Politicians and Media: Fostering McCarthyism

The following post by Hafiz Saad was originally published at PakTeaHouse. We are re-posting here because we believe it presents an excellent observation about the way media is used as a political weapon with no regard for the effect on society.

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There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from the political and media experiences of the United States, but the most relevant one is this: there can be a dangerous alliance between politicians and media using the same pulpit to promote hatred and intolerance with lasting effects.

In the early 1950′s, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist crusades, aided by a pliant media, destroyed lives and fostered a climate of fear and hostility in American Society. The Governing Class’ use of the media to spread fear is prevalent in American history, most recently in the run up to the war in Iraq.

The “Red Menace” and “WMD” bogies trumpeted by Senator McCarthy and the Bush administration assisted by a section of the media confirmed that: “the great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one” and “the broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force” (Mein Kampf)

Pakistani politicians and newly freed mass media are not averse to reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character, patriotism and religious inclination of political adversaries. These types of attacks greatly contributed to the murders of Mr. Taseer and Mr. Bhatti. The ever present but vaguely defined fear that “Islam is in danger” is a common theme in the rhetoric of right wing politicians and media to influence the masses. There are also more subtle forces of the deep state manipulating and encouraging the unholy nexus between politicians and media recently evident in the Raymond Davis affair.

Famed CBS newscaster and Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, one of the most influential opponents of McCarthyism said most eloquently: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

Pakistanis should dig deep and remember that they are descended from fearless men like Mr. Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz among others. The media should be taking the lead in projecting the pantheon of heroes comprising the brave soldiers and law enforcement personnel who have lost their lives battling terrorism and not a cold blooded murderer like Qadri.

It would be helpful if the superior judiciary led by Honorable C.J. Chaudry takes immediate notice of a variety of practices in politics and media which are the hallmarks of Pakistani McCarthyism: aggressively questioning a person’s patriotism, making poorly supported accusations, using accusations of disloyalty to pressure a person to adhere to conformist politics or to discredit an opponent, subverting civil rights in the name of national security, and the use of demagoguery synonymous with the term witch-hunt, both referring to mass hysteria and causing moral panic.

The recent political killings in Pakistan also show the need for a tougher hate crimes law to stop “violence masquerading as political activism”. Perhaps, stronger laws and enforcement aimed at penalizing incitement to hatred or violence towards individuals or groups because of their ethnic or religious origin through public written or oral expressions is required. Prohibition on the establishment of, and membership in organizations which organize propaganda and activities aimed at ethnic and religious discrimination and punishment for public expression of offensive ideas could help as well.

A problem with anti-defamation laws is that once you start undermining freedom of speech it becomes easy to find numerous other excuses to restrict free speech. However, most people will accept anti-defamation laws as a legitimate restriction on free speech as without these laws society would be plunged into chaos.

The divisions created in Pakistan by the unbridled power of politicians and media who peddle a particularly narrow interpretation of Islam may haunt the national psyche permanently unless steps are taken quickly to deal with abuses. These divisions are easily manipulated by the massive security apparatus established over the last 64 years which has its own agenda and definition of national security.

Charlie Chaplin, the comedian, a notable and bitter victim of McCarthyism who chose self-exile saying “I have no further use for America. I wouldn’t go back there if Jesus Christ was President.” Most Pakistanis don’t have the choice of leaving Pakistan so the choice for them is between the devil and the deep blue sea, literally.


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