2020-05-25

Weaponization of Language (Part 5) — Our Virus Infected Speech

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing my outline of Celine-Marie Pascale’s article The Weaponization of Language. Wherever possible hyperlinks take you to the direct source online. Hopefully, interested readers will find leads to many other relevant sources here either by direct or indirect links. 

Celine-Marie Pascale surveys the way disinformation enters our everyday discourse, making “ordinary people” “unwitting tools of right-wing movements”.

Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all. – Klemperer: Language of the Third Reich

Despite its [=the great replacement theory] French origins, the ISD’s analysis has revealed that the theory is becoming more prevalent internationally, with English-speaking countries now accounting for 33% of online discussion.

Julia Ebner, co-author of the report at ISD, said: “It’s shocking to see the extent to which extreme-right concepts such as the ‘great replacement’ theory and calls for ‘remigration’ have entered mainstream political discourse and are now referenced by politicians who head states and sit in parliaments.”

(Iqbal and Townsend)

Weaponized language is a powerful form of symbolic violence that tills the soil for physical violence. Following the Christchurch massacre, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue identified 10 Twitter accounts that were most influential in propagating the idea that white people are under attack; eight of these were in France, one belonged to the extreme right site Defend Europa, and the other belonged to Donald Trump (Iqbal and Townsend, 2019). Weaponized language has preceded and accompanied every act of collective violence. In mundane discourses weaponized language normalizes hate and hate groups through purportedly ordinary language.

(Pascale, 909)

“Illegal Alien”, “Chain Migration”

In the United States, for example, the term ‘illegal alien’ is often used to dehumanize those seeking asylum. Political and media discourses often refer to ‘chain migration,’ when in fact they are talking about family reunification. Many in the United States use the term ‘chain migration’ simply because they are repeating the only phrasing that they have ever heard. However, we come to see the world as we learn to name and describe it. Metaphors and linguistic frames seep into everyday discourse and gradually become part of a worldview. In every country, the racialized citizen is an illegitimate citizen whose welfare is precarious. Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Latino hate speech is directly correlated with increased hate crimes against Muslims and Latinos in the United States (Beutel, 2018).

From Beutel 2018

Pascale notes two other extremist trends in the U.S.:

  • the creation of a naturalization task force to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens (Vega, 2018 (podcast); see also Lind, 2018 for the racist context)
  • the jailing of 49,000 unaccompanied children from dangerous Latin American countries (Kinosian and Holpuch, 2018)

Such attacks on children have been made possible by the very intentional linguist practices that preceded these actions. Trump’s Twitter account has been identified by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue as one of the 10 most influential accounts in the world for propagating the extreme right-wing paranoia that white people are being eliminated through migration and violence (Iqbal and Townsend, 2019).

“Othering”

. . . we are familiar with the practices of ‘othering’ that devalues people and excludes them from deserving empathetic consideration. A lack of empathy is easily leveraged into a willingness to disregard harm done to those who are ‘othered,’ and then escalated into a willingness to inflict harm upon them, which is often rationalized as selfprotection. Ultimately, ‘othering’ blames victims for the suffering inflicted upon them.

(Pascale, 909)

It’s not only the U.S. and Europe, of course. It’s happening throughout the world. Racial slurs have preceded genocidal acts throughout history and up to today (e.g. Buddhist Myanmar’s purging of Muslim Rohoginyas).

Nationalism depends upon slurs that are used to construct groups of people as being less than human, as being potentially violent predators, and as deserving any harsh treatment they might receive. Slurs have been used to create dehumanized enemies throughout time. It is the essential first step that justifies physical violence.

(Pascale, 910)

Rebranding White Supremacists

Hate movements have learned to rebrand themselves so they can attract larger support.

White supremacists have rebranded themselves as the “alt-right”, “as if they are a legitimate party with a platform beyond white supremacy.” (Pascale, 910) Alt-right is a “usefully” vague term that found a web and social media revival in 2015:

While the nationalist, white identity-obsessed core of the alright remained the same, the nature of its supporters began to shift. Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis chronicle this evolution in their 2016 report on online misinformation and disinformation. They explain that the “accommodatingly imprecise” alt-right label had, by the 2016 election, been embraced by, or at least was being used to describe, a range of “conspiracy theorists, techno-libertarians, white nationalists, Men’s Rights advocates, trolls, anti-feminists, anti-immigration activists, and bored young people” (Marwick and Lewis, 3). The reemergence of the alt-right also coincided with, and indeed was driven by, a rising tide of global far-right extremism

