America’s got 99 problems… but Russia ain’t the main one

 
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By Khaled Diab

The assault on American democracy and its global standing originated not in Moscow but in Washington, and across the length and breadth of the United States. Like the Soviet Empire before it, America is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions

Friday 27 July 2018

“If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all.”

This was rule number three of Thomas Friedman’s ‘Mideast Rules to Live By’. The New York Times columnist wrote the piece in 2006 as an apparent response to harsh criticism of his support of George W Bush’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq, which Friedman had bellicosely supported, until he ran out of ‘Friedman Units’, which seem to be based on what you can call the neo-con ‘Kristol Ball’ that predicted the war in Iraq would be over in just two months.

Like other cheerleaders of the Iraq war, Friedman not only blamed Arabs for failing to play along with his fantasies but also criticised, in rule number seven, what he perceived as the Arab tendency to tell America: “It’s all your fault for being so stupid.”

Failing to heed his own advice to Arabs of not blaming foreign conspiracies for their plight, Friedman is part of the deafening chorus of blaming Russia for Donald Trump, while Trump supporters blame the Four Ms for America’s perceived decline: minorities, Muslims, migrants and the media. Friedman called alleged Russian meddling “code red” and the “biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy” back in February, and, following the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, he endorsed the notion that Trump’s approach to Russia is “nothing short of treasonous” – in fact, “treason” has been trending on social media.

When I observe the unedifying debacle that passes for politics in America these days, I wonder why it is the American establishment does not follow its own ‘sage’ advice, which it has delivered for generations to anyone complaining of American meddling, whether it be in Latin America, Southeast Asia or the Middle East, that they should stop complaining about foreign interference and get their own house in order.

That is not to suggest that Russia played no role in attempting to stack the odds in Donald Trump’s favour – the evidence that it did so is increasingly compelling. But it would be like blaming the current Gulf crisis on America, when Donald Trump has only been profiting and benefiting from existing bitter divisions and rivalries between the region’s wasteful and petty-minded autocrats as they seek to keep revolution at bay and jockey for what they perceive to be regional ascendancy.

Moreover, the alleged use of hacking, political dirt and social media bots looks positively minor league compared to the clandestine and covert tactics used by America (and Russia) to shape the political climate in many less powerful nations.

More importantly, America is not some weak and vulnerable “banana republic”, like Guatemala was when the CIA plotted and implemented a coup against the democratically elected revolutionary government of Jacobo Árbenz, which included not just disinformation but also paramilitary shock teams, just because Árbenz’s small-scale agrarian reforms had upset the United Fruit Company.

No, America is (still) the world’s most powerful and richest country. It cannot and will not be brought to its knees by a band of alleged mercenary Russian hackers, oligarchs and intelligence operatives, though they likely had some kind of distorting effect.

No, the assault on American democracy and its global standing originated not in Moscow but in Washington, and across the length and breadth of the United States. Like the Soviet Empire before it, America is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions, its imperial hubris, and its squandering of vast amounts of resources to enrich the very few at the expense of the very, very, very, very many, both abroad and at home.

Russia did not create Donald Trump, the brash, abrasive and corrupt opportunist and chancer. Russia did not transform this self-centred and self-serving business tyrant into a counter-factual television and (social) media sensation, admired by millions, who has been marketing hollow image without any substance and pedalling falsehoods for decades.

Russia did not put a gun to the heads of white, conservative voters and force them to elect an alleged billionaire with zero political experience and zero interest in the plight of other people as the representative of ordinary folk who would “drain the swamp”.

Even suggesting that Russia was responsible for the brainwashing of the Republican electorate would be to give it way too much credit, and too little credit to homegrown propagandists, polemicists and twisters of truth. Of course, Moscow is an old hand at fake news and propaganda. But Sputnik and RT have limited reach in America and can simply not compete with likes of Fox News and Sinclair for the hearts and minds of Middle America.

No, America’s spiralling fall towards fascism and drift towards dictatorship is almost entirely of its own making, and the sooner the establishment owns up to this and owns it, the better for the future.

The Republican base must come to terms with the reality that even if the Four Ms magically vanished from US soil (impossible as that is), America would not magically turn into a white utopian paradise. Chances are America would, at best, become an irrelevant and poorer backwater, at worst, a country caught up in a long and bloody civil war.

The Republican ‘resistance’ must acknowledge and admit that Trump is not the sole creator of this mess. He had two incredibly destructive precursors, their hero, Ronald Reagan, and the former worst US president, George W Bush and his merry band of neo-cons, especially Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Mainstream Democrats need to recognise that, even in the unlikely event that Donald Trump is impeached or resigns, this only constitutes a baby step towards making America sane again. Whether or not he is Putin’s asset, he is most certainly the useful idiot of evangelicals, the alt-right and pro-nativist tycoons. If replaced by Vice-President Mike Pence, the situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better.

And, yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and would have made a far more capable and less bigoted president than Donald Trump, but she was too much a part of the establishment to have fixed it. Clinton’s failure was also partly a function of her party’s inability to nominate a true alternative, a change-maker, and its failure, along with the Republicans, to reform America’s antiquated electoral college system and its de facto two-party dictatorship, enabled by the unfair and inflexible first-past the post system.

Then there is the question of economic inequality, which has been steadily widening whether America is under the stewardship of the Republicans or the Democrats. This needs urgent and sustainable action, such as downward redistributive justice, rather than the upward redistributive injustice of Trump’s tax cuts.

Judging by the current state of affairs, it seems unlikely that the political and economic establishment will snap out of its lethargy and inertia… at least, not before it is too late. This leaves the burden on a young generation of progressive politicians, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, veteran outliers, such as Bernie Sanders, and the mounting grassroots popular resistance, which appears to grasp where America’s problems truly lie and where its priorities should be.

_____

This article was first published by The New Arab on 19 July 2018.

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Alt-jihad – Part II: Delusions of grandeur and persecution

 
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By Khaled Diab

In the second in a series of articles exploring the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, Khaled Diab examines the far-right’s dual sense of superiority and inferiority, as well as its persecution complex.

Source: https://lorddreadnought.livejournal.com/69990.html

 

Tuesday 17 April 2018

In the previous piece in this series on the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, I examined the emerging phenomenon of far-right suicide attackers and far-right political violence in general. In this, the second article in the series, I explore a number of other parallels, namely the bizarre blend of supremacist convictions combined with a sense of inferiority, an overpowering mentality of victimhood, a persecution complex centred around a rogues’ parade of imagined enemies, as well as a related belief in outlandish conspiracy theories.

Inferiority-superiority complex

Extremist Islamist and jihadist discourse is dominated simultaneously by a dual inferiority-supremacy narrative. On the one hand, they view Islam as innately superior to other religions and political philosophies, lament Islam’s loss of global dominance and dream of the restoration of its hegemony. On the other hand, they are convinced that Muslims everywhere are oppressed and victims. Even in situations where conservative Muslims are the dominant political force and wield enormous political clout, Islamists often believe they are oppressed, their beliefs are under attack and their way of life is threatened with extinction.

A similar narrative has emerged in white and Christian nationalist circles, though, given the continuing might of the West, superiority outweighs inferiority when compared with Islamist discourse. This sense of entitlement was best summed up by Richard Spencer, the spiritual leader of the alt-right movement in America. “To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build; we produce; we go upward,” Spencer told the audience at an alt-right conference in Washington, DC. “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

Nevertheless, unlike the cocky white supremacy of the 19th century, when the West directly ruled most of the planet and required an ideology to justify its global dominance, instead of the white man’s burden of yore, many whites, especially men, now feel they are regarded as the burden. In fact, these far-right movements, as well as some segments of more mainstream conservatism, to a lesser degree, have appropriated the language of oppression and subjugation more common among the formerly enslaved and segregated African-Americans, or subject populations who lived under colonial rule.

At one level, this shift in rhetoric is opportunistic and cynical, with the aim of turning the tables on the truly marginalised minorities living in the West and on those who have suffered under the boot of western hegemony by suggesting that the real victims of racism and imperialism are whites, and especially the Christian right, who supposedly suffer under the multiple tyrannies of political correctness, liberalism, immigration (which is regarded as a sort of invasion by stealth) and Islam.

However, it would be a mistake to view these attitudes as merely rhetorical devices. Many on the far-right absolutely believe, their sense of supremacy and privilege notwithstanding, that they belong to an oppressed, repressed and persecuted group. At times, this can be a reflection of their sense of personal isolation. “I didn’t have many friends at school, I wanted to be a member of a group of people that had an aim,” admitted Kevin Wilshaw, who was a well-known organiser for the UK’s National Front in the 1980s and later joined the British National Party, before renouncing his former life and coming out as gay and of Jewish heritage. “Even though you end up being a group of people that through their own extreme views are cut off from society, you do have a sense of comradeship in that you’re a member of a group that’s being attacked by other people.” This sense of camaraderie, as well as a desire to stand out and be noticed, appears to have been a spur for Andrew Anglin’s transformation from a vegan anti-racist into the American extreme right’s most outspoken and outrageous troll, through his creation of the rabidly racist website The Daily Stormer.

This sense of alienation and the desperate desire to bond this produces is also something that afflicts many who fall into the embrace of radical and jihadist Islamism. “For most jihadis, the first steps on their journeys to Syria were rarely taken for political or religious reasons,” observes Kenan Malik, the Indian-Britisher writer and intellectual. “The journeys were, rather, a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for belongingness, for respect.”

Paranoid confusions

This sense of living in a world which deprives them of their perceived God-given right to dominate society and to rule the world translates into an increasingly outspoken and irrational victimhood mentality. “No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it is conquer or die,” Spencer lamented in the speech mentioned above, echoing the jihadist extremists the Christian right so despises. “We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace.”

This sense of being embattled has led to the paranoid conviction that the modern-day white conservative is surrounded by foes, both near enemies and far ones, to borrow from the jihadist lexicon. The far horizon of Enemistan is dominated by Muslims, who are closing in so rapidly and decisively that the very survival of Western civilisation and Christendom is at stake. At home, the alt-right fears migrants and other minorities, including a resurgence of classic Judeophobia, leftists, liberals, journalists and media professionals, experts, academics, feminists and the LGBT community.

This paranoid sense of being surrounded and besieged by enemies on every front has led to the proliferation of outlandish conspiracy theories. In societies whose superior technologies have for centuries visited mass slaughter upon weaker populations across the planet, there is now talk of a “white genocide” – a paranoid theory that there is a conspiracy to wipe out the white race. What is most infuriating about the white genocide myth is that many who subscribe to it deny the historical reality of actual genocides, such as the Holocaust or extermination campaigns against native populations.

The purported white genocide is not just confined to Europe and America, it is also allegedly taking place in Africa. The alt-right blogger Laura Southern has even produced a ‘documentary’ entitled Farmland which claims to highlight the plight of supposedly persecuted whites in South Africa. Needless to say, no such extermination programme is occurring in the country where the legacy of Apartheid still lives on in stark racial inequalities, unless by ‘genocide’ she means the relative erosion of white privilege.

The army of Islam

In Europe, the end goal of mass immigration, according to far-right conspiracy theorists, is not only ‘white genocide’ but also a stealthy conquest of the West, its complete Islamisation and subjugation and its conversion into ‘Eurabia’, the mythical European Umma. And Eurabia is apparently making major inroads in America too. The far-right myth that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where the police do not dare enter and Islamic law prevails has made it across the Atlantic, and has been spread by both Fox News and the NRA, amongst others. A similar narrative of a crusade/war against Islam is a common refrain amongst Islamists. However, this notion amongst both conservative Muslims and Christians that we are in the throes of a monumental clash of civilisations does not hold up to scrutiny, as I reveal in my book Islam for the Politically Incorrect.

How far this dastardly Muslim conquest has advanced is a matter of some disagreement, however. The most pessimistic on the far-right believe the war is already over and the West has lost, others believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end, while some, like the founder of France’s Front National (FN), are convinced that it is the “the beginning of the beginning” of the Islamic subjugation of Europe. “It’s an episode in the war that is being waged against us by Islamism,” he claimed. “The blindness and deafness of our leaders, for years, is in part responsible for these kinds of attacks.”

The most recent variation on this is the conspiracy theory that the refugees who have been entering Europe are not desperate civilians fleeing war, but part of an invading army bent on the destruction of western civilisation. This supposed phenomenon has been called “jihad by emigration” – a term coined by the creator of the far-right website Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer, not to be confused with the Richard Spencer mentioned earlier.

In its self-righteous panic, the right has become more panicky and shrill, triggering the kind of terror usually expressed by the defenceless towards an army of ruthless conquerors. Bedraggled, desperate and unarmed, the stream of refugees flowing into Europe can only be referred to as an army in the loosest, most figurative sense of the word, yet, this army without soldiers or arms is somehow mounting an invasion.

They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” said Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, a bishop in southern Hungary, a country which has become a far-right hotbed in recent years and found itself on a major transit route, until it built a wall to keep the refugees out. “It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” echoed Dutch far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, who once infamously called for the banning of the Quran. A related myth is the notion that Muslim asylum seekers are obsessed with an uncontrollable urge to violate and rape western women – they are not refugees but “rapefugees”.

Away from the high-security fortress of far-right perception and in the real world of hard facts, the influx of refugees into the European Union from 2012 to the peak of 2015/16 represented under half a percent of the EU’s population. Since then, thanks to government reactions to knee-jerk xenophobia or to the xenophobia of politicians, the numbers have tailed off significantly, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency. Moreover, and contrary to the ‘sponger’ image of refugees, an analysis by the Brookings Institute revealed that the inflow of refugees actually has a net positive effect on host economies – and the OECD agrees – which raises the perplexing question, if migrants are out to destroy the West, why are they making it richer?

