Category Archives: Conspiracy and Hidden Hands

On the Dangers of Conspiracy Theories: Brief Reflections

I recently got the following request from a Dutch journalist doing an article on conspiracy theories. I responded in some detail, and thought I’d post it here for a wider readership.

As a Dutch freelance journalist I’m writing an article about conspiracy theories, and their potential danger to modern societies.

While doing my research, I found a very interesting lecture from the Hebrew University, in which you took part and said some very interesting things about this subject.

However, some things are still unclear to me, and I hope that you are willing to cast some light upon these questions.

You called the internet a petri dish for conspiracy theories. While these theories do seem to reach more people who might believe in those theories, do you believe that universities and media – from a moral and socially responsible point of view – should put more emphasis on debating and debunking such theories? Are such theories actually more dangerous in our internet age than ever before?

As you know from my article, I wanted to have a conference on conspiracy, and my colleagues showed considerable timidity about the possibility of drawing the wrong crowd. Academics are not known for their courage, even (I’d say especially) those who pretend to be courageous in their criticism of their own governments (which protect their right to criticize them), while yielding to the intimidation of other governments (who threaten them with everything from barred access – China – to worse). It’s particularly easy to dump on people who don’t retaliate. Hence, for example, post-colonialism does very little to address the profound imperialism and colonialism embedded in Islam.

Reflections on Al Durah Staged and Conspiracy Theory

One of Charles Enderlin’s favorite defenses is to accuse his critics of believing in “conspiracy theories.” Here is Larry Derfner, whom Charles cites approvingly in his book on the subject, dismissing Philippe Karsenty and me as “conspiracy nuts”:

No doubt about it – Phillippe Karsenty and his allies have a lot of evidence that the killing of Mohammed al-Dura was a hoax, that it was staged by France 2 TV in cahoots with the Palestinians. In fact, Karsenty, Richard Landes and the rest of the conspiracy theorists have so much evidence that it may even add up to .001% [Enderlin mistranslates as 100% – rl] of the evidence that the Mafia, or Castro, or the Pentagon killed JFK. They may have the merest, slightest fraction of the evidence there is that Shimon Peres masterminded the Rabin assassination, or that the Mossad was behind 9/11.

Now that the Israeli government has come out with a report on the al Durah affair which is at least as sharply critical of his work as the French Court of Appeals in 2008, we can expect Charles and his defenders to come out with both conspiracy barrels blazing.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between a “coup montée” (a planned sting) and a conspiracy.

In the former case, it’s a small group of people who coordinate their activities in order to violate rules without the knowledge of the wider public. In this case, we are dealing with a cognitive or narrative hoax, in which some group of players wants the public to believe even though it didn’t happen. These are common in the history of the modern press, and they play a key role in broader “propaganda” campaigns aimed at swaying public opinion.

The Al Durah coup was pulled off by a core of planners and actors, a larger circle of people who cooperated once the tale had been set in motion, and finally a broader circle of believers who were duped by the coup. In a basic sense, the issue is how many people need to know it’s a fake, and how many are duped? If it takes a really broad group of people who know it’s a fake and play along (including people at high public levels), then we’re dealing with a conspiracy. If it only takes a few who know and many more who are duped, it’s a sting.

Here are a survey of the minimum of planners of the hoax to pull this off the Al Durah hoax:

  • the crew at the site:
    • certainly: Talal abu Rahmah, the gang around his shouting and yelling “The boy is dead” when he’s still sitting up, the al Durahs, the people charged producing automatic gunfire, the “street” who watched this, as other staged scenes.
    • possibly: The two other cameramen (AP Reuters) who left when their jobs were done, a Palestinian marksman tasked with firing at the scene, starting with the jeep scene…
  • at the hospitals (Gazan and Jordanian):
    • certainly: Gazan doctors willing to identify the body of an older boy with a tattoo as that of Muhammad al Durah and to produce an official report; Jordanian doctors willing to continue the hoax of the father’s “wounds”.
    • possibly: a wider range of hospital officials and journalists.
  • at the funeral:
    • certainly: the people who had already prepared posters of the “dead boy.”
    • possibly: a larger group of people who knew this was a fake

The key to understanding how this is not a conspiracy theory is to understand that it did not have to be a conspiracy, that on the contrary, a small group of people could work together to launch the hoax and a much larger circle of people, for various reasons well worth considering, eagerly adopted the hoax.

The circle of dupes involves most of the people Enderlin cites when he mocks the notion of a conspiracy:

  • in the media
    • a Western chief correspondent willing to edit the material in a way to give it believability and a TV station ready to run with the story. Charles Enderlin may or may not have been part of the planning committee. My guess is, he’s a dupe, at least in part because of his arrogance. When he admitted to me that the Palestinians stage scenes all the time, I asked him if so, why not al Durah? To which he responded, “They’re not good enough to fool me.” Apparently not. As for his superiors in France2 who gave him the green light, they were almost certainly fooled by believing in their correspondent.
    • a compliant press ready to run with the story once it broke. Among these, most notably, were journalists like Suzanne Goldenberg and Robert Fisk who found proof of abu Rahma’s account at every turn, and fed the flames of a post-moden blood libel.
  • in the higher echelons of Arab culture
    • King Hussein of Jordan, who visited Jamal al Durah in the hospital and donated blood almost certainly did not know that he was being duped. He had no reason to question the fact that the bandages and blood on Jamals wounds might not be real.

The difference between a conspiracy theory and a scam/hoax/sting is that in order for a conspiracy to take place on a large scale (e.g., the US government planning the 9-11 attacks, or the Jews planning to take over the world), it would take thousands of people in very high places. In order for a hoax to take place it just takes a lot of dupes. And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, it was a lot of willing, even eager dupes.

When people think that claiming al Durah was staged necessitates a conspiracy, they assume that the mainstream news media could not be fooled across the board by a fake, that if there were serious evidence against the story as the media reported it, then surely investigative journalists would have spoken up.

Alas, no. The current state of the mainstream media, especially where coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, is an Augean Stables of encrusted bad habits. As Charles Enderlin said, when confronted with evidence that his cameraman Talal abu Rahma had filmed multiple staged scenes, “Oh yes, they do it all the time.” And the journalists who should have put an end to such behavior, apparently had/have no problem with that.

Suicidal Auto-stupefaction from a Belgian Deputy

People’s Party” Belgian deputé, Laurent Louis, espouses conspiracy theory (HT: Jean-Philippe Desmet):
Les attentats de Boston ou comment en quelques instants stigmatiser la Russie et les Musulmans… Encore un beau coup médiatique des sionistes ! Quelles seront les conséquences de ce pseudo attentat ? Une nouvelle limitation des libertés fondamentales ? Une nouvelle attaque contre les pays musulmans ? L’invasion de la Syrie ou pourquoi pas la déstabilisation de la Russie ? Il ne s’agit peut-être aussi que d’un coup de poker politique d’Obama pour justifier une reprise de la mobilisation militaire américaine dans le monde… Un prix Nobel de la Paix, ça ne peut pas partir en guerre pour une broutille… Les frères Tsarnaev, ça me fait penser au cas de Mohamed Merah, ce jeune pion utilisé par Sarkozy pour créer un vent de panique en France et espérer assurer sa ré-élection… Ah, que de manipulations !!!”The Boston attacks, or how in a few moments one can stigmatize Russia and the Muslims… Another great media coup of the Zionists. What will be the consequences of this pseudo-attack? A new limitation of fundamental liberties [e.g., the right to stay unbelievably stupid things – rl]? A new attack against Muslimc ountries? The invasion of Syria or why not the destablilization of Russia? It may just be a political poker move of Obama to justify un renewal of the american military mobilization in the world… A Nobel Peace Prize winner, can’t just go to war for nothing… The Tsarnaev brothers makes me think of Mohamed Merah, that young pawn used by Sarkozy to creat a wind of panic in France in the hopes of reassuring his re-election… Ah, what manipulations!!!
Nothing can penetrate the conspiratorial mind bent on self-destruction.

Martin Malliet’s Reflections on the Enderlin-Karsenty Case in the Al Durah Affair

In response to the previous post, reader Martin J. Malliet wrote the following about the upcoming trial in Paris. Since this trial, scheduled for hearing represents an important mile-marker in the now-over-twelve-year-long festering problem of al Durah and its profoundly noxious impact on the West, it’s important to become aware of the issues. Here below, Martin’s excellent comments with further reflections by me. Further remarks welcome.

The accusation of ‘bad journalism’ (misrepresenting the facts of the IDF’s responsibility) against France2/Enderlin should have been brought to the court by the IDF themselves. Or otherwise by somebody who could claim to have been unlawfully harmed by the bad journalism, such as an Israeli citizen being harmed by the false depiction of a government that is representing him.

At this point, I think the most valuable person to complain before the courts, including the international court, would be a Muslim who, radicalized into a genocidal Jihadi ideology with the use of the al Durah footage (subject of previous post), could sue France2 and (if the courts rule against Karsenty), the French Courts for the damage done to Muslim culture in France, which is now so far down the Jihadi “slippery slope,” that when Muhammad Merah, to revenge the Palestinian children killed by Israeli soldiers, kills little Jewish school-girls in cold blood, and a significant part of the French Muslim community considers him a hero in the “struggle.”

Now the trial was brought about indrectly by a French citizen (Karsenty): not directly by Karsenty’s complaining about the bad journalism of his French public news agency (France2/Enderlin), but indirectly by France2/Enderlin complaining about a defamatory statement made by Karsenty on the bad journalism of France2/Enderlin.

This indirect strategem was always risky, because it involved a reversal of the burden of proof: the trial wasn’t anymore about the accusation of BAD JOURNALISM (to which the defendent France2/Enderlin would have had to respond by proving that their journalism was not bad), it was about the ACCUSATION of bad journalism by someone who didn’t claim to be harmed by it (to which the defendant Karsenty had to respond by proving that his accusation was legitimate).

