If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.
—- Josef Goebbels
As I write this, US Secretary of State John Kerry is telling the world with a straight face that Israel is under siege from Hamas, thus proving that the technique of the Big Lie is not dead.
The Big Lie went to work with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the US public were told North Vietnamese forces had attacked a US warship, and as a result, the USA ended up in a full-blown Vietnam War. What a great success that was.
The Big Lie went to work when Dick Cheney in his public speeches tirelessly associated Saddam Hussein with the attacks on the World Trade Center, even though Hussein was an implacable enemy of Al Qaeda. The invaders, absurdly named the Coalition of the Willing, smashed Iraq and ended up with a country full of Islamists where none had existed before. What a great success that was (provided you happen to be Cheney’s company, Hallliburton). The invasion achieved nothing apart from destabilising an entire region, yet to this day 40% of Americans believe Saddam had something to do with 9-11. What a success that was.
The Big Lie went to work when Hitler told the German people that Jews were responsible for their country’s woes. The German people believed it, as did the many other people in Europe who wished to demonise the Jews — Hungarians, Austrians, French, Polish, Italian, Romanian — and as a consequence, six million human beings went to their deaths at the hands of Nazi murderers and their accomplices. What a gigantic success that was.
The Big Lie went to work when Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines mobilised the Hutus of Rwanda to murder their Tutsi friends and neighbours with knives and clubs, killing up to a million people in 100 days. Another great success.
You see, the Big Lie is a thing that finally consumes those who utter it. It’s the ultimate curse, the darkest summoning up of the worst demons that lurk on the seabed of the soul and, once summoned, these presences are not easily banished to the depths when their work is done.
On my television right now, I can see the Israelis bombing what they call “terror sites”. Before that, they were searching for “terror tunnels”.
What next — terror olive groves?
Who could forget George W Bush’s ludicrous War on Terror? As if the world was full of Marvel and DC baddies — one-dimensional characters devoted to Terror, just like the Joker, the Penguin and Lex Luthor. Is it a coincidence that generations of simplistic American comics and movies should finally have manifested themselves in the form of a president whose grasp of international nuances extended no further than the pages of a comic-book? And how ironic that Bush himself had an evil Grand Vizier in the shape of Cheney looking over his shoulder and pulling his strings where necessary.
Who could forget Robert Fisk’s pitiful lament, Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists? In Pity the Nation, his account of the Lebanon conflict, Fisk wearily repeats the words. Terrorists. Terrorists. Terrorists. Every time the Israeli airforce bombed an apartment block in Sidon or Tyre or Beirut, killing dozens of civilians, the attack was immediately followed by a spokesman explaining that the building was used by terrorists.
When Fisk’s own car was strafed as he and fellow journalists drove up the coastal highway, Israeli media reported it as an engagement with a vehicle containing terrorists.
Terrorists. Terrorists. Terrorists.
For Fisk, it was as much a comment on the paranoid mental prison in which the Israelis find themselves as anything else.
Even moderate Ireland becomes demonised in this paranoid and dishonest rant from the wife of the Israeli ambassador, Nurit Tinari Modai, an outburst filled with half-truths and contempt for her husband’s host country.
When you live in a society where paranoia becomes internalised, any level of atrocity seems acceptable, provided you first dehumanise those you wish to be rid of. This is a lesson we learned over the centuries, most recently in the Balkans when the Chetniks attempted to wipe out the Bosniaks and those who thought of themselves as Yugoslavs. We in Ireland are not immune to that sort of thinking, as we saw with the treatment of the inmates in the Magdalene laundries, though I do believe our society has been permanently scarred by our Famine. I doubt if we would deliberately inflict such suffering on a population, in the way that Israel has brought about the Gaza ghetto, which many of them sneeringly refer to as Gazastan.
Let’s not forget that when Hamas first emerged, Israel saw it as a means to destabilise Arafat’s PLO, which was a secular, non-sectarian organisation, whose aim was to achieve a Palestinian homeland. And lets not forget either where these Palestinians in Gaza came from. These are the people who were thrown off their land by invading Israeli forces from 1948 onwards, and who were shoved into the ghetto, because it wasn’t politically possible to simply kill them and be done with the problem.
Hamas is Israel’s friend in every way. Supported by Mossad, it did everything its puppet-masters required, including firing militarily-insignificant rockets into Israeli territory, and Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands.
In doing so, Hamas helps to perpetuate the Big Lie that Palestinians are part of the comic-book terrorist narrative. How much easier it is to condemn an Islamist movement than a bunch of agnostics, atheists, Christians and Muslims who simply want to be given back some of the land that was stolen from them by force.
That’s why Arafat and the PLO had to be crushed and that’s why they had to be replaced by cartoon villains like Hamas.
In parallel, the hugely-diverse world of Islam had to be reduced to a cartoon quality. It was necessary, especially in the minds of the American public (never noted for its political subtlety) to portray all Muslims as crazed, ideological killers. Never mind the fact that Islam is as diverse as Christianity, with devout believers and carousing drunken bons viveurs in its ranks, just as there are many non-observant Jews.
In a world whose sensibilities have been well prepared by incidents ranging from the 9-11 attacks to the ludicrous Jyllands-Posten controversy about depictions of the Prophet, we are now arrived at a point where people will believe anything about the enemy as long as that enemy is either terrorist, whatever that is, or Muslim, whatever that is.
Back in the 1940s, the US public was just as easily persuaded to incarcerate its Japanese-American population in concentration camps, based solely on their facial appearance. No German-Americans were shoved into places like Manzanar. No Italian-Americans. No Hungarian-Americans. Just Japanese-Americans.
Who did they put in charge of the D-Day landings? A man called Eisenhauer, with the spelling slightly anglicised. No prison camp for him.
That’s how easy it is.
And so we arrive at our current pass, where the children cowering within Gaza are jeered at by thugs on the hills of Sderot, the same thugs who squat in the houses of the people they now bomb with their American-funded missiles and F-16s.
Just a few miles up the coast from Gaza, the people of Ashkelon will sleep more easily in their beds after the current onslaught completes its mission. Unlike in Gaza, no naval patrol boats machine-gun their fishermen when they try to cast their nets. Nobody shells their beaches. These law-abiding Israeli citizens enjoy all the amenities of the beautiful Mediterranean port that their forces rolled into on the 5th November 1948, expelling all 11,000 Arabs.
What does that remind you of?
Terrorists. Terrorists. Terrorists.