Jewish Journal


June 3, 2009

Obama’s biggest battle in Cairo: Muslim conspiracy theories?


We’re still waiting for President Obama’s much-anticipated speech at Cairo University Thursday, which you can receive in text installments on your cell, but already Al Qaeda is pissed off about what the U.S. president might say.

Difficult as it will be for Obama to chart a course for peace in the Mideast, Jacob Bronsther opines in today’s Christian Science Monitor that Obama’s biggest challenge is not Israeli settlements or the fate of Jerusalem but “Muslim fascination with conspiracy theories.”

Bronsther writes:

It goes beyond Saudi schoolbooks that teach as fact the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a demonstrably bogus Jewish “plot” for world domination) and Tehran’s sponsorship of a Holocaust skeptics conference. The 2004 tsunami? That was possibly caused by an Indian nuclear test, ably assisted by experts from the US and Israel, according to Egyptian newsweekly Al-Osboa. According to the 2006 Pew Global Attitudes Project, majorities in Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, and Turkey do not believe that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks. And when asked in the same survey what is most responsible for Muslim nations’ lack of prosperity, about half of those in majority Muslim countries responded “US and Western policies” either first or second, beating out “lack of education,” “government corruption,” “Islamic fundamentalism,” and “lack of democracy.”

Conspiracy theories threaten American diplomacy because when Mr. Obama promises X Thursday, a great percentage of Muslims will believe he really intends Y or that some shadowy organization will ensure Z. Every culture exhibits some interest in conspiracy theories (see “The Da Vinci Code”), but they are especially resonant in Muslim contexts, and Western leaders need to find a way to mitigate this problem. The first step is to understand its origins.

One explanation is Muslims’ historical experience with double-dealing, divide-and-conquering colonial masters. But there is a deeper rationale for religious Muslims (and most Muslims are extremely religious by Western standards). This is the cognitive dissonance – the mental disturbance caused by the collision of contradictory ideas – stemming from the Muslim world’s relative lack of prosperity and power.

You can read the rest here. Also in The Monitor, an exploration of why Obama is visiting Egypt and Saudi Arabia but not Israel.

The most popular conspiracy theories, of course, are those pertaining Jewish world power. Their popularity is not limited to the Muslim world.

After the jump, a heads-up from the White House press office about what Obama will discuss in his speech. No real surprises here. This is Ben Rhodes, Obama’s speechwriter, speaking:

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