Now here's something depressingly predictable: A meme in the Middle Eastern media that ISIS is the creation of Israeli intelligence. More, really: that ISIS isn't merely an Israeli project intended to disgrace the Muslims, but something essentially Jewish, something actually—to quote one of our exhibits—"Talmudic."
Let's note up front that "ISIS as a Zionist Enterprise" is only one of numerous competing memes in the region's media concerning this ongoing disaster, and that observers appear on Arab TV stations seeking to explain ISIS in terms of the region's own culture, its failed politics, and even in terms of Islam. But the lure of a Great Conspiracy as an all-purpose explanation remains irresistible to many in the region; it strikes a popular chord because it seems to explain everything in terms of one party that is satanically guileful, while exonerating everybody else except the party that is always guilty anyway. All the clips linked below are from the Middle East Media Research Institute, which also supplied the translations.
Here, for example, is the prime minister of Libya, Abdullah Al-Thani, offering a generic take on the "big conspiracy" (his very words) targeting the region. Al-Thani appeared on Al-Arabiya on February 26. "All Arab countries are being targeted by a big conspiracy," he says with a straight face, "as demonstrated by what is happening in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Mali. The purpose of this conspiracy is to shatter Arab capabilities, to form all kinds of entities [such as ISIS and other violent Islamists], and to tear the Arab nation apart. This serves the interests of a certain country, and we all know which."
The interviewer doesn't want to leave this central issue hanging, nor does she want to be the one to say the word, "Israel." So she asks, "You mean a country in this region?" "Yes," says Al-Thani, who then expands the Big Conspiracy into a Bigger Conspiracy that also includes the Christian West (which, according to the familiar back-story, is anyway in the thrall of its Zionist puppet masters): "Such is the policy of the West. We Arabs always rely on the West out of a belief that it may be honest and helpful, but Allah said: 'Never will the Jews and the Christians be pleased with you, until you follow their religion.' Unless we are resolute in departing from what is being schemed, we will never be allowed to buy weapons. They want us to be trampled underfoot."
Al-Arabiya's interviewer is not entirely comfortable with this apocalyptic exchange, but is constrained to be respectful. "Are things so bad that you choose such harsh language?" she asks. "Absolutely," says the prime minister. "Any man of honor with an independent vision with perspective, who refuses to be manipulated by remote control, is deemed [by the West] to be persona non grata."
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, one Sultan Abu Al-Einein a member of Fatah's Central Committee, is similarly suspicious of ISIS' origins. He appeared on NBN-TV on February 5. Asked if he considered ISIS to be infidels, he waived off the question because "I am not a scholar" of religion. The interviewer then helpfully unpacked her question: "But you consider ISIS to be an extension of the Zionist enterprise?"
Al-Einein didn't hesitate to speak as a scholar of conspiracies. "I consider their conduct to be an extension of the Zionist enterprise," he said. "I really don't get it," he mused. "If these people claim that the Israelis are the enemies of Allah … In Quneitra, they are situated along a 12km border with the occupied Golan, but they have not shot and killed a single Israeli. Not even once. Their wounded receive treatment from the Israelis. Where did this love story come from? Does Israel support at least some of them? How? Why?" (ISIS released a video on Tuesday showing the murder of an Israeli Arab accused of spying for Israel.)
Over in Egypt, retired General Mahmoud Mansour was able to offer his audience some notably specific answers to Al-Einein's wistful questions. He appeared on February 23 on Sada Al-Balad-TV. This is a diverting clip; when Gen. Mansour isn't discussing ISIS as a Zionist conspiracy (at about 1:35), the show's other guests are slandering the prime minister of Qatar and his daughter, and identifying French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levi as a Jew, a Zionist, and as "the godfather of all the coups and attempted revolutions." But the major soliloquy belongs to Gen. Mansour, and his revelations concerning ISIS' leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
"Let's move to the emir of ISIS," he begins, "[t]he imam of the neo-Muslims – or the so-called Muslims, who wrap themselves in large robes on which they write: 'We are Muslims'… Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is an Israeli intelligence officer. He took photos with Netanyahu, Dick Cheney, and many others in the U.S. Then he got out of there…
"His original name is Shimon Elliot, but he changed it to Ibrahim bin Awad bin Ibrahim Al-Badri Al-Radwi Al-Husseini. Al-Husseini goes back to Hussein himself. He has turned himself into a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, while we are just Muslim nobodies or plain infidels. We are not on a par with Shimon Elliot."
If you want to know more about this "Shimon Elliot," the Internet is waiting patiently for you. In conspiracist terms, Googling "Shimon Elliot" may actually represent an advance over past versions of the Secret Israeli Agent theme, exemplified by the incomparable legend that Muammar Qaddafi (among others) had the Star of David tattooed under his arm. A Google list promising 1,990 "confirmations" of Shimon Elliot's Zionist perfidy beats a knowing whisper anytime.
Finally, a Syrian observer named Hussam Shoei'b drew on a well of hate far deeper than the mere Internet in offering his view of ISIS and its origins. Mr. Shoei'b appeared on February 6 on Al-Manar, the TV service of Hizbollah. He is identified only as a "commentator."
"What is being done by all these criminal gangs – ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, and all these groups with their Islamic names—cannot even be labeled 'Israeli.' It is downright Talmudic. The immolation of the Jordanian pilot is a clear demonstration of the barbarity of the Zionist entity, and of the Talmud throughout history. One of their principles is that God can only be satiated by blood. In the past, they used to knead [Passover] matzos with human blood and eat them. This is exactly what is happening in Syria today for the whole world to see."
While the proliferation of Arabic-language media obviously has been useful to the region's febrile conspiracists and their Blood Libel revivals, it has also provided a platform for very different voices. Here, for example, is a Kuwaiti named Abdulazziz Al-Qattan, identified as a "researcher," who appeared on Al Mayadeen-TV on March 3. He argues that the beliefs underlying ISIS and other such groups can be found in some of the basic texts of Islam. Not in the Koran itself, he is careful to note, but in the various texts of Islamic jurisprudence and even in the hadith, the early compilations of the sayings of Muhammed. Some of the narrators of the hadith, says Al-Qattan, were dishonest men, cheats and liars, and Islam's problematic texts require institutional reexamination. "All the books of Islamic heritage," says Al-Qattan, "have enough ISIS ideology to turn your hair white."
But wait; conspiracy beckons even here. Listen: Al Mayadeen-TV is reported to be a pro-Iran, pro-Assad outlet tied to Tehran. It may exist to be a Shiite Arabic-language counterpoint to Sunni stations like Qatar's Al-Jazeera and the Saudi-supported Al-Arabiya. Are Al-Qattan's remarks serving such a purpose? Is he actually casting ISIS as a Sunni issue while assuming a non-sectarian pose? He specifically cites Wahhabi texts as undergirding ISIS. (Wahhabism is the official Saudi interpretation of Islam.) True, he also groups Shiite works among "all the books of Islamic heritage" that may require institutional reform, but that may be camouflage. There are several Shiite-derived sects—Druze, Ismailis, and more—whose texts are presumably in conflict with each other.
Of course, Al-Qattan may be a disinterested observer calling sincerely for reform of some aspects of Islamic thought. Or not. Start talking about the Middle East, and eventually you'll be talking about conspiracies.