From the first court decision one may have the impression that this reversal of the burden of proof was not handled very well by Karsenty and his lawyers:

“The impact of these accusations is reinforced by the use (twice) of the word “fraud” and by the accusation of a “hoax,” which implies, NOT A CULPABLE RECKLESSNESS, BUT THE DELIBERATE INTENT OF MISLEADING OTHERS by broadcasting images that did not reflect reality (“a false report” according to “film experts” who have “confirmed our conclusions.”) Such accusations clearly damage the honor and reputation of their object, even more so when the persons thus described are employed in informing the public, such as in the case of the journalist Charles Enderlin or France 2.”

It would seem to me that if Karsenty had limited his accusation of bad journalism to ‘culpable recklessness’, it would have been strong enough to make his point, and it would not have opened the door for a discussion on his having sufficient proof for the stronger accusation of ‘deliberate intent to mislead’. Or he should at least have argued that ‘culpable recklessness’ on behalf of a professional public news agency is the same as the news agency’s culpable act of misleading itself (or of letting itself be misled by its sources), and thereby in the end of culpably misleading others.

This is more or less what Karsenty wrote in the original article. I am not really in a position to comment on the legal issues. I used to be (thought I was) good at legal issues, but this case has baffled me from the outset. What I would say here in terms of the larger discussion which I think we need to engage in on as large a scale as possible, is that the issues here concern the accusation of “conspiracy theory,” which I think inhibits many from even touching this topic.

If you think arguing it’s staged, is arguing a conspiracy (e.g., CE and Derfner and many), then you believe that the “conspiracy theorists” (e.g., PK and I) think Enderlin did it knowingly, on purpose, and that a wide range of conspirators were necessary to pull off such a coup, to fool “the whole world.” I’d argue that the pathetic aspect of the entire episode is how cheap the fake, how transparent its deliberate deception on the one hand, and how stunningly gullible CE and the rest of the mainstream western news media proved to be. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a pyramid of (misplaced) trust, CE in his cameraman Talal, and everyone else in CE. And if it weren’t so tragically wrong-headed to persist (here’s signs of a conspiracy to keep the lid on, to maintain the “honor” of CE and the French media), it’s actually full of comedy.

Iranian Semiotic Arousal and the 2012 Olympics

I have written a good deal (esp in my upcoming book) about “semiotic arousal” as a condition of the apocalyptic mind – everything is meaningful, patterns appear everywhere, nothing is coincidental. It is also a pattern of the conspiratorial mind (which, in many cases, is also apocalyptic). We’ve seen this among Muslims who can see either slanders of Islam or hidden support for the Zionists in various logos.

Now it’s the Olympics.

Iran claims London 2012 Olympics logo spells the word ‘Zion’
Almost four years after the logo’s launch, Tehran threatens to boycott the Games unless the design is changed

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, Monday 28 February 2011 14.29 GMT

The London 2012 Olympic logo, criticised by Iran. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
Iran has threatened to boycott the London Olympics unless the organisers replace the official logo, which Tehran claims spells out the word “Zion”.

The logo, a jagged representation of the year 2012, has been said by its critics to resemble many things, from a swastika to a sexual act, but the Iranian government argues it represents a veiled pro-Israeli conspiracy.

In a formal complaint to the International Olympic Committee, Tehran has called for the graphic to be replaced and its designers “confronted”, warning that Iranian athletes might otherwise be ordered to stay away from the London Games.

According to the state-backed Iranian Students News Agency, which is frequently used to convey official pronouncements, the letter says: “As internet documents have proved, using the word Zion in the logo of the 2012 Olympic Games is a disgracing action and against the Olympics’ valuable mottos.

“There is no doubt that negligence of the issue from your side may affect the presence of some countries in the Games, especially Iran which abides by commitment to the values and principles.”

Nice touch. Just what values and principles are these? Paranoid hatred? England would be well served by the absence of Iran and any other Muslim country crazy enough to insist on this.

The letter, from the country’s national Olympic committee, leaves unclear what “internet documents” it is referring to.

It’s also unclear what is “proved” on the internet. High school kids have a better sense of what’s reliable. Here, I think the principle is: If it supports your point of view, it’s true. Alas, that applies to many people in this world of self-induced brainwashing.

Amid the popular uproar that accompanied the unveiling of the logo in 2007, there were some claims, particularly on conspiracy-oriented websites, that its constituent shapes could be rearranged to make the world “Zion” and some animations were posted on YouTube showing how to do it.

An IOC official confirmed that the Iranian letter had been received but said: “The London 2012 logo represents the figure 2012, nothing else.”

A spokesman for the London Olympic organising committee added: “It was launched in 2007 following testing and consultation. We are surprised that this complaint has been made now.”

Notice how the gauntlet has been thrown. England either backs down or the Iranians do. Soooo honor-shame. Watch this space.

Jeffrey Goldberg has a few choice words on this:

…the Iranian regime complaining that the 2012 Olympic logo secretly spells out the word “Zion” (they’re wrong, of course; the logo secretly spells out “Mark Spitz is Jewish, and Jason Lezak is Too, So Go Drown Yourselves in the Caspian Sea)…

For a summary of the anti-Semitic idiocy that increasingly tumbles trippingly off the tongue of people all over the place, see Zombietime.

Speaking of Paranoia and Forgeries, try out this one from the PA

Speaking of paranoia

Most people have heard that the PA shut down the al Jazeera office in the West Bank. Indeed, it led the inveterately sarcastic Steven Plaut, after suggesting that Zionists should help the Palestinian boycott movement target anti-Zionist Jews like Daniel Barenboim, to comment:

Since the PLO is now also boycotting al-Jazeera, the prospects for our collaborating with it seem endless!

He has no idea. Now we find the real reason that the PA shut down Al Jazeera. The station was blowing the whistle on the secret plot between Sharon, Dahlan and Abbas to assassinate Arafat. Not only that, they have the secret transcripts of the meeting in which it was planned. Here’s a post from the website of the PFLP (Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine).

Comrade Mallouh calls for full and independent investigation into the death of Arafat

Comrade Abdel-Rahim Mallouh, Deputy General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for a full and independent investigation into the death of former President Yasser Arafat in order to fully determine who is responsible for his death.

Note that it can’t just be that he died from, say, AIDS. It has to be someone’s plot, someone’s fault, and if there’s no investigation that’s proof of a cover-up (not of the embarrassing details of Arafat’s sexual proclivities, but of murder most foul).

Comrade Mallouh called for this commission of inquiry on July 15, 2009 when asked about recent allegations and documents raised by Farouk al-Qaddumi, Fateh general secretary, accusing Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan of conspiring with Israel to eliminate Arafat and other key Palestinian political leaders. He noted that the PFLP has always called for such an investigation and that it is very much needed.

He stated further that no statement had been issued by the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as the committee has not met for over 2 weeks, dismissing recent statements attributed to the Executive Committee denouncing Qaddumi. Comrade Mallouh called for an end to the misuse of the name of the Executive Committee of the PLO in making such statements.

For reference purposes, and because it has not been widely distributed in English, we present the alleged transcript released by Qaddumi below. This is alleged by Qaddumi to be a transcript of a meeting between former Israeli prime minister and war criminal Ariel Sharon, Mahmoud Abbas, Muhammad Dahlan, and a U.S. delegation, that took place in 2003 before the Aqaba summit. Discussion of these allegations is the excuse that was provided in order to shut down Al-Jazeera offices in the West Bank by the PA in Ramallah under Salam Fayyad. In the interests of presenting information to the people, the document is below:

Meeting Transcript

Sharon: I insisted on this meeting before the summit so we can finalize all security matters and put these final touches so as not to encounter any confusion or discrepancies in the future.

Dahlan: If you didn’t ask for this meeting, I would have.

Sharon: To begin with, work must begin on eliminating all the military and political leaders of Hamas, Jihad, Al-Aqsa Brigades and the Popular Front so as to create a state of chaos in their ranks that will allow you to pounce on them easily.

Abu Mazen: In this way, we will inevitably fail. We won’t be able to get rid of them or confront them.

MSNM, NGOs and Paranoia: Nelson’s Reflections

I’ve posted several pieces on the latest dust-up between HRW and NGO Monitor recently, that raise fundamental questions about both the credibility of the “human rights” NGOs, but also their disturbing relationship to the MSNM, especially in their way of viewing the world (what the Germans call Weltanschauung). Now Nelson (Europundit) has offered an essay that gets at the core of the problem in a way I’ve only hinted at. Below, his essay. My notes — and others who comment here — to follow.

Nobody trusts the government. The politicians are corrupt. The government is always lying to the people. It works against the people’s true interests and only promotes the selfish interests of its own members and their friends. Those in power invent scary threats to distract the public’s attention from their own wrongdoings.

No, I’m not talking about the US. Well, not exclusively at least. Everything I’ve just said has been repeated day in day out, for years and decades, by the papers and the electronic media wherever there’s anything resembling a free press. That’s the MSM’s real message in all democratic nations. Whatever else they talk about is secondary.

Is it true? Often it is. Is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Each one of us can judge by him or herself. And, as we have been doing so collectively for some time, the MSM has been losing most reliability it might once have had, to the point that, in countries like the US, it is not only as little trusted as the government and the politicians themselves, but it’s clearly seen as just another partisan political player.

That’s, however, quite a small consolation, because the damage they, the MSM, could do has already been done and, even without being trusted, they can go on doing it. What’s exactly this damage? The corrosion and eventual destruction of public trust. No open society can work without it and, though the government and all state institutions must always be closely watched, it works at its very best when the people’s default attitude towards these is one of conditional trust, not one of perpetual mistrust.

The Byzantine Turns of the Arab Mind: Interview with Farid Salman

MEMRI has just published an interview with Farid Salman, Lebanese author and critic (who, if I’m not mistaken, won the first Kahlil Gibran International Award). He seems to be a Shiite (or, at least, to admire them) and anti-Sunni, and although he’s “self-critical” as a Lebanese, his final remarks about Obama and the Jews have a truly bizarre quality to them.

