Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Farfur Power

I heard this story on my XM feed of the BBC World Service this morning, but SPIEGEL ONLINE has a much more thorough account that includes video excerpts, which were posted on YouTube, apparently by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW). SPIEGEL ONLINE also had the advantage of a headline calculated to attract further reading: "The Islamist Mouseketeers: Hamas Mickey Mouse Teaches Jihad." Also, check out the category classification, either in the URL or at the top of the Web page: Zeitgeist! If I may be allowed bilingual indulgence, this is definitely a case where the German language has the bon mot!

Here is the basic story:

A children's show which airs each Friday on al-Aqsa television, a station run by Hamas which broadcasts in the Palestinian Territories, now employs a singing, squeaking, dancing mouse named Farfour to connect with young viewers. But despite having a name that means "butterfly," Farfour is clearly a Mickey Mouse rip-off. The only difference being that this rodent is doing his best to transform show viewers into rifle-toting Islamist Mouseketeers.

"Connect" is definitely an appropriate verb. Approximately half of the PMW video involves Palestinian kids (aged ten and eleven, as I recall) phoning in to recite the jihadist rhetoric to Farfur and Saraa, the little girl who hosts the program. One of them even sings a song about returning to Jerusalem to which Farfur dances while listening on the phone. Farfur himself basically delivers the same rhetorical style that we have encountered in previous reports from the Middle East, just in a higher-pitched voice.

None of this should be a surprise. All of the pioneers of movie cartoons, including Disney, Warner, and the Popeye crew, knew that they had a powerful instrument of propaganda and used it to great advantage during the Second World War with the blessings of our Government, who wanted nothing more than everyone "doing their part." Indeed, my own generation learned at lot about that war, because those cartoons were being shown on the television programs we were watching in the Fifties. However, Disney was the one who took the game to the next level, turning his propaganda engine to the promotion of Disneyland, his first move in building the next generation media empire. Looking back on it all, I would even say that kids were more hooked on their evening fix from The Mickey Mouse Club than the Nazis could have expected from the kids they had recruited into the Hitler Youth! Faced with the prospect of confronting an opposing propaganda engine, driven by a bizarre mix of faith and geopolitics and generously financed by organizations such as AIPAC, it made perfect sense for Hamas to make its own move on the propaganda front.

Nevertheless, the more important story cannot be written yet. Hamas already has considerable popular support. This has earned them legitimate positions in the current Palestinian government in spite of any efforts to "refuse to recognize" them. Why, then, have they made this particular propaganda move? Are they sustaining that popular support by cultivating the future electorate, or are they following the Nazi strategy based on the principle that today's youth will constitute tomorrow's army? Is rote memorization of Qur'an in a madrasah giving way, as a strategy for recruiting terrorists, to singing along with Farfur? This is an opportunity for intelligence analysis that might not go "by the book" in current Homeland Security operations; but, for those of us with a strong sense of history, it is certainly an opportunity for reflection! At the very least this is a sign of just how turbulent the current transitional period for Palestinian interests is; and, as I observed yesterday, hypotheses about where the trends are in such turbulent times usually turn out to be false!

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