It’s no laughing matter – time to challenge conspiracy

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MAAS will be building a library of useful aids to challenge anti-Semitism. We will take manifestations of anti-Semitism and provide useful means to help you challenge them. First in this series we are looking at collective blame and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. 9/11 has seen hateful narratives created against both Muslims and Jews and in seeing how both of theses narratives have been created, their basis and why they are both false and dangerous we hope that you will have useful information to challenge these perceptions yourself.

Twin towers: The Jews did it! The Muslims did it!

 

Conspiracy theories might seem crazy, sometimes amusing but definitely not worth our time or attention. Wrong. Conspiratorial blaming around the twin towers provides a strong example as to why we must pay heed to conspiracy theories and dedicate time to challenging them.

On September 11th 2001 the Islamist extremist group, al-Qaeda, used four passenger airliners as weapons to attack the United States killing 2,996 people and injuring 6,000 others, causing Wall Street to close, resulting in a global economic downturn and closing civilian airspace in the US and Canada for two days. Despite the catastrophic effects this terror attack had on civilians and the economy, some adopt a belief that all Muslims were tacitly involved, or that it was not an Islamist extremist terror attack at all but an attack by the Jews.

Let us take first the notion that all Muslims are to blame for 9/11:

The thinking is this: 9/11 was perpetrated by Muslims therefore all Muslims are a threat. This kind of thinking saw hate crime against Muslims rise from 28 reported incidents to 481 in 2001 following 9/11.[1] It is the type of thinking that results in consistent spikes in anti-Muslim hate following Islamist inspired attacks. It relies on the belief that all Muslims are ideologically aligned and violently inclined. It is in fact a very easy fallacy to contest; firstly Muslims believe in a number of different interpretations of Islam belonging to a number of branches and can never ideologically be treated as a whole.

A useful parallel to draw here is with the Westboro Baptist Church: this widely reviled Christian sect spreads hate speech and is considered a hate group by nearly everyone, yet no-one would consider this group to be representative of Christian belief and practice as a whole.

Secondly even of those who adopt an extreme literalist interpretation of Islam are unlikely to believe in violent Jihad as a means to achieve religious/ political goals. For example, Saudi Arabians whose dominant faith is Salafi/ Wahabism, which insists on a literalist interpretation of the Qu’uran, and has been accused of laying fertile ground for terrorism, mainly emphasize dawa and reform as a way for spreading their ideology rather than violence.[2]

A useful parallel here is violent attacks perpetrated by the far right: even the most right leaning people in this country abhor far right violence like the killing of MP Jo Cox, yet they continue to disagree with her politics and may be accused of laying fertile ground for future violence. To conclude here there are a plethora of beliefs within Islam and even the distinct minority who adopt a literalist view are very unlikely to agree with violent measures. Therefore, despite the attackers of 9/11 being Muslim it does not follow that all Muslims should be considered a threat.

Now let us turn to the conspiracy theory that Jews were behind 9/11:

Hezbollah’s television station Al-Manar ‘reported’ that 4,000 Israelis employed at the World Trade Centre did not show up for work that day because they were told in advance of the attacks. This then became central to the conspiracy that it was Israel and the Jews, not Al-Qaeda, that perpetrated 9/11. [3] In fact it is estimated that 400 Jews died in the attack.[4]

Unfortunately, a conspiracy theory like this is not surprising: there is a concerning popular point of view that Jews control world affairs. A recent CNN survey showed that 28% of Europeans believe that Jews have too much power over business and finance.[5]

Again, we see a diverse and complex group treated as a whole. This is complicated further by conflating being Jewish with actions of the state of Israel. Jews hold a variety of different political and ideological views, and not all Jews believe in the Zionist ideology (the belief in a right to a Jewish homeland) and then many Zionists do not agree with Israeli state action.  So to treat all Jews as a whole and to consider all Jews to be supporters of and actively involved in Israeli state action is again a fallacy.

Both theories have elements of collective blame. Collective blame is the punishing of the whole for the actions of a few.  In these examples Muslims are collectively blamed for terrorist attacks and Jews are collectively blamed for disasters according to an association with Jews and power, wealth and global control.

