Australian Arabic-language commentators are spreading conspiracy theories about Australia’s summer bushfire emergency and the coronavirus outbreak.
Grave ecological and biological threats often result in the spawning of conspiracy theories. This “fake news” offers comfort to those experiencing confusion and fear by presenting simple and plausible explanations for the danger and trauma, laying the blame for them on a malicious actor, real or imagined.
My research has uncovered two Australians with relatively wide access to Arabic-speaking Australians on media platforms who actively spread conspiracy theories about both the tragic bush fires and the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic. In both cases, these conspiracy theories were accompanied by antisemitic tropes or lies about Israel and the US.
‘Whoever controls the weather, controls the world’
Pierre Sema’an, a Maronite Christian of Lebanese origin, is the senior columnist for the El-Telegraph newspaper published in Sydney. The newspaper prides itself on being the “Largest Lebanese and Arabic Daily Newspaper in Australia” and is edited by Antoine Kazi OAM.
As I have previously exposed in the AIR (“The Columnist as Conspiracist”, October 2018), Sema’an has a long history of spreading conspiracy theories, fabrications and antisemitic tropes in his columns. His favourite topic is the evil world government, made up of the UN and world leaders, including in Australia, all of whom are either atheists, or Zionists, or perhaps even aliens or lizards (as can be inferred from his supportive mentions of British antisemitic conspiracy-monger David Icke, who promotes theories about shapeshifting alien lizards controlling the world). Repeating notoriously widespread lies from the Arab world, Sema’an has claimed that the US, the West and Israel created and operated ISIS and that Iran and Israel conspire together to control the Middle East.
Now Sema’an is claiming, in his “Australian fires … is there a hidden agenda?” (Dec 12, 2019), that the bushfires were caused by those trying to impose an evil world government. In his article he posits that:
“Fires that destroy many coastal and regional areas in New South Wales and Queensland are not innocent fires, resulting from drought. It is part of a global plan to redistribute land as a prelude to abolishing private property and working on the reduction of the [global] population by many means and methods, varying between the ability to control the climate, fabricating wars and spreading epidemics, family beating and elimination of differences between nationalities, etc.”
Sema’an throws into the plot everything in his conspiracy theory arsenal. He begins with “Chemtrail” – the conspiracy theory that chemicals are being spread from aeroplanes to generate and manipulate weather and environmental events such as rain, tsunamis and global warming.
He claims that chemtrail is used because “whoever controls the weather, controls the world”, as part of the “Agenda 21” master plan. This non-binding 1992 UN eco-plan, he alleges, is promoted and implemented by the evil Club of Rome supergroup of towering world figures, including former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates, CNN founder Ted Turner and Hungarian-born tycoon George Soros. Australian PMs Paul Keating and the late Gough Whitlam also appear in Sema’an’s dubious list, along with Russell Zimmerman, former head of the Australian Retailers Association.
“Agenda 21 is not a science fiction theory, but rather a well-defined conspiracy, with an archive and history […] They are powerful people behind this system that map out world politics”. Their aim is “to destroy humanity” and “reducing its population by 90% and keeping only 300 million people,” Sema’an says in his column.
To achieve these goals, clarifies Sema’an, additional methods are needed. For instance, waging unfounded wars in the Middle East by falsely “arguing against extremism and lethal weapons, and finally counterterrorism under President Trump.” Fear of climate change, championed by former US Vice President Al Gore, by Greenpeace and the Australian Greens party (he specifically names Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt), political correctness and even the vegetarian movement – all are abused by governments to advance Agenda 21, he argues.
Australian farmers, concludes Sema’an, are the latest victims of this global-domination ploy. “Globally, some governments committed to Agenda 21 have resorted to creating difficult conditions for farmers and promoting the lie of Climate Change, to besiege farmers and push them towards cities, where they turn from producers to consumers.”
The hidden agenda is finally exposed: “The droughts and the arson of fires are aimed at displacing farmers and giving their lands in the future to international companies or countries that adhere to the club’s agenda.”
Coronavirus ‘a US bio-weapon’
The outbreak of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus has also given Sema’an more impetus to spread conspiracy theories.
