Psychological Warfare

Sq Leader M ADNAN KHAN makes an interesting study of 'Psywar' and its devastating effects in this information age

Psychological warfare is an art adopted to defeat the enemy's will to fight. It predominantly aims to win the battle before it starts. It is aimed at convincing the enemy that:-

a. Your equipment and war assets are obsolete.
b. You are being commanded by inefficient commanders.
c. Your basic human rights are being suppressed.

Thus a state of discomfort is created in a society which gives rise to frustration, revolt and dissatisfaction.

Two major factors contributing to physiological warfare are propaganda and rumour.


According to International Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences, 'Propaganda is the relatively deliberate manipulation, by means of symbols (words, gestures, flags, images, monuments, music etc) of other people's thoughts or actions, with respect to beliefs, values and behaviours which these people (reactors) regard as controversial. ED Martin says, 'Propaganda offers ready-made opinions for the unthinking herd'.

Devices of Propaganda

Name calling. To make the target audience reject and condemn the idea without examining the evidence i.e. to call someone a traitor.

Glittering Generality. Associating something with a 'virtue word' to make the target audience accept and approve the thing without examining the evidence i.e. to call someone freedom fighter or a saviour.

Transfer. To quote from some authority and prestige to prove one's point of view i.e. misinterpretations from Holy Quran and weak Hadith which are not sound and pure.

Testimonial. Where a respected or a hated person is quoted to have said that a given idea or programme or person is good or bad.

Plain Folks. Where a speaker attempts to convince the audience that he and his ideas are good because they are of the people.

Card Stacking. It is the selection and use of facts or falsehood, illustrations or distractions, and logical or illogical statements in order to give the best or worst possible case for an idea, programme, person or product.

Band Wagon. Has a theme 'Everybody --- at least all of us --- are doing it'. Therefore, we must follow the crowd and 'jump on the band wagon'. (The fine art of Propaganda, 1939. Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York)

Goebble's Principles of Propaganda

Goebble's was the head of the Propaganda Bureau of Hitler who incorporated various techniques effectively. According to him:-

a. A propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.
b. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.
c. Propaganda must effect the enemy's policy and action.
d. Factors that determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.
e. Black (without an authentic source) rather than white propaganda must be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.
f. Propaganda must be carefully timed.
g. Counter Propaganda measures be also taken to encounter the enemy.
h. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.
i. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression (in suspicion, distrust and hatred)

(Article published by Dr Leonard Dobe published in the Public Opinion Quarterly 1950).


In defining a rumour one can say it is an information on news without verification, content oriented.

Gordon Allport has defined it as 'we know that rumours concerning a subject matter will circulate within a group in proportion to the importance and the ambiguity of the subject matter in the lives of individual members of the group'.

Kinds of Rumours

Following are some of the kinds of rumours:-

a. Hostility Wedge Driving (Rumours. During Gulf War a series of Rumours took birth against USA.)
b. Fear (Bogy Rumours). For example creating a false impression against Islam and calling Muslims as Islamic radicals.
c. Wish (Pipe - Dream). Rumours For example salaries revision.
d. Unclassified rumours. Some intentional rumours from upwards to the downward to have a false hope.

RH Knapp in 'A psychology of rumour' published in 1944 says

'Rumour circulates because it serves the twin function of explaining and relieving emotional tension felt by individuals'.

Sigmund Freud says about it 'since men are so slightly amenable to reasonable arguments, so completely are they ruled by instinctual wishes, why should one want to take away from them a means of satisfying their instincts and replace it by reasonable arguments'.

Characteristics of Rumour

A rumour travels, it tends to grow shorter, more concise, more easily grasped and told. In successive versions, fewer words are used and fewer details are mentioned. The rumour sharpens, from a larger context to the selective perception, retention and reporting of a limited number of details are developed.

A Practical Joke

During a written exercise of a management course at an institution, a statement was passed on to the course participants which stated.

'Tomorrow there will be an inspection of all the work centres, by the Executive Director. Everyone must put on his best clothes, each and every room will be inspected thoroughly - the person with outstanding performance will be awarded a day off'.

The statement which the last participant uttered was 'Tomorrow there will be a day off by the Executive Director'.


Our religion gives us a guideline for all matters of life. The concept of psychological warfare is not new concept in Islam. Muslims used the concept of psychological warfare even in Battle of Ohad where all the non-Muslim tribes of Mecca and Madina turned against Muslims. At such a crucial period Hazrat Naeem Bin Masood (who had recently converted to Islam and both Meccans and Madinites did not know about his conversion) spread a rumour in the native tribe of Madina (Banu Quraiza) that Meccans are not sincere to them in war against Muslims. To have surety they must ask for some individuals to be kept as hostages till the war ends. On the other end, he informed Meccans that tribesmen of Madina can betray you any time and might ask for some hostages to hand over them to Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to clear their doubts amongst Muslims. The trick worked and both Meccans and Madinites could not join hands against Muslims.

Nevertheless Muslims are also told to stand fast against the enemy propaganda and avoid psychological warfare techniques by the enemy against them Allah says in Holy Quran.

'They try to create misunderstandings amongst you, and many of you lend their ears to them. Allah knows all of these cruels. They have tried to create misunderstandings before also to make you a failure by all their efforts till virtue came against their wills and Allah succeeded.' (Al Tauba, Ayat 47-48)

To counter the propaganda of enemy Allah has shown His annoyance to the unthinkable herds. He says in Holy Quran.

'Surely those are most discredited animals who are deaf and dumb and do not use their judgement' (Al Anfaal, Ayat 23)

It is imperative one must understand the use of propaganda and rumour by the enemies and apply its own psychological warfare techniques to defeat the enemy.