In August 1997, the Sydney Arabic language newspaper El Telegraph published an unusual but important article on its front page.
It was a forceful repudiation of the notorious antisemitic forgery, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Headed “The Protocols: we were wrong,” it warned that there were many “partisan writers and propagandists in the Middle East who deliberately invoke the protocols to encourage racial hatred of the Israeli State and the Jewish religion.”
The publication of that article was one result of a conciliation hearing by the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission, considering a complaint I had lodged following a piece published in an earlier edition of that paper.
In that earlier piece, a popular Lebanese writer had tried to explain complex Middle East geostrategic matters by proffering a mind-blowingly ridiculous conspiracy theory, which not only explained absolutely nothing but promoted racist hatred.
Today, as the impact of COVID-19 and Government efforts to restrict infection has stretched into its third month in Australia, politicians and health officials have found it necessary to address the public on the dangers of accepting some of the wild claims circulating – regarding the virus, communication towers, ethnic groups and randomly selected celebrities.
Often one can only wonder at the gross stupidity and ignorance of individuals who will vandalise communication towers or concoct fantastic networks of disparate political, economic, religious and mystical collaborators. Yet it is not so easy to dismiss those who promote conspiracy theories targeting identifiable racial or religious targets.
Sadly, the same newspaper which published the Protocols extracts in the 1990s seems to be a happy home for conspiracy theories in 2020.
A prominent, reliable source of unreliable information has been El Telegraph columnist Pierre Sema’an, who does not cut and paste overseas material but draws on a wide variety of generally unnamed authorities to invoke the idea of an insidious hidden hand confusing and controlling the Australian population.
Sema’an asked, “So has the world been placed under the command of military rule, whereby public freedoms, personal, religious and ethnic, are transformed from the practices of ancient times?”
He provides his own answer; “I remember what Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte said in his memoirs ‘It is stupid not to believe that world politics is determined and prepared by hidden organisations.’”
As Monash University academic Dr Ran Porat has documented, Sema’an has often told readers that Jews/Israel are at the heart of this purported conspiracy to enslave humanity.
Another source of regular offensive material relishing the opportunity provided by the coronavirus to publish hateful material is the Australian online news service Farah.net.au.
In a recent article, Mowaffaq Al-Siba’i mixed religious and political motifs to place Jews at the centre of a series of alleged historical crimes over the past 2,000 years or so.
Without a sense that this could even be contentious, the author writes of “Jewish bankers” who “control the US Federal Reserve and all European banks”, about Jews conspiring with the Freemasons and Turkish political parties, and about the Mossad performing almost superhuman feats.
In another article, Dr Mustafa Youssef Al-Lidawi told Farah readers that the United States Government “is a Zionist administration par excellence” which is “only concerned with Zionist and Jewish interests”, while presenting the Western World as a malevolent force, guided by Jews and/or representatives of what he calls “the Zionist entity”, directed at causing harm to “Palestinians and Arabs.”
This is poisonous – not only misinforming and misdirecting but also encouraging fear and hatred.
Around the world, there are many scientists and researchers working tirelessly on a vaccine which will give us some level of protection against COVID-19.
It is a sad reality that enormous efforts also need to be made to inoculate society from infections of racist conspiracy theories.