by A. Millar
Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have long been a staple of the Arab and Iranian press and consciousness. Haj Amin al-Husseini, an Arab nationalist and "Grand Mufti," broadcast Nazi propaganda to Egypt during the Second World War. And the Nazi-inspired conspiracy theory of a Jewish-Freemasonic alliance, dominating the world, still appears frequently in the official media today.
For many in the West, the convergence of Egypt's pro-democracy activists on Tahrir Square last year was a welcome sight – as it should have been. Believing it to be a portent of a new era of liberal democracy and pluralism in the region, however, appears to have been too optimistic.
Reporting was partly to blame. The media covered the sexual assault of American reporter Lara Logan during the protests in Tahrir Square, but largely chose to ignore the fact that the crowd was yelling "Jew! Jew!" at her during the assault. Logan was raped with the hands of the assailants while others photographed her with their mobile phones.
Recently, Egyptian presidential candidate Tawfiq Okasha went on television to invoke the other, largely ignored, gentile half of the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. Asked why Canadian television presenter Michael Coren had "dedicated a large part of his show to an attack" on Okasha, the presidential hopeful responded, simply, that Coren was "a Freemason."
Lara Logan is not Jewish, and Michael Coren is not a Freemason. But evidently that does not worry those who believe they are. The truth is a detail. And the Jew and the Freemason are archetypes in extremist Muslim and Arab minds.
Ayatolla Khomeini outlawed Freemasonry after coming to power in 1979. As is occurring in Egypt today, Khomeini managed to subvert Iran's pro-democracy revolution, and began suppressing every group that did not adhere to his clerical fascist vision. Saddam Hussein, head of the Arab national socialist Ba'ath Party, made membership of the Freemasonic fraternity a capital offense the following year.
The first hint, since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, that the Zionist-Freemasonic conspiracy theory was going to inform politics came on November 11 in what might otherwise seem a humorous story. A group of New Age spiritual practitioners had planned to hold a meditation session at the pyramid of Giza. The purpose apparently was to spread love and light across the globe. However false rumors soon spread that Jews and Freemasons were planning on performing a ceremony that included placing the Star of David on the top of the Pyramid.
According to the Guardian, local authorities were "panicked by unconfirmed rumors" of a Jewish-Freemasonic ceremony, and shut down the Pyramid on the pretext that it needed essential maintenance work. "The decision," the Guardian reported, "was taken after Egyptologists denounced the various ceremonies and a series of campaigns sprang up online to oppose them, including one spearheaded by an offshoot of the revolutionary April 6th movement, whose members vowed to hold a sit-in at the Giza complex and block access to new age revelers."
Less than two weeks later the Muslim Brotherhood – which is sometimes naively presented as the West's potential democratic partner in Egypt and at other times as a group of intractable Islamists – reported that its websites were under attack from Anonymous. Anonymous, which came to public attention in 2009 after it began campaigning against Scientology, is a very loose movement of individuals and collectives, many of whom may simply identify themselves as being part of it.
The anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists published a video on YouTube, chastizing the organization: "They [members of the Muslim Brotherhood] claim to be anti-Freemasonry," the video says, "however they follow distinct principles taken from it."
The video also states that the Muslim Brotherhood "started as a benevolent group of people with fair and just intentions." As the Brotherhood opposed democracy from the very beginning, however, and as it is unusual for pro-democracy advocates to inveigh against "Freemasonry," it seems likely that this particular Anonymous group is composed of former Muslim Brotherhood members.
"Freemasonry" is a highly technical term in Islamism, as it was in Nazism before it. It invariably refers to the West and to Westerners – especially to the USA and Americans – either regarding power, or, more often, values: liberal democracy, secularism, free speech, women's rights, and, occasionally, secular humanism, Darwinism, gay rights, alcohol, and other matters generally considered anathema to Islam. Hence, as the Egyptian Independent reported, the Salafi Nour Party recently denounced democracy, calling "the campaign of the liberal Egyptian Bloc a campaign of 'Zionism' and 'Freemasonry'."
Similarly, in 2008, prior to Barack Obama being sworn in as the President of the USA, a post was published on the radical Islamic Awakening internet chat forum that managed to fuse old-fashioned racism with the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in its title: "Freemasonic President Barack Obama Slave of Israel."
For the Egyptian Tawfiq Okasha, Sun TV presenter Michael Coren also fits the profile: He charged Coren of being a supporter of liberal democracy, the rights of women, and of Israel. And he is a critic of Islam and openly opposes anti-Semitism.
This appraisal was not, however, Okasha's only foray into the world of the Zionist-Freemasonic conspiracy theory. On October 1 he went on television to explain economics to his audience. "The US," he said, "has adopted an economic policy which was established and is run by Jewish economic experts, in order to subordinate this policy to the philosophy of global Freemasonry [which] enables them to maintain their grip upon the nations." This "policy" he alleged even included placing "a pyramid and an eye on the back of the dollar bill – symbols of global Freemasonry..."
As the above formulations suggest, the other essential quality of the Islamist's conception of "Freemasonry" is that it is allegedly controlled by "Zionists" or, simply, "the Jews" as part of their alleged attempt to dominate the world. The primary weapons of Freemasonry are, according to this myth, democracy, women's rights, and so on.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis largely agree with the Islamists about Jews and Freemasonry, as they do when it comes to democracy, women's rights, and other matters. The reason, simply, is that both groups draw from the same sources: Nazi propaganda and the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that so profoundly influenced it.
This text, that British historian Norman Cohn aptly described as a "warrant for genocide," was forged by the Russian secret police in France at the close of the nineteenth century. It was used in a campaign to prop up the unpopular Tsar, and to convince people that democracy was a Jewish plot, as well as the most cunning form of oppression, the only defense against which was the noble dictator. The forgery was published in several foreign language editions during the 1920s, and entered the extreme racial nationalist scene in Germany and elsewhere.
Today, it not only circulates White supremacist and neo-Nazi circles but is cited approvingly in the charter of Hamas, the governing party in Gaza. The tenth grade curriculum for boys in Saudi Arabia also includes a lesson on the Protocols. The boys are taught that it is a real plan, not a forgery, and that the Jews are following it.
In the West, however, we usually think of those who obsess about Freemasonry, world governments, and the symbolism of the dollar bill as middle-aged men who still live in their parents' basement and spend too much time playing video games. We think of them as silly, maybe a bit sad, but not as sinister.
It is unfathomable to us that generations have been indoctrinated to believe in old Nazi propaganda, or that millions of people might believe it.
Even though we might pay attention to the anti-"Zionist" statements made, for example, by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we tend to ignore the "Freemasonic" half of the anti-Semitic myth. This seems especially odd, and singularly unwise.
We understand that when Islamist or Arab nationalist radicals are talking about the "Zionist entity" they mean Israel – and those responsible for foreign policy can take account of this in their assessments of any particular regime.
Yet, despite a 2009 report – Islamist extremists and the Freemasons - by Canada's intelligence service, CSIS, we appear to have virtually no clue that when Islamists speak about "Freemasonry" they mean America, Canada, Britain, the West, and its values – especially liberal democracy. It is not exactly a difficult code to crack, and we should have deciphered it long ago. We might then begin to understand the sinister import of references to "Zionism" and "Freemasonry" in Egypt's new political dialogue. And it might be clearer to us as to which side we should be on.
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