Monthly Archives: February 2009

Channel 4 documentary ‘Conspiracy – Who Really Runs The World?’

“Belief in conspiracy theories is rife. But what are they and why have they become so popular?”

Did anybody catch this back in 2007 – Channel 4 documentary ‘Conspiracy – Who Really Runs the World?’ I missed it but it’s on Google Video and on the Channel 4 site.

9/11 comes about 18 minutes in. David Icke – former Green Party spokesman, later expelled – is interviewed expounding at length on how the entire global population might be “programmed”.

At 34:19 two psychologists carry out an experiment to predict the likelihood that 30 students will believe in conspiracy theories in the absence of evidence. First they test the pyschological factors of trust, disaffection with society and quickness to make false assumptions based on partial evidence. The hypothesis is that high scores on these factors predict likelihood of believing conspiracy theories. Then they run an invented conspiracy theory past the people with the 6 highest and 6 lowest scores. The experiment confirms the hypothesis.

Chris French, one of the psychologists, takes the findings to David Icke on a beach at around 40:30. David Icke becomes cross (“gets up my nose … song-sheet science”).

Chris French (my emphases):

“OK, conspiracies take place. But it’s the nature of the conspiracies and when there is kind of overwhelming evidence against a particular conspiracy but people still cling tenaciously to it… That then moves into the realm – as far as I’m concerned – of probably trying to look at the psychology behind it.”

And a little later, as the camera operator backs away from the argument:

“I think there is a problem with the belief system in that it’s non-falsifiable – nothing could happen that could falsify it.”

As Nafeez Ahmed, author of ‘The War on Truth’ comments (around 44:25), conspiracy beliefs are born of a desire, in a state of uncertainly, for a solid way of looking at the world, but are almost religious in nature.

At 45:00, Patrick Lehman (the other psychologist involved in the experiment above):

“… and they can’t be shaken out of their beliefs. They are a bit like religious fundamentalists in the sense that their pursuing a certain dogma, they’re pursuing a certain line of attack, and I think being a conspiracy theorist is fundamental to who they are. They’re critical of government – they see government or big business as conspiring against individual freedoms or they see certain institutions as conspiring against them or against other people, so it’s a particular mindset and if you’re in that mindset, if you think “I am a conspiracy theorist” then you’re going to go out and look for conspiracy theories”.

Understanding Muslim identity, rethinking fundamentalism

The other day over lunch with David Hirsh I brought up a recent debate about the relationship between ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’. I asked what seemed to me an important question “Is it inevitable that to be Islamophobic is to be bigoted against Muslims?”  Hopefully you get the thrust of my question. In the same vein I could have asked whether it is inevitably antisemitic to be Judeophobic. The question was about whether it is bigoted to fear a given religion.

To which David replied “Yes, because all religions can be filled with different content”.

This unfixed nature of religion is evident in the enormous diversity of religious denominations, not only in the here-and-now but also over time. Islamophobia is a reaction to what Islamophobes insist is the correct reading of a holy text; they are irrational, singular – and therefore false – views of a religion. The irony of Islamophobes and anti-Muslim bigots is that they feel the same way about Islam as the extremists they fear.

But this won’t convince anybody who has a fear, let alone a phobia. I know such a person – he joined the BNP’s  embryonic coalition of different nationalists against Muslims. He considers me naive and, moreover, badly wrong. You have to know your onions to argue with people like him.

What might be helpful would be to look at Gabriele Maranci’s new book – Understanding Muslim Identity, Rethinking Fundamentalism, the introduction and index to which are freely available. His is a distinctly anthropological exploration of social identity and emotional fundamentalism:

By rejecting culturalist and essentialist reductionist approaches to it, I have suggested that we need to understand ‘fundamentalism’ not as a ‘thing’ (i.e. cultural object) but as a ‘process’, and start from the individual before looking at the group. Of course, it is only the reader whom can decide whether a book may be interesting or not, but I am sure that Understanding Muslim Identity Rethinking Fundamentalism provides something new to the scholarly debate on radicalism and religious violence. Indeed, although I focus on Muslims, the argument presented in this book is not limited to them, and the theory on which it is based may be tested on other forms of ‘emotional religions’ or even ‘emotional secularism’.”

This strikes me as a good approach to arguing with people who subscribe to the ‘clash of civilisations’ theory.

Moving Forward After Gaza: What next for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel? Mohammad Darawshe, London, 26 Feb.

Hosted by the Foreign Press Association – to book and for more details, see EventBrite

UK Friends of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, in co-operation with the Foreign Press Association present Moving Forward After Gaza: What next for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel?
A briefing by
Mohammad Darawshe Director of the Abraham Fund
Event Description
The Gaza war has generated a public outcry, with thousands taking to the streets in London and around the world. In Israel, tensions between the Jewish and Arab communities have risen, threatening current cooperation efforts. From a unique perspective of a coexistence organisation between the Jewish and Arab communities, director Mohammad Darawshe of the Abraham Fund Initiatives will address the situation on the ground. He will outline the much needed action from governments and other agencies and will provide examples of tried and tested model projects already successfully implemented, which demonstrate that coexistence can work, but needs to be supported.
About Mohammad Darawshe
Mr Darawshe has been the Director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives since 2005 and he has presented lectures and papers at many international and academic institutions such as the U.S. congress, the European parliament, NATO Defense College, the World Economic Forum, and most recently the Herzlia Conference. He won numerous awards, including the Peacemaker award, bestowed by the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago and the Peace and Security Award of the World Association of NGOs. In 2008, he was elected as a council member of his own hometown Iksal.

