propaganda be it religious or political – see the AS rant outside the church.
There are still a lot of free thinkers in UK who do not accept everything thrown at them in predigested packages.
I have been pondering this brainwashing issue for some time in a larger context than just the Guardian and British antisemitism. How will we view the world if independent newspapers and other media are replaced by blogs and bloggers with unknown biases and agendas? Even in countries with freedom of speech, multiple media outlets and so forth? How does this or how will this affect issues such as the I/P conflict?
A brief word about English antisemitism – I have often been surprised to see the casual antisemitism expressed in British novels – e.g., by Dorothy Sayers in her detective stories, or, of course, Dickens’ well known examples – or even deliberately shown in a historical context (with no ill will – simply because that’s how it was) in the marvelous books of Patrick O’Brien. Antisemitism, in a sort of special, till now rather vague way, has been as much a part of English culture as a London fog – often there, sometimes faint and misty, but at times so thick its impossible to avoid.
However, I want to focus on two aspects that I feel are at the heart of the brainwashing issue.
The population of any country pretty much gets its view of the outside world from the media – newspapers, radio, TV, and, increasingly the internet. I’ll come back to the internet in a moment.
So the first issue is the role of traditional media. With the first three media sources, there is little choice beyond selecting a different paper or channel, but if all media are essentially providing the same world view, that is the world view that will dominate in a society. You may argue that there is enough diversity in the UK media, for example, that multiple viewpoints are provided, but if you speak to almost any American who has visited Britain (or the European countries) they will tell you how shocked they are by the way the news is presented about America and the world outside England – it is like visiting a different planet in terms of how news events are reported and the conclusions drawn from them. I assume when Britains visit the US they have a similar reaction. We each see in the other culture a world view very different from the one we each accept as correct. In the context of this article, and this website which focuses on the Guardian, that applies to attitudes towards Israel and Jews, though the US is almost always part of the same negative world view.
Given enough time, and roughly the same approach by the various media, public opinion can be molded to any point of view. In the UK, by and large, it seems that the prevailing point of view of some media – e.g., the BBC, Channel 4, the Guardian – is consistently directed at painting the US and Israel in a negative light that is seldom if ever applied to other countries, and certainly never with the same level of ferocity. Little by little, this molds the negative views of an increasingly large proportion of the population towards the US, Israel and Jews.
The second issue is the way in which the internet presents an interesting paradox, of importance here because of the way the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” blog tries to mold the views of its readership. Now, it is obvious that there are many blogs and websites dealing with the topics of the US, Israel, Jews, and Judaism that focus on this set of issues from every possible angle. So you could argue that the endless variety of the internet should make awareness of what’s going on in the world greater, and, since I am interested in CiF, on the topic of Israel, provide many divergent views that should help the web-surfer obtain a rounded picture of what Israel is.
However, the paradox is that exactly the opposite seems to be happening. Whereas in a traditional newspaper, whether you like it or not, editors may push information under your nose that you might generally not be aware of, the netizen becomes selective, and can easily become extremely selective, in his or her choice of websites. The very technology provided to “navigate” the ‘net actually has the opposite effect. It tends to make one stick to a few well-known paths using tools such as bookmarks, RSS feeds, social networking and embedded links provided to other articles that support the particular viewpoint of the material we are reading. Not a few readers reach CiF Watch because it is referenced on CiF (at least until the moderators detect the reference and delete the offending comment).
Faced with almost infinite choice, our reading is narrowed down by the technology of the net to the sites that we feel most comfortable with, and we ignore the rest. So the irony is that the internet seems to actually be narrowing the scope of our reading and our world views rather than broadening them.
Coming back to the brainwashing of Britain – it seems to me that far more than in the US, there are media obsessively dealing with Israel (and Jews, for example in the Dispatches program), particularly in a negative way. This exists in the US, but far less. There is a drip-drip-drip of endless negative reports about Israel, almost never mentioning what anyone who goes there will tell you is one of the most vibrant, friendly, happy places to visit. It has its effect, and that effect is reinforced specially through the internet and the self-selection of net users in choosing the sites they visit. The CIFer may read Ha’aretz to get information about Israel via its consistently negative reporting (in English), but he or she will rarely go to an Israel Government site or a pro-Israel site to get a more rounded or alternative perspective.
The shock of many of the CiF regulars in response to Tom Gross’s recent WSJ article showing positive and improving conditions in Gaza and the WB was palpable – it was so diametrically opposed to the brainwashed beliefs of the regulars in the CiF I/P threads that they literally could not believe him, despite his references to easily verifiable sources.
Goebbels had to have special radios made to force his propaganda on the German population. They had only one station – his – that they could pick up so that anyone listening to the radio would be forced to listen to him and his henchman. He had to have loudspeakers mounted on street corners relaying the same station just in case someone was not home. He would have loved the internet – as do the myriad antisemites and Israel bashers. It gives them a chance to create a captive audience at home and sitting at their laptop at the local Starbucks that in the end never sees anything but what they tune in to over and over again, and keeps them coming back via the feeds, links and bookmarks that their browsers so conveniently offer.
If you think I am wrong about this self selection aspect of the internet and how it affects the brainwashing of Britain about Israel and the Jews – consider the well-known obsessives commenting on the I/P and Judaism threads. Most really have no connection at all to Israel, the Palestinians, the Arabs, or the ME, but return endlessly to attack a country they know almost nothing about, fed a relentless diet of negative articles. The same people who will rarely comment on an article about the massacres in the Congo or Iraq or the deforestation of the Amazon are to be found on CiF’s I/P threads day after day foaming over the eviction of an Arab squatter from a house in Jerusalem, or the destruction of olive trees (which should be condemned, of course, but the anger they create is ridiculous relative to far greater issues). In fact, some apparently spend hours on the site judging by the number of comments they generate.
That is why CiF and other supposedly marginal internet sites in Britain are so dangerous. They relentlessly present an almost entirely one-sided view of Israel, and, by extension, Jews, which is so utterly remote from the reality as to be laughable if it did not reach such a wide and increasingly narrow-minded audience. Article after article, often 3 or 4 in a day, repeating the same mantras over and over have the effect of reinforcing this world view. The linkages to similar sites simply reinforce the views so created. An entire vocabulary of hate has been created that is directed only at Israel on CiF and websites and other media like it.
The media bias in Britain is so obvious when you look in from the outside, or read reports of hate crimes directed at Jews, that it is clear that an entire country is gradually being trained to think in a negative way about Israel (and the US and Jews). In fact, it is obvious that the three are simply being conflated and consistently shown as threats, evil, and inimical to “true” British interests and values, specially using the internet to distribute these views. In a sentence – the technology of the internet offers an opportunity unequaled till now to leverage a medium to affect the thinking and world view of a population.
This is brainwashing on a national scale, and the Guardian has made it its business – literally – using CiF to be at the forefront of this effort.