Humans of Communication: Professor Karim Karim By Madeleine Le Jeune
Professor Karim is currently a Professor with Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communications and the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam.
“Tell me about what you do, or what you love about communications, or what communications means to you. Basically the floor is yours.”
“Yes, alright, it’s a little daunting, you know, because it’s a wide question, but I’ll go by what I have written recently on my Linkedin page.”
“That works for this.”
“Because I think there is a section that asks you; what are you really
concerned about? And I put about four things, it’s hard to remember all of them, I should, but you know.
“I think one of the top things there is what I teach my PHD class. It, and you may be surprised at this, it looks at ignorance. Which perhaps some people will see ignorance as the other side of the coin of knowledge. The two have a symbiotic relationship. There are various ways in which ignorance is used, or, basically, how knowledge is impeded to produce ignorance because it serves certain functions for certain people.
“So, for example, in politics, there may be certain kinds of information that a political party, or a Government may not want to share with the public because it is going to hurt it. On the other hand, it may want to promote a certain way of thinking.
“So, for example, misinformation was crucial in the lead up to the American invasion of Iraq. As you may recall, this was two years after 9/11, and obviously Americans and other people around the world were quite upset at the attacks of September 11th 2001, and what the Bush administration seems to have done is to shift focus from Al Quaida and Osama Bin Ladin, whom they tried to attack in Afghanistan, could not find him, because he was sort of hiding in the mountains, and in the lead up to the 2003 War, shifted focus to Iraq, to Saddam Houssain.
“This created a kind of implicit ignorance in pretending that is was Iraq and Saddam Housain’s regime, his government which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. They didn’t say this overtly, or directly, but they did not correct other people who were saying this.
“They also created the scare about Saddam Houssain amassing weapons of mass destruction, when there were none. None were found after the invasion where the Americans and the British took over the country, but there was this steady propaganda about that basically providing this misinformation. So, rather than create a body of knowledge, a body of ignorance, misinformation, sometimes outright lies was created.
“There was this very important event when the secretary of state, Colin Powell at that time, who was a pretty decent man, he was very respected, he was a former military man, heavily involved in the war in 1991, and people had a lot of trust in him. Beyond just the government, people around the world, Americans, political circles. So he was given certain satellite pictures, satellite photographs that seemed to show that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction. He presented them at a meeting of the security council of the United Nations, and I still remember having a huge debate in the school (Carleton). It wasn’t a formal debate, it was over lunch between faculty members, about that event, about his presentation. Because some of my colleagues thought, you know, he can’t be lying about this, he is an honourable man, at least that is how he was perceived, and surly the United States government wouldn’t lie so openly to the rest of the world.
“As it turned out, that was the case. So, this kind of misinformation, or deliberate ignorance through disinformation which was promoted at the very highest levels at the United Nations to create an impression, a body of knowledge, a body of flawed knowledge around the world, and to justify an invasion of another country and to create regime change, which had occurred before, but not in such an overt manner, that is what I’m interested in understanding. How ignorance is produced. In terms of the means that are used, the kind of arguments, the kind of evidence that is used, how public opinion is shaped around that ignorance, how policies are made, how actions are taken, how wars, in this case, take place.
“So my work has basically been to try to understand this kind of ignorance, this distortion of knowledge, and the way that it is used for political purposes and self-serving purposes. Because it strengthens the political power of certain leaders. It gives them a platform, it gives them a way to elevate themselves, because they get a following of people who will carry out their commands.
“I’m not saying they necessarily don’t believe in their messages, but it certainly does work to their advantage in terms of the way they may want others to see the world. So this is something that I am trying to understand better. How knowledge and ignorance have this symbiotic relationship. And how ignorance is promoted by certain groups and certain elements in society for self-serving purposes. So? How was that?”