Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stop the War. No! Not that one!

Stop the War reports again that it is not against war as such:

“Iranian activist Shirin Shafaie said the West had shown “double standards” in previous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She said: “Double standards are the worst enemy of justice and injustice is the worst enemy of peace.”

Which makes what follows particularly amusing.

“We must make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

“We are here to make sure there is not another war anywhere in the world, which is led by America or European countries.“”

Because the main problem with this war business is that America and Europe are hogging it.

Conspiracy Theory Day, 25th September, London

CFI UK and SPES present


Sunday 25th September 2011
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.

9/11, alien visitation, Jewish cabals and global warming – why are people drawn to conspiracy theories, and what holds them captive? What are the warning signs of a dodgy conspiracy theory? What conspiracy theories are actually credible, and why? Spend an entertaining and informative day with some if the world’s leading experts.


10.30 Registration

10.45-11.55 Chris French and Robert Brotherton “Conspiracy Minded: The Psychology of Belief in Conspiracy Theories”

12.00- 1.10 Karen Douglas “A Social Psychological Perspective On Conspiracy Theories”

2.00-3.10 David Aaronovitch “Do Conspiracy Theories Have Common Characteristics Over Time And Space?”

3.10-4.10 Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller “Truth And The Net”

4.10 End


Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL.

Cost £10, £5 to students.

Booking in advance available at the BHA website. Remaining tickets will be for sale on the door.

Organized by Stephen Law, Provost CFI UK.  Media can contact Stephen on


10.45-11.55 Chris French and Robert Brotherton, “Conspiracy Minded: The Psychology of Belief in Conspiracy Theories” This talk will introduce the topic of conspiracy theories and outline the difficulties that arise when trying to formulate a universally acceptable definition of this deceptively complex concept. Conspiracy theories have come to play a prominent role in contemporary culture. It is almost inevitable that any significant event will become the subject of conspiracy theorising, and considerable numbers of people endorse such theories. Although the psychology behind belief in unsubstantiated and implausible conspiracy theories is not yet well understood, social scientists are now beginning to address this important topic. A summary of theories and empirical findings to date will be presented.

12.00-1.10 Karen Douglas, “A social psychological perspective on conspiracy theories”. Karen will give some background on the psychological correlates of conspiracy theories (e.g., personality characteristics, motivations) before going on to discuss some of her own and her students’ research. She will talk about research showing that conspiracy theories are persuasive and change people’s opinions about what happened in major world events such as the death of Princess Diana. Karen will also explain research showing that people tend to believe in conspiracy theories when they lack information and fill in the gaps by ‘projecting’ their own moral tendencies onto the alleged conspirators, and will discuss some of the features that make conspiracy theories persuasive vs. those that are less effective. Finally, she will talk about the beginning of a research programme examining some of the consequences of beliefs in conspiracy theories. For example, she has some data showing that exposure to conspiracy theories makes people feel less powerful and therefore less likely to want to vote.

2.00-3.10 David Aaronovitch, “Do conspiracy theories have common characteristics over time and space?” Details to follow.

3.10 Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, “Truth and the Net”. Jamie and Carl will talk about their forthcoming (August 2011) report ‘Truth and the Net’ which examines the extent that conspiracy theories and misinformation are entering the classroom; how far young people are equipped with the digital literacy required to confront them. This is based on a large national survey of teachers on the subject. They’ll sketch out the critical thinking skills, habits and knowledge young people need.


David Aaronovitch, author of Voodoo Histories (further details to follow.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme at the think tank Demos. He researches and writes about a wide variety of extremist groups. He recently authored a major paper on al-Qaeda terrorism, which included living alongside radical Islamists. He is currently leading a research team conducting the largest ever survey of the far-right in Europe.

Robert Brotherton is a member of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is conducting a PhD, funded by the ESRC, on the psychology of belief in conspiracy theories. He also teaches as part of the anomalistic psychology undergraduate module at Goldsmiths. Robert is currently acting as assistant editor of The Skeptic and convenes the Anomalistic Psychology Interest Group, a seminar group for academic discussion of topics within anomalistic psychology.

Dr Karen Douglas is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Kent. She is Associate Editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology and Social Psychology. Karen is also a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology and a member of learned societies in social psychology and communication studies. She has published widely on topics such as language and communication, the psychology of the Internet, feedback, and the social psychology of conspiracy theories, and her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Australian Research Council and the British Academy. She is the co-author of a forthcoming social psychology text to be published by Palgrave MacMillan and the first volume on feedback to be published by Peter Lang Publishers. Karen’s research on conspiracy theories focuses on the social psychological processes and consequences of beliefs in such theories, and the factors that make conspiracy theories so appealing.

