I have just read one of the worst articles I’ve seen in many years. Entitled “How I became subject of anti-Semitic abuse in Cairo”, you might think it is written by some ignorant blogger in the back of beyond. But no, the writer is a supposedly educated, well travelled journalist working for Britain's state broadcaster, the BBC. It is the online version of a piece broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 and World Service radio programme “From Our Own Correspondent".
According to his Twitter profile, the author, Thomas Dinham, is a 22-year-old “freelance journalist and Middle East enthusiast". However, someone at the BBC appears to have taken a liking to him – he has broadcast at least three pieces on "From Our Own Correspondent", in addition to the piece referred to here.
In the article, Dinham sets out to "prove" that there is "anti-Semitism" in Egypt. To conceal his mission, he frames it in the context of a genuine problem in Middle Eastern societies, including Egypt: the popularity of conspiracy theories.
Thus, he starts by observing:
”Suspicion is a feature of everyday life in Egypt, and a fondness for conspiracy theories is as much a part of the landscape here as the constant traffic jams and their accompanying symphony of blaring car horns.”
He is of course right. Conspiracy theories, and the casual disregard of facts and hard evidence, are curses of the Arab and Muslim worlds.
But we are not alone. Many people in Russia, Eastern Europe and vast swathes of the Anglo-Saxon world, with which I am very familiar, also are guilty of widespread indulgence in conspiracy theories and in passing off as fact rumour, gossip and hearsay.
The difference between us – in this case, Egypt – and the rest of the world is that in the Arab world politics figure prominently in most conversations, whereas in Britain, for example, people are more fond of talking about soap operas, celebrities and their sex lives. And politics naturally lends itself to conspiracy theories, especially in societies with a relatively low level of literacy, where reliable information is sparse and where people feel they have little influence over decisions that affect their lives.
Having set up an ostensibly genuine context for his thesis – the problem of conspiracy theories – Dinham goes on to paint the worst possible picture of Egyptians, which he portrays as "anti-Semites". In so doing, he indulges in the kind of innuendo that he accuses Egyptians of. Here is a passage from his article:
”A group of old men slurping tea mixed with incredible quantities of sugar was studying me.
“Eventually one of the men struck up a conversation, revolving primarily around what exactly I was doing in Egypt at a time when most foreigners had left.
“My answers met with furrowed brows and clearly dissatisfied shakes of the head, when suddenly, raising his hand in front of his mouth in a conspiratorial gesture one man shot, "I bet he's from Israel" into the ear of his friend so quickly as to be barely discernable.
“I was shocked. In nearly six months of living in Syria, where orchestrated hysteria about Israel is integral to the very identity of the state, I had never heard the accusation surreptitiously levelled against me.
“Neither am I from Israel, nor am I Jewish, but as someone of unmistakably European appearance, I have found myself constantly associated with Israel in Egyptian eyes.”
First, let us deal with the question Dinham says he was asked: "what exactly I was doing in Egypt at a time when most foreigners had left"?
This is a perfectly reasonable question, I would have thought, especially in light of the fact that Egypt is brimming with foreign spies, mostly Israelis and Americans. And we all know that foreign intelligence agencies have a habit of masquerading their spies as journalists.
Second, Dinham says: "My answers met with furrowed brows and clearly dissatisfied shakes of the head, when suddenly, raising his hand in front of his mouth in a conspiratorial gesture, one man shot, 'I bet he's from Israel' into the ear of his friend so quickly as to be barely discernable."
Dinham's response, as he describes it, prompts me to ask myself whether his confused reasoning is due to the 22-year-old's lack of knowledge about Egypt and Egyptians' sense of humour, or to a possible prejudice that impels him to search for scraps of information that might substantiate his stereotype of Egyptians.
Dinham soon answers my question. He says:
”Israel is just one of a panoply of worries that exercise the conspiracy theorists that frequent Egypt's cafes...
“Nevertheless, a strong and sometimes violent dislike of Israel is a fact of Egyptian life, something I was unfortunate enough to discover after a cross-border raid by Israel killed several Egyptian security personnel.
“The Israelis had been chasing a group of gunmen who had attacked an Israeli bus close to the border between the two countries.
“While walking in the street someone pushed me from behind with such force that I nearly fell over.
“Turning around, I found myself surrounded by five men, one of whom tried to punch me in the face. I stopped the attack by pointing out how shameful it was for a Muslim to assault a guest in his country, especially during Ramadan.
“Relieved that a seemingly random assault was over, I was appalled by the apology offered by one of my assailants. ‘Sorry,’ he said contritely, offering his hand, ‘we thought you were a Jew.’
“Shaking his head in disbelief on hearing the news, an Egyptian friend sympathised: ‘That's stupid, you are obviously not a Jew.’
“The chilling implication I was left with was that, had I been Jewish, the assault would have apparently been justified.”
Dinham's answer, and my chilling conclusion, is that he is both ignorant and prejudiced. He has taken the reference to Jews out of all context, for example, the fact that in the Arab world feelings against Israel run high because of its continuing occupation of Arab lands and its ongoing crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied territories; that in Egypt anti-Israel sentiment is particularly high right now following Israel's murder of five Egyptian policemen on Egyptian soil on 18 August and its refusal to apologise for this (as it refuses to apologise for its murder of nine Turkish humanitarian workers on the aid ship Mavi Marmara).
Dinham also omits to mention the fact that, because Israel claims to be the state of all Jews, irrespective of their nationality, Israelis and Zionists are often referred to in the Arab world simply as Jews. This is not a manifestation of “anti-Semitism”, as Dinham would have us believe, but a corollary of Israel's claim to be the representative of all Jews. (Britons and Americans sometimes refer to Hitler's Nazi Germans simply as Germans. Does that mean they are anti-German racists?)
It is sad that the BBC is once again offering us drivel. The reasons are many and varied: Zionists in key editorial positions in the corporation; pandering to the UK's Israel lobby, which can count on Director-General Mark Thompson as one of its foot soldiers; the desire to ingratiate itself with advertisers in the US market which it craves; and sheer ignorance and lack of a genuine desire to understand the Arab world and explain it to the British public.
The victims of all this, apart from us Arabs who have to put up with this kind of slur, are the British public. It is the British licence-fee payer, not American Zionist advertisers or the Israel lobby, who pays for the BBC's shabby, Judaeo-centric journalism.
This is a raw deal indeed for the ordinary British people – the cleaners, bus drivers, bricklayers, nurses, teachers and the numerous others whose living standards are fast sinking as I write – who are paying for the fat pigs in senior BBC management and the hacks who are endlessly force-feeding us their ignorance and prejudice.
And it's a far cry from the BBC's mission – "To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain".