Archive for the 'Propaganda' Category

Counterterrorism terminology

The Associated Press reports that the National Counterterrorism Center in the United States has published guidance on using terms when talking about terrorism.

The last one is probably the best piece of advice:

Don’t use “salafi,” “Wahhabist,” “sufi,” “ummah” and other words from Islamic theology unless you are able to discuss their varied meanings. Particularly avoid using “ummah” to mean the Muslim world, as it is a theological term.

(Via Muse.)


Plan by pro-Israeli zealots to rewrite Wikipedia fails after exposure by Electronic Intifada

A plan by fanatical pro-Israeli zealots to pass off Zionist propaganda as undisputed fact on Wikipedia has failed after it was exposed by Electronic Intifada.

(Via Yunus Yakoub Islam.)

John Rentoul is a tool

John Rentoul criticises those who would use the number of Iraqi dead for their own opposition to the war — a war the likes of Rentoul, an ultra-Blairite mouthpiece, sold to the public.

Admittedly, Rentoul has a point when criticising some of those on the left who spout some headline figure like 655,000 or 1million. Andrew Cockburn’s unwarranted attack on the World Health Organization (WHO) study is one such example. But, much like Con Coughlin’s propaganda, Rentoul shows fails to convey the full story to his readers.

Much the same criticisms I pointed out in my post on Coughlin can apply to Rentoul. He uses a National Journal article to cast doubt on the Lancet studies, without actually explaining to the reader what precisely the National Journal “challenged”; he also fails to provide his readers with rebuttals on the National Journal piece. He tries to smear the people behind the Lancet studies by pointing out their political views on the war. Yet, at the same time he fails to point out that the author of the National Journal article was itching for the “desctruction of Iraq” back in 2002. Nor does he provide the reader with his own views on the first Lancet study back in 2004. (The good people at Media Lens have once again contacted Rentoul.) Nor does Rentoul let his readers know that what upset him most about the Iraq fiasco was not the loss of British servicemen or the death squads and destruction of Iraq, but that the cause of liberal interventionism had been damaged.

Rentoul chides “those who are interested in the truth of this troubling matter” for not investigating the evidence yet simply asserts, without any evidence or citing any numbers, that the NEJM study by the WHO and Iraqi Health Ministry is more ‘authoritative’ than the Lancet, as if the former is without its problems. If anything the NEJM study can be used to support the Lancet 2006 study by noting the pre- and post-invasion death rates. As John Tirman, who commissioned Lancet 2006 study, points out in the comments to Rentoul’s piece:

[T]he five surveys of mortality in Iraq show significant congruence. The Iraq Ministry of Health survey he cites (as a WHO survey) did estimate 151,000 violent deaths, but their data also shows more than 400,000 “excess” deaths overall. Many experts see in the data tables evidence of ambiguous categories where those fearful of the Sadrist MoH interviewers would attribute deaths to “non-violent” causes. In any case, the 400,000+ as of June 2006 would translate into 600-700,000 today. The MoH also could not survey 11% of its sample, because those places were too dangerous. It demonstrates not inconsistencies between the surveys, but, more important, just how difficult it is to do such surveys in Iraq, precisely because it is so violent. As for plausibility of the high mortality figures, consider this: five murders per day in the 80 “urban centers” of Iraq (pop.>20k) would equal 730,000. The high deaths also track with what we know from many other conflicts regarding the ratio of displaced to death—that ratio is rarely more than 6-1, and there are 4.5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.

What concerns Rentoul most is the Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey which claimed over 1million people had been killed. Why? I don’t doubt the ORB poll is problematic (they had re-release their original findings after criticisms), but it is not without merit. It appears Rentoul’s only objection is that it shows so many people have been killed. I can only quote Sarah Sewell, director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy to counter this point:

I remember very well, a couple different conferences with military officials where everyone was questioning the method and the motive of the IBC’s approach […] And it wasn’t until the first Lancet survey came out everyone said, ‘Oh, well, goodness, the Iraq Body Count is so much more reliable.’

Con Coughlin not telling the whole truth on Iraqi deaths

Con Coughlin continues his theme of combining pro-war propaganda and anti-BBC screeds in a tirade against John Humphreys.

Coughlin is outraged that Humphreys, in an interview with Jack Straw, suggested “many more people have died since the war than died under Saddam Hussein”. He then goes on to cite an official Iraqi estimate of 150,000 deaths. Unsurprisingly, given his credentials as a propagandist for the Iraq invasion (and other future wars), Coughlin is telling half the story. The official Iraqi estimate is not uncontested or without its (qualified) critics and needs to be understood properly in the context of the ongoing situation in Iraq.

