Just hit ‘play’

British troops in Libya have weaponised Bollywood music to dislodge Islamic State from Sirte. It’s not a new idea.

By: Express News Service | Published: June 4, 2016 12:01 am
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Speaking truth to power is passé. Playing Bollywood music to Islamist fighters is in. On the advice of an intelligence officer of Pakistani origin, British forces are training Libyan troops to hose IS troops in Sirte with Hindi film music. Since music is anathema and banned in the city, the strategy is expected to disorient and irritate them beyond endurance and get them to do something silly, so that they can be dislodged.

So what else is new? From antiquity, commanders have used the “play” button to enrage or unnerve the opposition. The bugle and the conch date from the earliest military campaigns, and in the 20th century, sound was adapted into a psychological weapon. German Stuka dive-bombers were equipped with eldritch sirens designed to unnerve defenders of their targets. US Sherman tanks were fitted with loudspeakers playing military tunes to overawe German soldiers. Musical weapons hit the big time in the Vietnam war, when US gunships went into action with rock blaring from loudspeakers. Ironically, a lot of it was protest rock, and the phenomenon fed back into popular culture. In Apocalypse Now, gunships played The Ride of the Valkyries as they homed in on a village. That was improbably posh.

While ultrasonic and infrasonic psychological weapons predicted by science fiction mostly remain in the realm of fantasy (ships carry rigs to frighten pirates, though), weaponised music continues to flourish. A couple of years ago, Ukranians were fighting off propaganda from Russian loudspeakers by playing back Cher. Perhaps the current efforts in Libya against IS would be more effective if playlists were intelligently curated. Bollywood has a vast treasury of gloomy numbers, calculated to make even the indomitably cheerful reach convulsively for the alprazolam. Just one of hundreds of YouTube compilations would have the hardiest fighters screaming for mercy. And ear-plugs.

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