Professor Chris French is the Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as being a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 100 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main current area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims, as well as writing for the Guardian’s online science pages. For more than a decade, he edited of The Skeptic and his latest book, co-edited with Wendy Grossman, is Why Statues Weep: The Best of The Skeptic (London: The Philosophy Press).

Carl Miller is an Associate at Demos and a researcher at King’s College London. He is interested in extremism, dissent, the Internet and social media. In 2010 Jamie and Carl authored The Power of Unreason, about the relationship between conspiracy theories and terrorist ideology. Following this paper, both spent months debating with 9/11 Truthers.

On the role of racism in the Israel-Palestine conflict

This post is also on Engage.

Phoebe is thinking about the role of racism in the Israel-Palestine conflict:

“To lower everyone’s blood pressure for a moment, think of it like this. Imagine that two neighbors, one who happens to be Jewish, one who doesn’t, get into an argument over… any number of ridiculous things people argue about that have nothing to do with their ethnic-religious origins. Someone’s dog ripped up someone else’s flower bed, whatever. We wouldn’t say that the Jew’s antagonist in this conflict is an anti-Semite. Sometimes Jews, like everyone else, get into disputes, and those disputing with them have whatever beef anyone has with anyone. However, if a bunch of strangers to both formed a committee to support the Jew’s antagonist, while ignoring similar and worse conflicts in the town between non-Jews, we might wonder about the committee members. Now, if the Jew’s antagonist, picking up on his likely source of support, throws a ‘dirty Jew’ in there, that’s foul play and all, but that doesn’t mean the original conflict was about anti-Semitism. It was about the flower bed.”

And the next day:

“I remain unconvinced that “race” or “racism” is the best lens through which to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it plays out among the parties themselves. I think it’s a very useful lens for understanding why certain third parties get involved, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, no.”

Matt responds in agreement about distinguishing between antagonists and their cheerleaders:

“When we call a speaker racist (as opposed to their speech), it typically means that that speaker should be banned from the discourse because their presence is unproductive. If we ban too many Palestinians or too many Jews, we wind up completely disrupting the discourse in a way that is certainly unproductive, because there’s no one left to convince.”

as well as disagreement about the role of racism in the conflict:

“…why should we distinguish between the claims of different actors on that basis when the claims are identical? And while we might seek to be inclusive of a variety of perspectives and actors in our conversation, that doesn’t mean that all claims are equal in that conversation. In short, I don’t think it’s often useful to think of racism as a matter of intent or as an exercise into soul divination.”

“Often, I go back to the 1929 Hebron Massacre. (Phoebe talks about the “ultimate” cause being about land, so lets go back in time.) Palestinian leaders spread a rumor that Jews were massacring Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians (enough) in Hebron chose to believe that rumor because they were willing to believe almost anything about Jews, and they chose to respond by killing Jews.”

A very interesting conversation, HT Bob.

There may be strategic reasons for those most directly involved in the conflict and its resolution to pass over racism. But if like me you agree with Matt that racism is a significant factor, you will be wary of failing to acknowledge something major by putting it to one side. I also take Phoebe’s point that racism cannot be the only lens through which to examine the conflict, but it is racism which gives the conflict its popular edge and sucks in partisans with a weird and avid intensity from all over the world. It seems these days that in engaging with the conflict, and the way the conflict is refracted in far off places like Britain, it is impossible to avoid giving an audience to racist views. Nevertheless racism should compromise the influence of those who espouse it, should have consequences which disadvantage them while they continue to espouse it, and should meet with robust but constructive rebuttal.

Jewish Socialist versus the EUMC – Bob From Brockley

A cross-post by Bob From Brockley:

Jewish Socialist versus the EUMC

The new issue of the reliably excellent Jewish Socialist magazine popped onto my doormat this morning and I browsed it as I ate my lunch. As always, I look forward to reading it from cover to cover, probably the only publication I can say that of.