(Philips, 4)

The same report demonstrates through detailed media citation and sentence topic analyses that the far-right articles gained far more mass media coverage than their small numbers would predict. Mainstream media was the booster for extremist right-wing talking points merely as a result of noting and commenting on them. Breitbart and other extremist blogs had a relatively small audience but nonetheless were able to “set the mainstream agenda” with the help of mainstream media:

These [extremist] media, instead, depended on the signal boosting power provided by center-left establishment publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.com to ensure that their messages would spread to a national, or even global, audience. That’s how Pepe the Frog lept onto the public stage. That’s how Donald Trump Jr.’s Instagram post became a national news story, and ultimately, a talking point in two presidential candidates’ campaigns. That’s how many Americans first heard the term “alt-right.”

(Philips, 6)

We also know how others such as religious fundamentalists and those who call themselves conservatives deploy language that justifies hatred towards other religious, racial or unorthodox gender-identity groups.

There is debate, of course, and challenges are mounted. But the challenges work both ways as one group seeks to subvert another: Black Lives Matter is met with All Lives Matter; immigrant Dreamers are met with We Are All Dreamers.

The most serious stage of the problem is when people can no longer find other positive or neutral words to frame the issues that are dividing society.

Four-fold Strategy of Right-Wing Authoritarianism

One group of people who study these sorts of phenomena, how societies work, how different groups react and respond to adverse situations and each other, are the sociologists, the political scientists, the historians, the anthropologists, the psychologists. These academics are the ones who are coming under regular attack as “left-wing”, “liberal”, just as serious climate scientists, and now even many medical scientists, are being widely attacked by authoritarian and right-wing extremists. Meanwhile, the media reporting on these attacks is itself branded “fake news”.

It would be nice to think that merely responding with “fact-checking” would be the answer. Unfortunately, if it were so simple we would not be in this state of affairs now:

Global circumstances would seem to invite social sciences in general, and sociologists in particular, to fight back by entrenching ourselves in the world of objective facts. This path is important and perhaps irresistible when politicians and media openly make statements that are certifiably false. However, a retrenchment of empiricism will not deliver us from this historical moment, just as it did not prevent it from arriving. Indeed, it is often government efforts to slide facts that lead to the preposterous logic they present to the public. As Montaigne reminds us, falsehood is not the opposite of truth. Unbound by logic and fact, those willing to weaponize language have boundless possibilities. The four-fold strategy of right-wing authoritarianism leveraged through censorship, propaganda, disinformation, and mundane discourse can itself debilitate resistance, as it is intended.

(Pascale, 911)


Beutel, Alejandro. 2018. “How Trump’s Nativist Tweets Overlap with Anti-Muslim and Anti-Latino Hate Crimes.” Southern Poverty Law Center. May 18, 2018. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/05/18/how-trump%E2%80%99s-nativist-tweets-overlap-anti-muslim-and-anti-latino-hate-crimes.

Iqbal, Nosheen, and Mark Townsend. 2019. “Christchurch Mosque Killer’s Theories Seeping into Mainstream, Report Warns.” The Observer, July 7, 2019, sec. World news. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/07/christchurch-mosque-killer-ideas-mainstream-social-media.

Klemperer, Victor. 2013. Language of the Third Reich: LTI: Lingua Tertii Imperii. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Marwick, Alice, and Rebecca Lewis. 2017. “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.” Data & Society Research Institute. https://datasociety.net/library/media-manipulation-and-disinfo-online/.

Pascale, Celine-Marie. 2019. “The Weaponization of Language: Discourses of Rising Right-Wing Authoritarianism.” Current Sociology Review 67 (6): 898–917. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011392119869963.

Phillips, Whitney. 2018. “The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists, and Manipulators.” Data & Society Research Institute. http://datasociety.net/output/oxygen-of-amplification/.



2020-01-07

Ammunition for Climate Change Deniers (The Facts Are Bad Enough)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I posted a familiar looking photo in “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs” that I have now replaced with one of the current situation. It reminded me of scenes I had seen in another bushfire year and I thought, “Here we go again” – but no, I have learned that that photo was recycled from a 2013 bushfire in Tasmania.

.

.

And now there is this infographic circulating on Twitter, Reddit and everywhere else, I guess. Infographic.tv awarded it one of “the best”. The critical comment comes from cupboard.com.

.