The problem with collective blame, according to neuroscientist Emile Bruneau co-author of Interventions highlighting hypocrisy reduce collective blame of Muslims for individual acts of violence and assuage anti-Muslim hostility[6] is that “If you collectively blame an entire group for the actions of individuals, it makes it totally reasonable to exact your revenge from any person from that group… You get a cycle going on where each cycle is motivated to commit violence against totally innocent members of the other group.”[7]  The obvious example here is the Holocaust. The Jews were blamed for the economic problems Germany faced and were painted as a threat to national security and prosperity. As the nationalist propaganda began to take root, the majority of German citizens accepted, encouraged and even participated in the mistreatment of Jews under Nazi rule. To give an even more direct example, Kristallnacht, when 267 synagogues were destroyed and an estimated 90 Jews murdered by the SA and civilians, was seemingly in response to the assassination of the Nazi German diplomat by a German- born Polish Jew, but can be seen as a direct result of shifting blame collectively, where one Jewish person’s actions were used to instigate aggression of the whole community.

As this article has shown, conspiracy theories and collective blame should not be treated as a joke. In the fight against the rise in both Anti-Muslim hate and anti-Semitism conspiratorial thinking, sweeping generalisation and collective blame must be consistently challenged. An easy way to do this is to get accustomed to the common conspiracy theories, do some research on the facts and keep them ready for potential discussions that head in this dark direction. Pointing out hypocrisy and ‘fake news’ are the best way to challenge the theories. As well as pointing out how dangerous conspiracy theories and connected collective blame can be.

It may also be useful to consider why conspiracy theories are formed at all. Conspiracy theories are often created to either shift blame from a certain group or pin blame on another group. It is no surprise then that Jewish conspiracies surrounding 9/11 are widely held across the Middle East. Another reason may be to make sense of reality when it goes against set beliefs, for example: those who do not believe that we had the technology to go the moon, may adopt conspiracy theories advocating that the moon landing was faked. They can also empower the conspiracy theorists with a sense of superiority as they might feel they know something others don’t, and that they have unmasked something that those in power do not want them to know.

As David Baddiel put: ‘Conspiracy theories are a way for idiots to feel like intellectuals.’

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/conspiracy_files/6341851.stm

[2] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-110shrg40579/html/CHRG-110shrg40579.htm

[3] https://web.archive.org/web/20110604144105/http://www.adl.org/ADL_Opinions/Anti_Semitism_Arab/911_Conspiracies.htm

[4] https://web.archive.org/web/20021010020906/http://www.thejewishweek.com/bottom/specialcontent.php3?artid=362

[5] http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2018/11/europe/antisemitism-poll-2018-intl/

[6] http://pcnlab.asc.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CB_R1_accepted_10-10-17.pdf

[7] https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/11/30/16645024/collective-blame-psychology-muslim

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A Socialism Which Is a Hatred of Jews: This is Not the Socialism I Want

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Reduce the world to binaries and moral absolutism and everything can be processed with extreme simplicity. Intellectual legwork is never required, introspection deemed unnecessary, when dealing with complex situations because rhetoric around imperialists, anti-imperialists and capitalism has created an immutable moral framework for the world. In this the protagonists and antagonists are clearly defined and context and political nuances become irrelevant.

Within politics this creates intellectual trappings where some fail to progress beyond the material they studied in colleges and universities, imprisoned in a hate of America and capitalism that might have seemed a bit more rational had it not been set against their silence towards politically inconvenient atrocities and adoration for communism. If you’re a leftist, you are automatically good. If you are on the right, you are the scum of the earth, allied with imperialists and capitalists. And no one for sections of the far left are worse than Jews and Israel.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on the Palestinian conflict. As an ethical socialist, I regard it as a moral necessity to protest against Israel’s human rights abuses, just as we should protest against any country that abuses these rights. But the intellectually impoverished far left do not stop there. And it’s their view of capitalism and Israel that needs to be understood when looking at the sharp rise in left-wing anti-Semitism in Britain today.

In their world of clearly defined antagonists, Jews, or at least the wealthy ones, are posited as one of the chief threats to equality and fairness. They are the schemers and plotters who control the media, who are behind atrocities. The rhetoric around Israel drips in contempt that extends far beyond activism for Palestine. After all, if it was the case that they sincerely cared for the Palestinians they would protest Assad’s bombing of the Palestinian camps in places like Yarmouk.

Virulent anti-Semitism has often been tolerated under the guise of being an anti-Zionist. In the name of battling for Palestine and being against capitalism, terrible tropes about Jewish people have been allowed to filter through in left-wing spaces. Sometimes the tropes are not immediately recognisable, dressed up in anti-capitalist, pro-Palestine messages. Bankers are seen as the embodiments of capitalism but in far-left discourses, also posited as being Zionists. Israel are seen as behind everything, the puppeteers dangling us all. It plays on the classic trope where Jews are the masters manipulating everything.