Special Dispatch – No. 2218
January 29, 2009 No. 2218

Following are excerpts from an interview with Lebanese author Farid Salman, which aired on OTV on November 25, 2008.

Farid Salman: “In Lebanon, we’ve become accustomed to refraining from speaking the truth, in order to avoid provoking zealousness – whether sectarian, political, or anything. Only in Lebanon do you hear such a thing. Lebanon has been destroyed. We have been fighting and slaughtering one another for 30 years – but God forbid there should be any zealousness… Provoke zealousness?! Even rocks we’ve provoked against us.


“Our president goes to New York, and suggests that Lebanon become a center for dialogue between civilizations. For 30 years, the name of Lebanon has not appeared in any newspaper, in any symposium, university, or any place in the world, unless it is to say that the Lebanese are fighting among themselves in the name of sectarianism and all that – yet we are not ashamed to present ourselves as the venue of dialogue between civilizations. Are we capable of even conducting a dialogue among ourselves, before we embark on a dialogue of civilizations?” […]

“The Sunni Muslim Sect… Was the Occupier… By the Sword”

“We have the two founding sects [of Lebanon] – the Druze and Maronite. Then we have the Shiites. Like the other two minorities, the Shiite sect was also a victim. The Sunni Muslim sect, on the other hand, was never a victim. This sect was the victor, the occupier…”

Ideology over Evidence in Iran Article Reminiscent of Enderlin Petition

Post by LB, additions by RL.

On the Empire Burlesque blog, Chris Floyd wrote a post entitled “Big Dog, Little Tail- The American Elite Decides on War with Iran“. In it, Floyd (willfully?) ignores the many indications that Iran’s intentions are not pure with regard to Israel and its nuclear program. While on the one hand, he dismisses the theories about the “Jewish lobby,” he turns his wrath on the US “military-industrial elite” manipulating world opinion and the U.N. because they “want to go to war,” and never takes a serious look at the evidence that runs counter to his world-view.

This pervasive disregard for evidence that contradicts deep-rooted convictions is reminiscent of the journalists who signed the petition supporting Charles Enderlin in June, 2008.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Israel will not attack Iran without the full knowledge and approval of the United States government.

That is quite a claim. Some analysts may agree, but does Floyd have any proof to make him so sure, besides his confident assertion that “The military-industrial elite control Israel”? Israel attacked Osirak in Iraq in 1981 without American knowledge, and many experts believe that Israel will do the same in Iran if it has to. “Israel will launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own if the rest of the world does not take action, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and senior adviser to three presidents, including George W. Bush.

The trigger of the “warning shot” of Israel’s long-range air-strike exercise last week was actually pulled in Washington. The Israelis will not force or deceive the U.S. government into an attack on Iran; that attack – which grows more certain by the hour – will take place because America’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment and military-industrial complex (to the extent that there is any real difference between the two) want it to happen, or are willing to let it happen.

Derfner tries again: A for effort, C- for analysis

Larry Derfner sets his cap on being the only informed and responsible media expert willing to take on the al Durah case which, he seems to believe, is now dominated by the extreme “right-wing,” at least in the Anglophone press. He’s informed, I’ll grant him that. Can he analyze evidence? Doubtful. What’s his problem? The strictures of politically correct utterances about the Palestinians.

The piece is long and involved and riddled with error. For those who are interested, it offers important insights into a kind of bizarre thinking disorder in which a priori established boundaries of what is moral or immoral to say, not only prevent someone like Derfner from thinking through the evidence, but heaping scorn on anyone who follows that evidence where it leads. As a detailed study of how the PCP (with its commitment to Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism, and cultural relativism) processes evidence it’s close to incomparable.

Rattling the Cage: Get real about Muhammad al-Dura
Jun. 18, 2008

If I thought Jerusalem Post readers were being exposed to a full debate about the Muhammad al-Dura affair, I wouldn’t feel the need now to go into the specifics of why I think it’s ludicrous and morally blind to claim that the Palestinian boy’s killing was a “hoax,” a staged event. If there were other people writing in English against the hoax theores, I would rest my case with my column (“Al-Dura and the conspiracy freaks,” May 29), and not react to the rebuttals by Philippe Karsenty and Richard Landes (“Conspiracy theories and Al-Dura,” June 12), Jonathan Rosenblum (“For once, the good guys win,” June 13), and a couple of hundred Talkbackers.

Ludicrous and morally blind…” I can think of lots of reasons to argue that the al Durah affair was not staged, but “morally blind”? What’s that supposed to mean? That if you think it’s staged (an issue of evidence, I believe), then your are somehow defective morally? (Apparently, when one reads on, yes.)

But the debate on al-Dura, at least in English, is completely one-sided. The Web is swamped with right-wing Jewish writers continually piling up the “evidence” for their conspiracy theories, while all the prominent, disinterested investigative journalists who waved off that idea – even while disputing the original story that the IDF killed the boy – have moved on to other things. So since no other writer I know of is still busy taking up the cause of reason and decency in this unrelenting, supremely charged Israeli-Arab issue, I guess I’ll have one more try.

Why is arguing staged a “right-wing” phenomenon? Because we who believe it are depraved enough to believe that the Palestinians would stage such an event? Does that mean that in order to be a member of the “Left” (which apparently Derfner believes he represents), you have to be credulous on principle?

FIRST OF all, let me restate my basic point of view. I think it was probably Palestinian gunmen, not Israeli soldiers as first believed, who shot al-Dura to death and wounded his father, Jamal, at Gaza’s Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000. I never believed that Israeli soldiers deliberately, with malice aforethought, shot a cowering boy and a father pleading for mercy, which is how the Islamic world and the international Left typically portrayed the killing. As I wrote: “Israel and the Jewish world are right to be appalled at how the Palestinians and the Arab world distorted and exploited al-Dura’s death as grotesquely as they did. They took what was at worst an accidental IDF shooting and turned it into a mind-shattering act of Israeli sadism.”

In that column, I didn’t make any judgments on the original reporting by France-2 TV correspondent Charles Enderlin and cameraman Talal Abu Rahme, or on their handling of the challenges to their story afterward, except to say it was absurd to claim they cooked the whole thing up. (I was writing in reaction to Karsenty’s May 21 acquittal on appeal of the libel charges filed against him in France by Enderlin and France-2 TV.)

NOW, THOUGH, I think it’s fair to say that Abu Rahme – the only cameraman who filmed the shooting – made extremely rash, hot-headed accusations against the Israeli soldiers involved, which damages his reliability and that of his assertions to Enderlin that the IDF had positively shot al-Dura, which is what launched the story in the first place.

This is good. Of course, if Talal is so unreliable, then why is he not capable of staging the scene? (more below)

As for Enderlin, he has been accused of shoddy reporting, stonewalling and even lying not only by the conspiracy theorists, but by some of those prominent, disinterested investigators who nevertheless dismiss the idea of a hoax. After speaking by phone with him, I don’t say he stonewalled or lied. He has reasonable answers to the accusations against him, and he still believes that what he reported and what Abu Rahme told him – that Muhammad and Jamal al-Dura were shot by Israeli soldiers – was accurate. He even has a reasonable answer to what seems the most damning accusation against him – that since there is no raw footage of Muhammad clearly dying, Enderlin had to have been lying all those years when he said he’d edited the boy’s “death throes” out of the broadcast because they were “too unbearable” to watch.

In response to my questions, Enderlin stands by his statement that the death throes can be seen in the raw footage. Evidently, he is referring to the final seconds of film that show the prone Muhammad raising his arm a little, then gradually drooping back down to a prone position. “The French term I used [translated as ‘death throes’] was ‘agonie,’ which means the moments preceding death, not ‘agony’ as in the English term. We showed the tape to a coroner in France, and he said it was absolutely consistent with the moments just before death,” said Enderlin.

Now it gets interesting. Thank you LD for calling CE, because I think this is the first time we have Charles addressing the issue of what happened to the “agonie.” Did you ask him if he has the “coroner’s report”? Did you ask him why, if the boy is still not dead in “take 6”, he told his viewers that he was dead two takes earlier, and Talal’s audience was screaming he was dead three takes earlier? Why would you accept so unlikely an explanation from Charles and be so ferociously skeptical of what we have to say? Because Charles is a “colleague”?

Studies in Aggressive Masochism: Israeli Journalist on Muhammad al Durah

I have argued repeatedly that Israeli self-criticism creates an epistemological problem for outsiders trying to understand what’s going on. If the Palestinians accuse Israel of doing something heinous — like, say, kill Muhammad al Durah in cold blood — and the Israelis say, we did it — as in Bet Michael “100% the Israelis did it” or Gideon Levy “We killed over 800 Muhammad al Durahs” — what’s an outsider to think?

The normal rules — no one willfully admits to bad things they didn’t do; on the contrary, people try and deny they’ve done bad things — don’t apply. Or, as a student of mine said after reading Ha-Aretz on the investigation into the Muhammad al Durah affair: “Isn’t Ha-Aretz an Israeli paper? Why does it sound like a Palestinian propaganda sheet?”

In the interests of explaining to people just how profoundly imbedded a radical stance of self-criticism is in Israeli journalistic discourse, I give you a review written last month of the first serious presentation of the Al Durah evidence to an Israeli audience by Israeli TV in the eight years since the incident. For the sake of those who can’t believe what they’re reading, I offer a guide to Israeli-speak.

Ynet ran an opinion piece by Izhar Be’er a while back in response to a Israel Channel 2 show on al Durah which we hope to make available shortly to viewers with a translation. I publish a translation below (thanks to Dimitry Papkov) with comments. Few texts better illustrate why it was NOT the Israel media which broke this appalling tale.

The Spin That Won’t Die: Muhammad A-Durah as an Allegory

Delusional players that in other days wouldn’t receive a sliver of support are accepted with open arms by the Israeli media that refuses to accept that the boy was shot by IDF’s bullets

Note that one program breaks ranks with the overwhelming consensus of the Israeli media not to even inform their public that the al Durah story has problems, and immediately it becomes “accepted with open arms by the Israeli media. Note also that any questioning of the original story is immediately labeled “delusional.”

By Izhar Be’er

Nothing like the constant dealings with the circumstances of the death of the boy Muhammad A-Durah in the media illustrates better the deterioration of the public discussion. Delusional conspiracy theories were always present here, and they will come and appear in the future with a new emotional case.

This idea of the “deterioration of the public discussion” is important. As long as we control that discussion, it’s elevated. The minute some delusional people who question what we say get a voice, it’s the end of our high standards. Shades of the French Petition.

Same thing happened after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, when rumors, articles, “exposes” and books assigned blame for his death on his bodyguards, Shimon Peres and even Rabin himself. In both cases the people who spread the theories had a defined political goal – obfuscation of the consciousness up to a point of confusion between the left and the right, which they tried to achieve by the rain of disinformation. Only in the case of Rabin’s murder this delusional discussion was reduced to the small closed cultural enclaves in the Israeli society, and it continued mostly among the settler right and religious communities (haridim).

In France, the move against the al Durah critique is to compare it to Thierry Meyssan’s claim that a US missile hit the Pentagon on 9-11. In Israel, it’s the Rabin assassination. Unfortunately for the al Durah case, Nahum Shahaf had already established himself as a major proponent of the Rabin assassination conspiracy before he took on this case. What’s particularly telling about this paragraph, however, is the reference to the political agenda.

    In both cases the people who spread the theories had a defined political goal – obfuscation of the consciousness up to a point of confusion between the left and the right, which they tried to achieve by the rain of disinformation.

Two points here. First, Be’er speaks as if he had no agenda, as if his approach to the evidence had nothing to do with his politics, even though his only approach to the evidence is to dismiss it as “complicated” and irrelevant.

Second, this language of “obfuscation of consciousness” (Irpul ha-todaah) seems strange, and strangely Marxist. How in the world does one get from “wait a minute, the media got suckered on the al Durah story” to “you are messing with the proper consciousness of the public”?

JPost Publishes Our Response: Landes and Karsenty to Derfner

The Jerusalem Post just published our response to Larry Derfner’s potty-mouthed rant about Al Durah and conspiracy theories (fisked here). I publish below the original text which contains an additional paragraph (in italics) that the editors took out before publication.

Right of reply: Conspiracy theories and Al-Dura
Jun. 11, 2008

Weekly columnist Larry Derfner wrote a bizarre piece in the The Jerusalem Post on May 29. He railed against us as “conspiracy freaks” whose “pure paranoia” has us matching “Arab insanity with Jewish insanity,” all because we dare to claim that the footage that Charles Enderlin presented to the world as news of real events was actually staged by his cameraman, Talal abu Rahmah. For Derfner, such claims – he fails even to distinguish between our claim that Enderlin was the dupe of his cameraman, and his claim that we think Enderlin was involved in the hoax – constitute a “demonizing” of the Palestinians and the foreign press.

The piece is heavy on crude rhetoric and light on evidence to substantiate its intemperate claims. Little in his piece makes sense other than his vehement desire to tar us as paranoid conspiracy freaks. Indeed, Derfner’s only evidence comes from a five-year-old article by James Fallows that appeared long before the extensive evidence of Palestinian staging (Pallywood) and Enderlin’s prevarication (there are no “death throes” that he “cut”) had reached public awareness. Ultimately Derfner’s argument comes down to a misconceived straw man, the same argument used by Enderlin and France2 in court:

In other words, it’s a bunch of crap, all these theories that say journalist Charles Enderlin, his Palestinian cameraman, al-Dura’s father, a hospital in Gaza, a hospital in Amman, the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, the UN, the Palestinian people and/or any number of other anti-Semites conspired to stage the killing of that 11-year-old boy.

LET’S BEGIN by putting the errors in this description aside: we do not accuse Enderlin or the Jordanian ambassador, or the UN, or the rest of his inflated list, of participating in the conspiracy from the start. We consider them willing dupes who “ran with the story.”

Shorn of these auxiliaries, his list comes down to the following “co-conspirators”: Talal, his assistants on the scene (the ones yelling “The boy is dead!” before he’s even “hit”), the father and son, and the doctors in the hospital. This is hardly a difficult group to assemble; certainly nothing compared to the tens of thousands necessary for a 9-11 conspiracy or the “invention of the Holocaust.”

Bystanders at the scene needed only to keep silent. Arab ambassadors, King Abdullah, and other such figures need not even know it was a fake. As for the doctors in the Amman hospital, once this story had “taken,” who were they to blow the whistle on so powerful and successful a blow against Israel? Like Enderlin, even after realizing it was fake, they couldn’t admit it publicly.

Anyone familiar with the evidence in this case cannot take Derfner’s piece seriously, as one can see in the numerous and near-universally negative comments to his column. We invite him and the readers of the Post to visit our Web sites where we have put up the evidence and to judge for themselves. Philippe Karsenty’s site is Media-Ratings, Richard Landes’ two sites are The Second Draft (presentation of the evidence and argumentation), and The Augean Stables (blog with commentary and analysis).

Having viewed much of this evidence, the judges wrote:

    The accused [Karsenty]… qualifies the episode as pure fiction, which is also sustained by several important signatories from the press who viewed the rushes in October 2004; that he then exposes… the inexplicable inconsistencies and contradictions in the explanations on the agony of the child given by Charles ENDERLIN, [whom, Karsenty claims, tried to] “cover this imposture.” Philippe KARSENTY takes up the core of the issue with a vivacity of expression that the importance of the question under debate must, nonetheless, authorize…”

This is hardly what Derfner characterizes as “light years away” from our conclusion that Charles Enderlin initially got fooled and subsequently lied to cover his mistakes. And once one is familiar with the wide range of evidence, one has to wonder what would lead him to so intemperate and insubstantial an assault on people far more familiar with the dossier than he.

HERE WE enter strange terrain: the peculiar attachment that people who claim to empathize with the Palestinians have for this tale. Even when presented with evidence of staging, many respond, “So what if this is faked; we’ve killed over 800 kids in the Intifada,” or as in Gideon Levy’s inimitable formulation, “We’ve killed over 800 Muhammed al-Duras.”

Considering that Muhammed al-Dura was the first of the child-murder accusations that then made all subsequent claims believable, that he became an international symbol of Israeli viciousness, of Israeli soldiers killing an innocent unarmed child “in cold blood,” a modern blood libel which blamed Jews the world over, such statements are close to masochistic self-accusation.

And given that the Palestinian notion of “targeted assassination” is blowing up a place full of civilians, that their hatreds feed on such confected “lethal narratives” as al-Dura, that the world blames Israel for Palestinian hatreds on the basis of such libels, then such self-laceration seems somewhat inappropriate. As Ahad Ha’am once said in the context of late 19th-century blood libels, “It is extremely dangerous for an individual or a people to confess to crimes they have not committed.”

People who scream “paranoia” often partake of the fault they project. What might Derfner’s paranoia be? That if he – or anyone on the “Left” – should defend Israel by calling into question some part of the Palestinian hate/victim narrative, he would be immediately assaulted as a right-wing racist? Is that what just happened to us?

Al-Dura offers us the most extreme version of a marriage between pre-modern sadists and post-modern masochists, both of whom have less interest in what happened than in stories that justify their politics. It is testimony to a tragic post-modern development, in which the minds of “progressives” (especially Jewish ones) have been colonized by their enemy’s narratives, that the denunciation of Palestinian lies somehow means a victory for the “Right.” For the pre-modern imperialists, al Durah offers justification for their frustrated genocidal hatreds; for the post-moderns, it offers a moral stick with which to beat Israel into the kinds of concessions they, in their wisdom, believe will bring true peace to this troubled corner (center) of the global community.

And woe onto anyone, like us, who dare stand in their way.

Derfner owes his readers, and the many victims of Talal abu Rahmah’s vicious hoax and Charles Enderlin’s eager folly, a profound apology. (He need not apologize to us; we’ve been the object of far worse mudslinging over the last five years.)

In the Dreyfus Affair the term intellectual came to mean someone who, when confronted with the evidence, could change his mind. Hopefully, Derfner, and many more of those who claim to love peace, can step up to the status of intellectuals.

Philippe Karsenty, whose appeal against France2’s defamation suit was just upheld in a French court, is president of Media Ratings ( Richard Landes is a professor of history at Boston University and runs the Web site and blogs at

Help for the Drowning: Derfner Wrestles with the Data

Maurice Ostroff has been discussing Larry Derfner’s op-ed piece (which I’ve fisked here) with him. Here are LD’s current objections to the “staging” hypothesis which Maurice posted at a list-serv, with my and Nidra Poller’s responses. Judging from his observations and arguments, I’d say the epithet “intellectual” still escapes him. (Hat tip: Solomonia)

Dear Maurice:

While there is good reason to think Palestinians, not the IDF, killed al-Dura, and good reason to suspect that Enderlin and Abu Rahme stonewalled in the face of evidence that their story was mistaken – although not to conclude as such without hearing their side first – there are very strong reasons NOT to believe the shooting was staged.

By all means, Larry, talk with them. But be ready to confront them when they lie to you. I presume that Enderlin won’t try the map trick with you.

enderlin's map
Map Enderlin drew for me of Netzarim Junction the first time I saw him. He puts the Israeli position across the street (i.e., the place where the bullets are coming from). Apparently he drew similar maps for others he thought were ill-informed enough to believe whatever he said.

But he might try the “Tanzim behind the barrel” with you. And be sure to ask him about the “cutting the unbearable death throes.”