First, it should be noticed that Coughlin doesn’t give any source for his official Iraqi estimate. The only thing I could find were news reports made back in 2006 in which an Iraqi official had estimated around 150,000 dead. That figure was not, in anyway, a serious statistical analysis and merely citing the figure of 150,000 does not tell the whole story. The only other place Coughlin could have taken the 150k figure from was a survey conducted by the Iraqi Health Ministry (IHM) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which was published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This study suggested an estimate of 151,000 violent deaths since the American-led invasion. Although the study does not estimate non-violent deaths (pdf), it has been possible to use the data provided in the WHO report to get a rough estimate a around 400,000 violent and non-violent deaths since the invasion. And Coughlin’s trumpeting of the official estimate of deaths since the invasion contrasts with his dismissive attitude toward the 2004 Lancet study even though the WHO/IHM used similar methods to gather and analyse the data.

Secondly, was Humphreys really referring to a total or absolute figure for deaths before and after the invasion? I didn’t get the chance to listen to the Today programme, but it wouldn’t surprise me if what he was comparing the death rates before and after the invasion (notwithstanding the point that Humphreys was conducting an interview so making provocative points is not necessarily an expression of his own opinion). A commentator at the Telegraph suggests this was the case (scroll down to the comment left on 25 March 2008 at 13:38). Whatever the case, Coughlin has abused the source of the 150,000 figure by portraying it as it is the total number of deaths. The WHO study — from where I presume the 150,000 figure must have been extracted — actually says the death rate after the invasion is substantially worse than for a period before the invasion. This concurs, broadly speaking and with all the caveats needed for such comparisons, with the more ‘controversial’ studies published in the Lancet, the second of which received so much press attention for its estimate that 655,000 may have died as a result of the invasion (and occupation). Les Roberts, who has been the public face for the Lancet studies, noted in a National Public Radio (NPR) programme that the both the study he was involved in and the WHO study have underlying similarities to try and gauge the effects on the mortality rate before and after invasion — the key difference between the two were the numbers of deaths attributed to violence (the WHO attributes much smaller number of deaths to violence).

In other words, it stills holds that “things have got worse [since the invasion], and they have got a lot worse, not a little bit worse”.

The good news, though, is that lots of people who read Coughlin’s blogs at the Telegraph have realised what a mendacious character he really is and are not buying into his spin.

Meanwhile, over at her Spectator blog, Mad Mel joins in with Coughlin attacking both Humphreys and Straw. She concurs with Coughlin’s use of the official Iraqi figure (and uses the opportunity to make terrible historical comparisons between Saddam and Hitler). Back in January Mad Mel was keen to denounce the 2006 Lancet study as a propaganda exercise funded by an anti-war billionaire (George Soros) and conducted by ex-Ba’athists. The source of Mad Mel’s attack was an article written by the editor of the National Journal, Neil Munro, which is full of smears and innuendo against the Johns Hopkins team that did the research. This is the same Neil Munro who in 2002 was cheering for the “destruction of Iraq” (complete with a stupid remark about 11th-century Wahhabism**), yet has the nerve to call into question the motives and intentions of those who carried out the 2006 Lancet study because they may have opposed such “destruction”!. In the same NPR programme involving Les Roberts, Munro make another smear suggesting that in terms of reporting the number of Iraqi dead there were essentially two camps: people who want to show the war was a success; and those who opposed the war and want to prove what a bad move it was so, ‘like the al-Qa’ida guys’, plant bombs in market places***.

People like Coughlin, Mad Mel’s and Munro would probably like Iraq mess to be extinguished from the news cycle (Coughlin has certainly decried bringing up the origins of the Iraq War). They would probably not like to be reminded of the disastrous effects of the invasion on the people the war was meant to liberate, especially if we remember the Iraq invasion was one of choice, not of necessity, and action that they helped push in the media. Is it surprising then that any reminder of the disastrous choice must be met with yet more lies and spin until the reminder is discredited? The likes of Coughlin, the false humanitarians who claim to support the oppressed, do not appear to be bothered with actually trying to understanding the effects of ill-thought out, uninformed, interventionist policies. For all their nationalistic and supremacist bombast about Our Way Of Life, they don’t seem to be bothered about the effects of such adventures (for which they will probably never have to personally suffer) on our national security and armed forces.

For further reading I would suggest Diane Farsetta’s article at PRWatch, the extensive Lancet archives at Deltoid and numerous posts at Crooked Timber.

*Does Mad Mel realise this is the same Lancet in which a study critical of her other pet hate, MMR vaccines, was published?

