David Cameron was right to identify antisemitism as a step towards extremism. But how to tackle it remains a major challenge
Conspiracy theory, I said in my last standup show, is how idiots get to feel like intellectuals. I still believe this: conspiracy theory is primarily a way for people, mainly men, to appear in the know, to use their collection of assumptions, generalisations, straw men and false inferences to say, effectively: ah, the wool may have been pulled over your eyes, my friend, but not mine.
But there are other reasons why it’s so popular these days. It provides lonely men with an online community of like-minded lonely men. It’s comforting; it’s reassuring. It provides order in a disordered universe to imagine that shadowy forces organise horrific events, rather than to have to confront the terrible truth that death and destruction happen, all the time, apparently at random. And, as David Cameron pointed out this week in his speech on extremism, it creates a way into something else that’s becoming increasingly popular these days: antisemitism.
Why do so many conspiracy theories boil down to: it’s the Jews wot done it?
One simple reason is that Jews are quite hard to spot, compared with most minorities. This allows them to be unmasked, and unmasking – to be able to say, “I and no one else (apart from all my mates on abovetopsecret.com) have spotted something hidden” – is the principal drive of the conspiracy theorist. But more importantly, within racial stereotyping Jews occupy a somewhat unique position, with a two-pronged status – both low and high.
Although they can be described as stinking and dirty and vermin, and all the other unlovely appellations ascribed by racists to every ethnicity outside the mainstream, they are the only minority who are also secretly in control, pulling the strings behind the scenes, forever conspiring to promote their own hidden global agenda.
This doublethink, which has existed more or less since we made the silly mistake of preferring Barabbas, has in our own time been turbocharged by the existence of the state of Israel. Those who have always felt that Jews were powerful, controlling and out to destroy the world can now point in the direction of the Middle East and say: there you are.
But for the conspiracy theorists . . .