A few points:

1. How can anybody call the shooting “staged” when real bullets were being fired – both from Palestinian gunmen AND FROM THE ISRAELI OUTPOST. (See Fallows article saying that from the videos, you can see puffs of smoke coming at various times from gun slits in IDF outpost, and that the examination of the concrete barrel found a number of bullet holes on the side of the barrel facing the IDF outpost. Also, of course, you see bullets hitting the wall in the clip originally broadcast on France 2, even though it’s likely they came from Palestinians.)

Personally, if I were staging a scene of a father and son being fired at, I would hire a marksman to shoot over their heads, otherwise it would be completely unconvincing. Why on earth is the presence of real gunfire proof of no staging? Does LD think the Palestinians have the same “insurance-policy restrictions” that Hollywood has?

As for fire from the Israeli position, we know they fired (France2 has isolated one shot from their position which I treat in my discussion of their use of the evidence). But there is no evidence that they fired during the sequence that Talal filmed of the father and son behind the barrel. All three bullets we can identify come from the Palestinian side. And if they were not deliberately fired in order to help with the staging, how is it that Palestinians are firing individual bullets at the al Durahs when there’s not an Israeli anywhere near them? If you’re going to think like a detective, LD, you have to explain the anomalies, not list them as evidence of confusion.

Finally, there are two bullet holes in the part of the barrel facing the Israelis. This hardly accords with targeting the couple behind the barrel with “bullets like rain” for 40 minutes, and nothing indicates the holes were made either by Israeli fire or during the events in question. None of this evidence is counter-probative in any sense, and much of the argumentation it makes no sense at all.

Multiculturalism, the Trojan Horse of Islamism: Taguieff on Demopathy

For those of my Francophone readers, here’s the latest from one of the most perceptive analysts of the European scene today, an excerpt from his new book, La Judéophobie des Modernes. Des Lumières au Jihad mondial, Paris, Odile Jacob, en librairie le 25 août 2008. I intersperse it with comments to assist my Anglophone readers.

Laocoön and his sons, devoured by sea-serpents for denouncing the Trojan Horse.

Le multiculturalisme, ou le cheval de Troie de l’islamisme
par Pierre-André Taguieff (directeur de recherche au CNRS, Paris)

He begins with a discussion of the phenomenon of Muslim immigrants in the West who want to remain, but are profoundly hostile to the culture they want to remain in. He finds a high correlation between the most dogmatically multi-cultural cultures — ones that insist that all cultures be treated equally — with Muslims who embrace Islamism.

Il faut s’interroger sur un paradoxe dont les conséquences géopolitiques peuvent être considérables : un pourcentage significatif des populations de culture musulmane installées dans les pays occidentaux et désireuses d’y rester se montre hostile à la civilisation occidentale et manifeste une certaine empathie à l’égard des milieux jihadistes. C’est dans les pays qui ont institutionnalisé le multiculturalisme, donc inscrit dans la loi le principe du respect inconditionnel des « identités culturelles », que l’opinion musulmane s’aligne le plus sur les positions islamistes. Les promoteurs de l’idée d’une « citoyenneté postnationale » ont par ailleurs fortement contribué à légitimer le multiculturalisme comme forme de « politique de la reconnaissance » .

He treats Holland’s “separate but equal” system that allows the most violently anti-Western ideologies to develop in the name of “respect.” Although the murder of Theo Van Gogh set off alarm bells, the real problem derives from the energy it takes to actually communicate the values of mutual tolerance and respect to people who will happily benefit from it without having any intention or desire to reciprocate.

La version la plus radicale du multiculturalisme est illustrée par la politique néerlandaise de « pilarisation », présentée comme un moyen de garantir la tolérance à l’égard des religions, en accordant un système éducatif séparé, des services sociaux distincts, des médias et des syndicats différents aux catholiques, aux protestants et aux communautés sécularisées. Jusqu’au début des années 2000, les gouvernements néerlandais successifs ont fait leur la doctrine selon laquelle le meilleur moyen de favoriser l’intégration des populations issues de l’immigration était d’encourager les immigrés à « maintenir leur propre culture » (1). Ils ont facilité ce « maintien » des identités culturelles d’origine par tout un arsenal de politiques de redistribution visant les « minorités culturelles » reconnues (2). Même si la question de savoir si les musulmans constituent un « pilier » séparé est restée controversée, c’est un fait que les Pays-Bas se sont montrés plus volontaristes que d’autres pays pour accorder aux musulmans des écoles distinctes (3). Le choc provoqué par l’assassinat du leader politique Pim Fortuyn (6 mai 2002) (4), suivi par celui du cinéaste Théo Van Gogh (1er novembre 2004) (5), l’un et l’autre engagés dans un combat contre ce qu’ils pensaient être « l’islamisation » de leur pays, a fait prendre conscience aux Néerlandais des limites et surtout des effets pervers du multiculturalisme, terrain privilégié pour la propagande islamiste.

He then turns his attention to England where the most suffocating atmosphere of political correctness makes it impossible to even address the problem. To pursue his metaphor of the Trojan Horse, it’s as if the role played by Poseidon (who sent two serpents from the ocean to devour Laocoön and his sons, who, soundly, denounced the horse as a trick, a poisoned gift, is played by the politically correct, multicultural “thought police.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “angélisme” refers to the delusion that we can behave like angels (i.e., do without war, for example)… a delusion particularly current in Europe today in which the posture of “moral Europe” permits them to preen on the international stage as superior to the US and Israel.

The Prophetic Stream, Conspiracy Theory and Paranoia: What’s Wrong with African-American Preaching

There’s a brouhaha about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. which deserves close consideration. I have written a good deal about self-criticism, and its origins in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible. Recently I have been hearing a consistent invocation of this “prophetic tradition” among those explaining (if not justifying and admiring) Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr.’s preaching style.

Reverend Joseph Lowery explained on CNN that Wright’s sermons were only “divisive” in the sense that they distinguished between people who were in this prophtetic tradition and those who weren’t “in the community of faith” defined by that tradition.

Well, they certainly separate us from the people who are not from the community of faith and who do not subscribe to prophetic preaching. There are hundreds and hundreds of preachers in black churches across this country who may not use identical language, but they have a common theology with Jeremiah Wright. They’re in the prophetic stream.

The prophets of old, the Jeremiahs, the Amos, and they spoke angrily and sometimes with cruel phrases and words, to the rulers and kings of their day. That’s who they were talking to on behalf of the poor and oppressed of their day.

The black church has been a place where black people take their sorrow, their travail and their longing for hope and for deliverance. They expect the preacher and thank the preacher and say, “Amen, hallelujah,” to the preacher, who takes their burden to the Lord. And then they join in a movement to help bring new order and a new day into being. That’s prophetic preaching, and it’s traditionally the black church.

Similar remarks from Randall Bailey:

I often wonder if those who criticize these homiletical strategies of calling the nation to judgment do not read the 8th to 7th C. BCE prophets, such as Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. They delivered judgment speeches against the nations of Israel and Judah and their rulers because of the ways in which they oppressed the poor, perverted justice, and ignored the moral and ethical imperatives of the religion.

As someone who has read the prophetic texts, and thought a good deal about them in the context of the tradition of self-criticism, I think these characterizations of the “prophetic stream” represent a profound misunderstanding. The prophets are ferocious in their criticism of their own people; they have relatively little to say about the real oppressive forces in the world of their day in the 8-7th centuries BCE. When the people of Israel get smashed by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the prophets don’t go into a rant about how evil these vicious imperialists are; they invoke them as God’s agents in punishing Israel for their sins. When, under more normative conditions, when they chastize rulers and aristocracy for their treatment of the poor, they do so again with vigorous, even violent rhetoric, but they do so in the hopes of changing their people. The prophets, however rough they may be, love the people they chastize, and rebuke them for the sake of their transformation.

Historically, this “prophetic turn” represents something exceptional among ancient peoples, and one of the reasons that the Jews have survived these defeats, while the other nations, once conquered, decimated, sent into exile, tended to disappear. For these rebukes of the prophets aimed at reminding the elites that they had obligations to the poor; that the people of Israel constituted the unit, and that rulers ruled “for the people.” As a result, Jewish communities in the ancient and medieval world had an exceptionally high degree of internal cohesion that permitted them to survive under the most adverse conditions. Among elites in various civilizations — rulers, aristocrats, wealthy — Israelite and Jewish elites have the most highly developed sense of obligation to their commoners. Most nations, once conquered, saw their elites abandon them and join the lower echelons of the imperial administration that now held power. As Abraham Heschel pointed out, the prophets were among the few who denounced “the idolatry of power” with such fervor.

But the core reason for their success comes from the profound attachment that the prophets felt for their people. There is no trace of hatred in their clean anger, no desire to see failure and punishment, no joy in the downfall of the sinners. Indeed, their commitment to the very people they rebuked, in some cases, so savagely, meant that, often enough, those rebuked took them seriously. The very fact that these prophetic denunciations became canonized as sacred scripture — that we hear the shepherd Amos’ version of the tale, not that of the royal priest Amatzia — tells us that not only the prophets, but the leaders of the people shared these values and accepted the prophetic rebukes.

All this is very far from what is here invoked as “Black Liberation Theology” or the “prophetic stream” of African-American churches. There, although Reverend Wright repeatedly speaks about “we,” he really means the white ruling class who, in his mind, deliberately conspire to destroy, even wipe out the blacks, the innocent victims of that malevolence.

Some commentators have complained that Wright’s sermons have been cherry-picked — snippets out of context — for their shock value, and that a longer exposure to his thought gives a significantly different impression. Here is a larger segment of the post-9-11 sermon that Wright gave, so one can get a sense of the context.