Here is my own “infographic” based on the same data. Bear in mind I am no mathematician so more mathematically endowed readers are welcome to offer corrections:

California —  AmazonSiberiaAustralia
Bottom row — the scales as depicted in the infographic, all compared with California. Top row — a truer representation according to the figures (my rough calculation).

.

Certain maps hit home as definitely misleading from the moment I saw them. They do not represent what is happening now. They “point” to areas where we have had bushfires since September 1919, and the “pinpointing” is with a thick marker pen rather than a precision pen.

.

.

.

Here’s a more realistic satellite image of where the most serious threats are at the moment:

From space.com

.

There are other more informative maps for residents, too, on the various state fire service sites. These are bad enough:

.

Left: Today’s map from NSW Rural Fire Service.
Right: Qld Rural Fire Service current map

.

I can see the climate change deniers (who include our current political leaders in the pockets of the coal industry and Pentecostal faith) eventually standing up for Murdoch’s media coverage as some more “realistic” perspective:

.

From theguardian.com

 


2009-06-28

An Asian news perspective on Iran

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

In Asia Tims Online, US misunderstanding on Iran lingers By Ali Gharib:

Some extracts:

But much of the attention in Washington and elsewhere in the US is often misplaced, misguided, or completely detached from the realities currently embroiling Iran in its most significant crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

US experts with firsthand knowledge of Iran grew older and their knowledge grew more obsolete. . . . . “We have a whole generation of foreign service officers who didn’t learn Farsi.”

“I was the point person on Iran from 2005 to 2008, and I never once met an Iranian official,”

Many pundits and politicians in the US view the current crisis as an opportunity to instigate a regime change in Iran, projecting their own aspirations on those of the demonstrators . . . . .

. . . . no credible evidence has emerged to suggest that the protest movement as whole endorses an overthrow of the system.

Undeterred by those realities, or perhaps unaware of the dynamics, US commentators continue to present the protesters as opposed to the system of the Islamic Republic.

the battle being waged in Iran is between two factions within the regime. Even Mousavi’s faction, . . . does not necessarily want to install a democracy in the Western sense.

“The neo-cons know nothing about Iran, nothing about the culture of Iran, . . . They have no interest in understanding Iran, in speaking to any Iranian other than Iranian exiles who support the idea of invasions

“There are people who . . . were worried, as some wrote in op-eds, that Mousavi would be a distraction and would make it easier to Iranians to build a nuclear weapon. And now all a sudden they want to be on his side? Go away.”

(Inter Press Service)


2009-06-27

Reporters on Iran: FACTS, please.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission)’s correspondent, Ben Knight, has an article for the national news detailing his “expulsion” from Iran.

Here is the critical passage:

Then, on the day after the eight civilians were killed, our Iranian translator took a phone call with a message from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, which oversees the foreign media in Iran.

All press cards had been cancelled; journalists were banned from covering any unauthorised gatherings; and we were to work only in our offices or hotels.

The message was clear enough. But then this bit was added on the end: ‘The police are no longer in charge of the city; it is now under the authority of the Revolutionary Guards.’

It was obviously sheer intimidation. And to be brutally honest, it worked.

Now I have not read as much as many others have about the details of expulsions of reporters from Iran. I would not be surprised if many representing mainstream news outlets have been expelled. But the reason I say that is that from the coverage I do read — from a miscellany of independent reporters on the ground in Iran — that there have been strong indications of pro-government demonstrations and other indications of even perhaps majority support for the present government, while the mainstream media only seems to report the anti-government evidence.

I cite Ben Knight’s reporting above as an example of the sort of confusion that is being fed the western audiences.

The sole source of Ben Knight’s directive to leave Iran under “government orders” was an Iranian translator relaying what he/she said they heard on a phone call claiming to be from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance. Knight confesses he had been scared enough not even to check out the veracity of that phonecall, but to get out of the country immediately. Admittedly he had only one day left on his visa, and for that reason did not want to risk any other activity. But I would be interested to know if since his return he has reapplied to enter, or if any ABC reporters have applied to enter and what the response has been from Iran.

But we are not told anything like this.

All we are left with is the impression — the impression — that the Iranian authorities had expelled Ben Knight. We do not know from the evidence he cites if it was true or not. Nor can Knight know, if we take his report at face value. Was Ben Knight really targeted for intimidation? If he was, we have questions about why Robert Fisk can continue, with other reporters, to send back critical messages of Iran’s government and the heroism of its people.

