“Manufacturing” or “engineering” of consents – A follow up on my previous post

30 June, 2011 at 08:18 | Posted in knowledge, Politics, Web 2.0, Wikipedia policy | 4 Comments
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This is a follow up on my previous post about the 25-January Revolution in Egypt and the way it was introduced into Wikipedia. First of all, I saw that post was cited by the Wiki-Watch blog in German. My German is very basic, so I had to consult some friends and machine translation tools in order to read it, and I might not have got all the content accurately. In any event, I appreciate this reference and the initiative to start a broad discussion about this issue. I also stand corrected, the term “manufacturing consents” was coined by Walter Lippmann, later to be used and redefined by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman.

I learned Chomsky’s theories from Tanya Reinhart at the Tel Aviv University. Perhaps, I should play fair and say in advance that I am rather reserved about many of Chomsky’s, as well as Reinhart’s, ideas, and yet I value some of their observations. I totally reject some of the moves Noam Chomsky took as an implementation of his theories, but then again there is a huge gap between any theory and its implementation, and it is important not to judge a political theory or an ideology only by the attempts to implement them, because other practical interpretations of the very theory might also be feasible.

Edward Bernays - "Engineering of consents"

Edward Bernays - "Engineering of consents" (Image via Wikipedia)

The lessons taught by Tanya Reinhart at the Tel Aviv University about Noam Chomsky’s political theory were recorded and printed after her death in a short book in Hebrew. The English title (every book published in Hebrew has an English title for the sake of foreign catalogs and libraries) is “Written in the Paper, Language Media and Ideology“. It was edited by Tanya Reinhart’s disciple Ran HaCohen. In this book (page 12) Reinhart mentions the term “Engineering of Consent” coined in 1947 by Edward Bernays. Apparently, he thought of this process, which might as well be called propaganda, as a positive, even vital, part of a democratic discourse. According to this book, Chomsky heavily criticized this approach, and claimed that the academy and institutions of scholars were used to preserve the mainstream political positions, hence limit the democratic liberal debate.

In my opinion, this is a terrible exaggeration. After all, Bernays wasn’t that wrong. “Engineering of consents” is legitimate and part of any democratic society, if (and only if) it is done in a fair manner, namely without brainwashing and without limiting the right and opportunity of others to make their own “engineering”. But, coming back to the issue of Wikipedia, the academy has lost much of the power Chomsky and others attributed to it during the 1950s and in the later decades of the 20th century. In the late 20th century (not so long ago, actually), television was considered the “devil” that can turn people’s opinions from one side to another, and many times this was the case indeed. The Web 2.00 “revolution”, brought a promise of decentralization that would render the “engineering of consents” a thing of the past, but that was too much to hope for. People with interests simply learned how to use this new medium in order introduce better “engineering” of this kind. Wikipedia, despite its initial attempt to be a scene of creating factual objective accounts through dialogs and negotiations among people who bring various pieces of knowledge, is gradually turning into a new, somewhat more sophisticated scene, for “manufacturing consents” or “engineering of consents”. The main problem is the fact that Wikipedia is left alone in this arena. It has some competitors, but for most of the world, especially the vast English-speaking world (including countries where English is spoken as the main foreign language), it is the main source of knowledge for the past five years or so.

True, Wikipedia offers the opportunity to use its texts as a basis for new texts. Namely, I can alternate and manipulate the texts of Wikipedia and create a new source that would better reflect my views, as long as I give reference to the original text. This is a great opportunity to create fruitful debate, and this is the essence of “free content” or “copyleft”, and yet no one seems to seize this opportunity. Instead, people with special interests do their best to penetrate into Wikipedia and manipulate it from within.

Not Islamophobia but rather a successful Islamist fear campaign

14 October, 2010 at 21:43 | Posted in Inter-faith relations, Politics | Leave a comment
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Şehitlik Mosque in Berlin. Germans turn a cold shoulder to Islam. (By cosmonautirussi via Flickr)

Şehitlik Mosque in Berlin. Germans turn a cold shoulder to Islam. (By cosmonautirussi via Flickr)


The Israeli Channel Ten, in its fascinating daily news magazine London&Kirshenbaum, talked about another increase in Islamophobic sentiments in Germany, according to a recent survey. They said the situation in Germany was relatively good, compared with other Western European countries.  The Turkish daily Hüriyet offers a detailed report (in English) about the survey. Hüriyet quotes Bekir Alboğa from the Turkish Islamic Union of Germany saying, “Anti-Semitism is being replaced by Islamophobia”. I am not sure this is the case. Germany’s history has had a moderating effect in the past 60 years or so. Germany experienced less xenophobia and nationalism than other European nations because the country’s recent history has been standing as a huge warning sign that no German could ignore. Furthermore, Germany was closely monitored by other nations for a long period of time due to its past. Actually, the high demands from Germany, either by its own citizens or by foreigners, with regard to human rights and tolerance, are probably the reason why so many Muslims and other people found refuge and welfare in the Federal Republic of Germany. France and the United Kingdom had obligations toward the people of their former colonies. Most of the immigrants to these countries are citizens of countries and territories that used to be under French or British control. However, Germany did not have such obligations, and its readiness to absorb so many immigrants was partly due the Germans’ wish to reverse the horrific policy of the past, and partly due to economic considerations.

