I don’t know why some particular groups in society seem to attract conspiracy theories: for example, Jews, Cathars, Masons, Opus Dei…to name a few. I never heard anyone say “I want to kill that Presbyterian”, or of an allegation that there is a Taoist plot to control the world.
An issue which has been eating away at me for the past few weeks is the growing friction between religious groups. I have had difficulty writing this post, because I find the issue so depressing and upsetting. However, when I saw in the paper that Mel Gibson had been sentenced for his drink driving episode, I was reminded again of my proposed post, and I’ve decided to have another shot at it. My particular concern is what I perceive as a rise in anti-Semitism in the wake of the recent Middle East conflict. I am not Jewish myself, but I have a very strong dislike of anti-Semitism.
Gibson was arrested for drink driving on 28 July this year, and reportedly asked the arresting officer if he was Jewish, and then said, “F**king Jews, the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” He has since issued two apologies for his behaviour. But is this a case of in vino veritas as far as Gibson’s views are concerned?
Ten years or so ago, the only time you saw overt anti-Semitism was in far right groups such as the Citizens’ Electoral Council. Unfortunately, in the wake of Islamist terrorist attacks, it seems to have become acceptable to be blatantly anti-Semitic in mainstream contexts. I read an article in The Times the other day describing the routine of an Australian comedian at the Edinburgh Festival, Steve Hughes. Hughes apparently said that kids should stop playing Cowboys and Indians and play Nazis and Jews instead (to which an audience member called out “Throw them in the oven”). Hughes then said, “I want to bash Condoleezza Rice’s brain to bits and kill that f**king Jew Richard Perle.”
Why is Perle’s religion relevant? Is Hughes suggesting that Perle is an eminence gris manipulating Bush behind the scenes? With a comment like that, Hughes is intimating that evil Jews are manipulating United States foreign policy. In fact, as always, the reality is far more complex. Some of the biggest supporters of the state of Israel and the Republican government are in fact evangelist Christians (who ironically, as Michael Gawenda points out, are also major supporters of Gibson’s film, The Passion).
I wonder if, secretly, a number of people agree with Gibson and Hughes on some level. I have heard one person say, “Why didn’t they [the Jews] take Uganda when England was going to give it to them? Then we wouldn’t have all these problems with the Muslims now.” (ie: If the State of Israel hadn’t been created, we wouldn’t be worrying about terrorists now, so terrorism is the fault of the Jews.) This is a more nuanced version of the sentiment which was behind Gibson’s outburst.
So, my theory is that the current mainstream anti-Semitism arises out of a belief that tensions in the Middle East have provoked Islamist extremism and hatred of the West. Terrorists often refer to the creation of the state of Israel and the Israel/Palestinian conflict as a motivator behind their actions. They also refer to US support of Israel and US and British invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Osama bin Laden has even cited Australia’s support for the liberation of East Timor as a reason for reprisals against Australia. So does this mean we should just swallow the cant of these terrorists without question? I am suggesting that we should not let fear blind us, and we should not adopt anti-Semitic rubbish.
I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with foreign policy pursued by the United States or Israel, as long as the criticism is reasoned and fair. But I do think people should be aware that a number of terrorist organisations have adopted anti-Semitic propaganda wholesale and are regurgitating it as fact, so one should be cautious of uncritically accepting their explanations for their actions.
What I do have a problem with?
- Suggestions or inferences that there is a worldwide conspiracy by Jews (or Israel) to control the world (through office in particular governments, through banks or through the media). This reeks of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a text which purports to detail Jewish plans to obtain world domination through control of the press and finance. It was used as propaganda in Nazi Germany. It has been exposed as a fake emanating from tsarist Russia, but it is still cited as “proof” of Jewish plans for world domination by organisations as diverse as the Citizen’s Electoral Council, Hamas and Hezbollah.
- Suggestions that the Holocaust is a “made up” event designed to engender sympathy. Such suggestions have recently been made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The implication to be drawn from this is that the UN granted Israel to the Jews on false premises. This is simply vile. It is a fact that millions of Jews (and gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, communists and others) were killed in concentration camps. I think that anyone who doubts the Holocaust should read Primo Levi’s If this is a man, a personal account of the author’s survival in Auschwitz. Levi was a physicist and his account of Auschwitz is written in a scientific and clear manner which makes the horror of his subject matter all the more terrifying.
- Suggestions that “the Jews” (or Israel) are actually responsible for the World Trade Centre bombings. You think I’m kidding about this? Unfortunately not. A friend of mine received an e-mail from a workmate making this very allegation (and he quickly sought to set the sender of the e-mail straight). The suggestion is notorious enough to be cited on the “Snopes” Urban Myths website and on the US Department of State website. Another conspiracy theory which has been advanced is that the US military arranged the attacks to justify a war against Islam, and that the recent arrests of terrorists in Britain has the same motive.
I have heard some people offer excuses for comments of the above nature on the basis that the conduct of Israel towards Palestinians is unfair. This is like saying “Well, it’s okay to spread all kinds of lies about that boy Peter, because we had a fight last week and he beat me.”
Some people go further and say that Israel should not exist at all. My personal belief is that Israel has a clear right to exist. A point which is often overlooked in this debate is that existence of Israel was validly mandated by the UN (although, obviously, there are still disputes as to its present borders). The manner in which Israel should and does respond to threats to its sovereignty and people is a different and difficult question. One could argue for days on the rights and wrongs of the Israel/Palestinian situation, or the rights and wrongs of the recent conflict in Lebanon and not come to a resolution. I think a realistic view of the situation would concede that all parties have done things which have not been right, and that there is no easy solution.
I strongly believe that you have to take every person as you find him or her. I do not think it is fair to impose a stereotype on a person just because of their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, or to make generalisations about a particular group. However, the anti-Semitic notions above are more than just stereotypes or generalisations (for example, “anti-Christian” or “Islamophobic” sentiments). Why? Because they are not just “anti-Jewish” statements. They are falsehoods, some of which have been used in the past to justify genocide. This makes them particularly poisonous. These topics are no joking matter. I don’t care who makes the suggestions and what the political agenda is. There are no excuses for anti-Semitism.
Postscript re Islamophobia
I should make it clear that our response to terrorism should not be to become anti-Muslim. That just replaces one ill with another. Again, you have to take every person as you find him or her. Dean Jones’ “joking” comment that South African cricketer Hashim Amla (a devout Muslim with a full beard) resembles a “terrorist” is offensive and equally deserving of criticism. The comment looks particularly unfunny in light of the recent arrests in Britain for alleged terrorist plots to blow up airlines. I feel sorry for decent Muslims who have to endure anti-Muslim feeling because their religion has been used as a justification for the violent actions of extremist organisations. But I also believe that Islamist extremism must be recognised by Muslim communities, and not excused or ignored.
For an interesting and intelligent comment on an appropriate response to terrorism by Muslim communities in Britain, I recommend having a read of an article in The Times by Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury. The leader of the London Tube bombings was a member of his constituency.