Ben Knight in his original article (see the link above) refers to police on motor cycles, but he does not give us evidence to enable readers to affirm that in every case motor-cycle riders were indeed police, and in a previous post there was a picture of Iranian civilians riding motor-cycles through streets showing evidence of rioting/destruction. So what can a thoughtful reader to conclude if anything? Knight also refers to civilians mobbing his team because of their camera, and even refers to a hand being placed over a lense — but again there is no way of knowing from his report if this was a civilian’s hand or a policeman’s.

Now when I compare all that with previous posts here of Robert Fisk being allowed to continue reporting in Iran, and even relaying in his reports discussions he has with other reporters in Iran — SINCE BEN KNIGHT’S departure — I can only be left with questions in my mind.

Mainstream media clearly cannot be relied on as a sole source of information coming from this country at this moment.


2009-06-24

Seeing Through All the Propaganda About Iran

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

This can be accessed via Information Clearing House or from onsite direct.

From the site: Eric Margolis is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

A little democracy in the Islamic Middle East is a dangerous thing for the west. When given the choice people tend to vote “the wrong way”. Wonder why? Our wars and other military ventures we support have all had the noblest of intentions and the best interests of the people at heart. Seems only western backed brutal torture-hungry anti-women barbaric punishing dictatorial regimes as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco can be relied on to be our buddies. But can’t see why the ordinary folks of those regimes have any reason to hate us.

Some extracts:

Meanwhile, we have been watching an intensifying western propaganda campaign against Iran, mounted by the US and British governments. What we hear is commentary and analysis that comes from bitterly anti-regime Iranian exiles, “experts” with an ax to grind, and US pro-Israel neocons yearning for war with Iran.

In viewing the Muslim world, Westerners keep listening to those who tell them what they want to hear, rather than the facts. We are at it again in Iran.

Washington has been attempting to overthrow Iran’s Islamic government since the 1979 revolution and continues to do so in spite of pledges of neutrality in the current crisis.

While the majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, Western intelligence agencies and media are playing a key role in sustaining the uprising and providing communications, including the newest electronic method, via Twitter. These are covert techniques developed by the US during recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that brought pro-US governments to power.

US and British efforts to subvert Iran’s government could yet blow up in our faces. And do we really need another monster crisis after Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Palestine?

Meanwhile, other Mideast nations allied to the US will look at Iran and conclude that giving any democratic rights can be downright dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.


2009-06-23

Latest on western media misinformation on Iran

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The details of stories of vote-rigging in Iran simply lack credibility as evidence that the election result was fraudulent. No doubt there was some fraud on both sides, as there usually is in many western elections (my Australia certainly included), too. But what we are reading now in the media is nothing short of sheer misinformation. Media spin out rumour and unsubstantiated stories or rely on the most blatant propaganda in the form of various government and political party press releases. (Compare my previous post for more details and genuine inside reporting.)

Examples:

  • By Esam Al-Amin, on the overall relative health of Iranian democracy and for a review of the actual facts vs media reports:

A Hard Look at the Numbers: What Actually Happened in the Iranian Elections?

  • Maarten Doude van Troostwijk is a Dutch historian and translator who has observed many elections in the former communist block for the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, writes:

Stolen Election in Iran? An Inside View of Vote Fraud

  • Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, Paul Craig Roberts, gives detailed background on what should surely be obvious to any reader who has been looking for sourced evidence for most of the astonishing claims made in the western media:

Iran Falls to US PSYOPS

  • On the stories that more than 100% of the people voted read Iranian reports on their own investigations (and compare with the U.S. response of blatant fraud in the Bush election):

Guardian Council: Over 100% Voted in 50 Cities

  • And for those who like a bit of history, Chris Hedges, who has a weekly column for www.Truthdig.com, is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. Hedges, who has reported from more than 50 countries, worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years.

Iran Had a Democracy Before We Took It Away

Not forgetting (how could we?) the neo-con establishment in 2002 of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran.

In other words, if it’s imprudent to bomb them for a little while, work like hell to whiteant them until they restore another one like the shah.


2009-06-20

Western media treatment of Iranian elections and the ongoing demonization

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Change for the poor means food and jobs, not a relaxed dress code or mixed recreation…Politics in Iran is a lot more about class war than religion.”Financial Times Editorial, June 15 2009

June 19, 2009 “Information Clearing House” — There is hardly any election, in which the White House has a significant stake, where the electoral defeat of the pro-US candidate is not denounced as illegitimate by the entire political and mass media elite. In the most recent period, the White House and its camp followers cried foul following the free (and monitored) elections in Venezuela and Gaza, while joyously fabricating an ‘electoral success’ in Lebanon despite the fact that the Hezbollah-led coalition received over 53% of the vote.