For Illuminati or freemasons, read Jews. For controlling the media, see Jews. Labels of establishment and the elite exist across the far left and far right and both are seeped in racism. On the far right, it speaks scathingly of liberals who hold soft views regarding immigrants, refugees and Muslims. But on the far left, concealed behind the discussions on capitalism and its flaws, it implies Jews.

This has flared sharply on the left within the Labour Party recently and has been poorly handled. The political tribe that once recognised racism as something to defeat today views it as a smear against the left, and more specifically, against Jeremy Corbyn. A movement that builds itself around the man rather than the idea will always fall apart when he does. And so it has happened here when accusations around Corbyn’s laxness towards anti-Semitism didn’t galvanise the left to combat racism but instead accuse Jews of whipping up a conspiracy against him.

From sharing platforms with Holocaust deniers, defending a racist mural, laying wreaths for anti-Semitic terrorists, Corbyn has done little to fight anti-Semitism and shown very little sincere interest in fighting it. Bring this up and you hear talks of Cable Street and lifelong campaigning against racism. Anti-racism isn’t something you say but something you do, and where it has concerned him at the most pivotal point in his political career, Corbyn has failed miserably.

His allies have spoken of fighting anti-Semitism and yet at every turn been more concerned about free speech than fighting bigotry. They have continuously absolved him at every turn whilst maintaining the pretence that the left consistently fights racism.

Part of the problem is the premise that racism is a combination of power and prejudice, and as Jews are seen as powerful, cannot ever be victims. So when Jews are attacked or abused, sympathy for them is not what it would be say for blacks or Asians.

This is not what socialism looks like. This not what it should ever look like.

Rabbil Sikkdar is a British Muslim writer and has previously published in the New Statesman, Independent, I and Left Foot Forward.

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We Muslims Need to Talk About Muslim anti-Semitism

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This article was first published in Ha’aretz

Political polarization, Islamist infiltration and a helping hand from the Corbynite far left is leading more and more young, disaffected Muslims to demonize Jews. We must find the courage to speak out.

In France recently, 300 French dignitaries and celebrities wrote an open letter about the “quiet ethnic purging” of Jewish communities in the country – and they cited Islamist extremism as being the root cause of this racial and demographic purge.

They also lamented the fact that 11 members of local Jewish communities had been killed by Islamists since 2006 with the most recent murder being that of Mireille Knoll, an 85 year old woman who had survived the Nazi round up of Jews in Vel d’Hiv in 1942, from where families, men and women were transported to concentration and death camps.

Only about 100 of the 13,000 Jews who were detained at Vel d’Hiv survived, and Mireille Knoll was one of them. She was to end up being murdered in Paris, stabbed 11 times in an anti-Semitic murder and frenzy, which led to the arrest of two  people, including a man of North African heritage.

The Community Security Trust monitors anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom and their 2017 annual report makes for stark reading. Out of 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents logged last year, they managed to obtain descriptors of the ethnic appearance of perpetrators in about 30% of cases. Of these cases, 107 involved perpetrators of ‘South Asian’ or ‘North African’ appearance – around 25% of those cases. There is a high probability that many of these individuals were of Muslim heritage.

The CST goes out of its way not to stress this fact: that a significant proportion of the perpetrators of street-based hate crimes involved people who were probably Muslims.

Compounding the picture: in the online hate reported to the CST, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian sentiment cross into anti-Semitic tropes. Tweets that combine blood libel imagery and the Palestinian flag, or with dead children with a star of David emblazoned on their bodies and with organs missing, all play to age-old and insidious anti-Semitic tropes.

Yet, troublingly, much of this rhetoric online was also circulated by British Muslims during the Gaza – Israel wars of 2014 and 2016. The tropes, images and language still cycle through social media and through three different sets of activists, if we can call them that.

The first of these sets of activists  are some British Muslims themselves. They can be further subdivided into active Islamists; into those who are not aware or do not consciously recognize that the material is anti-Semitic; and into those British Muslims who simply aren’t bothered if the messages are anti-Semitic. The latter often seem to believe that defending the Palestinian cause is a license to open anti-Semitism.

The second strand where this rhetoric finds recirculation and a home is amongst the far left, many of whom have attempted to rejoin and enter the Corbynite Labour Party.

The final element where it finds a home is within far right sympathizers and those who hate Jews because of “old-school” far right anti-Semitism.

Sadly, all three stick onto social and foreign policy issues such as Israel- Palestine like limpets, sucking on the lifeblood of the Palestinian cause, dirtying and muddying the cause of the Palestinians with their hatred of Jews.