I believe that the recent increase in anti-Muslim feelings in Germany, and in Europe as a whole, is the result of a successful fear campaign that has been conducted by Muslim extremists.  I think the starting point of this campaign was the fatwa issued by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie in February 1989. At least in my memory, this event is remembered as the time when it was brought to my knowledge that if a Muslim leader says a person should die, he cannot feel safe anywhere in the world anymore. Since then, death threats have been directed to quite a few people who allegedly offended Muslim feelings. In some cases the threats were realized. Offending Jews, for example, whether deliberately or unaware, may result in worldwide condemnation in the worst case scenario. The “victim” may feel uncomfortable, but he can feel safe walking in the street. Offending the Chinese government may result in a ban from visiting the People’s Republic. It would be a pity to miss the view from the Great Wall, but it is something everyone can live with. This is not the case when someone decide to criticize Islamic norms or practices, or even if a person does something that might be perceived as an offense to Islam.

This state-of-affairs is not due to special tendency to violence among Muslims. Not at all. I am even quite certain that most Muslims in Europe and elsewhere resent this situation and would like to repudiate these threats and violent acts. And yet, the group of extreme Muslims that initiated this fear campaign has been strong and efficient enough to make it successful. The price of this success is paid by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Unfortunately, I don’t see the end of this campaign. Quite the contrary, the radical elements in Israel are getting stronger.

The American-Jewish scholar, Prof. Noam Chomsky, is visiting Turkey to attend an international convention about Freedom of Speech. Turkey is a country that still restricts the use of the Kurdish language, the mother tongue of at least 15% of its population. It also prevent its Armenian citizens from talking about the tragedy which the Ottoman Empire inflicted on their people during World War I. Turkey therefore seems quite a peculiar place for holding a convention about Freedom of Speech, and yet I give this convention the credit that it is an attempt to bring the cure to an unhealthy government. Chomsky gave an interview to the Turkish Zaman newspaper. He claims that the main reason for the European reluctance to include Turkey within the European Union was racism rather than concern over the problem of human rights in Turkey and other similar issues. Chomsky used to be a genius who made invaluable contributions to Linguistics, Psychology, Computer Science and Philosophy. He was also one of the brightest most eloquent critics of Western politics and culture. These days are over. Chomsky fell in love with criticism to the extent that makes his recent utterances false or meaningless.

According to Zaman, Chomsky cited Angela Merkel as saying that “Germany’s culture was based on Christian and Jewish values and that Muslims in the country should accept this”. Zaman summarizes Chomsky’s reaction to these words as “apart from the fact Merkel mentioned Jewish values because of the Holocaust and not because Jewish values really shaped German culture, it was ‘a pretty extreme and racist statement from a major political figure in Europe'”. It is quite amazing that Chomsky forgot about the huge role of Jews and Judaism in German culture before World War II. Moses (Moshe) Mendelssohn (1729-1786) is considered the first, or one of the first, Jewish scholars in Modern times to integrate the culture of the German Jews into the general German culture. His work affected the entire German culture, not only the Jewish German one. Heinrich Heine was Jewish, Albert Einstein was Jewish. One hundred thousand Jews served in the German army during World War I, 12 thousand of them were killed as German soldiers. It all ended abruptly and horrifically in the mid-1930s, but Angela Merkel rightfully honored the place of Judaism in German culture. The question of whether recent Muslim immigrants should assimilate into German culture or preserve their Muslim culture and bring it to the German People as a new component into their tradition is a matter of debate, but raising the question is hardly racism. I suppose Chomsky would respect a Turkish statement that Turky is a Muslim country and non-Muslims should respect this fact.

Chomsky also told Zaman that there are signs of “slow improvement” in the Turkish treatment of its Kurdish minority. He sums up this alleged development as “not enough, but it’s something”. I have never heard Chomsky talks so gently about the situation in other countries. Istanbul is a charming place indeed, but I wouldn’t have thought he would fall for it so easily…

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