More confoundingly still, if the aim of Muslims in Europe and America is to destroy Christendom and wipe out the infidel, either with actual bombs or with demographic time-bombs, it appears inconceivable that any Muslim fanatic worth his salt would head the other way. Yet this is exactly what they are believed to be doing, with overstated and exaggerated hordes of European Muslims heading to Syria and Iraq to heed the call of jihad, so sensationally covered that you would be forgiven if you had the impression that Europe was being depopulated of its Muslim population.

Master puppeteers

Despite the fixation on Islam, it would be a mistake to think that Muslims have replaced the Jews in extreme right discourse – their presence appears to be a complementary one. A special place remains reserved for Jews in far-right narratives and conspiracy theories. For decades following the Holocaust, these narratives had become marginalised or had gone underground (such as the transnational Malm Movement), often only mentioned in hints and suggestions. But with the rise of the far-right, they have enjoyed a comeback in recent years in a number of countries, from Hungary to the United States.

Many Judeophobic conspiracy theories are recycled or adapted traditional anti-Semitic canards revolving around how Jews represent some kind of homogeneous cabal which runs the world clandestinely by controlling the financial sector and the media. This includes the renewed vogue the discredited hoax known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the fantasy that the Rothschild family controls the world’s central banks and causes war by financing both sides of every conflict enjoy in the growing far-right movement. More recent variations on this theme include the troubling mainstreaming in conservative circles of the narrative, which is especially popular in Hungary, that the tycoon and philanthropist George Soros is behind all kinds of sinister conspiracies to destroy Europe in order to be able better to rule it. Another is the conspiracy theory that a shadowy Zionist Occupation Government (‘Zionist’ here refers to Jew, not political Zionism) controls governments in the United States and Europe.

Some have even attempted to forge unified conspiracy theories of everything, in which various disparate and contradictory conspiracist ideas are forcibly mixed into a potently toxic cocktail. An example of this is how the mythical Zionist Occupation Government is responsible for mass migration in order to dilute or exterminate the white race so as to facilitate its satanic quest for global dominance. This blends anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, white genocidal and anti-leftist/liberal conspiracy theories into one incoherent whole.

Toxic far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have drifted not only to segments of the far-left but have found their way into Arab, Islamic and Islamist narratives, which historically discriminated much less than Christianity against the Jews, with Muslim bigots traditionally regarding Jews with condescension rather than suspicion and fear. This changed dramatically with the advent of modern Zionism, the influence of fascism and the creation of Israel, and is often fuelled by a desperate need to scapegoat weakness and failure by depicting the ‘enemy’ as super-humanely powerful and evil.

The hatred, contempt and fear of Jews shared by Christian and Muslim extremists has occasionally resulted in some unlikely and troubling alliances between neo-Nazi groups and Islamists, such as has occurred in some parts of Germany, both of which “ascribe extraordinary political power to Israel and the Jews, and their goal is to fight this power,” in the words of Heinz Fromm, the then president of the German domestic intelligence agency.

Turkey’s Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even suggested that the Kurdish referendum on independence was a devilish Jewish conspiracy, one unconvincingly masterminded by Bernard-Henri Lévy, once memorably described as the “Donald Trump of French philosophy”. Of course, this is not the first time that Erdoğan has ascribed superpowers to BHL, as he often referred to in France: he once hinted that the French ‘philosopher’ was behind the ouster of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi. Islamists often portray Arab regimes with whom they disagree as being American and Jewish stooges. Some members of the outlawed and oppressed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt subscribe to a conspiracy theory that dictator Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has a Jewish mother. Some conservative Muslims and Islamists are convinced that ISIS is a creation of western and Zionist imperialism, as are some secular Arabs. Interestingly, numerous white supremacists are also convinced of a similar conspiracy theory, even alleging that ISIS’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is actually a Mossad agent.

Mainstreaming falsehood

These far-right conspiracy theories do not exist in a vacuum. They are fed by more mainstream conservative falsehoods, which then feedback to the mainstream, pulling it ever further into the la-la zone. This is apparent in everything from the decades of eurosceptic myths that led the UK to leap off the Brexit cliff to the anti-immigrant, pseudo-fascistic rhetoric of large segments of Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire in Italy. Some mainstream conservatives find the twilight zone so alluring that they take the express train to the extreme because the mainstream’s gradual drift to the former fringe was not moving nearly fast enough. An example of this is Gavin McInnes who abandoned his creation, Vice, to embrace his inner white supremacist, misogynist and racist.

Even though the negative stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs has a very long pedigree, and has for generations been a staple of Hollywood myth-making, toxic mainstream conservative demonisation took off in earnest in the wake of the horrors of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Since then, America and Europe’s Muslim minorities have been inextricably linked in conservative perceptions with terrorism and treason.

The same applies to other minorities and marginalised groups, from Jews to Eastern European migrants to asylum seekers. The rightwing tabloid media in a number of countries has been vilifying them for years while claiming that it the imagined bogeyman of political correctness that was enjoying the upper hand, rather than the reality, that rightwing bigotry has been the dominant voice for generations.

