Ebrahim Moosa – Radio Islam International | 12 December 2016
A few weeks ago, Oxford Dictionaries released their choice for the Word of the Year 2016 – an annual exercise aimed at reflecting evolving words from the passing year in language.
Its choice, whilst still gaining traction in popular usage, should hardly come as a surprise considering recent global trends and developments.
Oxford selected ‘post truth’ as its word, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
Explaining its choice, the prestigious dictionary acknowledged that the concept of post-truth has been in existence for at least the past decade, but highlighted a spike in usage-frequency this year in the context of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States.
“Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines”.
From its offshoots, the word has also gained prominence in its association with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.
Post-truth politics, says Wikipedia, is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Under this construct, truth is deemed to be of “secondary” importance.
A defining trait of this brand of politics is that campaigners continue to repeat their talking points, even if these are found to be untrue by the media or independent experts.
Whilst there are many who stand to be implicated as post-truth practitioners – some more tactful in obfuscating their deceit than others – US President-elect Donald Trump has of late emerged as particularly striking specimen of the trend.
Mr Trump appears not to care whether his words bear any relation to reality, so long as they fire up voters, says The Economist. PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, has rated more of his statements “pants-on-fire” lies than of any other candidate
There was a time, observes the publication, when evidence, consistency and scholarship held political power. Today, however, a growing number of politicians and pundits “simply no longer care”.
“They are content with what Stephen Colbert, an American comedian, calls “truthiness”: ideas which “feel right” or “should be true”. They deal in insinuation (“A lot of people are saying…” is one of Mr Trump’s favourite phrases) and question the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against them (“They would say that, wouldn’t they?”). And when the distance between what feels true and what the facts say grows too great, it can always be bridged with a handy conspiracy theory.”
A Trump supporter recently spelt this disdain for the truth out most plainly, when questioned on CNN about anomalies in the Republican presidential candidate’s infamous tweets.
Scottie Nell Hughes responded that the existence of truth itself was dubious, and that the veracity of Trump’s tweets depended upon whether the person assessing them liked Trump.
“On one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go ‘No it’s true,’” Hughes said. “And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people who say ‘facts are facts,’— they’re not really facts.”
“Everybody has a way—It’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts,” she added.
Regrettably, for the world, Trump is far from being a lone post-truth practitioner.
In June, Britons voted to leave the European Union on the basis of a campaign of blatant misinformation, including the “fact” that EU membership costs their country $470m a week, which could be spent instead on the National Health Service, and that Turkey is likely to join the EU by 2020.
In Russia, a prominent journalist reported on a political consultant for President Putin saying that in Soviet times, “if they were lying they took care to prove what they were doing was ‘the truth’. Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.”
As the consultant’s sentiments convey, lying in political discourse is not something unique to the current era. However what is clear from recent occurrences is that the scale of the rot and its prominence do appear unparalleled, enhanced notably by the internet.
Social media and its internal networks – aided by algorithms, say experts, can become echo chambers where one political viewpoint dominates and scrutiny of claims fails, allowing a parallel media ecosystem of websites, publishers and news channels to develop which can repeat post-truth claims without rebuttal. Of late, the web has also seen a proliferation of fake news sites showcasing articles of dubious factual content with misleading headlines, designed to be widely shared purportedly “chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity,” in the process undermining the value of journalism and truth.
David Mikkelson, co-founder of the fact checking and debunking site Snopes.com, describes the introduction of social media and fake news sites as a turning point, saying “I’m not sure I’d call it a post-truth age but … there’s been an opening of the sluice-gate and everything is pouring through. The bilge keeps coming faster than you can pump.”
When considered cumulatively, there is a strong case to be made that new technology, a deluge of facts and a public much less given to trust than once it was, has goaded into the social order a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. Should this continue, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.
The final Messenger of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad SAW, had forewarned his community of the corruption of the Dajjaal – the false messiah who towards the end of time, would lead people astray, and tempt them by means of the signs that he is given.
Among his titles is ‘the great liar’; his name originating from the root dajala meaning ‘to mix’.
The word dajala is used to denote deliberately confusing matters and being vague and ambiguous, The Dajjaal is the one who speaks in vagaries, who tells many lies and deceives many people.
The word “Dajjaal” hence became a title given to the lying, one-eyed, false messiah. The Dajjaal is so called because he will conceal his kufr from the people by lying to them, deceiving them and confusing them.
