Pakistanis love conspiracy theories. They call it the “foreign hand” meddling in their affairs. Some people call it the “hidden hand”. The American devil is behind the corruption of our youth that is addicted to MTV and Cheetos, and Israel and India are ganging up against us on our borders. The Americans only want to be friends because they want our nukes. Raymond Davis is a CIA operative, (perhaps yes), and he was also the chief of Blackwater and XE and was also in bed with the Russians.
When Arab states began to topple, el Baradei’s arrival in Egypt prompted my father to quip: “How come he came at this time. The Americans must be behind it. He worked at the UN after all.”
Who killed Benazir Bhutto is another favourite one. People love to hold forth on how their information is most correct. “Who stood to benefit the most,” they ask. When I pooh-pooh their answers, they call me naïive. “Don’t you know what the game is,” they ask. “You’re supposed to be a big journalist.” When I ask them to prove their point they just refer to more drawing-room conversations or something they heard on a talk show. Pakistani television has exploded with talking heads because the media has just discovered this format. Dr Shahid Masood was a hot favourite. These days there are screaming matches on Jasmeen Manzoor’s show, Mehr Bokhari’s show and then there are the evangelists like Zaid Hamid.
By far, the favourite conspiracy is the Hollywood one that Jews own the media and the world and the entire global banking system and CNN and Fox News. They own Coca Cola, so you’d better drink Pepsi.
I fear that the average illiterate Pakistani, who has never met a Jew in their life, or been affected by the actions of one, would most likely be swayed by anti-Semitic arguments whether in the mosque or drawing room. I also fear that there are educated Pakistanis, who trawl YouTube and read the international newspapers, but do not take a nuanced view to complex issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict. It disturbs me that people wholly unrelated to this issue claim to speak for it and the people involved.
I remember being horrified while teaching an A’ Level grade 12 class English with one student standing up to extol Hitler’s actions. My personal opinion aside, I did not want a 16-year-old boy to be so rigid in his opinion without having done his research. It later turned out that he had been to a mosque where he had met some angry young men.
While going through the website, I found a YouTube video of a man called Pir Saqib Shaami, who I am unfamiliar with. Here is a rough translation of what he said in Urdu: [Classical] Jews believe that Dajjal’s sultanate, the greater Israel, will be formed from Egypt to Iraq… all seven countries will become a Jewish state. They believe they need to work on this fast as they think they only have 200 years to do this. [before the end of the world].
It was thus with much relief that I read the third part of a series my newspaper did on the topic. It was the brainchild of The Express Tribune’s magazine editor Zarrar Khuhro. I’ve taken the liberty of putting some choice excerpts here, but the full text is available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/113104/will-the-real-zionists-please-stand-up/.
“If I had a hundred rupees for every time I’ve heard the term ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zionist conspiracy’ used in everyday conversation, newspaper articles or political speeches I’d be a rich man. But despite the term’s widespread use it is bandied about little understanding of its meaning, origin or implications. In fact, the words ‘Jewish’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’ are used interchangeably. Let’s try to clarify this a bit: Judaism is a religion, Israel is a state and Zionism is an ideology.”
Khuhro goes on to trace Zionism’s roots from 19th century Europe, to the1896 publication of a book titled Der Juddenstaadt (the Jewish state). It author was an Austro-Hungarian journalist named Theodor Herzl. “Herzl, who spoke no Hebrew and had little understanding of Jewish culture, was so removed from the religious aspects of Zionism that he even proposed Argentina and Uganda as proposed sites for the new Jewish homeland, and once even proposed mass conversion to Catholicism as a remedy to European anti-Semitism.”
Khuhro cautions that, “Not all Jews are Zionists, but interestingly, not all Zionists are Jews either. It was the so-called ‘British Zionists’, who were in fact mostly Christian, who actually played the largest role in the creation of the state of Israel, and their motivation ranged from religious prophecy to imperial ambition.” He explains Lord Balfour’s contribution etc. etc.
And I could not agree with Khuhro more when he wraps up with this: “[J]ust as we condemn attempts to depict all Muslims as terrorists, we should also take care not to paint all Jews, or even all Israelis, as Zionists. To do so only plays into the hands of those who claim to be representatives of an entire religion…”