Read part I

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Give Donald Trump a Nobel prize

 
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By Khaled Diab

It is outrageous that the fake news media is not outraged that Donald Trump has been left empty handed at this year’s Nobel awards. This oversight must be rectified next year.

Obama got a prize after eight months, but not Trump.
Photo: Nobel Institute

Friday 6 October 2017

Not only did the Norwegian Nobel Committee pre-emptively award Barack Hussein Obama the Nobel peace prize only eight or so months into his presidency, it has betrayed its liberal bias against Donald Trump. In addition to slapping him in the face, it has undermined his foreign policies by awarding this year’s peace prize to his enemies.

I mean the prize was awarded simultaneously with Trump’s announcement of the “calm before the storm” regarding the Iran nuclear deal. How much more blatant can it get?

And the insult does not end there. The acronym for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) suspiciously echoes Obama’s successful campaign slogan, “Yes, we can.”

I would not be at all surprised that Donald Trump is fuming right now at this double slight and thinking about where the Nobel Committee and the liberal media can stick that award. Yes, they can – truly so.

As a limp-wristed progressive who was opposed to prematurely awarding a peace prize to Obama, whose foreign policy change was cosmetic, I cannot advocate that Trump be awarded the peace prize, as he cooks up conflicts on multiple fronts.

However, there is an award which Trump richly deserves, and I would like to take this opportunity to nominate the American president for next year’s Nobel prize in literature. In fact, I believe Trump should have already been awarded this year’s prize.

Naturally, as a writer and as a reader, I can see why Kazuo Ishiguro deserves respect and how the Japanese-British novelist has “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

Nevertheless, with all due respect, while Ishiguro’s pen uncovers the abyss, Donald Trump actually embodies and embraces it. The US president possesses an innovative ability to surpass fiction and actually live it.

The reality TV star’s apparently improbable rise to power is a story whose magical freakism would stretch the credibility of any fiction writer to the limit, yet Trump managed it in real life – whatever that currently means.

Moreover, during his time in office, the US president has demonstrated a singular inability to discern fact from fiction, conspiracy theories from actual conspiracies, facts from alternative facts and truth from post-truth. His detachment from reality would be the envy of any lifelong dictator, but Trump has managed this despotic dissonance in a few short months – perhaps his long career as business monarch prepared him for this fantastical feat.

More impressively still, Donald Trump has managed to persuade millions of his supporters of a number of elaborate, far-fetched fictions, perhaps the most astounding of which is that a self-centred, self-absorbed, selfish billionaire out to enrich himself through public office is somehow the president of the common man and woman who is draining the swamp, making America great again and putting America first.

Awarding Trump the Nobel prize in literature would also continue the creative path beaten by the Swedish Academy last year when it unexpectedly named Bob Dylan its Nobel laureate. If an American rocker can win the Nobel prize in literature, why not an American politician, tycoon and reality TV star?

Naturally, Trump is not the sole political candidate for this prestigious award. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un should be considered as a co-laureate. Both face stiff competition from the likes of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, ISIS’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan.

I suspect some readers will disagree with my choice of category and will insist that Donald Trump deserves a Nobel in physics, for the quantum leap he has made in transforming reality into simultaneously a truth and a lie, fact and fiction (faction or fict). Despite his denial of science, Trump demonstrates the possible existence of multiple universes, and that we are suspended in the alternate reality where pink elephants fall out of the sky and explode into a candyfloss mushroom cloud.

Regardless of those alternative possible nominations, I insist that Trump most deserves the literature prize, and I hope the Swedish Academy will award it to him next year – if we are all still here, of course.

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Israel, the puppet master with no strings

 
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By Khaled Diab

Why is Israel, despite being a minor player, is seen by so many Egyptians and others in the region as the master puppeteer behind the crisis in Egypt?

Thursday 29 August 2013

Is this man the mastermind behind the crisis in Egypt or is he just a philosopher with "beautiful hair"?

Is this man the mastermind behind the crisis in Egypt or is he just a philosopher with “perfect hair”? Photo: Itzike

When news emerged that Hosni Mubarak was to be released from prison, I joked that Egypt was actually in the throes of a grand plot to punish the Egyptian people for having dared to topple their dictator. Part of this ‘conspiracy’ was the planting of provocateurs – Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Mohammed Morsi and Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi – to lead the country off a cliff.

Of course, I was sarcastically expressing my frustration at the incomprehensible magnitude of the incompetence displayed by Egypt’s leaders, the shattering – one shard at a time – of the Egyptian people’s dreams of revolution, as well as mocking the improbable conspiracy theories that have been floating around.

