"Are you a Jew?" an extremely drunk Mel Gibson asked the Malibu traffic cop who had pulled him over. Apparently without waiting for a response, the actor then declared: "Fucking Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."
If I had been the arresting officer, I might have been tempted to ask Gibson if he had forgotten about the conflicts in - for example - Algeria, Sudan, Southern Thailand, Somalia, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Chechnya, and Uzbekistan. But officer James Mee did the sensible thing and just put the cuffs on. There is never any point in reasoning with conspiracy theorists - their brains are like black holes, singularities incapable of emitting light.
On Tuesday I came up against another conspiracy theory, but the proponent was as different from Mel Gibson as it is possible to imagine. Professor Sheikh Dawud Noibi is a highly respected authority on Sharia law, and was recently awarded an OBE. He and I were on the panel of a public meeting which took place just round the corner from the East London Mosque. An admirable new organisation called Dialogue with Islam has had the idea of getting mainstream writers to debate the issues that concern the Muslim population - but on their own doorstep, rather than in the newspapers.
The subject of Afghanistan was, not surprisingly, raised by one of the audience. I argued that the Taliban would have been left in fundamentalist peace by the Americans, had that regime not given Osama bin-Laden and his followers the protection and security they needed to plan and carry out the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Professor Sheikh Dawud Noibi heard me out very politely, and then said the truth behind 9/11 had not been publicly revealed. That lay in the fact that the Americans had wanted a new oil pipeline to be laid across Afghanistan, which could not be guaranteed without seizing control of the country.
He was implying, at the least, that the Americans knew that attacks were being prepared on the World Trade Center but let them go ahead, in order to have a pretext to remove the Taliban. The Sheikh's remarks were listened to in respectful silence by the audience.
While not as popular as the "Jews are behind all the wars in the world" theory - few are - the argument put forward by the Sheikh can be read on many internet sites, both of the extreme right and the extreme left. It's true that the American company Unocal had wanted to build a pipeline from the Caspian across Afghanistan. However, it was for gas, not the oil required by America's SUVs. And in any case the main markets for Caspian gas are Russia and Europe.
But here I am, once again making the mistake of arguing. Anyone who believes that the American government provoked the attacks on the World Trade Center (and the Pentagon) in order to do a favour for Unocal is beyond reach of reason. I believe two things underlie most such 9/11 conspiracy theories: a belief that the "Zionist" American government - that is to say any American government - is the embodiment of evil, and an understandable desire to shift the blame for 9/11 away from co-religionists.
America's opponents are by no means unique in possessing such a Manichean mindset. One of the most depressing aspects of the current conflict in the Lebanon is the way in which some of Israel's supporters have tried similar tactics over the bombing of Qana by the Israel Defence Forces. A number of websites, based both here and America, have alleged that the pictures of the dead bodies of children pulled from the wreckage in that village are in some way fraudulent, and that therefore it could well be that the event never really took place.
Remarks such as "there seems to be a complete absence of dust on that child's body" are meant to prove that - who knows?--the dead baby was the victim of some other event in which Israel played no part. All this, even though the Israelis themselves have apologised for the attack and said that they never would have bombed the building had they realised children were sheltering in it.
Of course it's true that Hizbollah - which has a deep understanding of the 24-hour Western news media - saw the children's dead bodies as a prime-time opportunity. Of course it's true that the BBC and others immediately accepted Hizbollah's claims that 60 were killed, whereas the true number was 26. Of course it's true that Hizbollah deliberately uses women and children as sandbags in their guerrilla conflict with the IDF.
But in the same way that many Muslims can't accept the blindingly obvious truth of any event which puts those they admire in a bad light, so some in the West are beginning to suffer from the same disease. When that leads to us using the bodies of suffocated children as a means to win a political argument, then we are becoming as dehumanised as those we most despise.
Is therapy the answer to this condition? Mel Gibson apparently thinks so. In one of two lengthy apologies he announced that "I have begun an ongoing program of recovery... I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey to recovery."
Poor Mel - it's absolutely clear where these vicious words came from: his old man. The actor has been deeply influenced by his father, Hutton, the author of a number of books which paint the Jews in, shall we say, an unfavourable light. Three years ago, while his son was promoting The Passion of the Christ, Hutton Gibson gave an interview to The New York Times, in which he declared that "my whole family is with me, all 10 of them." He went on to say that the Second Vatican Council (which abandoned the Latin mass) was "a plot backed by the Jews", and that the Holocaust never happened: "Hitler had this deal where he was supposed to make it rough for the Jews, so they would then emigrate to Israel to fight the Arabs." Invited at the time to disown his father, Gibson refused.
It's possible to laugh at Mel Gibson, pathetic drunk that he is. But it's tragic that both Hizbollah and Hamas have an identical view of the Jews to that of Hutton Gibson. Article 22 of the Hamas Charter states "There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it." Meanwhile Nasrullah, Hizbollah's leader, declares "If all the Jews settle in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide." As I say, it is impossible to reason with such people. The result is on your television screen.Reuse content