When the Rich and Powerful engage in Disinformation

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It was 1956. It was Cairo. And I was thirteen years old. Our school year had just begun and my generation of Egyptian school pupils were just normal kids trying to balance academics, extra-curricular activities and sports.

But what we were hearing on the radio was not normal at all. War-mongering speeches from Britain, France and Israel filled the airwaves. My young mind was full of questions: Why did these three countries hate Egyptians so much? Why did they want to bomb us? Why?… Why?…

I tried to be brave, telling myself that aggressors are just cowards who never give reasons for what they do. My mother agreed. The voices we heard on the radio were those of cowards, she’d say, telling the world the same lies, over and over and over again.

I learned that Britain, France and Israel wanted to occupy and control our strategically important Suez canal — a vital shipping link between East and West that cut thousands of miles off sea journeys around Africa. Now, only two years after Egypt’s independence from Britain, this unholy alliance of imperialist countries wanted Egypt to submit once again to colonialism.

That was not the information we were given, of course. Even as a young teenager, I could tell that these belligerent and self-serving nations were cowards, just big-time schoolyard bullies trying to cover up their evil intentions. They told the world that our Egyptian president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, was evil and threatening because he dared to nationalize the Suez canal. To them, this was a terrible sin against the international community. Therefore, regime-change was a must; Nasser must go; Egypt had become a threat to international security, especially that of Israel, etc., etc.

The atmosphere became so threatening that my family had to leave its small apartment in Cairo and find accommodation in the surrounding countryside where we hoped life would be safer. We were, in effect, refugees within our own national borders. In desperation, my mother would pray to God to destroy the aggressors, because “no one else can stop them or punish them, except God,” she would tell us.

As I grew older, I read a great deal about the history and crises of the Suez. I came to understand even more clearly that Britain, France and Israel were motivated by competitive greed to invade Egypt: President Nasser’s policies were a mere pretext. They were all opportunists, working together for convenience and committed to one of modern history’s most blatant and immoral public disinformation campaigns. Then, I understood even more deeply my mother’s prayer; “only God can stop the aggressors and destroy them, no one else can.”

Today, nearly fifty years later, these images remain vividly etched in my mind as I follow the increasing war-mongering propaganda against Iraq. The actors are slightly different — this time the U.S. has co-opted Britain, and France is more or less on the sidelines for now. But the evil being justified under the thin veneer of “regime-change” is just as obscene as in 1956. The rampant disinformation sounds much the same; the greedy and powerful are still trying to brainwash the rest of the world.

And I, like so many others, struggle to understand a society in which Americans are ready to impeach one president for lying about his sexual misconduct, while another is virtually hailed as a homeland hero for lying about war-motives that could catastrophically affect world peace.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that, in trying to justify a war footing against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, “senior [American] officials have referred repeatedly to intelligence … that remains largely unverified.” A former head of the C.I.A.’s counter-terrorism arm was even blunter, saying “Basically, cooked information is working its way into high level pronouncements.” The popular tabloid, USA Today, reports that “pressure has been building on the intelligence agencies to deliberately slant estimates to fit a political agenda.” And one American political commentator said recently that Bush is as “slippery and evasive as any politician in memory.”

Again, I can almost hear my mother’s voice, asking God in fear and desperation why these people have not learned anything from recent history. Is nearly half-a-century so long? If she were alive today, she would cry aloud to God to save America and the rest of the world from the aggression of George W. Bush, his war-mongering administration, and those blind followers in the government of Britain. They think they can get away with their deception through disinformation. But I can also hear my mother affirming that “God is more powerful than all of them.”

It all sounds so depressingly familiar. Fifty years ago, British, French and Israeli radio propagandists were telling Egyptians that their countries only wanted to free us from our tyrant-dictator Nasser and replace him with a “democratically” elected Mr. Nice Guy.

So Washington is playing the war card for all it’s worth, inventing “facts” as necessary, and scraping up every remnant of George Bush’s post-Sept. 11 popularity to gain control of all three branches of America’s government. But then what? What happens after the next war?

Sadly, rich and powerful America seems to care little about what might happen during or after a war with Iraq — even if tens of thousands die, and millions suffer, even if the toll includes American citizens.

My mother told me cowards lie, not only about the present, but also about the future. Worse still, they believe their own lies. “Only God can save us and punish the aggressors,” she would pray. Amen, mother. I hope you are right.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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