One of the most outlandish was the assertion by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, perhaps trying to fill a little of the void left by former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Israel was behind the ouster of Mohammed Morsi.

His evidence? A Jewish-French intellectual, unnamed by Erdoğan, who said, in 2011, that the Muslim Brotherhood would not take power, even if elected, because “democracy is not the ballot box.” The intellectual in question, an aide later revealed to AP, was none other than Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Unfortunately, Erdoğan did not elaborate on how BHL, as he is often called in France, came to work for the Israelis. Nor did he explain how Lévy managed to brainwash millions of Egyptians into coming out to the streets to demand Morsi’s departure, providing the army with the necessary cover and support to mount its coup, or what inside track the French philosopher enjoys with General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Although this conspiracy theory may actually appeal to Lévy’s over-inflated sense of himself – whose shallow philosophy has been described as “God is dead but my hair is perfect” – he is not a one-man intelligence agency. In fact, he is little more than the French equivalent of the “liberator of Kabul” John Simpson and “gut feeling,” “cab driver told me,” world-shaper Thomas Friedman.

[YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWnr27FvNhs]

In fact, anyone who actually watches the YouTube video can see that Levy is taking part in a panel discussion and is expressing his view that even if the Brotherhood won at the ballot box, he would not personally regard this as democratic. “Democracy is not only elections, it is values,” he asserted.

But, sadly, Erdoğan is not alone in spreading absurd rumours of this kind. In Egypt itself, there are some people in most camps who allege that Israel, usually in collaboration with the United States, is the master puppeteer behind the crisis there. For instance, one poster at the Rabaa protest shows US President Barack Obama dressed as pharaoh leading al-Sisi like a dog wearing a Star of David collar, while another –  which has stirred controversy in Egypt –  shows a Star of David stamped on the neck of a soldier. On the other side of the political spectrum, a caricature that appeared in a leading newspaper shows pro-Morsi protesters asking how to say “Occupy Egypt and save us”  in Hebrew.

This attitude strikes me as being particularly pronounced and most vitriolic in the pro-Morsi camp. “America and the Zionists were against Morsi. But they will fail in their project,” said one protester at the Raba’a al-Adawiya sit-in, which I visited days before it was violently dispersed.

One outspoken young man who pushed through the crowd to speak to me claimed shockingly, outrageously and preposterously: “Hitler killed the Jews for his people. Al-Sisi is killing his people for the Jews.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, there are those in the pro-military camp who believe that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are agents of the United States and Israel.

It may be news for many Israelis to learn that, while still in power, Morsi, who is most famous in Israel for describing Jews as “descendants of apes and pigs”, was described as a “Zionist” by one prominent anti-Brotherhood, secular cleric.

Riding the wave of suspicion toward the United States and Israel, the youth-led Tamarud movement, which helped spearhead the opposition against Morsi with a petition signed by millions calling for his departure, has launched a new petition campaign demanding the cessation of US aid and the cancellation of the Camp David accords, which would enable Egypt to fix its “broken” sovereignty.

Many Israelis and Jews will see this as yet another sign of Egypt’s and the Arab world’s irredeemable anti-Semitism. Although racism and prejudice, bred partly by generations of conflict, are certainly a factor, the reality is far more complex and nuanced.

Like Syria before it, Egypt has become a proxy political battleground for numerous regional and international players, with the biggest hitters being the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Turkey. And the fog of conflict ensures that along with real-world conspiracies, outlandish conspiracy theories also float around.

However, compared with these other players active backing of one side or the other, and even both, Israel’s role has been a passive, backseat one. If that is the case, why is Israel included among the top league of foreign meddlers, movers and shakers in Egypt?

Part of the reason is the perception that Israel is Washington’s loyal regional lapdog – or, more outlandishly, the tail that wags the dog – and as anti-American sentiment grows, Israel suffers by association.

In addition, there is the long history of actual plots in which Israel was involved – from the Lavon Affair and the Suez war to Netanyahu’s shuttle diplomacy to defend Mubarak – that gives fantastical conspiracy theories a superficial sheen of credibility.

Another factor is the emotive weight of utilising a decades-old enemy as a powerful weapon for discrediting political adversaries, which has been a long tradition in the Arab world – though more and more Egyptians are becoming sceptical of them.

However, the danger is that this distorts the reality of the situation. In fact, what’s happening in Egypt, in my view, is more a “clash within civilisations” than between them. This is illustrated in the United States’ overriding interest in “stability” to protect its interests, and that is why Washington backs the army right or wrong, because it incorrectly sees the military as Egypt’s only guarantor of stability.

