Propaganda onion

At the beginning of October, I wrote an op-ed piece on about the nature of Voice of America and Radio Farda as propaganda outlets. What compelled me to write it was the regular regurgitation of the pseudo-news broadcast on VOA by its listeners. I received many supportive emails and comments about that piece, and I thank all those who took the time to write. There was also something to be learned from the critical comments and emails. Actually, the lack of substance in the criticism was disappointing. However, that was to be expected from those particular critics, who often write on and exhibit a very myopic view of Iran’s political problems and challenges.

To begin with, not a single person disputed that VOA disseminates propaganda. That’s not surprising since I listed US laws that say it does. However, I would like to respond to two points that were raised. The two common counterpoints were that even though VOA and Radio Farda are US government propaganda stations, their broadcasts are still beneficial to Iranians everywhere. And, people, especially Iranians with their level of education, are smart enough to sift through the propaganda and see it for what it is.

Nothing could be farther from reality! The British government, with its vast colonial experience, has written the cookbook on the use and application of propaganda. One fundamental rule that they prescribe to is that it is best to make the educated, influential class of a society the target of propaganda. “It is better to influence those who can influence others than attempt a direct appeal to the mass of the population,” a British document from WWI advises.

This rule precisely shows the danger in thinking that people are smart or educated enough to see propaganda as what it is. It has nothing to do with intelligence or education. Propaganda is designed to be sophisticated, and by its nature takes advantage of the predilections that a smart, educated person may have. It takes time and dedication to unmask propaganda and when a society is under internal and external pressure, this task becomes even harder.

Besides, it’s also a point of equality. What is good for an Iranian is good for an American, an Arab, a Chinese, etc. And what is bad for an American, as the US Congress has clearly stated in case of VOA, is bad for an Iranian and everyone else. Ironically, it’s the ultimate manifestation of smart, educated minds rotten by propaganda that when they know VOA and Radio Farda are sources of propaganda, they still approve of their broadcasts.

Today, Western propaganda has matured in sophistication. At the heart of the system is real and overt racism. Western leaders engaged in outright aggression and terrorism are given a free pass. They are rarely if ever held accountable. The moral, ethical, and legal standards of guilt are far higher (practically unachievable) when a Western country terrorizes a non-Western country.

As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” And, how is such an immoral and inhumane standard sold to the world? It is wrapped in layers of propaganda like an onion. VOA is the very outer layer of the US government’s variety of the propaganda onion.

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