Sunday,18 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Sunday,18 November, 2018
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Fake news about truth and victory

While US President Donald Trump must take the prize for the biggest manufacturer of fake news to date, he has not been the only monumental faker

Fake news, like fake material, is contrived to look like the real thing. Those who create it, especially in the age of social media, are fakers engaged in deception. Most fake news is the stuff from which propaganda is made. It is a cover for defeat, or unfulfilled promises, or an inducement to feel good, especially when the outcomes are terrible.

Fakers come from all cultures and all geographical regions, especially when a dictator is actively seeking a cover-up. This is different from purposeful deception in times of armed conflict, because war strategy invariably aims at fooling the enemy.

In the age of US President Donald Trump, the issue of fake news has become a special industry. Trump and his supporters, whether in America or elsewhere where xenophobia is in the ascendant, have made faking a substitute for either truth or experience. Such fakers begin by attacking the credibility of proven truths as lies (or fake news) in order to allow their own lies a space in the public square.

A recent example about Trump as a faker was when his healthcare plan was withdrawn from the US House of Representative on 20 March rather than suffer certain defeat. Thus, Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), which Trump had vowed to “repeal and replace from day one in the Oval Office,” continues to be the law of the land. Faking victory, in spite of that major defeat, Trump described the Democratic Party leadership as “the real losers.”

Deeper cover-ups by Trump have been his denials of any contacts by him or members of his team with Russian officials in helping him to win the White House, his description of the “Muslim ban” on visa-holders from certain Muslim-majority countries entering the US as “a security shield for America,” and his igniting hatred of Muslims by saying “they hate us, and want to kill us.”

Laughing about these racist claims, American comedians on the US TV series “Saturday Night Live” had a response for Trump. On 25 March, they said “if 1.7 billion Muslims want to hurt you, there must be something wrong with you!”

But there have been many other fakers. How can the world ever forget a historic Iraqi faker called Mohamed Al-Sahhaf? He was minister of information under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, and in April 2003 he declared in Baghdad that Iraqi troops were “surrounding the Americans, crushing them. “ This was while American tanks were rumbling into Baghdad just a stone’s throw away from where Al-Sahhaf, known as “Baghdad Bob,” was standing.

In a similar vein of faking the news was former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s justification of the outcome of the Six Day War which lost Arab land to the Israeli military juggernaut in June 1967. He declared that “we were expecting the enemy to attack from the east, but they came from the west.” It was unbecoming for a military leader to justify that terrible defeat through obtuse ignorance of what his Arab forebears always declared, namely that “war is cunning” (al-harb khudaa).

Ironically, it was Nasser’s under-appreciated successor, former president Anwar Al-Sadat, who through the adoption of a grand deception was able in October 1973 to regain for Egypt both dignity and confidence. However, this was not before historic damage had been done elsewhere. Lost, at least for now, was Arab sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This was the huge cost of the mismanagement by Nasser in April 1967 when he precipitated the removal of UN peace-keepers from Sinai.

The same disease of faking the news has plagued Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip in competition with the Fatah government in Ramallah, no less a faker of the news than Hamas itself. The latter, dubbed the “Islamic Resistance Movement,” has feigned victory in the midst of disastrous consequences. In their confrontation with Israel from 2008 to 2010, Hamas leaders claimed success in the form of tunnelling for victory. One does not expect Hamas to be able to hold Israel, the fourth-largest military machine in the world, at bay. But how can the total destruction of 14,000 Arab dwellings in Gaza be seen by Hamas as a military success?

This pattern of deception by Arab leaders, particularly in Syria, Yemen and the Sudan, could not be more comical. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad even after the most brutal civil war in world history subsides cannot expect to rule over a non-divided Syria. The war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen will not end in a Yemen Republic of a united North (tribal) and South (progressive) of the country.

In the Sudan, President Omar Al-Bashir’s rule, the longevity of which is approaching that of the defunct Mubarak regime in Egypt, has been presiding over a country preoccupied with the question of which province is expected to split away next from Khartoum, Darfour or Kordofan? The fake news in the Sudan has been centred on “national dialogue” about “earlier national dialogue” about “earliest national dialogue.”

The same dreary song and dance has been seen about Palestinian national unity, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas located in “the State of Ramallah,” and Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal in “the State of Gaza.” Fakery can never act as guidance towards true national cohesion and progress.

There has also been the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which has faked the news of its being a humanitarian movement while directing its fake news machine to claim legitimacy in the face of opposition by 35 million Egyptians in June 2013. That protest movement against turning cosmopolitan Egypt into an Islamic emirate forced the Brotherhood to shed its humanitarian veil, revealing its true conspiratorial and terroristic ethos. Legitimacy can never spring from the muzzle of a gun or the explosion of devices by the roadside.

It was former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger who called for America’s exit from Vietnam in the early 1970s. But that was also through “fake news.” Stalemated by the Vietcong, and with more than 50,000 American deaths on the battlefield, Kissinger asked “why not declare American victory and then depart from Vietnam?” The strategy worked, but only in terms of the departure part of the equation. The North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh knew that he had to deflate the claim of US victory through the imposition of tough terms during the Paris negotiations in the mid-1970s.

Faking news about non-achieved victories is like opium administered by failing leaders. It makes the populace feel good for a while. But the hangover lasts much longer, causing real damage to confidence between the ruler and the ruled. However, the prize for the most egregious and dangerous faker in modern history must go to Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US. A book hit the shelves in the US in early March about the Trump presidency. It is called “How the Hell did we get Here?”

Getting “here” was largely due to decades of “spin,” including America encouraging Saddam to attack the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980 and then to turn on him in 2003 with the fraudulent claim that he possessed “weapons of mass destruction.”

Should I stop here? Perhaps not. The New York Times carried a lengthy article on Egypt on 19 March called “Generation Jail.” I recorded no fewer than 10 errors of fact (fake news) in this article, including the fallacy that former acting president Adli Mansour (2013-2014) was installed by the military and not through a broad national consensus.

The article also included a hoax about the severity of the Egyptian law regulating demonstrations. Just compare that law to its American equivalent, and you will quickly find that the American law is in fact much more restrictive, especially with regard to the time, place and manner of holding approved public demonstrations. We all remember what happened to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, after all.

Lies have a very short shelf life. But their after-effects can be very long-lasting. Just remember the horrible fake episodes about “the humane treatment” of detainees at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Prisons. I could build an entire graduate course of study around those two black holes. An appropriate title for it might be “the Hate and Fake Interdependency.”


The writer is a professor of law at New York University.

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