Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Political Science and International Relations disciplines
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA USA 24401
In manipulating mass populations, the master practitioner of the 20th century, German leader Adolf Hitler, conceived of the idea of the "Big Lie," and explained it in his polemic Mein Kampf (1925-27). Central to his appeal were explanations of Germany's condition which blamed the Jewish people, a modern version of anti-Semitism. Discredited with the fall of his regime, anti-Semitism and the "Big Lie" reappeared in both form and substance in the "Big Lie" constructed in the Arab world after September 11, 2001. Below is a transcript of a CBS broadcast investigating this disturbing phenomenon.
The big lie; overwhelming majority of the Muslim world
believes attacks of September 11th were a conspiracy orchestrated by Jews, not
by Osama bin Laden, Arabs or Muslims
DAN RATHER, co-host:
If ever the world became a global village, it was last September 11th when hundreds of millions of people around the world saw and heard the attacks on the World Trade Center. But the very technology that made that the most communicated and most witnessed event in history has also contributed to what some are calling 'the big lie.'
It turns out an overwhelming majority of people in the Muslim world, according to a Gallup Poll, say they do not believe the attacks of 9/11 were orchestrated by Osama bin Laden or by Arabs or by Muslims. Many believe instead, they say, that the whole thing was a conspiracy orchestrated by Jews. Where did they hear that, and how pervasive is the belief in the big lie? We found out when we visited a wedding party in a small town in Pakistan.
(Footage of group of people; Khalid Khawaja; wedding party and several attendees) RATHER: (Voiceover) Americans are rarely seen in places like this these days, but our guide, Khalid Khawaja, grew up here, and CBS reporter George Crile accepted an invitation to join him at this wedding party. All the town's leading citizens were there--the mayor, the pediatrician, a chemical engineer, a businessman, a journalist--and not one of them had anything friendly to say about America.
Unidentified Man #1: We love Osama much, and we hate Americans.
Unidentified Man #2: People hate America. Yeah, that's true.
(Footage of wedding party attendees; Crile)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Such statements have come almost to be expected in the Islamic world, but what came next caught reporter Crile completely by surprise.
Unidentified Man #3: Do you think Osama can do all what he did...
Unidentified Man #4: Oh, no, no.
Unidentified Man #3: ...what happened with America on 11th September?
Unidentified Man #4: That is all--it's all rubbish...
Unidentified Man #3: No.
Unidentified Man #4: ...a pack of lies.
GEORGE CRILE (Reporter): Who do you think did it?
Unidentified Man #4: They don't know it.
Unidentified Man #3: Israel after...
Unidentified Man #4: It's the Jews.
Unidentified Man #3: Jews are ...(unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #4: You've seen it yourself. You know that 4,000 y--Jewish people didn't go to the world--WTC. Why didn't they go? You tell me.
CRILE: But your conviction is that the attack on the World Trade Center was a Jewish conspiracy?
Unidentified Man #3: Was all fabricated by the Jewish lobby. Yeah.
Unidentified Man #4: It is. They are in it.
Unidentified Man #3: Yeah.
(Still of wedding party attendees; footage of wedding party attendees)
RATHER: (Voiceover) 'The Jews did it.' That's exactly what they are saying: the mayor, the businessman, the journalist, the baby doctor...
Unidentified Man #3: Yeah.
(Footage of wedding party attendees)
RATHER: (Voiceover) ....everyone.
CRILE: Now who else here thinks that it might have been a...
Unidentified Man #5: Everybody. Everybody thinks.
CRILE: Do you--do you believe that?
Unidentified Man #5: Definitely.
Unidentified Man #4: Why didn't they go? You tell me.
CRILE: Do you think it was a Jewish or a...
Unidentified Man #1: Yes, yes.
CRILE: ...Israeli conspiracy?
Unidentified Man #1: Yes, yes. Israeli and Jews were behind that incident. Osama is totally innocent.
(Still of wedding party attendees; footage of wedding party attendees; visual of document: The Gallup Poll, Tuesday Briefing, The 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic World)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Totally innocent? It sounds incredible, the idea that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with the World Trade Center attacks. But as the Gallup Poll later confirmed, that's exactly what most Muslims believe.
Dr. SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I was surprised that very few, even among the elites, suspected that bin Laden did it.