The very first page, however, includes a short piece on Greens Engage which radically misrepresents the group. It is based on an interview with Joseph Healy, who claims, among other things that “Greens Engage have been using the controversial EUMC definition of antisemitism to make accusations against those in the Green party supporting justice for the Palestinians.” In fact, Greens Engage members put forward a motion to a 2008 conference agreeing that “The EU’s working definition of antisemitism shall be considered when determining what counts as antisemitism.” (The same motion, incidentally, was unequivocally for a Palestinian right of self-determination, which seems like a good definition of supporting justice for Palestinians.) They did not, however, at this point, make any accusations about anyone based on the EUMC definition, and the definition only cropped up again some time later when a Green Party internal committee innocently stumbled upon it in drafting policy on antisemitic language, which then blew up into a new furore, as we know. I may be wrong, but I am not aware of any time that GE have made an accusation against anyone which quotes the definition.

There is also, on p.21, an article by Julia Bard on “the agendas being served by the Community Security Trust“. This again (inaccurately I believe) invokes the EUMC WD: “Their definition of the threat is based on the discredited and highly contentious EU Monitoring Committee definition of antisemitism [which it isn’t] and their equally contentious response to it [which means I have no idea what].” The main thrust of the argument, however, follows Geoffrey Alderman (a former friend of Jewish Socialist and now somewhat to the right of them) in seeing the CST as unrepresentative and adds that its funding structure echoes Cameron’s Big Society, an interesting but not to me convincing point.

Anyways, apart from that, looks good. There’s obituaries of Jayaben Desai, Miriam Karlin and Juliano Mer Khamis, a short piece on Tarabut, Moshe Machover, Afif Safieh and Amanda Sebetyen on the Arab spring, David Rosenberg on multiculturalism, the usual Spanish Civil war stuff, Ilana Cravitz on klezmer, Mike Gerber on boxing, Paul Collins on Victor Gollancz, J David Simons on Jewish Glasgow, David Landau on AFA (I will return to that one here when I’ve digested it), some muckraking on the hideous Israel Shamir, and lots more.

You may want to subscribe.

Have the elites failed?

Recommended listenlast Thursday’s RSA panel discussion on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking between: Dr Claire Spencer, head of Middle East and North Africa programme, Chatham House; Denis Macshane MP, former minister of state, the FCO and MP for Rotherham; Tal Harris, executive director, OneVoice Israel; and Samer Makhlouf, executive director, OneVoice Palestine.

Harris and Makhlouf were patiently and steadily doing what OneVoice does – representing the conflict as one not between Israelis and Palestinians but between peacemakers and warmongers, with poor leadership from the political elites. Denis MacShane brought up the role of regional antisemitism in the conflict. Claire Spencer (like everybody from Chatham House) was very knowledgeable about her field, and noted a general incoherence of the political elites, particularly notable in the Israeli leadership who seem to have no long-term plan whatsoever. She also mentioned some statistics on the staggering scale of aid to Palestinians, the ratios of NGO workers to Palestinian citizens, and the vested interests of NGOs in maintaining the status quo.

Matthew Taylor, chairing, asked some penetrating questions, including whether, unlike South Africa, the conflict would not be resolved through idealism but through resignation.

If you tried any of the usual boycotter tricks (stamping, hissing, asking rhetorical questions and shouting throughout the response, etc) at the RSA you’d be made to feel a proper fool. Consequently the event went off without interference.

Recommended watch (though its too late this time) – Hofesh Schechter’s Political Mother, a contemporary dance work at Sadlers Wells – a stratified society jerks, twitches and writhes to the relentless drumbeat of its demagogues.

Recommended read – at Though Cowards Flinch, Paul summarises a paper in the Political Psychology journal, including the finding that “a subtle threat manipulation increases self-reported conservatism (or decreases self-reported liberalism), and this effect is mediated by closed-mindedness”.

Recommended read – former Chatham House expert and now Director of City University’s Olive Tree programme offering scholarships to ordinary Israeli and Palestinian students who undertake their studies and a parallel curriculum in conflict resolution, Rosemary Hollis, site and book. Her knowledge and wisdom, street to elite, is formidable.

Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history?

Further to two earlier pieces on wiping countries off maps, here’s an animated timeline of the Middle East’s many empires from 3000 to 2006 BCE at Maps of War. Among other things, it illustrates that for most of the region’s states, independence from European colonialism occurred between the 1920s and early ’60s.

Borders prevent much, from Roma’s lucky roads, to elephants’ ability to reach water, to the nomadic herders whose pictures I saw at the Royal Geographical Society last February, suddenly fenced in by the establishment of Iraq.

But everybody seems to have one these days.