Scott Burgess at the Daily Ablution blog is in the process of retranslating “The Project” from a French translation published in a Swiss newspaper. Apparently “The Project” is a secret document which outlines the secret plan of the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate European institutions, secretly take control of European governments and rule the world. Understandably, Scott is at pains to tell us that “this isn’t a conspiracy theory”, but I think he’s batting on a sticky wicket here; he’s got a theory, and it’s about a conspiracy, so there is no other two-word phrase which describes it more accurately than “conspiracy theory”. Scott himself appears to have a tiny bit of critical distance preserved from this material, but he’s not exactly shying away from the conspiracist interpretation and there are plenty of people in the Daily Ablution comments section who have really gone off at the deep end in the most hilarious fashion possible.
Welcome to the wacky world of conspiracy theories guys is what I say. As a frequent inhabitant of conspiracy mailing lists, can I offer the following advice:
1) It is in the nature of forgeries that they don’t usually look like forgeries. Everyone knows that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a forgery these days, but at the time when it came out, it looked really rather genuine. Yes there were plenty of reports about how it was found. Yes there were plenty of newspaper reports about how people admitted to having been present when it was drafted. Yes there were all sorts of people who might be thought credible who vouched for its authenticity. And still it was a forgery.
2) Even if a document is a genuine document, it doesn’t mean that it describes a genuine conspiracy. There actually is a Project for the New American Century; it has offices, a payroll and a website. And the Project for the New American Century does believe that the American system of government should be spread throughout the world, and that the United States of America specifically should be the supreme global power, and has written documents saying so. Furthermore, lots of people who either still are members of the PNAC or who were when some of its most important documents were written, are in positions of influence in the US Government today. Still doesn’t mean that there is a shadowy conspiracy working to create an American Empire.
3) Broad statements of aims are nothing like as important as specific plans. As I have had occasion to mention before in various comments threads, the Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley believes that the Pope is the Antichrist. Presumably, if one believed an important claim about the world like this (that a major and influential world figure was the embodiment of evil and was likely to intentionally bring about the end of the world as foretold in the Book of Revelations), all sorts of subsidiary political aims could reasonably be assumed to flow from this premis. However, it is a historical fact that Dr Paisley’s actual political demands have only ever concerned the system of government of the north-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. Presumably this is not because Dr Paisley has some strange theological view that it is OK for the Republic of Ireland to be under the dominion of the Antichrist; presumably it is simply because Dr Paisley is on some level sane, and thus does not concern himself with obviously unrealistic projects.
Similarly, anyone who believes in the establishment of the Global Caliphate must by that token believe that the Caliphate will in the fullness of time encompass Aberystwyth. However, I do not think that anyone at all has any practical plan based on the demand that the town of Aberystwyth must submit to sharia law. I’ve been there; it’s the most god-forsaken fucking town on Earth. The parallels here are obvious; since the prospect of bringing all of “Eurabia” under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood is patently ridiculous, anyone who claims to be planning either doesn’t mean what they say and can be ignored, or means what they say, is a loony and can be ignored.
4) Most importantly, don’t build your part up. If you find a document which is claimed to be the secret innards of the Muslim Brotherhood, and you realize that it is similar to the published writings of one of the most prominent modern theologians of the Muslim Brotherhood, then this does not conclusively prove that everyone in the Muslim Brotherhood secretly wants to advance the Secret Conspiracy Project. It’s just as likely that this is evidence that your secret document is in fact a rather amateurish hack-job put together from bits and pieces of published writings to give it a spurious air of plausibility (and, as is usually the case with such things, chucking in a few howlers like claiming the (Shi’ite) Muslim Parliament of Great Britain could possibly have been a project of the (Wahhabi) Muslim Brotherhood, to attract the intention of people who would otherwise have considered aims of the document as a whole). As Robin Ramsay, editor of the excellent Lobster Magazine occasionally says, there is a distinction between “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy research”. Conspiracy theories are simple, interesting, and leave you sure that you know what’s really going on. Conspiracy research is difficult, boring and leaves you surer than ever that you don’t.
Welcome to the gang.
Well, that’s all knockabout fun, mainly aimed at trying to laugh people out of a fairly daft piece of sensationalism. But there is a serious underlying message here. Scott Burgess of the Daily Ablution is a guy who has already successfully run someone out of his job for being a member of a Muslim organization; one that has all sorts of views that I personally find unpleasant, but which was not a terrorist organization. In other words, he’s a compiler of blacklists and he has quite a few supporters in this exercise all over the wacky world of weblogs.
It’s not OK to blacklist people. Not for their race, their religion or their political beliefs. It is a bad action, it is counter to the principles of a democracy and it’s not OK. The only exception to this would be for cases of incitement to violence or incitement to hatred, and even then a pretty rigorous standard ought to be used.
Similarly, it’s not OK to spread rumours that will encourage other people to blacklist people. It’s a bad thing to do. For one thing, it degrades the overall level of debate, because it just reduces to claims that this or the other person is trying to advance a hidden secret agenda. For another it is downright irresponsible because you have no control over how this material will be used; you might have only the noblest of intentions in advancing your conspiracy theory, but there are plenty of people out there who are always on the lookout for anything that makes white people feel threatened and this will be just the ticket.
And the main reason that it’s not OK to behave in this way is that, like other forms of laziness, it’s a habit that’s easy to acquire and once acquired, hard to shake. You start off by raising a stink about a Hizb ‘ut Tahrir member being a journalism trainee on the Guardian because you’ve convinced yourself that he might be pushing Hizb propaganda under the radar. The next week you’ve convinced yourself that in general, Islamists writing in the newspapers should have to have a disclaimer at the end of their articles appended by the editor proclaiming that they are Islamists. And so on, and so on; there is no point in making claims of “Moral equivalence” to any particular historical events, but it is equally true that in almost any situation (business school proverb alert), the answer to the question “How the hell did things get so fucked up around here?” is usually “One step at a time”. Messing around with “Project” conspiracy theories about ethnic minorities is not a harmless hobby.