Conspiracy theories in the Muslim world are as common and as popular as vanilla ice cream and apple pie in the United States. Arabs and Turks, in particular, have an insatiable appetite for this variant of fake news.
As Abd al-Hamid al-Majjali wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour last year, “The Arabs seem to believe in conspiracy theories more than any other people in the world and (constantly) use them to explain events, political, social and other. Such theories are reassuring and require little mental effort. They do away with logic as long as there is some ready-made concept that can be utilized and believed at any given time and in any give place.”
The latest conspiracy theories floating around the region were concocted by a senior Turkish politician who should know better and a wacky Jordanian television host who wouldn’t know his arms from his legs.
Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed that the 2018 Eurovision contest, won by the Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, had been rigged by “imperialists” to ensure that next year’s competition would be held in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. “They let Israel win, even though they did not have enough points, so they could host the competition next year,” he said. In a gratuitous insult, he libelled Barzilai, charging she was talentless and could not even sing.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz correctly dismissed Yildirim’s rant as “unworthy of a response.”
It’s clear why Yildirim ventured into terrain he knows nothing about. Turkey, the only Muslim member of the NATO alliance, denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even threatened to sever diplomatic relations with Israel over Washington’s decision.
Yildirim’s accusation that the Eurovision contest had been manipulated in Israel’s favor is beyond absurd and unbecoming of a figure of his caliber. Barzilai emerged triumphant because she was better than her competitors, not because the judges wanted to indulge in politics.
Bakr al-Abadi, the host of a Jordanian TV program, also made a fool of himself recently by claiming that the Israeli government had planted Bubonic plague-carrying rats in Egypt during the 1967 Six Day War. As he put it, “The Zionist entity gathered all the rats carrying the Bubonic plague in Norway and released them in all the Egyptian provinces near Sinai … These rats still exist in very large numbers.” According to Abadi, they cause “significant harm to crops” and attack children.
Israel’s grand plan is to decimate Egyptian agriculture and “annihilate the Arab world,” he went on to say, disregarding the fact that Israeli agricultural exports have worked in Egypt to improve yields.
In closing, he said, “Sadly, the Zionist entity has harnessed scientific and technical development in the service of its evils and to satisfy its criminal urges.”
Abadi’s ignorant and asinine accusations not only smack of medieval antisemitism, but of cheap Nazi propaganda. In the disgusting 1940 German film, The Eternal Jew, Jews are likened to swarms of rats scurrying in and out of sewers. Regrettably, there is an audience in Jordan for such calumnies. Jordan has been formally at peace with Israel since their 1994 treaty, but on the grassroots level, very little has changed in terms of popular opinion toward Israel and Jews.
The cockeyed conspiracy theories hatched by Yildirim and Abadi did not come out of thin air.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a czarist forgery purporting to document a nefarious plot by conniving Jews to dominate the world, has been translated into Arabic and Turkish and enjoys a fairly wide readership in Arab countries and Turkey.
Some Egyptians still believe that American aircraft, rather than Israeli jets, virtually destroyed Egypt’s air force in the first hours of the Six Day War. Still other Egyptians contend that the crash of an Egypt Air airliner in 1999 was the work of the Mossad.
Millions of Muslims still hew to the belief that the Mossad, rather than 19 Arab hijackers, destroyed the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.
Several years ago, Egyptian newspapers reported that a shark that had attacked a tourist in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh had been placed there by Mossad agents with the intention of sabotaging Egypt’s tourism industry.
More recently, conspiracy theorists have circulated the tall tale that the Islamic State organization is the creation of the United States. This fits in nicely with the theory that failed Arab states like Libya have been undermined by the Americans to keep the Arab world in constant turmoil.
Arabs have reason to be paranoiac. Colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries meddled in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire, Arab countries and Iran. And in 1956, Britain and France colluded with Israel to invade Egypt. But that doesn’t mean that Muslims are at liberty to ascribe all their setbacks, ills and tragedies to external forces like the United States and Israel. All too often, they are self-inflicted. But due to their culture of victimhood, Arabs and Turks are quick to blame others for their misfortunes.
Regrettably, conspiracy theories fall on fertile ground in the Middle East.