That has consequences. I remember, the campaigns for a free and viable Palestinian state in the 1980’s, which were mainly held by British liberals  who genuinely demonstrated for a space where Palestinian culture and life could flourish. Some of these demonstrators rallied in the belief that two states could mean a real solution for the region, and few had anti-Semitism at their core.

During the 1990’s, a steady array of Islamists joined the demonstrators, walking in ultra conservative clothing characteristic of Muslim ultra-conservatism, with placards that caricatured Jews as puppet masters of the West.

That Islamist extremist bandwagon turned up and expropriated the Palestinian cause from Quakers, liberals and those disarmament activists colloquially known as ‘Greenpeacers’ who formed the backbone of the political left at the time.

It was to be a matter of time before this Islamist extremism was to find a natural synergy and partner in the extreme left in Britain, something that is patently visible and obvious today, as they smell the backdoors to power through a Corbynite government.

That natural synergy was based on an ideological convergence between Islamist extremists and the far left around the necessity to “counter colonialism” and on disrupt “Western decadence” and its “materialism.” These twin aims have been the glue which holds them together up to today.

But it’s a two-way street: it’s not only extremist British Muslims seeking friends in the hard left, there are also those on the left who are seeking to build a bridge based on anti-Semitism with the Muslim community.

I have to admit, that I myself have been taken in and duped by those who have tried to associate themselves with causes that are of interest to Muslim communities. Only later did I find out that their real motivation was anti-Semitism, and their “bridge-building” with Muslims was part of their determined, wily and twisted logic.

As the Founder of Tell MAMA, the Muslim equivalent of the CST, individuals have tried to be helpful in reporting anti-Muslim hate and some have postured as though they were anti-racist campaigners.

Taken at face value, they seemed reasonable and decent people, offering voluntary assistance that we were disposed to welcome, not least when hate crimes had been spiking and when we were stretched for resources to cover anti-Muslim incident reports coming in from across the country.

It also means that anti-Semitism is a complex and much wider problem that many of us previously thought, and sadly, depressingly, it comes from a wide range of areas, including within some sections of Muslim communities where it is entrenched and mixed up with 9/11, 7/7 and other geopolitical conspiracy theories.

It also means that anti-Semites will make approaches to organizations that work on issues of significance to Muslim communities, just as anti-Muslim haters may make the reverse approaches – to organisations working on anti-Semitism.

Sadly, everyone working against bigotry in the U.K. now have to be on our guard as to potential ulterior motives from many who approach us as “friends.”

As a British Muslim, I can honestly say that I have never seen the U.K. as fractured and polarized as now, and where anti-Semitism has become so deeply rooted in some parts of the British Muslim community.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been called a “Zionist” for working with groups like the CST and those Jewish groups at the frontline of tackling hatred and prejudice. It’s a convenient, but transparent, smear for some of my co-religionists to bypass the anti-Semitism charge by throwing out the term “Zionist.”

Many who throw this term out have hardly crossed their twenties and were not even born when the first Intifada even took place, yet their world view is binary to the extreme. Whatever’s Jewish is Israeli is Zionist – and hence bad; everything that they deem is Islamic, is good.

Just don’t ask them about minorities in Islam, since the Muslim minorities they don’t like are also deemed to be a threat to Islam. Ahmadis and Shias are examples of Muslim minorities targeted by Islamist campaigns in Pakistan; the poisonous accusation that they are “heretics” has been carried to the U.K. by imams who have adopted those views. This intra-Muslim sectarian hate is growing.

Unsurprisingly, progressive Muslims who call for an end to sectarianism and for diversity and pluralism within Islam have also been the target of U.K. Islamists’ online campaigns. Strangling Islam’s intrinsic pluralism is a classic tactic by Islamist groups to “take control” of the faith.

In their mind of the perpetrators of such hate, the world is bipolar, with Muslims and Jews at opposite ends; and it is people like this who are winning the hearts and minds of many young disaffected people in the U.K.

On the other side, anti-Muslim hatred is growing within white working class neighborhoods who see Muslims as the existential threat and where the appropriation of the Israeli flag and Jewish symbols are a means to bait Muslims.

We are truly at a dangerous juncture and it will take people of courage to speak out. At the very least, more Muslims can speak out and challenge the anti-Semitism within.

If we fail to do so, we can forget ever talking about equality, justice and tackling racists. It is those who speak at times where things seem overwhelming, who can lead the way. God knows, we need them more than ever.

Fiyaz Mughal OBE is the Director of Faith Matters and the Founder of Tell MAMA. He is also a trustee of the U.K’s National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

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