The people who posted this did so under the title “FOX Lies!! Barack Obama Pastor Wright”. They apparently think that this longer piece makes the snippet that played — as far as I know it was ABC, not FOX who broke this story — negates the meaning of the snippet. It certainly does show Reverend Wright calling 9-11 “unspeakable” and showing empathy at the tragedy of people — “black people” — throwing themselves out of the burning building. And this may or may not mitigate the appalling expressions of triumphalism — even glee — that Reverend Wright expresses to the delight of the audience, as he hits his “chickens coming home to roost” theme, although it hardly makes a “lie” of the snippet.

Let’s examine some of this larger sermon.

Response to Shrinkwrapped on Counter-Knowledge

Shrinkwrapped has an important series of reflections on my post on Damian Thompson’s new book. I respond in detail:

Both Thompson and Landes have identified a serious danger facing our Civilization, however, if anything I think they underestimate the danger.

Both take the position that in our culture and civilization, rationality and reality testing are the default mode of thinking for the population. Unfortunately, this is exactly 180 degrees off. Rationality and logical thinking are late developments and are not universal. They are mental habits dependent on mental structures that are painstakingly assembled over the course of a long period of time. They are abilities that require a tremendous investment of time and energy to acquire and are extremely sensitive to disruption.

I don’t think this represents my position. (I’ll let Damian speak for himself.) I think that a) SW is right that reality testing is a mental habit painstakingly assembled over the course a long time — more or less a millennium in Western Europe — and not the default mode. On the other hand the reason I may sound like I think the way SW says, is that I think that this manner of “reading reality” — which includes self-criticism, a renunciation of narcissistic vanity, exegetical modesty — is at the core of civil society. So if we have a civil society it’s good evidence that this form of thinking has become the “norm” or “default mode” of western civilization, and if this kind of flakey thinking is still seeping into the mainstream, then this is a deviation — from a Western norm.

Damian Thompson seems puzzled by the easy acceptance of Conspiracy Theories and nonsense by large groups of people, and distressed to see such beliefs moving form the fringes toward the center. The cruel secret is that such beliefs are a great deal easier to acquire and hold than true knowledge.

As I have noted on many occasions, the human mind is a conservative device. Once a template has been established it is far easier to fit new data into the existing framework than to question one’s assumptions and expend mental energy trying to make sense out of contradictions.

This is problematic. We are trained to ignore conspiracy theories. That template was established and one of the things that attracts many conspiracy-theorists is that they are violating the accepted template.

If you already know that George Bush stole the election in 2000, then it is much easier to believe he could also be capable of engineering 9/11, of lying about Saddam’s WMD, and a host of other nonsense that has flourished on the left. If you do not understand how the theory of evolution has been researched and examined in minute detail by innumerable scientists, if you have no real idea how the edifice of science was built, then the minor flaws and incompleteness of the theory can easily be used to support beliefs that have no evidence to support them at all, such as Intelligent Design. (Perhaps the Deity did in fact create life and the universe and included a consistent body of evidence to support the theory of evolution; if so, this would not be resolvable using scientific methodology and until he or his agent appears or reappears, whichever you prefer, it is a matter of faith not science.)

There have been many factors that have contributed to the assault on reason which have eroded our capacity for reality testing. Science is hard; scientific knowledge is only slowly accumulated by extremely hard work mastered by only an extremely small minority of very bright people. Most science is impossible to understand by most people. We have long since reached the Arthur C. Clarke inflection point where “technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic is explained by magical thinking, not by science. Science has been reliably demonized by those who are incapable of performing or understanding science. The rigors of the Scientific Method, the single most important reason for our civilization’s success, are too difficult for our children’s tender self-esteem to tolerate. Once we no longer expect our children to understand that 1 + 1 must always equal 2, even if we want it to equal 1.99 or 3, and that all answers are equivalent as long as they are trying really, really hard, we have surrendered our ability to think.

Now we’re back to my comments on post-modernism. The problem is that one need not understand either the complexity of modern science or its technological magic boxes (computers), in order to partake of reality-testing. Self-criticism and a certain modesty is within the reach of every human being.

Worse, even among those who should know better, the temptation to take mental shortcuts persists. When rationality is further subverted by unconscious desires, it is no contest, real knowledge has no chance of surviving.

Anthropogenic Global Warming, a theory that is reliably presented as “proven” by politicians who have no idea what they are talking about, is a prime example. AGW might be an adequate focus for current anxiety; it might even be a potential problem down the road; but as an avenue to increase state power in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians, it has already been “proven.” They do not see themselves as cynical manipulators but as visionaries warning of danger and trying to save the planet. That science does not proceed the way they think it does completely eludes their attention.

This is a good example of what I meant about modesty. Proponents of AGW have enormous ambitions and no self-criticism; so science becomes another black box to manipulate. It’s interesting to think that in the Middle Ages, as far as I know, no one argued that black magicians actually thought they were white magicians. Today, at least in the West, some of the worst black magicians, think they’re doing white magic.

We are living in dangerous times. Anxiety over the future and the pace of change (change ushered in by magical technologies that no one can fully understand) naturally produces powerful regressive forces in a culture. Our rationality can be so subtly and easily subverted that we usually don’t recognize it until far too late. Worse, those whose grasp of reason is weakest, either through limited native intellectual abilities or poor pedagogy, are most susceptible to adopt the easy solutions of irrationality.

limited native intellectual abilities or poor pedagogy or emotional immaturity…

The pace of change naturally produces anxieties over the future, some of which can activate powerful regressive forces in a culture. The question is, what are non-regressive ways of expressing a legitimate anxiety about runaway technologically-driven social change?

Just beneath the surface of even the most stable and reasoned mind exists a cauldron of irrationality. The Unconscious can never be fully tamed and is forever attempting to find access to the Conscious mind to enable and effect its desires. Conspiracy Theories, false prophets and messiahs, and easily identifiable scapegoats are the result; they are here to stay and will plague us and increase until we re-establish the safe haven that can only come from Knowledge.

I’m a bit confused by this finale. Can you explain what the “safe haven that can only come from Knowledge” is? Is this (regressive) pre-post-modernism: knowledge=truth=objectivity=reality? Why is knowledge “safe”? It may “set us free,” or empower us, or enlighten us, but nothing about it suggests either stability or safety. On the contrary, part of what is so frightening about reality and why people run to the cocoons of conspiracy theory and other forms of counter-knowledge is precisely to flee the ego-wounding world of registering what’s going on around us.

Counter-Knowledge and the Decline of the West

My friend Damian Thompson, author of one of the better books on apocalyptic thought, The End of Time is now pursuing a really interesting project on “counter-knowledge”. (He’s the anonymous questioners in the second opening anecdote of my article on post-modern conspiracy theory. His exploration draws our attention to a critical dimension of (an often unconscious) information warfare that we are conducting, in many cases, against ourselves. Nothing illustrates the danger of using post-modernism (e.g., “there is no such thing as objectivity”) to detach ourselves from the kind of “reality testing” that only a sober form of self-criticism can assure.

Lies, damn lies and ‘counterknowledge’
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 12/01/2008
By Damian Thompson

Outright fiction is being peddled as historical and scientific fact, warns Damian Thompson in an extract from his provocative new book

George Bush planned the September 11 attacks. The MMR injection triggers autism in children. The ancient Greeks stole their ideas from Africa. “Creation science” disproves evolution. Homeopathy can defeat the Aids virus.

The fantasy that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks has wormed its way into the mainstream

Do any of these theories sound familiar? Has someone bored you rigid at a dinner party by unveiling one of these “secrets”? If so, it is hardly surprising. In recent years, thousands of bizarre conjectures have been endorsed by leading publishers, taught in universities, plugged in newspapers, quoted by politicians and circulated in cyberspace.

This is counterknowledge: misinformation packaged to look like fact. We are facing a pandemic of credulous thinking. Ideas that once flourished only on the fringes are now taken seriously by educated people in the West, and are wreaking havoc in the developing world.

We live in an age in which the techniques for evaluating the truth of claims about science and history are more reliable than ever before. One of the legacies of the Enlightenment is a methodology based on painstaking measurement of the material world.

That legacy is now threatened. And one of the reasons for this, paradoxically, is that science has given us almost unlimited access to fake information.

Most of us have friends who are susceptible to conspiracy theories. You may know someone who thinks the Churches are suppressing the truth that Jesus and Mary Magdalene sired a dynasty of Merovingian kings; someone else who thinks Aids was cooked up in a CIA laboratory; someone else again who thinks MI5 killed Diana, Princess of Wales. Perhaps you know one person who believes all three.

Or do you half-believe one of these ideas yourself? We may assume that we are immune to conspiracy theories. In reality, we are more vulnerable than at any time for decades.

I recently met a Lib Dem-voting schoolteacher who voiced his “doubts” about September 11. First, he grabbed our attention with a plausible-sounding observation: “Look at the way the towers collapsed vertically. Jet fuel wouldn’t generate enough to heat to melt steel. Only controlled explosions can do that.” The rest of the party, not being structural engineers (for whom there is nothing mysterious about the collapse of the towers) pricked up their ears. “You’re right,” they said. “It did seem strange…”

Admittedly, no major newspaper or TV station has endorsed a September 11 conspiracy theory. But more than 100 million people have watched a 90-minute documentary, Loose Change, directed by three young New Yorkers who assembled the first cut on a laptop. The result is super-slick: computer-generated planes glide menacingly towards their targets, to the accompaniment of a funky soundtrack; buildings collapse in a comic theatrical sequence. This is one cool movie – and a masterpiece of counterknowledge.

The makers suggest that a missile, not an airliner, hit the Pentagon; that the occupants of Flight 93 were safely evacuated at Cleveland Hopkins airport; that the panicked calls made by the passengers were faked using voice-morphing technology.

The directors make basic errors and play outrageous tricks: quotes from experts and official documents are cherry-picked and truncated. Airline parts are misidentified and pictures cropped in a way that leaves out inconvenient rubble and wreckage. “Expert testimony” is lifted from the American Free Press, a hysterical news service with strong links to the far Right.