The full article here.

Evidence of orchestration of the protests for western audiences? Iran Faces Greater Risks Than It Knows and Obama’s administration’s directive to Twitter.

And from my favourite Mid East correspondent, Robert Fisk, who gives an eyewitness account of who the demonstrators are, and what they want, and corrects a lot of misleading impressions coming through other channels that lazily rely more on official news releases and rumour:

Extraordinary scenes: Robert Fisk in Iran

Posted Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:23am AEST
Updated Wed Jun 17, 2009 12:17pm AEST

'The authorities are losing control of what's happening on the streets and that's very dangerous and damaging to them'

‘The authorities are losing control of what’s happening on the streets and that’s very dangerous and damaging to them’ (www.flickr.com: Shahram Sharif)

//

The long-standing Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Robert Fisk, is defying the government crackdown on foreign media reporting in Iran.

As he explains, he has been travelling around the streets of Tehran all day and most of the night and things are far from quiet:

See the Australian ABC news site for the full article and audio link.


2009-02-01

The irony

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I know of many Jews (Israeli and non-Israeli) who label their fellow Jews who are critical of Zionism and the ethnic cleansing and expansionist policies of successive Israeli governments as self-hating Jews. That charge would seem a bit hard to sustain in this instance.  The irony is twisted even further when one learns that the founders of Zionism (who flourished alongside other racially based nationalisms in their most rabid late nineteenth and early twentieth century phase) were in many cases nonbelievers who nonetheless openly proclaimed that they found their mandate forceful expulsion of Palestinians and ever expanding takeover of their lands in the Bible.

Why post this? Because I am appalled at the outrageous bias in mainstream western media reporting and anything that might graphically help expose its one sidedness is not a bad thing. Imagine the western media addressing the Palestinians in Gaza as the product of documented ethnic cleansing and expulsion policies, represented by a democratically elected government that had offered to recognize Israel’s existence along the terms of the Saudi peace plan, and whose citizens and leaders are routinely kidnapped and jailed in a foreign country, and that has been imprisoned by land, sea and air to the point of humanitarian catostrophe. . . .  But that will never be said in the mainstream western media. At least not unless it is callously hidden behind the pseudo-impartiality that insists on giving equal time to state sanctioned official lies and half truths.


2008-03-30

What is happening in Tibet, and in the reporting of what is happening?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Related post now added at Tibet protests . . . hope for Diego Garcians. . .?

This post has an updated link at What is happening in Tibet, 2:

Firstly, I deplore the human rights situation in China, and was dismayed that it was chosen to host the Olympics in the first place. But having had some contacts with a few Tibetans, and watching the way some of the Tibetan protests are portrayed in the news here, I cannot help but seek answers to a few questions before jumping on board the free Tibet movement. Certainly I would support an increase in human rights in Tibet, as anywhere in China, but independence or even quasi-independence protests are another matter.

Questions that keep coming to mind:

Are the monk-dominated images I see on TV footage representative of the identity of the main body of protesters in Tibet? If so, what is the role of the population who are not monks in the clashes with Chinese authorities?

When TV footage comes with a voice over saying that it is showing monks coming between Chinese troops and other protesters, then why am I unable to see much evidence of the other protesters, and even see some monks throwing rocks and bars at the troops?

When a leader of the protesters was interviewed on a BBC film clip recently, was he translated correctly when he appeared to say: “That’s why we (the monks) have ordered (sic) these demonstrations”?

Why do so many commentators seem to trace Tibetan history in their commentaries back no farther than the 1950’s? At best, I have read of the time Tibet was prised away from China during the time when nineteenth century foreign imperial powers were intent on weakening and breaking up China. Is there any significance in the 1950’s time-frame of historical recollection in the news media coinciding with early Cold War attempts by the U.S. to attempt to undermine the new government of China?

What is the actual evidence that the bulk of the lay population of Tibet is strongly opposed to being part of China? To what extent are the Tibetans at the “free Tibet” booths and stalls one often sees at festivals, fairs, etc, in the West truly representative of the average Tibetans “back home”?

How can one be sure that by supporting Tibetan independence one is not playing into the hands of a well funded attempt by the U.S. in their games with China?


This post has an updated link at What is happening in Tibet, 2

See also Human Rights in China