The mutual dehumanisation and demonisation that has been going on for generations has sadly made Arabs and Israelis all too willing to believe the most implausible, inhumane theories about each other. This is reflected in how a significant number of Arabs have adopted the ancient Christian idea of the Jewish “blood libel” and how a large number of Israelis have reversed that blood libel and utilised it against the Palestinians, as demonstrated in the recent al-Durah affair.

But there is a danger to this. By attributing to your enemies a subhuman character and superhuman powers, you propel them out of the real world and into the realm of otherworldliness, leading to the untrue conviction that you are powerless to transform foe into friend and war into peace. But at a time when populism is more important than wisdom, suggesting that your common enemy is your opponent’s “friend”  is just too tempting an opportunity to miss.

 

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 27 August 2013.

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Lost in demonisation

 
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 By Khaled Diab

Israelis and Arabs tend to believe that they share little in common. But in reality they are more alike than they like to admit.

1 July 2011

One might be excused for thinking that the only thing Arabs and Israelis have in common is a shared passion for hummus. But even that simple pleasure has become highly politicised, as illustrated by the recent ‘Hummus Wars’ in which Israelis, Lebanese and Palestinians sought to show that size does matter.

Israelis claim hummus as their national dish, while Palestinians protest that it was theirs first and fear that the occupation has taken over their kitchens, too. Under different circumstances, who got there first wouldn’t matter and the shared fondness for the same food could be utilised as a unifying factor – after all, the best way to a people’s heart is through their stomachs – but, instead, any common ground is too often lost in demonisation.

Against the backdrop of a bitter decades-long conflict, Israelis and Arabs are prone to believe that they may be neighbours geographically but they are worlds apart in all other senses. Too many Israelis seem to view Arabs as die-hard (or is that die-willingly?) fans of fanaticism whose only idea of fun is fundamentalism. It’s almost as if Arabs are career jihadis who chase promotion in the cut-throat corporate world of martyrdom in the hope of gaining access to the executive club in the sky, with its 72 sexy personal assistants and rivers of gushing vintage wine.

This automatic suspicion has been demonstrated to me repeatedly since our arrival here. The security at the airport’s cargo village turned the van I was in inside out, and even combed it for explosive traces, for no other reason than I was apparently carrying a ‘suspicious package’ in the form of my toddler son, whose presence seemed to miff the soldiers at the gate.

 This benighted Arab extremism contrasts sharply with Israel’s self-image as the region’s only liberal, enlightened society – “an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism,” according to Herzl, or more colourfully the “villa in the jungle,” in Ehud Barak’s view.

There are Israelis I have met who have reacted in disbelief when I talk about secular Arabs, as if their existence in the Middle East (outside Israel, that is) is as mythical as that of elves in Middle Earth. Though Arabs are generally more conservative than non-Jerusalemite Israelis, this stereotype overlooks the presence of places like laisse-faire Lebanon and egalitarian Tunisia, whose laws are possibly more secular than Israel’s, not to mention the tens of millions of secular Arabs in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and beyond.

It also overlooks Israel’s own reality. I am surprised by how much sway the religious community holds here, such as how much religious law the Orthodox have forced into Israel’s legal system, how the pious force much of the rest of the country to keep come to a grinding halt during Shabbat, and how pigs will fly before you find any pork in Jerusalem shops. In fact, some parts of Jerusalem behave like theocratic city statelets.

For their part, Arabs tend to view Israelis as comic-book – or spy thriller – villains whose sole occupation in life is to be soldiers, settlers and/or spies. Although the Mossad, like other intelligence agencies, is involved in real-life conspiracies, the conspiracy theories, such as in my native Egypt, far outstrip and defy any possible realities: chewing gum that makes decent Egyptian youth horny, radioactive seatbelt buckles, shampoo that makes your hair fall out, and even creams that gnarl your skin.

Fortunately, Egyptians have interpreted the recent arrest of the maverick Israeli-American revolution tourist Ilan Grapel as a distractionary tactic by the generals currently running the country.

And it’s not just fear and demonisation of the ‘enemy’ that Arabs and Israelis share in common, despite their protestations to the contrary. Actually, the diversity within each group dwarfs the differences between the two collectives.

Israelis share with Arabs – particularly their Mediterranean neighbours – a keen sense of Middle Eastern hospitality, though Israelis have a more direct manner and behave with greater swagger, and are even hospitable to one another when they meet on the individual level, as I have discovered here and some Israelis I know found out in Egypt. We also share a love of loud conversation and gesticulation, and a passion for large gatherings and spontaneity in public spaces. Family is also of paramount importance on both sides of the divide.

Having suffered for centuries under foreign hegemony or as vulnerable minorities, Arabs and Israelis share a sense of victimhood and persecution, not to mention their penchant for believing elaborate conspiracy theories that confirm their belief that the entire world is out to get them.

