All The Conspiracy Theorists Are Out To Get Us–More On The Crusade Against Islam

Haim Watzman

Y. Ben-David, South Jerusalem’s most intrepid commenter, writes, in response to my previous post on anti-Semitism in Islam, that a significant part of the Muslim world today subscribes to theologies that demonize the Jews, as well as to outlandish conspiracy theories. I’d like to declare here, on the front page of this left-wing peacenik accommodationist blog, that Y. Ben-David (hereinafter YBD) is correct.

However, YBD is, like Benny Morris, wearing blinders that make his correct observation nearly useless–indeed dangerous–as a basis for creating good policies to confront such bigoted Muslims and their political-theological movements.

Let’s start with the conspiracy theories. Perhaps YBD has forgotten how popular they are pretty much everywhere and anywhere, including in the enlightened West. Large numbers of Israelis, in particular in the religious-Zionist sector, believe that Yitzhak Rabin was murdered on the orders of the Shabak or Mossad. A large number of Americans also believe in a variety of conspiracy theories regarding the 9/11 attacks. According to a Gallup poll in 1999, six percent of Americans are sure that the Apollo moon landing was faked by a shadowy conspiracy and another five percent think that might be true. That’s far from a majority but it’s a lot of supposedly enlightened Americans.

I recall when Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist Mark Lane (that’s the guy who later represented Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and was present in Jonestown on the day of the mass suicide—prompted in part by believers’ convictions, fed by Jones and Lane, that they were the targets of a vast conspiracy) visited Duke University when I was an undergraduate there. Hundreds of some of America’s most intelligent young people emerged from his lecture convinced by his conspiracy theories and even signed up to donate money to Lane’s cause.

So weird and unfounded beliefs about groups or organizations out to seek world domination are hardly an exclusively Islamic problem.

That said, it’s true that the intellectual, religious, and political leadership in much of the Islamic world has nurtured such theories rather than seeking to educate their citizenry.

And here lies the ultimate point. Bigotry and falsehoods must be fought wherever they appear. But we will never end Islamic bigotry by fighting Islam as a religion. On the contrary, if we declare a crusade against Islam, Muslims will unite to battle the threat to their religion.

We must, rather, target the bigots and, in particular, the leaders who foster that bigotry. They must be fought on many levels. The most powerful ways to do that, the ones with the most long-lasting effect, are cultural engagement and equitable economic development.

Yes, it might be necessary in extreme cases to use force of arms as well. But war is never a good choice—it must always be a last resort. Victory is never assured, and long-term effects are nearly impossible to predict.

I’m with YBD in being alarmed by the extent of Muslim extremism, and in the powerful hold that conspiracy theories—in particular anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ones—seem to have on broad swathes of the citizenry in the Muslim world. But embarking on a crusade against the heathens is going to exacerbate the problem, not solve it.

14 thoughts on “All The Conspiracy Theorists Are Out To Get Us–More On The Crusade Against Islam”

  1. Speaking of leaders spreading conspiracy theories, the would-be vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin, has just repeated the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was complicit in the 9/11 attacks:
    Hardly surprising, since the incumbent president promoted this conspiracy theory in order to justify invading a country on the other side of the globe. Despite being convinced of such dangerous nonsense, Palin actually increased the popularity of the Republican ticket.
    Nonetheless , I suggest refraining from describing all of Western civilization as being guilty of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. I am even willing to refrain – at least for now – from referring to the Republicans as the “Christian extremist Republican Party.”

  2. Haim, you used the term “supposedly enlightened Americans” This coming presidential election may tell if it can be supposed or not.

    I don’t know if you have seen the movie Khandahar, a powerful flick that, in one scene, shows young boys in a madrassa hard at work learning the Qu’ran by heart, their sole education.

    I can understand people coming from such a system believing they know much when, in fact, they are woefully ignorant of the wider world and have a narrow view of their own.

    More depressing is a person like Ms. Palin who has had access to a modern education yet speaks seriously about creationism. This is willful ignorance. I just finished watching her talk about God’s will as another on stage with her mentioned Alaska as a refuge for the Last of Days.

    If the American people are willing to place such a person in position to be president, then P.T. Barnum and H.L. Mencken spoke more accurately of the people than Jefferson and his fellow sons of the Enlightenment.