Yet the makers of Loose Change are pushing at an open door. More than a third of Americans suspect that federal officials assisted in the September 11 attacks or took no action to stop them. September 11 conspiracy theories have gained such a following in France that even a member of President Sarkozy’s government has suggested that President Bush might have planned the attacks. Christine Boutin, the housing minister, when asked in an interview whether she thought Bush might have been behind the attacks, said: “I think it is possible.”

Another who believes this is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who reckons that September 11 could not have been executed “without co-ordination with [US] intelligence and security services”. Ahmadinejad is also a well-known Holocaust denier, having referred publicly to “the myth of the Jews’ massacre”.

In the world of counterknowledge, wild theories are constantly mating and mutating. As the editor of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer, puts it: “The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking, as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics.”

We do not normally think of creationism and maverick physics as conspiracy theories; but what they have in common with Loose Change is a methodology that marks them as counterknowledge. People who share a muddled, careless or deceitful attitude towards gathering evidence often find themselves drawn to each other’s fantasies. If you believe one wrong or strange thing, you are more likely to believe another. Although this has been true for centuries, the invention of the internet has had a galvanising effect. A rumour about the Antichrist can leap from Goths in Sweden to Australian fascists in seconds. Minority groups are becoming more tolerant of each other’s eccentric doctrines. Contacts between white and black racists are now flourishing; in particular, the growing anti-Semitism of black American Muslims has been a great ice-breaker on the neo-Nazi circuit.

In June 2007, the home page of The Truth Seeker, a conspiracy website, included claims that Aids is a “man-made Pentagon genocide”, that Pope Paul VI “was impersonated by an actor from 1975 to 1978”, that new evidence about the Loch Ness monster had emerged – plus a link to Loose Change.

Yet, as we saw earlier, more than 100 million people have seen that film. In the 21st century, bogus knowledge is no longer confined to self-selecting minority groups. It is seeping into the mainstream, cleverly repackaged for a mass market. This crisis goes beyond traditional political ideology. Yes, the Left has helped to spread counterknowledge by insisting on the rights of minorities to believe falsehoods that make them feel better about themselves. Afro-centric history aims to raise the self-esteem of black youngsters by feeding them the fantasy that the origins of Western civilisation lie in black Africa. Last year, a British government report revealed that some teachers are dropping the Holocaust from lessons rather than confront the Holocaust-denial of Muslim pupils.

But Left-wing multiculturalists are not the only guilty ones: entrepreneurs are turning counterknowledge into an industry. Publishing houses pay self-taught archaeologists and pseudo-historians large amounts to turn fragments of fact into saleable stories. Titles are placed in the history sections of bookshops whose claims have been thoroughly demolished – yet the publishers carry on bringing out new editions.

The dividing line between fiction and non-fiction is becoming increasingly hard to draw. These days, public opinion is so malleable that a product does not even have to pretend to be fact in order to affect perceptions of truth: the success of The Da Vinci Code has persuaded 40 per cent of Americans that the Churches are concealing information about Jesus.

Meanwhile, publishers, television channels and newspapers are making huge profits from another branch of counterknowledge: alternative medicine. Unqualified nutritionists make claims for vitamin supplements and “superfoods” that are unsupported by scientific literature; conveniently, these people often have a commercial interest in selling the supplements in question.

Fashionable advocates of alternative medicine, and the executives who profit from them, are as reliant on counterknowledge as any bedsit conspiracy theorist. Their miracle diets and health scares undermine science by distorting the public understanding of cause and effect, and therefore of risk.

The fingerprints of the alternative medicine lobby are all over the worst British health scare of recent years, in which thousands of parents denied their children the MMR triple vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella following the dissemination of flawed data linking it to autism. In that case, distrust of orthodox medicine increased the danger of a measles epidemic.

But that is nothing compared to the impact of medical counterknowledge in underdeveloped countries. In northern Nigeria, Islamic leaders have issued a fatwa declaring the polio vaccine to be a US conspiracy to sterilise Muslims: polio has returned to the area, and pilgrims have carried it to Mecca and Yemen. In January 2007, the parents of 24,000 children in Pakistan refused to let health workers vaccinate their children because radical mullahs had told them the same idiotic story.

These incidents cannot be dismissed as examples of medieval superstition: these people are not rejecting life-saving vaccines because they reject modern medicine, but because their leaders are spouting Islamic takes on Western conspiracy theories. Counterknowledge, with its ingrained hostility towards a political, intellectual and scientific elite, appeals to anti-American, anti-Western sentiment in the developing world.

Islamic countries, in particular, have embraced counterknowledge to a remarkable degree. In 2006, the Pew Research Centre asked Muslims in Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan whether Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks. The majority of respondents in each country said no. Indeed, most British Muslims – 56 per cent – also thought that Arabs were innocent. A quarter of British Muslims believe that “the British Government was involved in some way” with the London terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005.

The battle between knowledge and counterknowledge is not just a struggle to protect the public domain from bogus facts. It has profound implications for the safety of the West. And, make no mistake about it: this is a battle we are losing.

Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and False History by Damian Thompson (Atlantic) is available for £11.99 + £1.25 p&p. To order, please call Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112 or go to © Damian Thompson 2008

Mind you, being susceptible to counter-knowledge — conspiracy theories, propaganda, and the like — do not make one self-destructive. On the contrary, prime-divider societies run by ruthless elites thrive on this kind of stuff. It’s civil societies that prize freedom and mutual respect that need to reality test.

BBC and Arab Media Promote anti-American Conspiracy Theory

Just in case you were starting to feel optimistic about the human race, the following post will quickly dispel those feelings. Conspiracy theorists have long produced their paranoid exposés about global domination by some nefarious organization, be it the oil industry or, of course, the Jews. The internet has provided them with a convenient forum, and conspiracy theorists develop a synergy with one another, feeding off other paranoid individuals.

This post deals with one such conspiracy theory. (hat tip: lgude) If it had stayed in the perverse little universe of anti-globalization and anti-Semitic blogs, I would not waste my or your time on the issue. However, the theory, though it is inconceivable to the point of being ridiculous, has made its way into two major media outlets. Their adoption of the theory is another example of their ideology leading them away from what can be considered even remotely respectable journalism. But that makes the theory dangerous.

The conspiracy theory in question answers, in its proponents minds, questions about the 2004 tsunami that killed over 200,000 people, primarily in Indonesia and India. The theory has its usual villains- George Bush, Dick Cheney, the CIA…and the Zionists. It goes along these lines — George Bush, primarily because he is evil, but also to aid his war effort in Iraq, ordered U.S. forces to detonate a nuclear device in the Sumatra trench in the Indian Ocean as a catalyst for the tsunami. Each theorist has his/her own variation. Let us take a journey to the twilight zone that is the paranoid left’s blogosphere:

On his blog, “24 Hours to Live“, Sarge writes-

Here’s an interesting scenario to nibble on: The Bush junta is tired of explaining itself to the media. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice are sick of the liberals in this country pointing out how many American lives are being lost in Iraq… so……Bush and his cronies devise a cunning and dastardly plan. In order to take people’s minds off of Iraq why not create a natural disaster? We’ve done underwater nuclear weapons tests before (see Bikini Atoll) and they have a significant seismic effect. Is it then possible that the Bush regime detonated a large nuclear device on the ocean floor off the coast of Indonesia? After all, a natural disaster of these proportions certainly takes your mind off Iraq…

With Bush and his cronies calling the shots anything is possible…

I see…Bush (whose powers rival God’s, apparently) created a natural disaster to distract us from Iraq. Since the tsunami took peoples’ minds off Iraq, then it is within the realm of possibility. I accidentally whacked my thumb with a hammer while banging a nail into a board last week, and for a few minutes of excruciating pain, I definitely was not thinking about Iraq. Were Bush and his cronies behind it? Anything is possible…

Joe Vialls introduces the anti-Semitic element that was so lacking on Sarge’s blog. Vialls theory blames ‘New York’, specifically Wall Street. They control John Howard, he says, which he presumes to be able to prove based on Howard’s actions.

Only Little Johnny knew, and of course his trusty crystal ball in New York. To hell with Sri Lanka, his bosses wanted a main base for the huge reconstruction contracts in Asia, designed to replace the failed oil theft and reconstruction in Iraq, and keep poor old Zion on its tottering New York legs for a few more weeks or months.

In the end, what the hell did it matter how many Goyim had to die? And, hey, on the credit side they’d already managed to kill more than 100,00 Muslims in Sumatra with a single tidal wave, which was partial payback for their own resounding defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq..For the Zionist Cabal, obtaining a thermonuclear weapon in America is no great trick, especially when we have the precedent of 100 small ‘decommissioned’ air-to-air atomic warheads being smuggled out the Pentagon’s (civilian) back door, to form the core of the Jewish State’s current nuclear arsenal. Once a weapon system is out date and out of service, loyal uniformed US military personnel can no longer track it.

India Daily
introduces the next prerequisite for a good conspiracy theory, UFOs-

Recent alien contacts have been reported with the South Asian Governments especially India. UFO sightings have been rampant over the region affected. Some in Nicobar Island say that it was an experiment conducted by the alien extra-terrestrial entities to correct the wobbly rotation of the earth. And some of the Indian scientists are actually seeing that wobbly rotation of the earth has been corrected since the massive underwater earthquake and tsunami.

The Pagan Prattle has compiled an archive of tsunami conspiracy links.

Ok, we’ve had our fun. Lonely bloggers typing up drivel in their mothers’ basements should cause us to shake our heads sadly, nothing more. We understand how ridiculous the theory is, but it should not surprise us that it exists.

What also might not surprise, but should definitely alarm, is the echoing of these theories in Arab media. This is no longer a joking matter. Are they really that out of touch with reality? Or will they use any chance to smear America, Israel, and the West in order to incite the Arab public against them? Cybercast News Service reports:

The Egyptian nationalist weekly Al-Usbu’ accused the U.S., Israel and India of carrying out nuclear testing that may have cased the tsunami. Those nations were testing “how to liquidate humanity,” the newspaper said.