In the build-up to his arrival, the world will encounter several smaller ‘Dajjals’ and will witness a widespread proliferation of lies and deceit as is elucidated in numerous Prophetic Ahadeeth, some of which have been reproduced below:
*Sayyidina Abu Hurairah RA related that the Messenger of Allah SAW, said, “There will be Dajjaal Liars in my nation; they will come to you with novel speech, which neither you nor your fathers had previously heard. Beware, and let your fathers beware – do not allow them to deceive you.” (Ahmad)
*Sayyidina Anas ibn Maalik RA related that the Messenger of Allah SAW said, “Indeed, before Ad-Dajjaal there are deceptive years – the truthful one will not be believed, the liar will be believed, the trustworthy one will be accused of betrayal, the treacherous one will be trusted, and the Ruwaibidah will speak.” It was said, “And what is the Ruwaibidah?” He RA, said, “The base wicked-doer, he will speak in the affairs of the general public (he will be trusted to rule and he will speak by the name of the people).” (Ahmad)
*Narrated Hudhaifa RA, Allah’s Apostle SAW narrated to us two narrations, one of which I have seen (happening) and I am waiting for the other. He narrated that honesty was preserved in the roots of the hearts of men (in the beginning) and then they learnt it (honesty) from the Qur’an, and then they learnt it from the (Prophet’s) Sunna (tradition). He also told us about its disappearance, saying, “A man will go to sleep whereupon honesty will be taken away from his heart, and only its trace will remain, resembling the traces of fire. He then will sleep whereupon the remainder of the honesty will also be taken away (from his heart) and its trace will resemble a blister which is raised over the surface of skin, when an ember touches one’s foot; and in fact, this blister does not contain anything. So there will come a day when people will deal in business with each other but there will hardly be any trustworthy persons among them. Then it will be said that in such-and-such a tribe there is such-and-such person who is honest, and a man will be admired for his intelligence, good manners and strength, though indeed he will not have belief equal to a mustard seed in his heart.” The narrator added: There came upon me a time when I did not mind dealing with anyone of you, for if he was a Muslim, his religion would prevent him from cheating; and if he was a Christian, his Muslim ruler would prevent him from cheating; but today I cannot deal except with so-and-so and so-and-so. (Saheeh Bukhari and Saheeh Muslim)
*Sayyidina Abu Huraira RA reported: The Messenger of Allah SAW said, “When the trust is lost, then wait for the Hour.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, how will it be lost?” The Prophet said, “When authority is given to those who do not deserve it, then wait for the Hour.” (Bukhari)
*Sayyidina Jaabir ibn Samurah RA relates that the Messenger of Allah SAW said: “There will be liars just before the Hour, so beware of them” (Saheeh Muslim)
There are unmistakeable imprints of these narrations to detected in the occurrences of our ‘post-truth’ world today.
In fact, the very term ‘post truth’ is evidence of our tendency to sugar-coat and euphemise lies in order to make them more appeasing to our whims.
“At one time we had truth and lies, “observes author and speaker, Ralph Keyes.
“Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false. Euphemisms abound. We’re “economical with the truth,” we “sweeten it,” or tell “the truth improved.” The term deceive gives way to spin. At worst we admit to “misspeaking,” or “exercising poor judgment.” Nor do we want to accuse others of lying. We say they’re in denial. A liar is “ethically challenged,” someone for whom “the truth is temporarily unavailable.”
“This is post-truth. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit.”
“Post-truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness. It erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization. When enough of us peddle fantasy as fact, society loses its grounding in reality. Society would crumble altogether if we assumed others were as likely to dissemble as tell the truth. We are perilously close to that point.”
The rapid disintegration of a set of moral values governing interactions in the world does breed the sense of bleakness conveyed in the assessments above. This degeneracy is not exclusive to politics, but is equally evident in academia, law, medicine, commerce and even family life. Yet, in spite of its newfound prominence, for the believer, there is but one choice – to buck the tide.
Truth saves and falsehood destroys.
As the Messenger of Allah SAW is reported to have said:
“Seek truthfulness even if it will bring you ruin, in it is your real salvation”.
Allah’s beloved SAW advised further: ‘You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with Allaah as a siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to wickedness and wickedness leads to Hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and encouraging lies until he is recorded with Allaah as a liar.” (Saheeh Muslim, 4721)
O Allah! Purify our hearts from hypocrisy, our actions from showing off, our tongues from lying and our eyes from treachery. Indeed You know the treachery of the eyes and what is hidden in the chests.