(Footage of Dr. Shibley Telhami and Rather)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Dr. Shibley Telhami is the man Gallup commissioned to analyze the findings of its survey.
Help me understand what's most important about the results of the polls.
Dr. TELHAMI: It is clear that there's almost a unanimous view that bin Laden was not responsible for 9/11, and that actually comes as a shock to Americans given the evidence that is obviously out there. How could this be?
RATHER: It is a perplexing question. In this information age, it may be that the September 11th attack was viewed by more people than any event in history. And there was every reason to believe and hope that a consensus would have formed around the world about what happened and who was responsible. Mass murder had been committed.
(Photos of hijacking suspects; footage of President Bush speaking)
RATHER: (Voiceover) And the pictures of the 19 militant Muslim hijackers were in all the papers. Here in America, there's never been any doubt about who was ultimately responsible.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Osama bin Laden...
(Footage of President Bush speaking; newspapers; person at newsstand)
RATHER: (Voiceover) But as pollster Telhami explains it, when the president talks, most Muslims simply don't listen.
Dr. TELHAMI: People say, 'Yes, you're giving me evidence, but, frankly, I don't trust the system. I don't trust the messenger. I don't trust the message. I just don't believe.'
Group of Protesters: (Shouting in unison in foreign language)
(Footage of protesters)
RATHER: (Voiceover) But what is widely believed across the Muslim world is the story we heard of the Jewish conspiracy...
Unidentified Man #6: Yes.
Unidentified Man #7: We believe that.
Unidentified Man #6: Yes, yes, yes.
Unidentified Man #7: We believe...
(Footage of wedding attendants)
RATHER: (Voiceover) ...in which 4,000 Jewish employees at the World Trade Center were warned to stay home.
Unidentified Man #4: That's correct...
Unidentified Man #8: Yes.
Unidentified Man #4: ...according to our papers.
MILT BEARDEN (CBS News Consultant): You couldn't even get a--get a bad movie put out with a--with a science-fiction story line like this, but yet that one caught on very quickly throughout that part of the world.
(Photo of Milt Bearden; footage of Bearden and Rather)
RATHER: (Voiceover) CBS News consultant Milt Bearden ran the CIA's Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s. Today Bearden worries that America faces a whole new kind of threat that it doesn't yet understand.
BEARDEN: This current war that we're in now is the first war in the information era: information, disinformation and misinformation.
(Footage of Bearden and Rather)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Bearden says the story of the 4,000 Jews represents a dangerous new level of disinformation.
There's always been a belief in the so-called, quote, "Jewish conspiracy"...
RATHER: ...in the world of Islam. But it seems now to have just taken off and gone into the almost unbelievable stratosphere.
BEARDEN: That's right.
RATHER: And its roots are still going down.
BEARDEN: It's--it's down. The roots have been set.
(Footage of newspaper article; Jordan; people reading newspapers; Web pages with news stories; woman answering phone; office; sign: Consulate General of Israel; footage from investigative report broadcast by al Manar; footage of aftermath of World Trade Center attacks; satellite dishes; television with logo; person at newsstand; people watching television; photo of Muslim site; footage of Muslim worshipers)
RATHER: (Voiceover) How this myth of the 4,000 Jews became reality in the minds of Muslims around the world is a cautionary tale from the dark side of the information age. It began on September 13th in Jordan, when rumors of Israeli involvement in 9/11 surfaced as news stories in two Arab papers. The next day, a crucial element was added: the figure 4,000. That was the number of telephone calls an Israeli ambassador told reporters had come into his government from worried Israelis unable to contact their relatives in New York. Then, on September 17th in Beirut, al Manar, a television station controlled by the radical Islamic group Hezbollah, aired the full fantasy for the first time. Billed as a special investigative report, al Manar claimed that 4,000 Israelis employed at the World Trade Center had not shown up for work on September 11th. The next morning, this tale hit the Internet and began moving from one Islamic Web site to the next. In the days and weeks that followed, the story spread like wildfire all across the Muslim world, surfacing in newspapers, radio and TV reports and talk shows in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and beyond. In just a matter of days, one falsehood piled on top of another and passed on to audiences around the globe had produced the big lie, a lie now accepted as fact throughout the Muslim world.
Unidentified Man #9: We do think that they were not there. None of the Jews were killed there.
CRILE: So all of the Jews that worked at the World Trade Center...
Unidentified Man #8: Yes.
