The Power of Propaganda

April 12, 2017 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan

Reuters photo



Imad Zafar

Someone once asked an ex French President why he did not marry. He answered, “I was looking for my ideal woman all my life.” The person asked “So you did not find your ideal?,” to which the President replied “No, I actually found my ideal woman but her ideal was not me.”

Idealism has this basic flaw that it is a subjective thing and each and every single human being has his own concept of idealism in the different domains of life. The famous German poet Goethe described this instinct of human idealism and the desire to get more and more better in a poem. He wrote about a man who entered heaven and was presented a beautiful virgin lady. The man looks at her and compliments her beauty but after sometime the man starts looking here and there as if he is searching for something. The lady gets angry and she yells at the man; why you are ignoring me and what you are looking for? The man answers that I am now searching for a more beautiful woman than you.

This instinct of human beings was very well read and understood by the famous psychologist and pioneer of modern age propaganda Edward Bernays. He joined hands with the corporate sector and political elite to cash in on the psyche of humans looking for a better life. He did it by inventing the tools and redefining the concepts of marketing, lobbying and organised propaganda. He was actually the most successful propagandist and proved successful in compelling the minds of people in favour of specific products, concepts, political and social ideologies.

Such is the impact of his success that even in the 21st century, which is called the century of technology and knowledge revolution, billions of rupees are still spent on lobbying advertising and propaganda to manufacture public opinion and manipulate their desires and subconscious. People’s desires, opinions and ideologies are created through organized propaganda. From USA to Afghanistan, everywhere in the world, people’s thoughts, opinions and way of living are manipulated through organised propaganda to achieve the desired results for creating narratives, selling products, weapons ideologies, and winning elections. Advertising, print, electronic media and social media, false research papers and data are the strongest tools to control people’s minds and opinions.

This invisible control on people’s minds and thoughts gives power to ruling elites creating a general acceptance among the common men and women living around the world to wage wars and topple governments for the completion of their agendas and to protect their interests. From Egypt to Libya, regimes have been changed with the use of force or mass agitations, backed with manufactured opinions and concepts. Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other poor countries are being turned into proxy war battlefields and sent to the stone age by dropping bombs on their population. All these barbaric acts are being performed in the name of protecting national interest and in the name of betterment of the common people of these countries.

Most of the world’s population tends to back these brutal acts, thanks mainly to the power of propaganda. Mostly people under the influence of propaganda happily lend support in overthrowing their own governments thus backing the war that is forced on their country, thinking that this will change their fortunes overnight and that their country will become the world’s richest. But in reality, Libya, Syria and Egypt have not started producing gold nor are lakes of honey and milk flowing after the so called revolution or war. Likewise Donald Trump becoming President of the United States has not changed the fortunes of ordinary Americans overnight, nor has he made the USA a safer place.

Actually this organized propaganda is so romantic and exploitative in nature that common people around the globe usually buy it most of the time and start believing that their financial problems, social problems or inability to earn enough is the result of a specific system or regime, and that choosing a new person or system will solve all their problems in a few days, months or years. This mindset prevails all around the world, the only difference is that in civilized and developed countries politicians are given the chance to explain their agenda. Through propaganda and lobbying, they convince the population of their respective countries and masses under the influence of the strongest propaganda and manufactured opinions to choose their rulers through elections. But at least the collective wisdom of the societies of these developed nations forces the corporate and political elite to focus on real issues and gives glimpses of an objective perspective of their solutions and vision towards the challenges faced by these countries.

Contrary to this, in third world countries the propaganda is sold only in the name of revolution and hatred towards developed nations. The third world power elites sell the world’s revolution to the public, from idealists to the poor, educated to uneducated, all classes happily buy this, believing that one day revolution will free them all of their problems. We in Pakistan like the other underdeveloped countries are a bit emotional and collectively tend to think that it is the political system and the USA who are responsible for us not progressing at a faster pace. So we buy this propaganda of ‘revolution’ and change often in the form of autocracy, military coups or agitating on the roads, burning and damaging our own properties.

