By Todd Howe
“the Men who for their desperate ends
Had plucked up mercy by the roots were glad
Of this new enemy. Tyrants, strong before
In devilish pleas, were ten times stronger now,
And thus beset with foes on every side,
The goaded Land waxed mad; the crimes of few
Spread into madness of the many, blasts
From hell came sanctified like airs from heaven”
- William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805, Book Tenth
There was a story told once by a sage in which a man, travelling in the darkness at the crest of a valley, slips from a rock. Catching himself with the aid of a branch as he falls, he hangs in the darkness throughout the night, his mind racing with fear. He shouts: all that he hears back is the sound of his own voice, and he imagines the abyss yawning below. His body shakes with ceaseless tremors, his hands shift and he fears losing his grip.
The man’s perseverance wavers and he fears he is at the end of his strength when the sun finally returns, bathing the valley in light. And there, not far below his feet, lies a large ledge on which he could have spent the night in safety and comfort. The man could have stood upon his own two feet; there was never anything to fear.
How refreshing this story seems in the midst of a decade obsessed with geopolitics. As I write this, it is midsummer in Canada, a land more concerned with geography than politics. Unruffled lakes lap idly at the shores of sand beaches here in Ontario, and families – speaking variants of Slavic, French, English, and Asian tongues at one park in Central Ontario – bring their children to the water’s edge, and the cares of the world are worlds away, at least for a day. The light beats down, and one has little to do but stare at the sand, the trees, the sun. It’s a place of seemingly simple truths and contrasts painted in primaries, a place in which we all might feel comfortable.
Here, we are locked safely in the moment, with no immediate consideration of either the past or the future, simply existing, and it seems that we – or at least, my companions on this beach – like it this way.
I’m thirsty, so I rise and return to the campsite in search of something to drink. On the way back, I sit in the car to check the time and turn on the radio, closing the door. There is news of a bombing – catastrophic explosions in Glasgow at an airport. An automobile rammed the front doors in what was described as a fiery conflagration.
I turn off the radio and return to the beach, shaken. Are any of us safe?
Distorting Meaning – A New Curriculum
Of course, it wasn’t like that at all. Clouds did occasionally scud across the clear blue sky you may have envisioned in your mind’s eye. Too warm in the heat, I moved my seat under a tree. Though I was taking a few notes at the time, I’m actually presently writing this in an equally humid, stuffy room in Toronto rather than at the beach as may have been implied. And if I was taking notes at the time, I wouldn’t have been staring at the sun, staring at the sand, or making oblique references to Camus. But these details seemed somehow less important to the fabric of my point – that we like things simple and direct. Too much detail sometimes obscures the power of simple symbols like the beach, and so I omitted a few trivial facts.
But the simple and direct myths that we tell each other may also fail to capture the nuance of a given situation, or distort it altogether. Take for instance the frenzied hype surrounding the aborted London Car Bombing incidents, described as a “devastating terrorist plot”  capable of “carnage”  and “a huge fireball and a shockwave spreading over 400 yards in all directions” , but which was characterized by Ex-CIA counterterrorism expert Larry Johnson as incapable of doing anything more than causing “a lot of damage to the interior of the Mercedes”. “This is not a shrapnel-causing device” he said of the setup, which consisted essentially of a propane barbecue cylinder beside a jar of nails. 
In point of fact, as Mr. Johnson also outlined, only 50,000 people have been killed since the 1960s by terrorism. In a report released by Ohio State University entitled “A False Sense of Insecurity” it is revealed that this is equalled or surpassed in the US by the number killed by stray deer, peanuts, and lightning strikes. 
We have yet to see that particular detail make front-page news.