CRILE: ...were not there?
Unidentified Man #9: They were not there.
RATHER: I think most Americans say that's ludicrous. And if these, quote, "crazy people" want to believe that, well, there's not much could be done about it.
BEARDEN: Well, that's right. The--that's been--that's the way Americans go at it. We say, 'Let them--let them believe what they like. You know, sticks and stones.' Well, guess what? That doesn't work anymore. We've got to come to deal with that.
(Footage of Bearden and Rather; vintage footage of Pakistan and riots at US Embassy)
RATHER: (Voiceover) And Milt Bearden reminded us of an incident to demonstrate how quickly lies can spread to violence. Islamabad, Pakistan, 1979: At Friday prayers, a mullah told a fantastic tale of American and Israeli soldiers marching on the holy city of Mecca. Within minutes, thousands of Pakistanis headed for the US Embassy and onto newscasts around the world.
Unidentified Reporter: (From vintage footage) The invaders ran shooting through the corridors, took over the roof and set fires, reportedly with Molotov cocktails.
BEARDEN: And a lot of Americans barely escaped through a--an--a hatch onto the roof. Otherwise, it would have been an even greater disaster. And that is just simply the information thing going crazy.
(Vintage footage of riots at US Embassy in Islamabad)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Two Americans and two Pakistani employees were killed; the embassy burned to the ground--and all because of a rumor.
There was absolutely nothing to it.
BEARDEN: Nothing. No, there was just nothing there. It was just absolutely to--not even the--you know, the big lie usually has something somewhere. This had nothing.
RATHER: The point here is that in 1979 in Islamabad, it spread like the proverbial prairie fire, but on a somewhat limited basis...
BEARDEN: That's right.
RATHER: ...in and around Islamabad. And your point is now when that sort of spark goes out, it reaches a billion people plus.
BEARDEN: The world is connected. 1979 was still sort of a steam-driven world, and now--so anything that goes on in the information world is instantaneous.
RATHER: Were we too slow off the mark?
Ms. CHARLOTTE BEERS (Undersecretary of State): Well, none of us were planning on a war September 10th.
(Footage of Charlotte Beers; visual of covers of BusinessWeek and Fortune magazines with Beers on cover; close-up of Beers' photo on BusinessWeek)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers is in charge of promoting America's image abroad. A successful Madison Avenue advertising executive, Beers was recruited by the Bush administration to use her skills to sell America.
Have you taken your own poll in the Arab world?
Ms. BEERS: We do a lot of internal polls. They're not necessarily published, but we have an ongoing recognition of how moods and feelings, as well as opinions, are in the--in, say, for instance, the Middle East.
RATHER: Well, if your polls reflect anything close to what the Gallup Poll...
Ms. BEERS: They are close.
RATHER: Imagine that I'm a person at a Pakistani wedding party, and I'm absolutely convinced bin Laden didn't do it, no Muslim did it; the Jews did it, Israel did it, Israeli intelligence did it. You say what?
Ms. BEERS: I would like to make available to you all the data and the information that we have. Let me refer you to our Web site. Here's this booklet we just produced, which will help you follow the complete activities of the hijackers, their relationship to bin Laden. Let me show you the very words bin Laden himself has used to talk about his role.
(Visuals of brochure: The Network of Terrorism)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Undersecretary Beers was outlining the Bush administration's strategy for countering disinformation. The centerpiece of that effort was this glossy, four-color booklet. It was published two months after the attack. It spells out the evidence of who was behind September 11th. The State Department printed 1.3 million copies.
Ms. BEERS: The embassies took this piece, and it became the most widely published document we ever put out in the State Department.
RATHER: But what about the power to persuade? It hasn't worked.
Ms. BEERS: Well, we're dealing with a large, tumultuous environment right now, and I will grant you that I probably--we probably did not get that booklet in as many hands as we wished. The literacy rate in some of these countries is very low, and we have to communicate on a different level.
RATHER: Can we turn this around?
Ms. BEERS: I d--I--I am spending every hour that I have and I am surrounded by an amazingly devoted and talented group who say we must turn it around.
RATHER: That problem will be the subject of an unprecedented State Department conference that opens tomorrow. In two days of closed sessions, 50 US officials will hear from 20 experts on the spread of anti-American attitudes, not just in the Muslim world, but in Europe and Russia as well.