  3. Haim, in principle you are correct, some sort of effort has to be made to confront these conspiracy theories, however the point is that the prevalence of these theories place great constraints on the Arab leaders. The question has been raised saying “if the official state media in Arab countries are constantly repeating these Judeophobic conspiracy theories, does this mean the leaders really believe them?”. My answer is that it doesn’t matter. If the majority of a population of an Arab country believes the Jews are the “devil incarnate”, is the leader really willing to take on public opinion? It is true that Sadat signed an agreement and even made certain gestures towards “good will” that would be unthinkable today, such as a meeting of wounded soldiers from both sides. But then, we must recall, what happened to Sadat in the end. He was assassinated, and most Egyptians have a negative view of him today, whereas they revere the memory of Nasser who led his country from disaster to disaster.
    Recall that Arafat told Clinton at Camp David he would be assassinated if he compromised on the Jerusalem/Temple Mount or the Palestinian “Right of Return” (I don’t recall which of these it was, or maybe it was both). This was after his own official state-run media spent years demonizing the Jews and preparing them for the upcoming suicide bomber war with Israel.
    It is not enough to see what they say in English to Israelis and other Westerners, we must pay attention to what they say in their own language to their own people.
    “Moderate” Abbas , President of the Palestinian Authority told his people on a recent “Naqba Day” that the creation of the state of Israel was the “most heinous crime in human history”. Do you really expect him to make concessions to the “heinous criminals”? Even if he were to sign an agreement, would he be able to adhere to its terms, if it is with the “greatest criminals in history”?That is why the demand that some Israelis make that the Palestinian gov’t start telling its people the truth and preparing them for peace is VITAL, and it is something they are not doing now, and something which I have no expectations of them doing anytime in the foreseable future.

  4. Arab leadership hoists itself on the petard of its own making — you cannot educate your youth to be jihadis or nationalists or Marxists or whatever, infuse them with the dream of making a difference in the fate of their nation and people, then suddenly tell them, “Oh, it’s okay, Israel is legitimate and they’re good neighbors and now we’re going to have peace.” In a region famed for corruption, the “Street” will simply assume this about-face is due to corruption, kill the leadership, and continue in the manner in which they have been educated.

    The problem isn’t Islam. (Or Judaism or Christianity) The problem is that, once again in history, religion has been hijacked to serve the interests of radicals. Only education and co-existence will change this—the latter looks unlikely and the former isn’t within our control as to the Arabs.

    A good start, however, would be making sure every student in Israel adheres to the core curriculum, and making Arabic mandatory.

    Don’t get me started on the education system…..

  5. This Arab leaders can’t make peace with Israel because of the hostility of their people thing is exaggerated–King Hussein died a natural death and Mubarak came to power as the heir of Sadat who basically continued his policies towards Israel–Sadat’s assassins hardly succeeded in their political goals.

  6. See Tzvi Bar’el’s column in today’s Ha’aretz for a short explanation of the complexities and variety of Islamic responses to Western politics and Western culture. Bar’el writes: “The public debate in these societies has not stopped since September 2001, focusing on the new question: What is the true Islam? What have zealotry and extremism wrought? ” He also notes, however, that Islamic opposition to extremism doesn’t translate into love or understanding of the U.S. and Israel: “For the first time, too, a distinction has been made between Islamic terror, which must be fought because it undermines the state’s foundations, and legitimate struggle against occupation. True, this is no great comfort for Israel or the United States; we are talking about glacially slow movement, but measurable nonetheless. “

  7. Mr Burns-
    Mubarak hasn’t had to cancel the treaty because he withdrew the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel years ago (that way he can say that they don’t “really” have normal relations with Israel), he also says “Sadat is the one who did it, not me”, his official state media is filled with virulent Judeophobia, such as the infamous 40+ part TV series purporting to show that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, are true. The peace treaty with Israel is ignored in their official histories (the official line is that Egypt attack Israel in the Sinai and drove the Israelis out, thus the Egyptians got the Sinai back). Egypt has maintained a proxy war with Israel through the Gaza Strip, just as Syria also keeps its border with Israel quiet on the Golan Heights, buts fights Israel by proxy by use of HIZBULLAH in Lebanon. The Israeli Embassy in Cairo is completely isolated, Egyptians other than official diplomatic representatives have no relations with any of the staff , e.g. if Embassy pers0nnel need to visit a dentist, no Egyptian dentist will treat them, they have to come back to Israel (this was discussed some months ago on the morning news program on Reshet Bet radio). Egyptians are led to understand that the peace treaties are maintained on the lowest level possible so that the US will not cut the $2 Billion per year they get.
    Jordan is something of a different story, because the Jordanians do keep the border quiet, but again, their media is filled with Judeophobic propaganda and professional groups boycott contact with Israeli personnel.

  8. Look, Y, do the Arabs love Israel? Of course not. But some Arab regimes have made peace with Israel and maintained diplomatic relations with it. The Saudis put forth the peace plan that involves recognizing Israel. Even Syria would probably make peace on the same basis Egypt did–return of the territories taken in 67. Israel’s problems aren’t with “the Arabs”–they’re with the Palestinians and to a lesser degree with Hezbollah.