Repeating stories popular in the Middle East, he claimed in his article “Is the world ready to deal with germ warfare?” (published Feb. 6), that the virus “is biological warfare that is classified as a weapon of mass destruction, no less than nuclear and chemical warfare.” Referring to a warning (Dec. 2018) by Bill Gates (a member of the Club of Rome, according to Sema’an) about a lethal virus that might kill millions, Sema’an asks rhetorically: “Was he [Gates] aware that it would inevitably happen [the death of millions from a virus] due to international conflicts and the intentions of reducing the world’s population?”
Quoting allegations made by extremist Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sema’an had hinted in an article published a couple of weeks earlier that the US had crafted the viral epidemic to fight China: “If this hypothesis is correct, we are facing a new reality where the spread of epidemics turns into a military and economic weapon to fight opponents and prevent their economic growth. So is this state of affairs meant to stop the prosperity of China, which has become a great power that poses a threat to the unilateralism of world leadership by the United States of America?”
‘US created ISIS’
Shi’ite cleric Youssef Nabha is the imam of the Arrahman (“The Merciful’) mosque in Sydney and the director of the Al-Mabarat charity. In September 2019, the Daily Telegraph exposed ties between Al-Mabarat and the Lebanese terrorist organisation Hezbollah. At the same time, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission revoked Al-Mabarat’s charity status for unspecified reasons.
Nabha is an open supporter of the Iranian regime, staunchly anti-US and Israel and does not shy away from conspiracy theories. He claimed, for example, in one of his Friday sermons (Sept. 28, 2018) that the US created and funds ISIS. In a show of support to the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas on Jan 20, 2018, Nabha also read out loud to worshippers a letter sent from Hamas senior leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, proudly pronouncing that this is proof that Iran “is present in the arena of liberation of Palestine.”
On Jan. 3, Nabha labelled as “pure martyrs” the Iranian arch-terrorist, Qassem Soleimani and the commander of pro-Iranian militia in Iraq, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis – both killed by the US that day. He promised that their blood “yields victory, and provides our peoples with dignity, power, and endurance, in the confrontation with the Americans and the Israelis”. A few days later on Jan. 7, Nabha met Iran’s Ambassador to Australia, Fereidoun Haghbin, to extend his “sincere condolences” over the “martyrdom” of Soleimani and al-Muhandis.
‘PM’s ties with Zionists made the bush fires worse’
Al-Mabarat donated $10,000 to the NSW Rural Fire Service in November 2019. Presenting the cheque, Nabha described the donation as springing from “the value of mateship” and the responsibility “to extend our hand to the Government institutions” helping to fight fires and protect people’s homes.
Nabha’s views on Prime Minister Scott Morrison are very different. During his Dec. 6 Friday sermon at the Arrahman mosque he noted the awarding of the Jerusalem Prize to the PM by the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) a few weeks previously. In an innuendo referencing antisemitic tropes about Jewish influence, Nabha suggested that Morrison’s ties with the “yarn spinning” ZFA had made the fires worse:
“We commend the efforts of the firefighters, who work day and night to extinguish the fires in various regions in Australia while Prime Minister Scott Morrison has fuelled the fires by his participation at a celebration of the Zionist Federation of Australia whose aim is to support Israel, spinning its yarn [around] Morrison. Morrison courted [the ZFA], sang praise and stressed the historical ties [between] Australia and Israel over the last years. He did not mention the rights of the Palestinians to live in dignity, and [did not] mention their daily tragedies and torments due to the Israeli occupation. The tears of the Palestinian women and children continue to haunt all the arrogant, the occupiers and those [hanging on their] tails, asking for power and leadership on the blood of the Palestinians and their wounds.”
Spreading conspiratorial and arguably antisemitic views to law-abiding Arabic-speaking Australian citizens while cynically taking advantage of the bushfire tragedy and the coronavirus threat is both morally repugnant and an insult to all Australians. Both the general public and law enforcement agencies should be aware of the dangerous and ugly beliefs people like Sema’an and Nabha are introducing into Australia’s multicultural society.
Dr. Ran Porat is an affiliate researcher at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Israel and a research associate at the Future Directions International Research Institute, Western Australia.