Amnesty International: arms embargo on Israel

Amnesty recommends (see p35) an UNSC arms embargo on Israel and “Palestinian groups”.

The hope is that if you take away their sticks they’ll stop hitting each other and make peace. Or maybe it’s some kind of “even playing field” hypothesis of fairness.

I heard a Foreign Office minister tell Press TV that Britain supplies Israel with parts but not weapons – this embargo call would principally affect the US and then Serbia, since Palestinian groups receive their weapons on the black market which would not respect an embargo. Notably, “Palestinian groups” here does not include Hesbollah which appears to have been sending rockets into Israel in the past week. Hesbollah is completely absent from the report. That’s one arms embargo which hasn’t worked. Not exactly reassuring for anybody who recognises that Israel not only has the right, but the need, to defend its citizens – alleged abuses of arms notwithstanding.

Joel Kovel

Eco-socialist and author of the other-worldly ‘Overcoming Zionism’, ‘The Enemy of Nature‘ and other works,  Joel Kovel’s sayings and writings have featured on various occasions into the Green World. He is a considerable influence on Green anti-Zionism, who “understand[s] the desire to smash Zionism” and considers Israel an “abomination” which itself constitutes an occupation.

He has lost his job at Bard College or it lost him – the occasion for a number of retrospectives, including from the man himself (as many anti-Zionists with conspiracy beliefs do when things don’t go their way, he believes it was political rather than professional), a response from Judeosphere, this piece from Ignoblus:

“I once saw Kovel speak at my local lefty book shop. I attended with my wife. It’s perhaps worth noting that, while she’s become sympathetic to the concerns of Zionists since knowing me, she is not herself a Zionist and continues to view the creation of Israel as a mistake. She was quite struck with the absolute absence of any discussion of antisemitism and even put off by the repeated assertions that antisemitism was irrelevant to the discussion. The only reference to the Holocaust -something that really can’t be ignored in a discussion of Zionism- was to claim that it was a myth that Israel’s existence was necessary to prevent another Holocaust.

Further, he continually referred to his own book as “banned.” That was a blatant lie. In fact, his book was on sale at that very shop. The truth is that distribution of his book was suspended while the University of Michigan Press reviewed it’s relationship with Pluto Press. It was Pluto Press which published Kovel’s book, but using UM Press’s name. UM Press decided Kovel’s book was terrible and that they needed to sever their relationship to Pluto Press in order to protect their own reputation. However, when they reached that conclusion, they continued publishing Kovel’s book, citing academic freedom. So, rather than banning the book, UM Press continued to publish what they saw as an obviously inferior work. In his narcissistic rant about being let go from Bard, he continues to refer to the episode as “book burning.”

Although he never used words like “conspiracy” or “cabal,” Kovel’s version of history also contained many, many details that strongly suggested a conspiratorial worldview. For instance, he attributed US support for the creation of Israel monocausally to Jewish funding for Truman’s presidential campaign. Never mind that Truman had been a vocal ally to Zionism long before running for President.

Given the similarity between his organization’s name, The Committee for the Open Discussion of Zionism (CODOZ), to the blatantly antisemitic Committee for the Open Discussion of the Holocaust (CODOH), I find it difficult to ignore the possibility that these were intentional dogwhistles. Perhaps he’s really that ignorant of antisemitism that he doesn’t know to avoid such things (like Juan Cole’s recent advocacy for an America First movement), but then I think it’s still a revelatory Freudian slip. His sense of victimization and the hands of some powerful, vaguely defined (but constantly growing) group supposedly out to silence him is the same category of mistake -is the same funtionally- as antisemitism.

So, had Bard actually dismissed Kovel for his views -not his advocacy of a one-state solution, but his (borderline?) conspiratorial views on the power of Zionists- I’d probably support them in that. But they didn’t. They cut him to save money.”

That’s most of the post, but go there anyway.

Pointing out antisemitism: artful

According to student harassment advisor and Green Andrew Collingwood, who played with allegations of antisemitism as part of his political campaigning about Palestine.

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He can’t have noticed that most campus antisemitism today emanates from anti-Zionists and their Palestine solidarity campaigns. Campaigning on behalf of Palestinians doesn’t have to be like that, but in Britain it often is.

In common with many people who are accused of racism, Andrew Collingwood is deeply upset and offended that he’s been called racist, and views it as an attempt to smear him on account of his Palestine Solidarity Campaign work.

But even some members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign think that the PSC is too comfortable an environment for antisemitism – it has been for years. The cartoon wasn’t out of the ordinary.

One student in the comments:

“If something racist were to happen to me on campus, I honestly feel there would be no one I could go to.”

Many others want the people with concerns to get over it. But if you’re going to ask people who feel themselves subject to racism to get over it, you may as well write off the racism part of the harassment advisory service.

Nobody has to turn a blind eye to this, do they.

Update: And nobody should turn a blind eye to hate mail received by Andrew Collingwood. Sending hate mail is deplorable, futile, self-indulgent, and often extremely frightening for the recipient. Andrew Collingwood does not deserve hate mail. He deserves to be argued with, straight. Send hate mail and not only have you lost the argument but you’ve given up on persuading somebody.