The global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has spawned conspiracy theories that play on people’s fears and foster hatred by laying blame for this unprecedented threat on a recognisable “enemy”.
Unfortunately, such conspiracy theories, many with an antisemitic flavour, are currently being fanned by a handful of Arabic-language media outlets publishing in Australia.
Pierre Sema’an: The virus is an evil world government plot
Pierre Sema’an is the senior columnist for El-Telegraph newspaper published in Sydney. Edited by Antoine Kazi OAM, the newspaper bills itself as being the “Largest Lebanese and Arabic Daily Newspaper in Australia”.
Sema’an has a long history of spreading conspiracy theories and antisemitic tropes in his columns, as I have previously reviewed in the AIR (“The Columnist as Conspiracist”, Oct. 2018; “The Bushfire Conspiracy”, March 2020). He has claimed that the US, the West and Israel created and operated Islamic State and that Iran and Israel conspire together to control the Middle East in a plot masterminded by the Rothschild banking family.
Now Sema’an is trying to persuade readers that the coronavirus epidemic is a US-made biological weapon used in the trade war with China. Furthermore, he alleges that the virus was created by a mysterious and secretive global government, “the Illuminati, a fascist, Nazi-oriented organisation”. He says this secret government is using COVID-19 to implement its evil Agenda 21 plan to dramatically reduce Earth’s human population to only 5% of current numbers.
In reality, Agenda 21 was a 1992 non-binding UN plan to preserve the global environment.
The world government in Sema’an’s fantasy is comprised of towering public figures and leaders from different countries, including Australia, united as in the sinister “Club of Rome”, made up of either atheists, or Zionists, and possibly even aliens (he has favourably cited the theories of British conspiracist David Icke, who believes shape-shifting reptilian aliens secretly control the world).
To achieve their goal of reducing the population, explains Sema’an, policies are initiated such as inciting false wars, promoting sexual promiscuity and narcotics addiction and much more. The coronavirus pandemic, Sema’an is certain, was unleashed by the world government “to achieve this reduction in the world’s population in a relatively short period of time.”
Sema’an cites a 2015 quote from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, a supposed member of the “Club of Rome”, about the dangers of viruses to humanity and asks, “Was [Gates] aware that [coronavirus] would inevitably happen due to international conflicts and the intention of reducing the world’s population?”
Adding fuel to his bonfire of disinformation, Sema’an also champions traditional Lebanese myths about the alleged healing powers associated with the tomb of Saint Charbel Makhlouf, a19th century Maronite monk.
There is no need to invest in science to fight the virus, declares Sema’an, because “Providence offered [Lebanon] a free healing remedy from a pinch of earth from the tomb of Saint Charbel… a free vaccine to treat the corona epidemic and all physical and spiritual epidemics.”
Finally, Sema’an dangerously questions the logic of government-sanctioned precautionary measures, aimed at reducing contact between people – especially suspending religious gatherings, including prayers in churches and mosques, as well as temporarily avoiding religious customs that require touching other people or objects in public spaces.
In his view, churches are protected from diseases: “I think [these measures] reflect a kind of lack of faith and the primacy of material thought and the spirit of the world over divine power. We know historically that the Church, as long as it was at the centre of crises, faced all dangers, battles and diseases, armed with the power of faith and the words of Christ who said: Do not be afraid, I conquered the world.”
Farah News: Uncle Sam created and profits from the virus
The Sydney-based Farah News Online (www.farah.net.au) portal in Arabic and English similarly contributes to spreading virus-related conspiracy theories and fabrications. This website features almost exclusively non-original content previously published in Middle Eastern media. External analytic platforms suggest thousands of people visit the website monthly, while its Facebook page had close to 17,000 followers as of March 2020.
Farah News’ editors decided to republish several articles dealing with the coronavirus. Two such articles were by Dr. Mouaffaq Mustafa Alsibai’, a Syrian author who previously published a series of antisemitic articles portraying the Jews as evil and the enemies of humanity, which also previously featured on Farah News.
Addressing the virus crisis, Alsibai’ informs readers that it is a punishment from Allah against infidels, the Communist Chinese, the pagan Persians and “Uncle Sam.” He blames the US for using its “control” over world media to inflate the threat of the virus in order to profit from it and (like Sema’an) as a means to reduce world population. “Uncle Sam is eager for such an event, he uses his media machine that controls the entire globe, to sow terror, panic, and inflated fear millions of times!!! […] America aims to reduce the world’s population by two thirds [while] making billions.”
Alsibai’ vehemently rejects the prohibition against attending mosques to reduce exposure to the coronavirus (a restriction also widely imposed in the Muslim-majority Middle East). Instead, he declares that such measures are “an unforgivable crime… to deprive [worshippers] of divine mercy, which is revealed to them during the congregational and Friday prayers, and [the person doing this] will be greatly disgraced in the world, and suffer great punishment in the hereafter […] Those who prevent the Friday [gatherings at mosques] and congregational prayers are fighting against God, who has made [mosques] his homes.”
Another Farah News columnist is Lebanon resident and Palestinian-born Moustafa El Liddawi, a former senior member of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Liddawi is an open antisemite, expressing his belief, for example, in the truth of the ancient blood libel that Jews drink non-Jewish blood as part of annual Passover holiday celebrations.
In his latest article, handpicked by Farah News editors, Liddawi alleges that the virus is “an active act and human industry and a human decision, and I firmly believe that it is a shameful and frank American aggression against China… [The US decided that China] had to be attacked, weakened, occupied and controlled [… using] this biological battle.” In addition, Liddawi states, the US failed to topple the Iranian regime, “so it resorted to declaring a health war on it” using the virus.
The real aim of this supposed biological warfare is to subject all the Middle East “to the American hegemony […and] in the service of the Zionist entity.”
In a different column, Liddawi claimed that Israel is using the virus threat as a pretext to impose unnecessary abusive and harsh measures on the Palestinians. Of course, in reality, Israel has actually been working together with the Palestinian Authority to help its health system cope with the virus crisis.
Covering Arabic media in Australia over recent years, one can’t help but be disappointed at the lack of ongoing monitoring and proper enforcement to control the few extreme voices spreading poisonous views amongst the overwhelming majority of law-abiding, Arabic-speaking Australians.
Now, these voices are taking advantage of the current unprecedented public health challenge to attempt to incite hatred of the other and spread fake news. Worse, they are exposing those who follow their advice to serious health risks.
At this moment of crisis, this is a genuine danger that must not continue to go unnoticed and unchallenged.