**It seemed beyond a simpleton like Munro to perform a quick check. Wahhabism, at the very earliest, could not have arisen before the mid-late 1700s, and even if its ‘true origins’ are pushed back to Ibn Taymiyya that is still only the 14th-century.

***Actually, the invasion of Iraq fits perfectly in with the ‘jihadist’ narrative.

How about teaching children to think critically? (Part II)

Andrew McKie, the Telegraph’s obituary writer, criticises the National Union of Teacher’s (NUT) attempts to support a boycott of material provided by the Army for schools. The NUT has suggested these attempts amount to “propaganda” and will require teachers to show a biased view of the Iraq invasion.

I have no problem with people wanting to join the armed forces (I’ll confess I considered a career as an army engineer), and McKie goes to great lengths to point out that armed forces in Britain serve at the behest of the democratically-elected government. Thus, “enterprises which have been fundamentally ill-conceived by politicians” are not to be blamed on the Army, Royal Navy or the RAF. But he is missing the point.

For a start, “I was only following orders” is not really a defence of these “fundamentally ill-conceived enterprises” is it? Secondly, who does McKie think is to blame for abuses committed by armed forces personnel and does he suggest teaching about these abuses to children too? And lastly, will children be taught that even the most “well-conceived enterprises” involves bombing and killing people, often children of similar ages to them, who have little to do with fighting?

The novel thing, of course, would be to provide children with the skills that would allow them to think about critically about different subjects. Then again, based on McKie’s recent foray into the philosophy of religion, I am not surprised he decided to simply thump the table harder than his opponents.

MoD parachutes propaganda into classrooms attempting to rewrite the Iraq debacle

How about teaching children to think critically?

MoD parachutes propaganda into classrooms attempting to rewrite the Iraq debacle

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been distributing materials on the Iraq war for use in classrooms. This has prompted teachers to contact the National Union of Teachers (NUT) worried that they are being asked to breach their legal obligations to provide a balanced view of controversial subjects. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, notes:

Lesson plans and factsheets in the pack outline the “achievements” of the coalition forces in bringing peace and stability to Iraq; the regeneration of Iraq is presented as a fact, not as something requiring judgment to be made and contexts to be set. Youngsters are not given an opportunity to question the legality of the decision to go to war or indeed the motivation of the key actors.

Some of the ‘facts’ presented in the MoD pack (to both students and as teaching notes), written by the marketing consultant Kids Connections, are just a blatant rewriting of history. One of these ‘facts’ is a claim that the invasion was in response to Iraq’s refusal to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons programme, even though it had no weapons and the military response was doubtful under international law. Another ‘fact’ notes that the invasion was ‘necessary’ to remove Saddam, which is, in fact, contrary to international law. Interestingly, this second fact sounds a lot like the American case for the invasion, as Britain never officially acknowledged regime change (Blair presented the toppling of Saddam’s regime as a ‘side effect’ of sorts). Further, it has been noted that the American spelling for the word ‘programme’ (“program”) has been used in the material.

Amidst the self-congratulatory notes on the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure (any mention of the sanctions?) there is also no mention of any civilian deaths whether at the hands of the occupying forces or terrorist activities (which did not occur on a routine basis before the invasion), although the deaths of British armed forces personnel are noted. There is then, I take it, no mention of Haditha, the rape and murder of a 14 year old Iraqi girl and her family, and the incredibly high estimates of deaths since or due the invasion. Nor, in noting the training of Iraq’s armed forces and police service by the British and American forces (stupidly disbanded by the Coalition Provisional Authority in the first place), is there any mention of the sectarian nature of Iraq’s security forces.

How many civilians were killed by Harry?

[The broadsheet] coverage was sycophantic in the extreme, relating how Harry had retrained as a “forward air controller”, reiterating how he was sitting in front of “Kill TV” or “Taliban TV” directing American F15 jets to their targets. None of them ever felt the need to question whether this is the best way to fight the war, or that human rights organisations estimate that over 230 civilians were killed in air strikes in Afghanistan in 2006, leading Hamid Karzai to plead in tears for the coalition forces to stop being so cavalier with the lives of those on ground. That might have been unpatriotic, or been construed as suggesting that Harry had killed civilians while blasting the 30 Taliban the Sun claimed he had eviscerated. They didn’t point out when Harry said this was about “as normal as I’m ever going to get” that there is nothing ordinary about making life or death decisions through a computer monitor. We viciously attack suicide bombers or other terrorists for their cowardly nature, and are often right, but there is very little difference between that and the end result of dropping 500lb bombs from however many feet in the air onto houses which may or may not be full of Terry Taliban, directed from somewhere far removed via a screen.



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