Modern history


It was and is naturally more difficult to conduct propaganda against the authorities than on their behalf. But this was not impossible even in the past, and enough evidence survives to give some idea of how it was conducted. Mostly, propaganda against the authorities was expressed in religious terms. In medieval times its main practitioners were the Kharijites and the radical Shi'a. When possible, they used the same means as the rulers—sermons, speeches, poetry, and occasionally even coins when they had the opportunity to strike them.

During the period of European cultural influence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries antiregime propaganda was mostly conducted in political terms. In the Middle East as elsewhere, there have always been ambitious men who seek by violence to overthrow and replace the rulers of their country. These rebels may be impatient heirs, mutinous soldiers, insubordinate governors, or any others whose ambition outweighs their loyalty. Such rebels neither need nor seek popular support and therefore devote little attention to propaganda. On the contrary, they make their preparations in great secrecy, and if they succeed they confront the people with the accomplished fact. They then resort to propaganda to justify what they have done.

Another kind of opposition is based, or seeks to base itself, on a genuine popular movement, and these make extensive use of propaganda. In earlier times such propaganda was invariably religious. Where the state was based on religion, criticism and opposition were necessarily articulated in religious terms. What in modern society is represented by a party and its program in earlier times was expressed in a sect or order and its theology.

In the course of the nineteenth century, a new kind of opposition arose, expressed not in religious but in political terms and proclaiming as its objective not the traditional ideal of justice but the modern ideal of freedom. Most of these movements arose in countries governed by foreign imperialists and were aimed at achieving or recovering sovereign independence. But even countries that never lost their independence, such as Turkey and Iran, were subject to attack from opposition movements within the society. Such were the Young Ottomans in the nineteenth century and the Young Turks in the early twentieth, both proclaiming as their objective constitutional government and freedom under law and producing, both before and after their successes, intensive propaganda addressed to their various audiences—the intellectuals, the military officers, the civil servants and, finally, the people or nation which they claimed and sought to represent.

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