Ghada Karmi



Ghada Karmi


On a trip to Jordan undertaken this month just as the illegal Israeli attack on Syria took place and in the shadow of the succeeding savage Israeli assault on Gaza that killed and maimed scores of Palestinians, I found myself in a gathering of people in Amman concerned at these developments.  The talk was not about these events as such but rather that they were consequences of Jewish world control. One man, a doctor who had resided in Germany for 30 years, asserted that the Jews still had control there and had been responsible for a deliberate campaign to corrupt post-war German society through shortening the hemline. Apparently, the Jews manipulated the fashion industry so that women’s skirts progressively exposed more of the female thigh, leading to a loosening of morals and social decline thereafter exported to Europe. What bothered me more than this absurd nonsense was the gravity with which the man was listened to. I was dismayed to find such reasoning widespread coupled with a fervent belief in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, long dismissed by scholars as a 19th-century Russian forgery, but evidently open season here amongst the followers of global Jewish conspiracy as a primary cause of the world’s afflictions.


The Arab addiction to conspiracy theory is notorious. As a child in London, I grew up to the sound of heated discussions amongst our Arab visitors at home about the plots hatched against us. The Arabs, I learned, were the objects of deliberate and malignant policies concocted in ‘the West’, pawns in a huge power game over which they had no control and whose workings only the cleverest of us were able to understand. Even now I can vividly recall the feelings of mystification and helplessness that used to overwhelm me whenever I heard these conversations. My understanding of events would suddenly seem naïve and simplistic in the face of these deeper insights. The Egyptian political writer, Tariq Heggy, has provided a good summary of this phenomenon in his recently published book, Culture Civilization and Humanity. The logic goes something like this: modern Arab history was drawn up by the great powers; initially, these were Britain and France, but latterly, they are America in collusion with Israel; all these forces have prepared machiavellian plans to dominate and enslave the Arab people, whose effects are to be felt in all areas of life today; and because of this, Arabs are rendered helpless and impotent to change the grand design drawn up by a fiendishly clever and all powerful Western world.


In the 1950s when I first heard these theories, no single Arab act or initiative was said to be spontaneous or independently organised. Israel by then was added to the list of plotters, narrowing the Arab room for manoeuvre even more. According to some extreme conspiracy theorists, the Arab revolt of 1916 under Sharif Hussein was inspired by Britain to further its regional colonial designs. The 1952 Free Officers’ revolt in Egypt was engineered in accordance with Israeli wishes to deprive the Arabs of legitimate rulers and replace them with unstable republics whose presidents had neither lineage nor religious authority. The same logic dictated the termination of the monarchies in Iraq, Libya and the Imamate in Yemen, perpetrated by naïve Arabs unaware of the Israeli design they were fulfilling.


Nationalisation of the Suez canal in 1956 was said to have been instigated by America in order to remove British and French influence from the region; likewise, American designs ensured the removal of Glubb Pasha, the famous military officer who represented British influence in Jordan; and Hafez al Assad was encouraged to terminate French power in Syria and Lebanon. By the time of Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in Iraq, also approved by the US, the ground had been prepared for joint American/Israeli control of the Arab world, free from the European colonialists who had dominated it. And all Arab leaders, from Jamal Abdul Nasser to Saddam Hussein, were ‘American agents’, either knowingly or by deception.


The conspiracy theory also had it that the British masterminded the pre-1948 struggle against the Zionists in British Mandate Palestine. Despite appearances to the contrary, the 1936 General Strike against Zionist immigration, in which the British killed or imprisoned hundreds of Palestinian and when the population nearly starved, was allegedly supported by those same British authorities. This was supposedly due to an internal struggle between the British War Office (sympathetic to the Palestinians) and the Home Office (sympathetic to the Zionists); when the War Office faction had the upper hand, the Palestinians were encouraged to rebel because this strengthened British resistance to the Zionists. Palestinians leaders like Hajj Amin al Husseini were appointed and promoted only in so far as they fulfilled British designs, and indeed Husseini was deemed to be a British agent. Thus, the history of a heroic Palestinians resistance to Zionism was reduced to being no more than a campaign orchestrated from above and led by men working for the colonialists ruling Palestine. Nor has the post-1948 Palestinian struggle escaped these constructions. The loyalty of many PLO figures has been questioned and today, the allegation that Yasser Arafat is an Israeli agent is often made. It is even suggested that his origins were Jewish, that he was recruited by the Mossad in the 1950s, and that his wife, Suha and her mother, were both Israeli agents.


The problem with such theories is that they possess a superficial plausibility, especially if the starting premise has already been set. As all crime detectives know, the facts can be made to fit different interpretations, without any of them being necessarily true. The most tenacious theory now gripping the Arab world is that of the Judaeo-Christian conspiracy against Islam. According to this, the ills of the Arab world, from Iraq to Palestine, arise from longstanding religious hostility towards Islam by the Christian West, itself manipulated by the Jews - just as if, in Heggy’s phrase, the crusades had never ended. Facts that fit this construction are eagerly sought for and adduced as proof: for example, the current US administration is known to be dominated by pro-Israel men in alliance with the extreme Christian right; President Bush described the American war on Iraq as a ‘crusade’ and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, talks of ‘Judaeo-Christian values’; numerous criticisms of Islam have emanated from public Western figures, most recently from the highly decorated American general, William Boykin, whose crude anti-Muslim remarks went un- rebuked; in a recent speech to the Islamic Conference Organisation, the Malaysian prime minter, Mahathir Muhammad, said that Jews ‘ruled the world’. This phrase, taken out of context and condemned in the West, was eagerly seized on by the religious conflict theorists to support their position. And of course, the Western war on terrorism has notably targeted Muslims, states and individuals.


Given the initial premise, one can see how such an assemblage of facts leads irresistibly to the conclusion that there is indeed a conspiracy directed against Islam.  As the US/Israeli axis increases its grip on the Arab world, so these anti-Islam conspiracy sentiments grow. Though superficially persuasive, it would be wrong o give them any validity. They are best understood in the context of Arab defeat and powerlessness and a defensive withdrawal from reality. But they are nonetheless dangerous notions. For they paralyse analytical thinking, obscure the real causes of Arab defeat and provide ammunition for the accusation of Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism that Israel so skilfully manipulates in its favour. The question that must challenge the Arab world today is how to check this dangerous slide into paranoia and self-defeating religious bigotry and face up to the urgent task of fighting a ruthless Israeli/US hegemony that has little to do with religion though it may use its symbols.




Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian writer and Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University, England.

Al Ahram Weekly October 2003