Modern history


These two powerful media, drama and photography, were joined together in the cinema, which adds an immensely important audiovisual dimension to propaganda in the Middle East. Like poetry, like painting, the film at its best is an art form, more powerful than either, since it combines the verbal cogency of the one with the visual vividness of the other and reaches a far wider public than was ever possible even for the two combined.

The cinema seems to have reached the Middle East at an early date. Silent films, of Italian origin, are reported in Egypt as early as 1897. During the First World War, film shows arranged for British troops aroused some local interest. Local production, at first with foreign technicians and Egyptian actors, began with silent films in 1917. In the years that followed, the Egyptian cinema developed very rapidly and is now among the most important in the world.

The cinema has become one of the most powerful media of communication of our time and as such has not escaped the attention of the propagandist. In many countries, the film, like the book, is restricted by language and is therefore only accessible to outsiders in a diluted form, through translation. But there are some languages—English, Arabic, Spanish—which are used by many nations, and the cinema can provide an important link between these nations and is therefore a prime channel of communication. In free countries, the only message that the film will bring is that sent by those who wrote, made and acted it. In unfree countries, the film may also reflect the instructions of a state agency, interested in its propaganda effects.

The cinema, more especially the newsreel, gives new life and strength to more traditional forms of visual and physical propaganda—ceremonies and rituals on the one hand, parades and marches on the other, including such modern innovations in the region as the ceremonial trampling and burning of the flags of countries seen as enemies. In this ritual one may discern even an element of witchcraft, an attempt to harm the enemy by a kind of sympathetic magic.

A very ancient form of audiovisual propaganda, given new scope by the modern media, is the shouting of slogans or war cries in unison. This was extensively practiced by the New Left of the 1960s and earlier by the Nazi and fascist movements in Europe in the 1930s. Other examples, nearer to us in time and space, could easily be named. The slogan chanted or shouted in unison remains effective as a way of mobilizing support, arousing passion and silencing opposition or even discussion.

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