Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Propaganda and Perceptions

It was one of those bizarre days when you actually talk to someone whom you've known for a while. There are random occasions when someone whom you know really well, you and someone whom you know but don't really know happen to get thrown together and decide to hang out together for a while. Very recently, one such occasion presented itself to me. My friend and I were talking to this girl whom we sort of knew. We'd heard a lot more about her than we knew from our interaction with her, and not much of it was complimentary. The evening that we spent with this girl, though, we all had a wonderful time talking, and she came across to us as an open, honest person who had no qualms about voicing her likes and dislikes, and even talking about her failings. When we all said bye, and my friend and I were walking back to our rooms, we looked at each other and went "she's really nice, eh?", "Yeah, she is...wonder why they keep bitching about her!"

We all do that. When you have a sort of group to hang out with, there's always a misfit...someone who doesn't really belong, and slowly gets edged out of the group, and no one wants anything to do with him or her. His or her negative qualities are exaggerated by repetition and discussion, and everyone's cold to him or her. It happens in college - it used to happen a lot in the convent college I did my undergraduation in. There were always whispers about how some girl was a "slut", how someone else slept with all the right people to move forward in her chosen future career, how someone would pretend to be your friend and "use" you when she needed to...the list is pretty much endless. And very, very few people can resist rumour. You decide what to make of someone before you meet that person, simply by what you hear. You might even spice up your received report a bit before passing it on, still before meeting this person. And when you do meet this person, you have this pre-conceived notion about him or her; or if you have interacted pleasantly thus far, you decide what distance you want to keep from him or her. There's something about a rumour that begs one to swallow it and then spread it.

Think of how much harm all of this does at a micro-level, and then expand it to a macro-level. When you look at fields like Marketing, Strategy and PR, you're always looking at selling. Selling a product, selling a brand, selling an idea, all with the ultimate goal of establishing a reputation. Take a look at what is being sold in the world today. When India and Pakistan were fighting in 1999, it was the "Kargil War" to Indians and Pakistanis. But to the Western World, or even all the nations save India and Pakistan, it was "The first outright war between two nuclear powers". There were daily discussions in school over lunch whether the United States would start bombing one of the countries involved. What would happen to us in case of a direct attack? What would happen to us if yet another artificial divide was made - an alliance between Pakistan and the NATO countries? Was more fuel to be poured into the Line of Control? Whether it was prayers or pragmatism, both were averted, and India-Pakistan relations are better now than they have been in a long time.

But propaganda continues everyday, and probably finds its most contemporary relevance in the Iran nuclear debate. What does anyone know about Iran? I pride myself a bit on my general knowledge, having been a quizzer for a while. I knew the capital was Tehran, the currency was Rial, and it was worth a lot less than the million other Rials and Riyals in the Gulf. And I'd read and heard that the nation had been bullied by Saddam Hussein for a long time, before Kuwait. Of course, there was a revolution there in the 1970s and Ayotollah Khomeini was something of a dictator there. And yes! Iran was the country that declared a fatwa against Salman Rushdie. But it was only after coming here and speaking to an Iranian on my course that I discovered Iranians are not Arabs - they speak Farsi or Persian. I'd thought Persia was an ancient, dead empire, whose remnants had escaped to India and called themselves Parsis.

A few months ago, Iranian President Ahmedinijad said Israel should be wiped off the map, shocking everyone in the world, inclusive of Iranians. And now, when the country wants to develop nuclear energy not nuclear weapons, his thoughtless remark has been recalled in every article in the papers about Iran. It strikes one as playing with the perceptions of people. Where are the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq today? In a "sexed up dossier" exposed by Andrew Gilligan. Where is the man who spoke out? David Kelly, may he rest in peace. The mass destruction is being staged in Iraq, on a civilian population that is repeatedly hit by confused smart bombs. Smart enough to play truant. When the Big Brothers of the world are killing each other by accident in "friendly fire", and bombing refugee camps by accident and bombing television stations because of "significant military activity" (viewing rushes of shots from the war front???), why is it that certain countries are not allowed to harness nuclear energy? If Asia has its spoilt brats (one of them being India, which refused to sign the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty)), the Middle East is perceived as the villain of the developing world (or whatever it is politically correct to call the erstwhile Third World now). Perhaps the world should recall now and then who made the first nuclear attack...a Little Boy and a Fat Man, was it?

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.