Terror Immersion: Learning the Language
Why then, in the US and in Canada, are we are bathed in a media environment that emphasizes danger and fear? Why do major media outlets feel the need to facilitate the agenda of amateur jihadis? Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist based in London, points out that European nations that have had experience with various (and greater) ongoing levels of insurgency seem far more relaxed about it:
“Most major European countries have already been through some sort of terrorist crisis well before ‘Islamist’ terrorism: the IRA in Britain, the OAS in France, ETA in Spain, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the Brigate Rosse and their neo-fascist counterparts in Italy… In almost all of these countries, despite the efforts of some governments to convince the population that terrorism is an existential threat of enormous size, the vast majority of people don’t believe it. Whereas in the US most people do.” 
While Dyer attributes this to inexperience on the part of the nation itself, it seems unlikely that this charge can be levelled at professional media outlets. Days after the car bomb story hit the front pages, we were warned again and in no certain terms by “unnamed sources” that a terror “spectacular” was planned by ‘Al-Qaeda’ this summer, information on the order of “the warnings and intelligence we were getting in the summer of 2001”, an assertion that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was quick to deny  – an important technique if one’s aim is to keep the viewer uncertain, uneasy, and off their footing.
Similarly ambiguous warnings have appeared with some regularity during both the summer travel season and the winter holidays over the last few years. If beaten over the head with enough repetition of these warnings, their message becomes internalized, a new ‘rule of thumb’ or lens through which to view the world, and it becomes difficult to even contemplate a different viewpoint or to consider any information or subtleties which might threaten the existing worldview as credible. Such as the repeated comments by members of the Republican party that all the party needs to regenerate its leadership and flagging poll numbers are new attacks on American soil. Such as the evidence that many of the recent plots heroically foiled by the FBI – the New York Airport Plot, the Plot to Attack Fort Dix, the Miami 7 (the list goes on) have not only been staged by complete incompetents possessing “no weapons, no bombs, no expertise, no money and no operational skill” , but were likely encouraged by the FBI moles in the first place.
In the case of the Miami 7, it was the paid informant of the FBI that posed as an ‘Al Qaeda’ operative and extracted oaths of fealty from the men. As Ed Strong suggests,
“fresh evidence of terrorist threats is periodically required. And it has been forthcoming on a regular basis. Every several months another “conspiracy” is unveiled, invariably involving an FBI informant and hapless individuals ensnared in a plot orchestrated by the government.” 
This news should no longer come as much of a shock, since it is an oft-repeated pattern and one which should be familiar to Canadians as well. Last year, the Toronto Star reported that the now infamous Toronto 17 – a group of kids from the suburbs armed with walkie talkies, flashlights, and precisely one 9mm handgun – had been baited to purchase a bag of fertilizer by their well-paid CSIS informant, Mubin Shaikh.  Shaikh, a well known spokesperson in the muslim community, was said to have led the group in training exercises and discussions on the subject of jihad. 
Reinforcement by Rote
Propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people, usually through mass or direct media channels or, to be more precise (repeat after me);
“Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.” 
Political propaganda has been used historically to great effect on the citizens of the nation producing the propaganda. However, in convincing those fundamentally opposed to its message its value is somewhat dubious. From the Wikipedia entry:
“…propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual’s predisposition to self-select “agreeable” information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.”  (emphasis added)
And control is the chief aim of propaganda. Students of history may find it interesting to note the similarities between the institutions set up during the French Revolution, the Third Reich, and the present American administration in the following quotes:
“In many ways this emergency revolutionary government can be considered a prototype of the modern totalitarian state. The Committee of Public Safety steadily consolidated most power in its own hands until it exercised a degree of central authority unprecedented even among the so-called absolute monarchs of the Old Regime…. But perhaps the most strikingly modern feature of the revolutionary government during the Terror, and the one which we intend to explore in these talks, was the attempt to mobilize all the existing mass media in a vast program of indoctrination.”  (5-6)
“We monitors were only too familiar with the habit of the German Home Service to interrupt its programmes for a special announcement proclaiming yet another victory on land, on sea, or in the air. These triumphal communiqués which marked the progress of the German forces… were introduced by a blare of trumpets… [When] the zealous German editor of an illustrated weekly published a feature about these special announcements which showed the record with the victory fanfares being put on the turntable, Goebbels was furious. … Did he want people to think that a massed band of trumpeters really assembled and burst out in joyous music every time they heard of a victory? Certainly not. He did not want them to think at all. They should surrender themselves to the spell of the medium and be carried away by the elation of the moment without the disillusioning intrusion of reality.”  (2-3)
If only Homeland Security had ‘triumphal communiqués’ to distribute to the Washington press gallery, the parallel would be complete. But there is no ‘intrusion of reality’ into the entertainment with which we spend our evenings. Reality television, entertainment news, and dramas casting the men and women of the government and armed services in rosy hues as they save the nation from giant asteroids, giant robots, nuclear dystopia or the covert agents of rogue nations serve as the soporific of those that may not even have the opportunity to fit the traditional news into their busy viewing schedule. Another ancient civilization, Rome, had a simple formula to pacify a populace also: panem et circenses (bread – or was it subsidized corn? – and circuses).
