Fundamentalism and the Dark Arts of Propaganda

As I write this from Los Angeles, the news ticker is awash with the minutiae of the horrific bombing that took place in Boston today as marathon runners crossed the finishing line. Doctors are telling stories of innumerable injuries and amputations; eye witnesses are giving accounts of terror and confusion; the President is offering platitudes until the truth can be established, and pundits are hypothesizing about who the culprits might be.

The narrative is expanding in all directions.

At the time of writing, no one has yet come forward to take responsibility for the events, but make no mistake, this attack was designed for the 24/7 news cycle. It is no coincidence that the bomb was set to explode in front of the cameras at the finishing line on a day when international eyes would be upon the area.

Fundamentalists of all persuasions have an innate understanding of narrative and the power of the shareable story, as often the existence of their ideology depends on it. These doctrines have spread and proliferated because they are pure, stripped-down and unblighted by complication, providing simple, black-and-white answers to difficult questions that stand out in a sea of grey.

Unfortunately, terror has been a part of the fundamentalist press kit for millennia, and has secured the sure-fire spread of noxious messaging for centuries.

If you examine propaganda’s most secret causes, you will come to different conclusions: there will be no more doubting that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls. I cannot convince a single person of the necessity of something unless I get to know the soul of that person, unless I understand how to pluck the string in the harp of his soul that must be made to sound. If we underestimate their understanding of the basics of PR and the battle is lost – these zealots are schooled in the dark arts.