Moreover, many of the challenges facing Arab and Israeli societies are remarkably similar, such as the battle for the soul of society between secularists, fundamentalists, modernists and traditionalists.

In addition, contrary to the Arab proverb that ‘what has passed has died’, in Israeli and Arab eyes, the past is not relegated to the annals of ancient history but is a living, breathing, oft-oppressive creature. But as the revolutionary wave gripping the region turns attention towards the future, I hope that Arabs and Israelis will find a way to work together to draft a tolerant, inclusive and just chapter in their as yet unwritten history.

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Losing the plot

 
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By Khaled Diab

Wacky conspiracy theories cause damage by drawing attention away from the real plots being hatched by our governments.

4 July 2009

Conspiracy theories: some believe the 11 September attacks were an inside job. Image ©Copyright Katleen Maes

Conspiracy theories: some believe the 11 September attacks were an inside job. Image ©Copyright Katleen Maes

If I were paranoid, I might start believing that some sinister plot was afoot. It almost seems as though the sheer proliferation of far-fetched, madcap conspiracy theories doing the rounds has been designed by some evil genius to cause ‘conspiracy fatigue’ in the public mind and to discredit the whole idea that our governments actually do conspire. But as I’m not unduly paranoid, I realise that this is a reflection of the fact that there are legions of gullible and disillusioned folk out there who have lost their faith in the establishment.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the July 2005 London bombings, there is one conspiracy theory that has proven particularly resilient to reason and evidence. According to advocates of this theory, the 7/7 attacks were not the work of a group of disgruntled and marginalised British Muslims angry at what they saw as their government’s war against Islam – a variation on the stubbornly persistent ‘clash of civilisations‘ theory. Instead, they believe – based on evidence so flimsy you wouldn’t sit your coffee mug on it – that the whole affair was staged by the British government (possibly with Israeli help) to draw attention away from the catastrophe in Iraq and shore up support for the so-called “war on terror”.

And how did the government achieve this? Through controlled explosions. Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s a low-budget spin-off of the 11 September conspiracy theory. And like 9/11, it comes with its very own cult film entitled 7/7 Ripple Effect.

The film bases its conspiracy theory on a number of apparent contradictions and “an unbelievable set of circumstances” in the official narrative, such as the fact that an ex-police officer organised, in a nearby office, a mock exercise preparing for a possible terrorist attack on the underground. The film also claims that the alleged attackers were not on the trains that blew up. So, where were they? Apparently being assassinated in Canary Wharf by government agents who were out to frame them for the atrocity. Given the persistent popularity of 7/7 Ripple Effect, the BBC ran a special documentary this week which investigated the credibility of the DVD’s claims.

Examining the film’s claims one by one, the BBC documentary demolished them compellingly by drawing on convincing evidence. It also unmasked the man behind Ripple Effect, a certain John Hill from Sheffield who is living in Ireland. In addition to making conspiratorial mountains out of coincidental molehills, Hill’s other beliefs include that he is the Messiah and that the ‘Force’ told George Lucas to write Star Wars.

Of course, the flimsiness of the case and the untrustworthiness of the source won’t convince a certain faction of diehard conspiracy theorists. In fact, I’ve found out that it has been declaimed as a “hit piece” by a leading rightwing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. No doubt, I will be seen as a mindless pawn in the plot for writing this piece.

In the absence of an official public inquiry and given the government’s lack of credibility following the ‘sexed up’ march to war in Iraq, some people are gullible or disenchanted enough to believe that the government – or other groups they don’t like: corporations, Muslims, Jews, etc – is capable of hatching the most fantastical plots.

However, the sensation and ridicule elicited by crackpot conspiracy theorists discredits talk of the very real plots that take place and enables those involved to laugh them off. But just because there are fantastical conspiracy theories out there that does not mean there are no real conspiracies taking place. In fact, behind many far-fetched conspiracies, there is a germ of fact based on precedent. For example, there are rumours in the Middle East that the US is pulling the strings of the protests in Iran, even though no one has been able to show any convincing link or explain how a mass movement can be remote controlled from Washington. What sustains the rumours and gives them life is that the US and Britain have form, having covertly engineered a coup to oust Iran’s first democratic government more than half a century ago.

Similarly, the 7/7 and 9/11 theories feed off a deep well of distrust dug by other lies. It seems clear to me that the British and American publics were misled in the run-up to the Iraq war, with all the fanciful claims of fictional weapons of mass destruction and the non-existent and farcical link between Saddam Hussein and his sworn enemies al-Qaida. Now that’s a conspiracy, if ever there was one. Instead of giving any credence to 7/7 or 9/11 conspiracy theories, we should dedicate our efforts to campaigning for a proper public inquiry into the real deceptions that took place and demand that those responsible be brought to justice.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 3 July 2009. Read the related discussion.

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