Anyone from the elite stands up and tells us that he will change the fortune of the country and countrymen in a day and we under the influence of propaganda buy this ideology. This is the main reason that since its inception Pakistan and Pakistanis have only seen the changes of the faces of rulers. Ayub Khan imposed the first martial law and said that President Iskander Mirza was a traitor and the public said ‘yes, he was a traitor.’ Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was called anti religious and anti Pakistani and the majority of the public said ‘yes, she is’. General Yahya threw Ayub Khan from power and declared Ayub was the main reason for the country being in problem it was in and the people believed it.

Then came Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who declared Yahya Khan the culprit for losing East Pakistan and the public believed it. Bhutto was eventually hanged by Zia-ul-Haq and martial law was imposed, Zia telling people Bhutto was anti Pakistani and a traitor, most of the public believing in this propaganda. Zia died in an air crash and then came his daughter Benazir Bhutto, the people chanting ‘Zinda Hai Bhutto Zinda Hai‘ (Bhutto is alive), then Nawaz Sharif came into power, this time the public slogan was ‘long live Nawaz Sharif‘ until he was thrown out of power by Pervez Musharraf by imposing martial law, the public again chanting the ‘long live‘ slogan, this time for Musharraf.

Musharraf’s rule came to an end in 2007 and Asif  Zardari assumed power, this time ‘Ek Zardari sab par bhari‘ (Zardari is the mightiest leader of all) being the slogan. Nawaz Sharif won the election in 2013 and ‘qadam barhao Nawaz Sharif, hum tumharay sath hain‘ (Come on Nawaz, we are with you) was the new slogan this time. But it soon turned in to ‘Go Nawaz Go‘ (Nawaz leave the leaderership) because of his rifts with the establishment on asserting his authority over defence and foreign policy, compelling the establishment to use Imran Khan as a pawn thus creating an establishment sponsored movement against him, again the public believing in the fabricated ideology of revolution and change.

This little piece of political history whereby the educated middle and lower classes fall again and again in love with revolution and change, which in reality was and still never will be there, is a classic example of Edward Bernays’ concept of manipulating people’s subconscious and thoughts through organized invisible propaganda. ‘Revolution’ is a word that really catches the attention of middle classes, but in reality in this modern age there is only one revolution that can turn the countries and societies around and that is a knowledge and technology based economy with strong public and democratic institutions. Everything else is propaganda.

Che Guevara, right or wrong, fought for revolution and change and lived in caves to pursue his version of revolution. Dr Martin Luther King gave his life for black people’s rights and he sacrificed all the luxuries of his own. Nelson Mandela spent most of his life behind bars and was even kept in a four by four cell in an effort to get rights for his countrymen. Opposite to that, the self proclaimed leaders and revolutionists live here in hundreds of acres of luxurious farm houses, enjoying each and every single luxury of life and leaving their followers to face the torture of opponents or law enforcement agencies.

The power chess board is being manipulated every time by invisible forces exploiting the normal citizens. This actually reminds me of the famous saying of Edward Bernays that “There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions. It is not generally realized to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes.”

People in Pakistan and other underdeveloped countries need to understand that it takes a great amount of time and patience for societies and countries to grow and, regardless of one’s dreams or romance with idealism, it takes generations to build a strong and efficient system that is capable of delivering to all citizens. The only way forward to create such a system is the strengthening of democracy and public institutions. No man or leader has any magic stick that he can use to solve all problems in a day.

Instead of buying propaganda and becoming a pawn in the power chess board, common people should try to put their efforts into eliminating extremism, negating propaganda of hatred towards each other and the world on the basis of political, religious or any other ideological difference. Instead of changing the faces in the power corridors masses should try to avoid becoming a pawn in the fights between political elites and the establishment. After all, it is said that there would be no games of chess if the pawns refused to play.










Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.


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