Language - Weapon of Choice for Propaganda and Disinformation

Sifting through the propaganda in the aftermath of 9/11

Just after 9/11, I can remember the same feeling. The western news agencies were akin to a synchronised swimming team. The sound bites coming out slowly changed over time, though no matter what news channel you turned on on a given day, the sound-bites were all reading from the same script.

We went from World Trade –> Bin Laden –> Al Qaeda –> Islam –> Iraq –> Saddam Hussein –> Weapons of Mass Destruction –> Invade Iraq –> Hunt down and Kill Saddam –> WTF!??

How did we end up here!?

Back then I could already speak Hindi and understand a lot of Urdu, but I had never really taken an official leap into Urdu and at that time had never really looked at the Arabic script. I started to look at many of the Indian web-boards back then, but the information I was getting wasn’t hitting the spot. I needed to dive deeper.

I spent a few days looking online for as many resources that I could in Urdu and went on a ‘Urdu’ book buying spree in Bangkok. My buying spree was short lived … Bangkok doesn’t have a great collection of books, but it had enough.

Within a day or so, I discovered a new world of information – web-boards, posts, news articles and other information streams that were all in Urdu.

One thing my grandfather would often say to me was that the difference between languages is often more political than linguistic.  Indeed for Hindi and Urdu, I have found this to be the case.  Saying that Hindi and Urdu are (almost) the same language to some people would stir nationalistic strings deep in their soul and leave you having to duck for cover as you get lectured (and sometimes more) on the differences between the two.  The reality though is anyone who speaks Hindi can understand Urdu pretty well (especially the written version of the language once you get past the letters) and vice-versa.  It will often take me a few minutes while watching a Hindi / Urdu movie to figure out which language it’s actually in.

Getting back to the point though.  Through learning to read Urdu, I was able to get an entirely new perspective on what was happening with the events that were shaping our world. There were heated debates and disinformation coming out full pelt from both sides.  Regardless of whether the things I was reading were facts or misinformation, the fact was that I had a bigger pool of information and many new different points of view that I could build my own personal opinion and world view on.

Thais kept in the dark through language

Go into and type ‘Thailand’.  Chances are within the first 5 stories you’ll have a story covering Thailand’s tumultuous south – probably a roadside bombing or shooting that happened in a noodle shop or teacher shooting.  It’s a very sad situation indeed, and in my opinion the Thai government and press haven’t helped the situation with the propaganda about the south that has been knitted into the psyche of the Thai people.

Ask a Thai ‘How long have the 3 troubled provinces of Naratiwat, Patani and Yala been part of Thailand?’.  The responses might vary.  Many will say since the beginning of time, others will say ever since Thailand has been a nation.  Some others will say – ‘Don’t think too much.  They’re bad down there… why don’t they love Thailand? So crazy!’.

I have run workshops for certain Thai government departments that are concerned with the south and I was shocked to realise the lack of knowledge that these civil servants had about their own country – especially given that it was their job to know about it.

You can’t blame them though.  Most of my knowledge about the South has come through books and articles in Malay / Jawi script, Indonesian, Chinese and English.   Many of these accounts are very different to the Thai version of ‘how the south came to be’.  What’s true? What’s disinformation?  Still not entirely sure, but having access to all the sources gives me a much better point to start searching for the truth.

On the topic of Jawi, I was so excited a couple of months back when I was in KL and found that there was a real resurgence in teaching Malay children how to read and write in Jawi again.  Jawi is the Arabic script version of the Malay language.  There were kids books, adult books, wall charts and hundreds of other brand new resources hot off the press teaching Jawi.  It was really hard finding these kinds of resources even five years ago.  Needless to say, I stocked up and have been enjoying getting back into reading and writing Jawi.

If you can speak a little Malay or Indonesian, why not spend a few minutes and teach yourself how to read Jawi

I wrote an article on Jawi a while back -“Southern Thailand – The Jawi Language” –  take a look!

