Quote of the day

“One needs to look no further than the Hamas constitution to see the protocols of the Elders of Zion baked into the text verbatim. Egyptian TV shows profligate conspiracy theories thick with vast webs of shadowy individuals, often Zionist, who are responsible for every misfortune that befalls Egypt.

These beliefs should not be dismissed as fringe, or just explained away as cultural relativism. The public powerlessness at the hands of powerful conspiratorial others breeds victimhood, xenophobia and hate.

These beliefs are just as toxic and noxious as racism, yet they receive far less attention. While the ugliness of racism is spotted and condemned, these beliefs are often seen as kooky and tangential. This complacency is dooming generation after generation, whether in their countries of origin or newfound Western homes, to a culture of victimhood and irresponsibility. How can I be to blame for the misfortunes that befall me if there is always someone else, hiding behind a curtain of secrecy, to blame?”

Jewish conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism, an excellent guest post by Joel Braunold at Harry’s Place; also available at Braunold’s blog and at Ha’aretz.

I couldn’t agree more with Braunold’s view that the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that are so popular in the Middle East are too often ignored, and the very real poisonous effects they are having are generally underestimated. I’ve repeatedly written on conspiracy theories; one of my older JPost entries, entitled “Ugly lies and ugly truths”, includes several examples of commentaries that do explain the crucial role of conspiracy theories – here are the relevant paragraphs:

“It has long been one of the Arab world’s favorite memes: whenever there is any criticism of anything Arab, respond with criticizing or blaming the US and Israel. One of the most memorable examples of this reflex was provided a few years ago in an interview conducted by a Swiss magazine with the editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera. Back then, in December 2006, Jeff Weintraub highlighted this interview as an example for the widespread Arab view that Israel is really the root cause for all the Middle East’s problems.

Weintraub argued that “when mass delusions come to occupy such a central role in a political culture, they have real effects, and generally pernicious ones. Furthermore, by dint of endless repetition, this delusional world-view is coming to take on the status of ‘common sense’ in western discussions of the Middle East as well.”

Fast forward a few years to January 2011, and you have a choice of articles that read like a sequel to Weintraub’s observations.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens commented on the various conspiracy theories that recently circulated in Egypt. He argued that “the ultimate source of Arab backwardness […] lies in the debasement of the Arab mind. When the only diagnosis Egyptians can offer for their various predicaments – ranging from sectarian terrorism to a recent spate of freak shark attacks at a Sinai beach resort – is that it’s all a Zionist plot, you know that the country is in very deep trouble.”

In Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith focused on the widespread tendency of Western media to uncritically report even the most absurd accusations leveled against Israel as if the charges were based on well-established facts. In his conclusion, Smith argued:

“[The] Arabs are not winning an information war against Israel, nor anything else for that matter. Rather, the stories and lies they tell to delegitimize the Jewish state are part and parcel of the war that they have been waging against themselves, and with stunning success. The tragedy is that everyone knows where the Arabs are heading, because the signs of failure and self-destructiveness couldn’t be clearer—poverty, violence, despotism, illiteracy, mistreatment of women, and the persecution of confessional minorities, like Egypt’s Coptic Christian population. The Western journalists and NGOs who repeat and credential these lies are doing no honor to either the values of their own society or those of the Arabs; they’re merely helping a culture kill itself.”

The problem is that it’s not about values: ugly lies about Israel will remain popular wherever it seems advantageous – ideologically, politically, or economically – to suppress ugly truths about the Arab world.

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