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Lorna Fitzsimons

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How to Make the Next 9/11 Less Likely: Myth Busting and Truth Telling

Posted: 14/09/11 01:00

There is a link between 9/11 and the events in Egypt at the Israeli embassy: years of unchallenged propaganda about Jews and Israelis.

When I was the Labour MP for Rochdale many of my Muslim constituents thought 9/11 was an Israeli/Jewish conspiracy to start a war on the Muslims. Years of unquestioned indoctrination about the Jews and Israel meant even some of my most moderate and open minded Muslim friends embraced the conspiracy theory.

The community can be rather like a closed shop. And that should not surprise us - living daily with racism and islamopjobia, people fear that speaking out will play into the enemy's agenda. But self-censorship is always the most pernicious kind. For over time what the social psychologists' call 'cognitive dissonance' becomes intolerable and one comes to actually believe the conspiracy. In time anything about Israel and the Jews is believed and magical thinking becomes the new common-sense.

So, just in the very recent past we have had the madness of Mossad sharks, and Mossad Hawks. More dangerous, widespread and implacable, are conspiracy theories about the Jews and 9/11 - that no Jew turned up to work that day, that Mossad organised the attacks, and so on. The latter are an updating of the anti-Semitic, "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the 19th century Russian forgery that purported to map out a Jewish conspiracy for world domination.

All kinds of magical thinking about Jews and Israel have been widespread in the Arab and Muslim world for a long time, for example in cartoons and television. This puts a huge responsibility on the media, politicians and NGOs.

Too often we fail to meet that responsibility. We condemn the violence but fail to challenge the conspiratorialism that incites it. We call for a negotiated solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine without stopping to ask why swathes of the Arab world still refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state. And we fail to ask what impact this avalanche of conspiratorialism and demonisation has on the chances of the Arabs accepting a peace deal with Israel.

In a minor key, we heard the same old tune played out in the coverage of the siege of the Israeli embassy in Cairo over the weekend. Sadly some of the British broadcast media unwittingly accepted a narrative that the violent attack on the Embassy was in retaliation for the death of five Egyptian police officers killed by Israel a few weeks ago. Period. Here, by failing to mention the terrorist attack launched against Israel from Egypt that killed 12 Israelis, and by failing to note that it was only when trying to apprehend the terrorists in a high speed chase amidst the fog of war that the five Egyptian officers were accidentally killed, the media became complicit in a small way in feeding the larger and darker narrative about the Jews and Israel.

Surely ten years on from 9/11, we must know that the spread of conspiratorialism and one-sided demonization is both ubiquitous and deadly. In this toxic environment we all have a responsibility to challenge myths, give context, and tell truths. In this regard, the Palmer report into the Mavi Marmara was a refreshing start, debunking oft-repeated but incorrect charges about Israel, the blockade of Gaza, and international law. It was the first sign that the leadership at the UN realise they can't allow the distortion of international law to stand. Still baby steps, but a welcome and necessary start.

Balance matters. I know that when Israel and her friends raise the alarm about incitement against Jews and Israel in the media and textbooks of the PA and Arab world, many switch off, thinking it a mere avoidance strategy by a 'lobby.' However, for the same reasons that you think Israel should do more for peace, you should also be more exercised about the terrible damage done to peace by decades of hate-filled and evil propaganda about Jews and Israelis. Conspiratorialism and demonization only pushes the actors away from the painful compromises needed for peace.

Yes, Israel makes mistakes, like every nation state in the world. Yes, she should be more ceaseless in her pursuit of peace and ending the occupation. But that does not excuse the rest of us from challenging the palpable un-truths and evils that are the norm about Jews and Israel in the Muslim and Arab world.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I hope all my fellow democrats and peace campaigners and warriors for justice will realise they to have a responsibility to speak out, to find their courage and challenge the urban myths, the hatred and lies. You don't have to be a friend of Israel to see that this historic and mostly unchallenged behaviour perpetuates a vicious circle of demonization and extremism that has only helped deny peace and security to the Palestinians.