Western Views Skewed through Ill-Informed / Biased Coverage

During the violent clashes of April 2010 in Thailand, I was appalled at what I saw coming out of the major news-agencies as they covered the unfolding events in the streets of Bangkok.  Up until a few months ago, I was a board member of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, and knew most of the people that were producing these reports.  I know how these agencies operate.  While many of the reporters do do their homework and try to get as informed as possible on all the issues that influence an event, I know that for many of the correspondents operating in the region, they are often heavily dependent on their locally engaged staff, stringers / fixers and interpreters.  If their stringers and staff members aren’t keeping abreast of what’s happening in ALL of the local media sources, this will often be noticeable in the quality / bias of the stories that come out of the the western press agencies.

In my house, I have satellite feeds, internet streams and news coming in from all over the place in every language.  During the past 5 years since all the turmoil in Bangkok has been building, I’ve had both the yellow shirt and red shirt TV stations playing constantly so that I can hear what both sides are saying as well as read all the Thai and English language newspapers.  This gave me a very different perspective of what was going on – and often gave me a heads up on things that were coming that many of the Foreign Correspondents operating in the region were totally oblivious to.

Once again, language served as a tool to build a much broader understanding of a situation and in the case of being on the board of the Foreign Correspondents Club meant that I even had the potential to influence the news and the stories that were released as I discussed the issues with my colleagues.

Iran, Nuclear Weapons, Uranium, Taliban, Pre-emptive Strikes, Honda, Italian Earth-drills, Cranes ….

![]( "Iranians being hanged on a Crane imported from the West")"Look at what the Iranians do when we try and help them and export heavy machinery to them ... this proves that we need to go to war"I was sitting in a lecture the other night at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia listening to a distinguished professor based in the Hague who is an advisor to the United Nations and other bodies on how to deal with Iran. ![]( "Iranian Militant on Motorbike")"You can't trust those Iranians ... see they will put anything we give them to a sinister use!" ... I find it hard to swallow this argument as an excuse to go to war with IranI was sitting in the lecture theater looking at pictures of Iranian people being hanged on cranes imported from Europe and militants sitting on Honda motorcycles with RPG’s on their shoulder.  The thesis put forward was that Iranians are shown here that they will take innocent looking things that are imported into Iran and use them for sinister purposes – therefore, we should not send ANYTHING to Iran as they will use them eventually to blow up the world.

It’s time to learn Farsi

I don’t know where you stand on the whole Iran issue.  Wherever you stand though, it would be nice if your ideas and perceptions of Iran and everything that’s going on in the region was based on something broader than just the coordinated headlines that are fed in via CNN, AP and visiting lecturers from the Hague.

Al Jazeera proved itself to be a much more balanced source of news at least during the violent clashes in Thailand during April of 2010, but for me, to get a comprehensive view of what’s going on I chose to dust off my learn Farsi books and really get into the language.

I’ve been realising how much of a beautiful language it is.  As I learn the language, I’m learning about the people, the culture and the amazing history of Persia.  It can’t help but change your opinions on world issues as you get into a language and culture like this.  I’m not saying that I agree with the regime and everything they stand for.  At least now as I’m learning the language, I’m able to find out for myself what the regime is really about and what they’re really saying rather than just listen to filtered, targeted reports from the western press agencies.

Prognosis isn’t Good

I’ve been listening to podcasts, reading news articles and reading web-boards in Hindi, Urdu, Farsi (still not understanding it all, but it’s coming along), English and Chinese and from everything I’m reading, the prognosis isn’t great.  It looks like the Military Industrial Complex has targeted Iran as another trophy to collect in the thread of countries that link Europe to China and the rhetoric that there will be a hit on Iran in the coming months … and possibly days is stronger than ever.

What Other Languages Should I Be Learning?

Just over the past few days, rhetoric against China has also been building. About a year ago, a story about the Rand Organization (兰德公司)report saying that a war with China was one way to stimulate the US economy received huge attention in China, but in the Western media hardly even received a mention. Once again, this is a great example of how by learning a language, you can climb up above the trees and get a better view of the forest.

My pick for languages that will keep you in a job over the next few years are:

  • Farsi
  • Arabic
  • Urdu
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Korean

What do you know that other folks ought to know?

I started this article off with the question:

“Has language ever revealed things to you that you wish everyone else knew?”

I’m really interested to hear about how language has given you a different perspective on things compared to what the mainstream media is saying?



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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj