If there’s a rule in international relations (and there isn’t, I’m just saying if there were), it would be, as soon as somebody starts sermonizing about how all-good they are and how all-wicked someone else is, buy defense stocks. Relentless demonization of The Other is a pillar of regime-change efforts and, basically, any occasion upon which persuasion and threats have not worked and a country or group of countries has elected to escalate to force.
This has now become so de rigueur in the business of image management – “catapulting the propaganda”, as George W. Bush once said in an unusually candid moment – that many of us have learned to look for it as an early sign of destabilization efforts that might lead to war. That’s because when governments develop a trick which is astonishingly successful (as many are the first time they are used), they tend to do it exactly the same way until it is a disastrous failure. A few people noticing it is a trick is considered just the cost of doing business, so long as the majority falls for it.
An early example, and the blueprint for colour revolutions to follow, was the ramp-up to the Kosovo War in the late 90′s. Slobodan Milosevic was made to appear the embodiment of earthly evil, the kind of Beelzebub used to frighten bad children who would not go to sleep. As western journalists have learned to do much more skillfully since, owing to practice, atrocities were projected onto Milosevic that he had not in fact done at all, but which had been done by the western-backed KLA (originally listed as a terrorist organization by the USA, then de-listed without explanation). I well remember the daily outpouring of contempt and loathing for Milosevic, and I was right there with them, because I believed every bit of it. It’s a terrible thing to be a fool, but it’s far worse to be a fool all your life, and I hope I’m less one now than I was then.
I’d like to think the public as a whole is getting harder to fool. But an overlooked element in the miscasting of enemies as savage, cruel and fully deserving of being cut down by the forces of enlightenment…is religion.
For many, the alacrity with which the Pussy Riot affair was seized upon by the west as an opportunity to bash the Orthodox Church as intolerant, stuffy and backward was a revelation. I mean, isn’t Christianity…Christianity? Apparently not. Despite very little difference in overall philosophies, the Catholic Church broadly does not recognize the Orthodox as being the same religion. Neither recognizes Islam, although of the two, Orthodoxy gives it more of a break in the belief that Islam (and Baha’i) are wrong because they deify men who claim to be greater than Christ. Catholicism regards Islam as a “false religion” and does not hold the Quran to be true.
To what extent does demonization of the opponents’ religion contribute to the overall impression of him as brutish, cruel and incapable of higher emotion, and consequently deserving of conquest? That varies, of course, with the religiosity of the society, but it seems possible if not probable that a core of belief lies within us all, requiring only the proper appeal to it in order to harness it for the part it can play in manipulating what we think and why we think it. Continue reading