  9. It is no conspiracy theory that Zionism aspired to dispossess Palestinians of their homeland. It is no conspiracy theory that Zionist institutions worked to further the dispossession and, as Herzl wrote, for the Jewish State to be a “rampart” against Asia. And it is no conspiracy theory to acknowledge the warning of Ahad Ha’am: “The secret of our people’s persistence is….that at a very early period the Prophets taught it to respect only spiritual power, and not to worship material power. For this reason the clash with enemies stronger than itself never brought the Jewish nation, as it did the other nations of antiquity, to the point of self-effacement. So long as we are faithful to this principle, our existence has a secure basis: for in spiritual power we are not inferior to other nations, and we have no reason to efface ourselves. But a political ideal which does not rest on the national culture is apt to seduce us from our loyalty to spiritual greatness, and to beget in us a tendency to find the path of glory in the attainment of material power and political dominion, thus breaking the thread that unites us with the past, and undermining our historical basis.” And it is no conspiracy theory that the Zionist ideology, so prevalent in Israel and the wider Jewish community, is rapidly doing that undermining.

  10. In YBDs case, I think what it really comes down to is his refusal to even acknowledge legitimate Muslim grievances with Israel, because to do so would cause him some major cognitive dissonance.

    It’s much easier for him to dismiss out of hand any Arab/Muslim conflict with Israel as pure irrational animosity than to admit to himself that the settlement policies he supports cause many of the problems Israel faces today.

  11. Joe, apparently you haven’t understood the point I keep trying to make. I do NOT dismiss Arab opposition to Israel as being “irrational”. On the contrary, it is all TOO rational and quite simple to understand. The Arabs view the existence of Israel as an unbearable humiliation and a negation of everything they believe in. They believe that any Jewish state of any size is unacceptable. That is why they call “Naqba” (catastrophe), the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, NOT the outcome of the Six-Day War in 1967. Given their belief system, it is quite rational. My point is that there is no possibility in coming to a stable, permanent compromise with such a belief system. I believe that if Israel hangs tough, does not compromise its core beliefs and rights (meaning the right of the Jewish people to have a state in Eretz Israel and to settle it), it will show the Arabs that they are in a dead-end situation and that eventually their belief system will be seen by them to be a failure. This is a VERY long term project and we can not expect results soon…however, Israel has grown and flourished without peace with the Arabs for decades and I am confident that it will continue to, so the situation is far from hopeless.

  12. Save me from Left-wing sound-bytes: there isn’t room to address Alan’s and Joe’s cognitive dissonances.

    Zionism is the right to self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign land of their own.

    Arab nationalism arose at much the same time and wanted much the same territory.

    The UN Partition Plan was a compromise designed to give both peoples land on which to build their states, divided demographically.

    The Arab states surrounding the Mandate region rejected this. The Jewish state won the subsequent war, and took additional territory.

    I don’t recall any of the Arab “champions” of One Palestine asking any Palestinians how they felt about being “rescued” by Arab invasion.

    I’m sorry the Palestinian Arabs were dispossessed–some, not all, deserved to be as they were also waging war against Israel. Others were simply the victims of their leadership.

    I’m sorry that the Jews of Arab lands were similarly dispossessed, but I don’t hear any mention of them or their suffering in Arab or Left-Liberal discussions of “refugees.”

    Israel acquired more territory after the 1967 war and the Arab League at the Khartoum Conference refused to negotiate peace or land. Again I don’t recall anyone in the Arab League asking the Palestinians if this was the position they wanted to adopt.

    “The Arabs view the existence of Israel as an unbearable humiliation and a negation of everything they believe in. They believe that any Jewish state of any size is unacceptable. ”

    This statement is supported by numerous polls and studies you can find on the Internet, especially Palestinian polls.

    “Settlement policies” is a red-herring; settlements were so unimportant at Oslo that they weren’t even mentioned except insofar as the accords provided that Israel would be responsible for settlement security.

    Gaza has no settlements. Gaza continues to wage war, continues to confine its ‘refugee’ population to camps, refuses to allow these ‘refugees’ to build permanent housing, and encourages them to believe that they should wage war to “liberate” Israel from the Jews.

    Why don’t you focus on Gaza’s intransigence vis-a-vis state-building, warfare and incitement first?

    Even the supposedly more moderate Fatah refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and demands the “settlement” of descendants of Palestinian refugees in Israel proper as a form of demographic annihilation. The end game here is “Anschluss”–the Palestinian descendants re-settled in Israel proper will insist by vote or by gun that they be joined in a political union with the newly created state of Palestine.

