The Last Word: Shoe Business
Jul 2, 2015 | Jeremy Jones
Another dreadful mass murder. More families grieving lost ones, more shockwaves throughout society.
This time, the scene of the bloodshed was an historic African-American church in South Carolina, the killer reportedly acting on an impulse to be part of a war to defend his distorted values.
And, unsurprisingly, we learnt the killer was also hostile to Jews, that the killer saw Jews as existentially threatening his ideal society. Antisemitism, once again, emerged as a plank in an extremist platform.
The place of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in the mindset of the far-right in America has been well documented, particularly its place in Identity Churches and other organised racist movements.
It has echoes in Australia, although our extreme right wing are an eclectic bunch, using British, European, American and, more recently, Asian, variations on the theme of anti-Jewish antagonism.
While often bizarre – such as when the Japanese Aum Supreme Truth Sect (best known for releasing poison gas in Japanese subways) explain that they stand against the global elite which is documented in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – it is very rarely comical.
But when a high profile London-based conspiracy theorist publicly claimed that Mossad had snuck into his home, in a sophisticated mission to steal a simple shoe from his otherwise secure footwear collection, he inspired laughter, a flurry of jokes on social media, and encouragement from his comrades to, well, put a sock in it.
While many commentators were confident putting the boot into the self-outed obsessive, very few observed the context of his seemingly insane paranoia.
It is a sad reality that conspiracy theories about Mossad/Israel/Jews proliferate in many Muslim and Arab societies, and that shoe-napping would be, for too many people, simply more evidence that Jews are cunning, brutal and cruel in every imaginable way.
A well-known commentator from an African Muslim country often recounts how, when no running water was available in her village, her mother would attribute blame to Jews.
Jews have allegedly invented chewing-gum to alter libido, and trained a variety of creatures from fish in the sea, birds in the sky and earthbound four-legged fiends to repress, oppress, suppress and (with the latest footloose behaviour) depress.
In Australia, in recent months, I have spoken with a number of people who grew up in Muslim communities, in different parts of the world on what they had learnt as children about Jews. In each and every case, the messages they had learned were hostile.
The more religiously-observant amongst them told me they had been taught that Jews are not only cursed by Allah, but in every prayer, every day, they were to be conscious of this.
Some spoke of the great power they had been told Jews exercised, sometimes of some unique brain formation which gave all Jews an unfair advantage in any competitive, intellectual or economic environment, and some of how they had been prepared psychologically, from the earliest ages, for the End of Days when Jewish-led enemies of Islam would meet a bloody, gruesome end.
None of my interlocutors would think of themselves as hostile in any ways to the real, living, breathing Jews they had encountered in Australia or elsewhere, and most look at what they had been taught about Jews with concern, if not contempt.
The context of these conversations has been in investigations of what sort of person is attracted to violent extremism, with the shared assessment being that anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, and antisemitism more broadly, are extremely significant features of the mindset of the ideologies of IS and many other terrorist groups. They should not be rationalised, glossed over or ignored.
Even if it wasn’t related to terrorism, the teaching of anti-Jewish contempt and treating paranoia-provoking, pernicious propaganda as legitimate discourse, should be of concern.
If our political leaders are serious and genuine in their pronounced commitments to tackle the now urgent issue of recruitment by terrorists, they cannot, must not, ignore the challenge presented by proliferation and centrality of conspiracy theories – particularly existential antisemitism.