It should be evident by now that the distortions and half-truths contained in the official narratives surrounding the North American terror events described above fall into the category of propaganda. What may not be as evident, however, are the long term consequences upon the psyche of the group or nation subjected to fear of this sort on an ongoing basis.
E. H. Gombrich, charged with the task of monitoring Nazi radio propaganda during World War II, offers this insight:
“I should like to propose that what is characteristic of Nazi propaganda is less the lie than the imposition of a paranoiac pattern on world events… In the sense in which I use it (paranoia) here it is rather the pathological magnification of a reaction to which we are unfortunately only too prone, because it is rooted in the given contrast between me and them. I am, of course, good and right and I work as hard as I can, and if my wishes remain unfulfilled this must be due to them. … forbid any expression of doubt in the paranoiac myth and you will automatically foster the tendency to what psychologists call regression, a back-sliding towards the more primitive habits of mind which Le Bon attributed to the crowd. The language we speak is imbued with myth, and so we return with ease to the animistic reaction of turning abstractions into living entities and classes or nations into mythical beings.”  (14, 21)
By personifying an abstraction, such as terror, and then pointing to a group of people in which the abstraction may be said to inhere, a great illusion has been performed, a psychological shell game in which the participant willingly or unwillingly enters the worldview of the propagandist. Misdirection becomes a factor in this transfer when the participant expects the threat to come from without, from a manufactured label or category, from some shadowy other to be pursued over the mountains of Afghanistan and into the wider Middle East – only to discover too late, if at all, that the enemy is within.
When that happens, we have been spirited away from the bright lakeside world of the sun, missed a step, come to inhabit the dreams of the propagandist, and worse – come to believe that the abyss recently opened beneath our feet is necessary, natural, and vital to the new order of things.
The psychological processes by which this mental press-gang operates will be discussed in part two.
 FOX News: British Police Probe Car Bomb Plot in London
 BBC News: Two Car Bombs Found in West End
 The Times UK: Nightclub Bomb Alert Issued Two Weeks Ago
 Countdown with Keith Olbermann: Larry Johnson Clip
 Regulation: A False Sense of Insecurity
 NOW Magazine: No Time for Terror
 Secret Document: US Fears Terror ‘Spectacular’ Planned
 Yearning for Terror is a GOP Stategy
 Wired: Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot
 Ed Strong: Miami Terror Arrests Manufactured by FBI
 Police planted evidence: Terrorists’ arrest in Toronto was a sting operation
 AltMuslim: On Spying: Mubin Shaikh & The “Toronto 17″
 Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda And Persuasion, 4th edition, 2006.
 Wikipedia: Propaganda
 Leith, James A. (1968) Media and Revolution: Moulding a New Citizenry in France during the Terror. Canada: CBC Publications
 Gombrich, E. H. (1970) Myth and Reality in German War-Time Broadcasts. London: University of London, The Athlone Press