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The Art of Decoding - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The technology that surrounds us has made eavesdropping and spying something that everybody can do. Every word that is spoken today can possibly be picked up “indirectly” via mobile phones and computers that now have the ability to listen in on communication. If it could be said in the past that walls have ears, then today ears can be found everywhere. During the fifties and sixties, when the idea of spying and wiretaps first came into being, people began to resort to unconventional methods in order to exchange [secure] information. Following the events of 9/11 spying techniques developed even further to the point that things took a comedic turn.

There is more than one example of the spread of the phenomenon of codifying language to the point that one requires a highly-specialized lexicon in order to figure out what is being said. For example one woman described a US immigration officer at the airport as “Fata” [an Arabic dish made of rice and meat] so that nobody would understand what she was talking about, describing the Fata as being hot or cold in reference to the severity of the security procedures that day. There is also the phenomenon of substituting sentences and names with numbers or vice versa in order to confuse eavesdroppers. This would result in the eavesdropper believing in either one of two things; that either he is hallucinating, or that the people that he is spying on are committing some kind of nefarious deed.

Today people only sing in the shower as the sound of the water covers their voice. The same goes for the freedom of expression. People are not comfortable talking [openly] unless there is a lot of background noise surrounding them to ensure that any attempts to eavesdrop on their conversation will not succeed. Mobile telephone towers can be found everywhere and this may even get to the point where these towers will be installed inside people’s houses in order to dramatically increase their [phone] coverage.

The Iranians are in the midst of demonstrations and protests, and are being besieged by security forces who are trying to break their dissent by decoding their messages to the world. However the fact of the matter is that everybody resorts to decoding messages in one way or another. Listen to any press conference involving the Lebanese leaders and one will find them using words like “we”, “them”, and “some” and I bet nobody understands what this refers to, and for a very simple reason, and that is that the issue [being discussed] is in code.

Certain words have become established as a life boat and are used to avoid being embarrassment or being backed into a corner. Words such as “this [issue]” and “that [subject] are all used to ensure that what is being discussed remains vague and ambiguous,. Governments use code to mislead the people, and the people use code in order to mislead their governments, and sometimes even in order to mislead one another. It is not strange that the phenomenon of “misunderstanding” is spreading as nobody understands when anybody else is talking about.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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