“Was [the earthquake] caused by American, Israeli, and Indian nuclear testing on ‘the day of horror?’ Why did the ‘Ring of Fire’ explode?” Mahmoud Bakri asked in his “investigative” piece published in the weekly on January 1.

“According to researchers’ estimates, there are two possible [explanations] for what happened. The first is a natural, divine move, because the region is in the ‘Ring of Fire,’ a region subject to this destructive type of earthquakes,” Bakri wrote according to a translation of the article provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute on Friday.

“The second possibility is that it was some kind of human intervention that destabilized the tectonic plates, an intervention that is caused only in nuclear experiments and explosions,” he said… reports that many point the “finger of blame,” not at Mother nature, but at “government cover-ups, top secret military testing in the waters of the Indian Ocean and even aliens attempting to correct Earth’s ‘wobbly’ rotation.”

But the most popular theory, it says, is that the Indian and U.S. military are the “main cause of the disaster by testing eco-weapons, which use electromagnetic waves, thus triggering off earthquakes.”

That is the Arab media. They operate under different rules than the Western media, and they have reported on more fanciful theories. Major Western media networks would not treat such a theory seriously. Or would they?

The BBC treats the issue as worthy of serious debate:

Why did US base escape tsunami?

Following the tsunami, conspiracy rumours have been circulating on the internet of how the US base at Diego Garcia managed to avoid casualties while other islands suffered huge losses.

The US Navy’s official Diego Garcia website said the island wasn’t hit by the devastating tsunami because it is surrounded by deep waters and the grade of its shores does not allow for tsunamis to build before hitting land.

The site said the earthquake generated a tidal surge on the island estimated at six feet.

Is America a power for good or ill in the world? Was there a malign hand at work, or has America’s role in the crisis in fact been a model of humanitarian leadership.
Let us know what you think. Is this just anti-US sentiment on the web or something more worrying?

It is something more worrying. It is profoundly worrying that the BBC even asks the question. But, alas, it is not terribly surprising.

Who’s Going to Hit Back? Why It’s Easier to Protest Bush’s Involvment in 9-11 than the Imposition of Sharia in Europe

Brussels Journal has a posting on how Belgian authorities have given permission for a march sponsored by United for Truth protesting Bush’s involvement in 9-11, but not for one against the imposition of Sharia in Europe. The reasoning:

Unlike the anti-Sharia demonstration, planned to be held next September 11 in Brussels, the “9/9 United for Truth” demonstration of September 9 has been authorized by the Brussels authorities. Last week the Brussels mayor, Freddy Thielemans, banned the anti-Sharia demonstration because he fears it will upset the Muslim inhabitants of Brussels.

It is a favorite trope of the “progressives” to claim that they are courageous because they “speak truth to power,” or as a French journalist said to me in 2003 while France was protesting the American threat to invade Iraq, “Courage is resisting the powerful, and right now, America is the most powerful.” This goes to the heart of our current dilemma. The most powerful today – the US in the world, Israel in the Middle East – are also the most tolerant of criticism. So any American can say Bush was involved in 9-11 — including congressmen — and at worst, suffer criticism from others. Similarly, a journalist can compare Israel to the Nazis or South African apartheid and still operate freely in Israel. But try criticizing Muslims and you get real problems.

The mayor’s response is reminiscent of the British journalist’s association that gave their annual prize to a disgusting political cartoon showing Ariel Sharon in a Goya-like pose devouring (not his own children as the Goya original depicted) but Palestinian children. Unvarnished blood libel (Sharon’s sure doing it on purpose). When confronted by Martin Himel in the movie: Jenin: Massacring the Truth, with why Arafat wasn’t also in the cartoon, the Peter Benson, head of the British editorial cartoonists’ society which honoured the Independent‘s Sharon-eating-babies cartoon responded:

Himel: My question to you is, why, in all these paintings [sic] don’t we see Sharon and Arafat eating babies?

Benson: Maybe Jews don’t issue fatwas.

Himel: What do you mean by that?

Benson: Well, if you upset an Islamic or Muslim group, um, as you know, fatwas can be issued by Ayatollahs and such, like, and maybe it’s at the back of each cartoonist’s mind, that they could be in trouble if they do so.

Himel: If they do what?

Benson: If they depict, uh, say, an Arab leader in the same manner.

Himel: Then they could suffer?

Benson: Then they could suffer death, couldn’t they? Which is rather different.

Benson is grinning throughout this section of the interview.

And of course, he is right. When the Jews and Israelis objected vehemently to this blood libel, the response was contemptuous dismissal. Wrote one journalist:

“the accusation of anti-Semitism is also a favourite weapon of those who wish to suppress debate on the measures Israel takes in the occupied territories.”

Wrote a member of Parliament:

The labelling as anti-Semitic of Dave Brown’s cartoon, which depicted the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a naked, child-eating ogre, was entirely spurious – but entirely predictable. Nor is it surprising that the lynch-mob was led by the Israeli embassy in London, once a respected diplomatic mission, but now the instrument of Israel’s worst- ever Foreign Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Then, when he received the award for the best political cartoon of the year, Brown “thanked the Israeli embassy in Britain for increasing the cartoon’s publicity by its angry reaction.” So apparently the lynch mob didn’t really lynch… illustrating the weak hold that some British analysts have over the difference between metaphor and carnal reality… “it’s not meant to be taken literally, it’s meant to refer allegorically to everybody in the Zionist business.”

But when it comes to real violence, these people have no problem distinguishing metaphorical from real lynch mobs. The full measure of the cowardice and hypocrisy of this affair came out two year’s later with the publication of the Muhammad cartoons and the really violent response of Muslims. The selfsame Independent which showed it could stand up to the Jewish mafia, all of a sudden found that politeness and concern for hurt feelings of Muslims trumped independence.

…while we `defend Jyllands-Posten’s right to publish, we also question its editorial judgement. It is not a decision we intend to emulate…There is no merit in causing gratuitous offence, as these cartoons undoubtedly do. We believe it is possible to demonstrate our commitment to the principle of free speech in more sensible ways. It is interesting that the entire mainstream British press feels the same way. No national newspaper has printed the cartoons.

In other words, we’re all cowards and our solidarity shows we’re right. As Taguieff put it in describing European anti-Zionism in the 21st century: “When all the fish are swimming in the same direction, it’s because they’re dead.”

Which brings us back to Brussels and the problem of the 21st century. Part of the reason that all the fish are lined up in the same direction in Europe has much more to do with intimidation and appeasement of genuinely violent and demonizing Islamists and genuinely tolerant and self-criticial Israelis/Jews/Americans, than it does with any of the intellectual merits bandied about. And until we begin to understand the impact of this pervasive intimidation, we will have enormous difficulty reality testing.

It’s not talking back to civil power that counts so much as speaking truth about ruthless exercise of power. When the same people who claim to speak truth to power, then turn around and wax sychophantic about ruthless killers with genocidal programs, we’re all in trouble except the thugs.

This doesn’t mean you can’t criticize the USA and Israel. Almost everybody does. It just means that you don’t engage in grotesque criticism and think yourself brave because you get yelled at, but then fall silent about real dangers, like people who’s idea of a good fatwa (a religious ruling on any issue), is a death sentence to people who have offended Islam.

9-11 Conspiracy and the Post-Modern Mutation

Excerpt from Heaven on Earth: Varieties of the Millennial Experience

This section in principle comes either at the end of a chapter on UFOlogy as a form of millennial thought, in which I discuss the close relationship between UFOlogy and conspiracy thinking, or in an epilogue, after the final chapter on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic millennial movement. The text is still raw — needs to be more coherent, and possibly more substantive — and the version below has been altered in ways that correspond with the style of my blog and the style of my academic writing (less of my “jargon” about demopaths, more careful about passing judgments). I welcome comments, links, reflections, criticism, etc.

9-11 and Post-Modern Western Conspiracy Thinking: We Are to Blame

9-11 Conspiracy constitutes the most powerful conspiracy theory in the brief history of the internet age. Within hours of the attacks, accusations that the Israeli Mossad had planned and executed the attacks while “4000 Jews stayed at home,” appeared, particularly in the Arab world, a textbook case of internet conspiracy mongering.

In the Muslim world these theories became the dominant public voice. There, traditional conspiracy operated: We are innocent, our enemies are guilty. In 2002 a Gallup poll found a majority of Muslims interviewed did not believe Bin Laden or any Muslim did 9-11. A 2006 Pew poll found this attitude widespread even among Muslims in the US — 28% — believe that Muslims did not do 9-11 (and 32% unsure, leaving only 40% of US Muslims polled agreeing that Bin Laden carried out 9-11.

Such claims, and their eager acceptance among fringe elements of Western conspiracy thinkers, especially those who already believed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, should not astonish observers. Like so many other such conspiracies, they combine “cui bono?” [who benefits?] – Israel, Fascists in the US government – with a semiotic arousal that moves from perceived anomaly — isn’t this strange! — to “obvious” conclusion — what else could explain this? — in the blink of an eye. Among the plethora of Muslim conspiracies that blossomed in the wake of 9-11, perhaps the most scholarly and consequential came from the “progressive” Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, The War on Freedom which came out within months of the event in February 2002 and blamed not Israel, but the US Government.

But the story was only beginning. Over the next months, a vast array of hypotheses, laid out in detail at a host of websites, accused George Bush and his administration either allowed the 9-11 attack to occur (Pearl Harbor version), or actively carried it out (Reichstag Fire version). The logic behind all of these theories focused on the perceived anomalies – the size of the hole in the Pentagon (too small), the collapse of the Twin Towers (too neat), of Building 7 (too far away), even the overall success of the plan (too great) – and rapidly moved to explaining them in terms of a government plot, primarily aimed at turning the US government into a police state. Cui bono? – the proto-fascists in the Bush administration.