As a fan of the first series of Homeland, based off the Israeli show Hatufim, I, along with many of my American compatriots am avidly awaiting the start of season two at the end of September. Having watched a steady diet of 24, Lost, and the X-Files, Homeland marks another great TV milestone in the conspiracy theory genre.
While I love a good conspiracy as a bit of escapism, there are millions around the globe to whom belief in vast conspiracy theories are a bedrock of their worldview.
The belief in grand conspiracy theories, from Free Masons to shadowy Zionists controlling the levers of every major world event are common sense in parts of the developing world, and strongly held beliefs that are being passed on to the next generation.
During my work in the U.K., my colleagues would go to public schools in different parts of the country to do educational sessions around the Middle East conflict and the people it affected. At two of these schools, with a high second and third generation immigrant population from the developing world, the conversation was dominated by questions about free masons. We were asked if we were free masons or if we knew anyone who was. These two schools were in two different parts of the country but the questions from the British kids were the same.
At the Harvard Kennedy School of Government this past year, a classmate of mine who had been working for the UN in Afghanistan remarked that every time he boarded a plane he would inevitably be sitting next to top officials in the Pakistani army. They would, as causal conversation, inform that no Jews were killed in 9/11 and that this proves how they were behind it.
One needs to look no further then the Hamas constitution to see the protocols of the Elders of Zion baked into the text verbatim. Egyptian TV shows profligate conspiracy theories thick with vast webs of shadowy individuals, often Zionist, who are responsible for every misfortune that befalls Egypt.
These beliefs should not be dismissed as fringe, or just explained away as cultural relativism. The public powerlessness at the hands of powerful conspiratorial others breeds victimhood, xenophobia and hate.
These beliefs are just as toxic and noxious as racism, yet they receive far less attention. While the ugliness of racism is spotted and condemned, these beliefs are often seen as kooky and tangential. This complacency is dooming generation after generation, whether in their countries of origin or newfound Western homes, to a culture of victimhood and irresponsibility. How can I be to blame for the misfortunes that befall me if there is always someone else, hiding behind a curtain of secrecy, to blame?
There are fewer thankless tasks that exist than trying to combat a conspiracy theorist. Conversations are circular and often seem pointless. The believers want us to give up, to be so frustrated that we are dismissive, to be so appalled that we just walk away.
We, as a community, have raised, spent and lobbied for millions of dollars to go toward Holocaust education and genocide provention. But the pernicious nature of conspiracy theories have the potential to threaten our educational safeguards. While the means to succeed in combating these viral lies are unclear, the need to do so is undeniable. They will not burn out on their own, especially with satellite TV and the Internet providing a counterculture rich in conspiracies and half-truths.
This task is too large, and the coalition needed to combat these myths is too great to leave the job to our communal institutions alone. Each of us needs to make an effort to highlight the intolerance and hate baked into these theories when we come across them in the virtual or real world. It might be a thankless task, but a vital one if we want to stand any chance at dismissing rumors that breed anti-Semitism like nothing else.