    Just as every former African colony, and southeast Asian colony, and Middle Eastern former colony was granted the right to self-determination after World War II, Israel too (a former British colony) has a right to self-determination and the right not to live at the sufferance of a hostile majority ruling clique.

    I am not willing to live in Hamastan. This is Israel–it is a refuge and a homeland for all Jews, and a place where we can openly celebrate Jewish holidays, openly build synagogues, openly treat Shabbat as a day off (whether your preference is driving to the beach or going to pray — or both). Why should any of us sacrifice the community, language and culture we have established here (which is Zionism, in a nutshell) in a suicidal orgy of western-imposed liberal guilt to pave the way for a dictatorial Arab state which guarantees that any Jewish survivors will live as we have always lived in Arab lands–as second-class citizens confined to mellahs, paying special taxes for the “privilege” of being “protected?”

    No thanks.

    Do the Arabs/Moslems/Palestinians have a “legitimate” grievance with Israel? Not really.

    They have a grievance, certainly–but THEY are the ones who rejected the creation of the State of Palestine in 1948 because they could not then, and still cannot today, accept that the Jews have a right to a state of their own where we can live as free men and women, and not as subjects of a hostile Arab ruling class.

  13. YBD,

    I don’t know how you got to be such an expert on what “the Arabs” believe. But I’ll admit that it is much more convenient to portray an adversary as an implacable and irredeemably hostile foe than it is to exercise some empathy and to try to understand what motivates them.

    Conversely, I’m sure many Arabs believe that “the Jews” settled in Palestine with only the objective of displacing and dispossessing the native inhabitants or that they’re merely the pawns of imperialist foreign powers with no real interest in Zionism.

    As for Israel “staying the course”, that reminds me of a joke about a man falling out a window, and as he plummets to the ground keeps repeating: “So far so good. So far good. So far so good. So far so good…”

  14. “Conversely, I’m sure many Arabs believe that “the Jews” settled in Palestine with only the objective of displacing and dispossessing the native inhabitants or that they’re merely the pawns of imperialist foreign powers with no real interest in Zionism.”

    This is, in fact, exactly how many Arabs view Zionism and Israel: not as a ‘Jewish’ homeland but as a European colony in the middle of the Arab world. Some do not genuinely believe Askhenazic Jews are genuinely Jewish, that they are Europeans and not Semites at all. Others, not quite so hardline, carry their grievances back to the pre-WW I period when the Ottoman Empire began settling Armenians and Sephardic Jews in Palestine and resettling Palestinian Arabs in other Arab communities around the old Empire. They saw the Jewish arrivals as responsible for their misfortune, rather than properly blaming the Ottoman Porte.

    This factor is largely ignored by both sides, the Ottoman imperial shuffling of its population at the expense of their economic and social stability. Yet it is one of the fundamental reasons for the Palestinians socio-political status in the modern Arab world. The other is not Islam, but secular pan-Arabism.

    The leaders of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria (the official byline of the current Egyptian and Syrian governments pays lip service to this idea, and Saddam Hussein actively sought its fruition with the invasion of Kuwait) at the time of the UN partition all believed in the formation of a future Arab super-state incorporating their three countries, Lebanon and the tribal states of the Arab Peninsula, with JERUSALEM as its symbolic capital.

    Though pan-Arabism has been weakened as a political force since the collapse of the United Arab Republic and Nasser’s death, Egypt and Syria are still committed to pan-Arabist economic and social policies. The idea of pan-Arabism is the only thing that gives the Syrian and Egyptian governments their legitimacy in the face of opposition from both democratic movements AND fundamentalist Islamic clerics, just as the Islamic justification for their royal status is the only thing that lends the tribal rulers of Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula their legitimacy in the face of the same opposition. Lebanon, lacking the legitimacy of either tribal, religious, or political theory to hold itself together disintegrated from the great democratic experiment of the Middle East into total chaos when Christian and Muslim religious zealots destroyed the secular government’s ability to share power amicably.

    As a result liberal democracy and secular pan-Arabism both appear to be failures in the eyes of the average Palestinian. Communism, which gave the PLO much of its original impetus, has also failed. The history of Diaspora in the region has eroded and destroyed the tribal connections which support the Jordanian and Arabian monarchies. Islam and the shared sense of victimization and survivor’s guilt are all that remain as unifying forces to the Palestinian Arabs, just as Judaism and the shared sense of victimization and survivor’s guilt are all that serve to unify Israelis.

    The tragedy of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that both societies have the same experience, and each now sees the other as its oppressor/enemy. While I support the peace process whole-heartedly, I agree with YBD that time may be the only solution to the problem. I think that things may get even worse before they get better.

    I do see a possible solution, and one day I intend to write about it, but I don’t think it is one either Israel or the Palestinian Arabs will accept anytime soon.

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