While much of the world grows increasingly concerned about the threat posed by the Islamic State, a surprisingly large number of people in the Muslim world are convinced we are all being deceived. With great confidence, they claim that ISIS, as the group is also known, is not what it purports to be.
The Middle East’s blast furnace of conspiracy theories is overheating, working overtime to mix small pieces of reality with large doses of imagination, prejudice and paranoia; combining them to produce fantastical scenarios.
The outlandish theories are making their way to the highest level of Arab government and finding adherents even among high-level Muslim European officials.
A few weeks ago, a senior employee of the Dutch Justice Ministry, Yasmina Haifi, was fired after tweeting “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It is part of a plan by Zionists to make Islam look bad.” Haifi, who appears to be a very modern European Muslim, worked as a project leader for the Netherlands’ National Cyber Security Center in the Hague.
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In Egypt, the minister of culture, Gaber Asfour, repeated one of the most widely disseminated fabrications during a televised audience, claiming he found out from Hillary Clinton’s most recent book, “that the Americans decided to support and create ISIS,” as part of their plan to support the Muslim Brotherhood and establish U.S.-friendly governments.
There is no such passage in the frequently “quoted” Clinton book. And the theory is absurd on too many counts for this space. But that has not stopped officials and media in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere from reporting that the former secretary of state and likely presidential candidate revealed a head-spinning American plot. According to that story, the United States planned to invade Egypt and prevent the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader. But that plan was foiled by crack Egyptian military officials, who used fighter jets and submarines to stop the project.
The bottom line of all the conspiracy theories is that ISIS is not an indigenous organization. Instead, it is the creation of outside forces with nefarious plans for the region and for the world’s Muslims.
There are several versions of the story that claims ISIS is a “Zionist” plot. One even gives an Israeli name to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claiming he is an agent of Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad. Others say he was trained by British intelligence. The stories name all the usual conspiracy suspects: the CIA, the Mossad, Britain’s MI6, and others.
Another popular one claims, falsely as well, that Edward Snowden’s cache of documents includes references to an American plan to establish ISIS called “Operation Hornet’s Nest.”
Many believe claims that the ultimate objective of the secret powers pulling the ISIS strings is to justify American intervention.
Iran’s Press TV puts them all together, claiming ISIS is the creation of the Americans, British and Israelis, along with Iran’s Sunni rivals, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
The stories have gained traction in traditional, even respected, media, as well as in conspiracy-driven websites from Canada, Russia, Germany and Turkey, the kind that offer alternate explanations not only for ISIS but also for 9/11 and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. A common denominator in all the stories is that the blame goes to the West and/or Israel.
In some circles, the very fact that ISIS has scored so many battlefield successes is reason enough to doubt it is Arab. That poor regard for Arab talent among many Arabs is one reason so many refused to believe al Qaida was capable of pulling off 9/11.
Just as they doubt that an Arab, al-Baghdadi, could achieve what ISIS has, they also believe that the CIA and the Mossad are infinitely powerful.
The arguments to refute the conspiracy theories are endless, and the evidence to support them ranges from minimal to non-existent.
Anyone watching the visible reluctance of President Obama to become involved in the Middle East would know ISIS, unfortunately, is exactly what it claims to be.