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Book Review

Controlling Minds
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Media Control
By Noam Chomsky
Natraj Publishers,
17-Rajpur Road, Dehradun-248001. www.natrajbooks.com
Rs. 225, Page 120


The mass media makes a profound impact on our thinking. They shape images for us and tell us what to think about that image. Essentially everything we know-or think we know-about events outside our own neighbourhood or circle of acquaintances comes to us via our daily newspaper, our weekly news magazine, our radio, or our television.


How free is the Western media and those in cahoots with it elsewhere? Can a media monopolized by the corporates exercise freedom? Could it operate independent of the business and corporate interests which are furthered by the political parties in the legislatures?


Noted intellectual Noam Chomsky raises these posers through a profound analysis of the evolution of ‘free media’ in tandem with the ‘liberal democracy’ in the United States. Such questions were never more pertinent than today when the US media has effectively turned into the spokesman of the establishment and the White House. As evidenced from the propaganda by the CNN, AP, the New York Times and Washington Post, it appears that converg-ences of interest of the military-industry-media-bureaucracy combine has assumed the contours of a perfect whole that is out to stub all dissenting voices and opinion.


How did all this come about? The US President Woodrow Wilson was extremely annoyed with the pacifist attitude of the American people during the First World War. He appointed the Creel Commission in 1916. It paid dividends. Within six months the war hysteria peaked and the passive people were baying for the blood of the Germans.


Celebrated journalist Walter Lippmann was part of several of such propaganda commissions. He observed: “It is only a few elite, an intellectual community, who can understand the common interests. These things elude the general public. The stupid masses should be driven towards a future that they are too dumb and incompetent to envision for themselves”.


Clearly this was the birth of propaganda and it is how media was initiated into brainwashing of mass mind. It was further refined into public relations. The leading figure in the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, actually came of the Creel Commission. He went on to develop ‘engineering consent’ which he described as ‘the essence of democracy’. He said: ‘The people who are able to engineer consent are the ones who have resources and the power to do it-the business community-and that is who you work for’.


Logic is clear: Propaganda is to democracy what bludgeon is to dictatorship. The American media follows the dictum verbatim. Saddam exposed the US duplicity for sometime after annexing Kuwait. He said he could not stand the annexation of West Bank by Israel and occupation of southern Lebanon (which was by then over 13 years old). He pointed out how the US was blocking negotiations and vetoing UN resolutions against Israel. But no press would report, no editorial would comment on this. Iraq had urged the UNSC to link Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait with the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestine areas. Then President Bush, the larger, was embarr-assed. An ABC poll had said the people favoured it by two to one. But US shot down the ‘linkage’ and few in the media bothered to highlight it.


Consider the propaganda barrage launched by the CNN and Fox during the first Gulf War. Iraq was projected as a monster out to conquer the world. But nobody questioned as to how a third world country without an industrial base would destroy the world when it could not defeat Iran despite being backed by the US, the USSR and being bankrolled by the entire oil-rich Arab world. Nobody in the media pointed that out.


The double standards extend to all spheres. The US State department defines ‘terrorism’ as ‘calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear’. But when this becomes the Pentagon or State Dept’s policy, it is called low intensity conflict or counter terrorism. The US has been behind all terror campaigns in the Central American states.


What is true about US media is true about media everywhere. It is not just the suppression of certain news stories from our newspapers or the maligning of certain people and sections of history that characterizes the opinion-manipulating techniques of the media masters. They exercise both subtlety and thoroughness in their management of the news and the entertainment that they present to us.


For example, the way in which the news is covered: which items are emphasized and which are played down; the reporter’s choice of words, tone of voice, and facial expressions; the wording of headlines; the choice of illustrations - all of these things profoundly affect the way in which we interpret what we see or hear.


Noam Chomsky’s Media Control is a must read for all those who thought they were alone in accusing the media of bias and partisanship.



Bridging Gaps and Dispelling Myths
Reviewed by Nigar Ataulla

Religion, Peace and Dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir
By Yoginder Sikand
Published by: WISCOMP
Core 4A, UGF, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi-110003. Ph: 24648450. Email: wiscomp@vsnl.com


Religion, Peace and Dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir by Yoginder Sikand is the outcome of an academic project undertaken by the author under the WISCOMP Perspectives. Travelling through Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, Yoginder Sikand opens conversations with a wide swathe of people belonging to different faith traditions in an attempt to recover and articulate alternate perspectives on religion, grounded on the lived experiences of ordinary people including women. Simultaneously, he critiques intolerance and retrogressive interpretations of religion both by clerics as well as by some people belonging to the different faith traditions. The study is based on the premise that religion is a double-edged sword and regressive versions that can be used as tools to stir violence exist side by side with progressive interpretations that can be used as a resource for peace. While there is no denying that faith moves the lives of millions across the sub-continent, a basic dilemma that has to be addressed squarely is that reconciliation and revenge and violence and harmony co-exist in every major religious tradition and intersect in myriad ways. In introspecting strategies of dialoguing between traditions, the paradox between the spaces for reconciliation and co-existence offered by the cultural and spiritual resources of the different traditions and the simultaneous closure of spaces by a new militarized and organised religiosity needs to be factored in. The culture of militant religiosity and the liberal response to this, which allegedly takes the form of what some would call “secular militancy” sometimes feed on each other…consequently the challenge is to break this cycle to find creative spaces for healing and dialogue. These questions become particularly germane in the context of Jammu and Kashmir whose long legacy of peaceful coo-existence as manifested in the spirit of Kashmiriyat did come under threat due to the onslaught of a certain type of religious militarism that had no lineage in the history of the region. In the book, Sikand argues that there is a “ need to bridge gaps, dispel myths and stereotypes and initiate a process of re-humanizing the other”. The “alternate” understandings of religion have to be identified and strengthened, so that it can be used as a resource for promoting “ecumenism instead of conflict”


One of the focus in Sikand’s book is the fact that possible solutions to the Kashmir conflict that have been put forward in the past by policy makers have generally ignored the central role that religious leaders can play in promoting dialogue and a peaceful settlement of the issue.


“The recognition of the diversity of ways of understanding and interpreting each religion, opens up the possibility of highlighting and working with alternate interpretations in order to promote a more progressive politics. This is precisely what this modest survey tries to do in the context of contemporary Jammu and Kashmir. It begins with the recognition of the salience of particular ways of understanding and expressing religion and religious identities that tend to promote conflict between different communities in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, “ says Sikand. The report has been divided report into three chapters, focusing on Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh respectively.


Religion, Peace and Dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir by Yoginder Sikand is an impressive effort at recovering and articulating alternative perspectives on religion in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.


Yoginder Sikand is a noted scholar who has written extensively on shared and syncretic spaces including a book on The Role of Kashmiri Sufis in the Promotion of Communal Harmony and Social Reform. He is currently on the faculty of Jamia Millia Islamia.