How memes become propaganda

Washington, DC (TFC) – All over Facebook there are pages that masquerade as news sites or political awareness sites that are really just blatant propaganda machines that knowingly post misleading memes and infographics. One such page is “We the People.”

The sample meme chosen stated simply:

“It was Muslims who first took blacks and sold them into slavery.”

Anybody with a basic understanding of history knows this to be untrue. Slavery existed at least as early as 800 BC. That’s about 1400 years before Islam was even founded. It was common place in Rome, and many black North Africans found their way into the arena as gladiators.

The photo was posted along with text which was also filled with intentional inaccuracies. The text will be dissected to show exactly how propaganda works.

The text along with the meme reads:

“Over 28 Million Africans have been enslaved in the Muslim world during the past 14 centuries.

While much has been written concerning the Transatlantic slave trade, surprisingly little attention has been given to the Islamic slave trade across the Sahara, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. While the European involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade to the Americas lasted for just over three centuries, the Arab involvement in the slave trade has lasted fourteen centuries, and in some parts of the Muslim world is still continuing to this day.”

The first thing to note is that “We the People” aren’t truly to blame, because nobody at the page had anything to do with writing it. It was plagiarized from WikiIslam.net, a site that while purporting to be a resource on Islam is actually an anti-Islamic site. What makes it more entertaining is that WikiIslam copy and pasted the information from another site called Christian Action. It’s a site based in South Africa that hates gays, evolution, Muslims, pornography, atheism, and just about everything else. One of the best headlines from the site is: Obama Administration Begins Training Homosexual Activists Around the World. That headline was directly below a thrilling expose on “How the Pornography Plague Affects You and What You Can Do About It.” Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

That brings us to Rule 1 of identifying propaganda: Know the source.

Taken from Facebook.

Taken from Facebook.

28 million slaves is a huge number, but there’s a reason there is no comparison number for Transatlantic slaves. 12.5 million were taken from Africa and shipped across the Middle Passage in just 300 years by Europeans. In the US, female slaves had 9 children on average. After only one generation, the European slave trade dwarfed 1400 years of Islamic slavery. But who cares about facts, right? Instead in the first paragraph, let’s focus on a common propaganda tool: mixed comparisons. Notice that the post limits the discussion of European involvement in the slave trade to only the Transatlantic section, while discussing all of Islamic history. Why was this done? If the writer didn’t limit European involvement to the Transatlantic period, it would be revealed that European involvement in slavery is twice as long as Islam’s and has lasted more than 2800 years.

Rule 2: Watch for mixed comparisons.

Also, note that it states “in some parts of the Muslim world [slavery] is still continuing today. This is very true. It’s also true of the Christian world, the Hindu world, and just about every other division imaginable. There are 60,000 slaves in the US. This is a glass-house attack. In propaganda, it’s where you accuse your opposition of doing something you do yourself. “Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

 

“A comparison of the Muslim slave trade to the American slave trade reveals some interesting contrasts. While two out of every three slaves shipped across the Atlantic were men, the proportions were reversed in the Muslim slave trade. Two women for every man were enslaved by the Muslims.

While the mortality rate for slaves being transported across the Atlantic was as high as 10%, the percentage of slaves dying in transit in the Transsahara and East African slave trade was between 80 and 90%!”

Keep in mind that our propagandist has limited the scope. Because if the entirety of Europe’s slave trading history was examined, we would find that for hundreds of years African women were exported to Europe to serve as sexual objects.

The mortality rate figures are obviously skewed, and since they were skewed using propaganda techniques we will discuss them. The writer says death rates were “as high as 10%,” while simultaneously limiting the conversation to those that died on the boat “being transported across the Atlantic.” First, the numbers are between 10% and 15% in the 1800s and around 25% in the 1600s and 1700s. Second, when you include the march to the coast the figure shoots up to somewhere between 45% and 70%. These figures were obtained by using slave ship logs.

As far as the claim of up to 90% mortality rates for Arab bound slaves, while there are dozens of sites using the figure, not one sources it. Given that the over land portion of the trip inflicted the highest mortality rate on US-bound slaves, it is possible. It should be noted though that these figures are irrelevant to Islam because for most of the 1400 years under examination slaves coming out of Africa were transported by non-Muslims. The slaves were more often than not prisoners captured during tribal warfare.

This is another example of mixed comparisons.

“While almost all the slaves shipped across the Atlantic were for agricultural work, most of the slaves destined for the Muslim Middle East were for sexual exploitation as concubines, in harems, and for military service.”

Proclaiming the sexual misdeeds of the enemy is a standard propaganda practice. In fact, an unknown German propagandist once said, “It’s not good propaganda until your people know the enemy will rape their women.”

Remember that Europeans engaged in the exact same practice of sexual slavery, but the propagandists has cleverly excluded that period of time from the discussion.

 

“While many children were born to slaves in the Americas, and millions of their descendants are citizens in Brazil and the USA to this day, very few descendants of the slaves that ended up in the Middle East survive.

While most slaves who went to the Americas could marry and have families, most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated, and most of the children born to the women were killed at birth.”

The historical accuracy of this section is whimsical. Slaves might marry in an unofficial ceremony, but later they were auctioned off and sent to different plantations. The National Humanities Center has this to say on the subject:

“Enslaved people could not legally marry in any American colony or state. Colonial and state laws considered them property and commodities, not legal persons who could enter into contracts, and marriage was, and is, very much a legal contract.” 

Breeding was encouraged in the Americas but not because of any belief in family, but because it created more property.

“Slavery has been justified by Mohammed’s example, as laid out in the Koran and in the records of the Islamic prophet’s words and deeds called the “hadiths.” In addition, Mohammed’s father was named by what has become a common Muslim appellation, Abd-Allah or Abdullah, which means “Slave of Allah,” a moniker proudly worn by millions of Muslims. Islam itself means “submission,” as in being a slave to Allah’s will.

“A believing slave is better than an idolater…”

Muhammad, Quran 2:221”

There were dozens of quotes from the Quran following this one. Most were taken out of context as much as the one above.  The above citation is basically saying that it is better to marry a slave that is a Muslim than a non-Muslim.

There were no quotes from the Bible justifying slavery presented. Here’s one example that could have been presented:

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.  (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

There are whole blogs dedicated to talking about the passages of the Bible used by slaveowners to justify slavery.

So it’s clear that this was blatantly racist propaganda, but maybe it was just an accident. How do we know that the page knowingly spread false information? Two journalists from The Fifth Column contacted the page to address the inaccuracies. Both had their comments deleted and were banned.

The key thing to remember is that you should never trust a meme. 97% of statistics are made up on the spot (including that one). If it isn’t sourced, it isn’t real.

On a more personal note, how messed up does a person have to be to try to explain who made the better slave owners? Slavery is bad. End of story. There is no “good” slave owner. Ever.

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