On October 27, 2018, Robert Gregory Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, USA, killed eleven people and wounded seven more. This was not a random shooting. It was ideologically motivated. The ideology in question was clear from Bowers’ online post, immediately before the massacre:
"HIAS [a Jewish non-profit] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
Less than a year later, on 15 March 2019, that ideology motivated Brenton Tarrant to commit another massacre: this time, of Muslims at prayer in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. That attack resulted in the murder of 51 people. Tarrant posted his manifesto online. Its title: The Great Replacement.
The central thesis of the Great Replacement - in its original form, the product of the mind of a French author, Renaud Camus - is that a “genocide by substitution” of White populations is being carried out by “global and liberal elites”, which include the European Union. The theory has metastasised, and those global elites are now understood by many true believers to be Jews.
To the death toll of Pittsburgh and Christchurch, we can add a third massacre: that of Utøya on 22 July 2011. Andreas Breivik did not hold Jews responsible for the existence of Muslims in Europe. Rather, he subscribed to a version of the “Eurabia” conspiracy theory, which holds that the European Union is aligning itself with the Arab, Muslim world in order to augment European power against the United States.
The marriage of these two theses has produced a narrative which can be simply expressed: Jewish global elites are said to be conspiring with Arabs, to bring Muslims into Europe, in order to replace the White population. A cursory glance through the chat rooms of the European and American far Right - an exercise akin to wading through a sewer - will demonstrate that these perspectives are broadly subscribed to by cranks and hatemongers of all colours. Some hate the Jews more, because they’re seen as the fons et origo of cosmopolitanism. Others primarily have it in for the Muslims, and blame the ‘globalists’, of whom Jews are said to form only a part. There is some debate, here. But the vitriol and - crucially - the sense of urgency engendered by these apocalyptic fantasies naturally expresses itself, periodically, in terrible acts of slaughter.
All of this is by way of a precursor to a simple observation. It is impossible, practically speaking, to disentangle conspiracism directed at Jews, and that which has Muslims as its target. Call it Islamophobia, call it anti-Muslim bigotry: we should all be concerned at the rise of deadly conspiracy theories.
Yes, antisemitism is rife within the Arab world and within Muslim communities. No sensible person doubts that. Yes, the term “Islamophobia” is used by Islamists in order to dodge criticism of their theocratic and totalitarian politics, and by others in order to advance the case for a quasi-blasphemy law. For this reason, some argue for a better term than “Islamophobia”: me included.
But such marginal arguments over terminology must not distract from the concern over a genuine, and deeply worrying phenomenon. If we pretend that, because the term Islamophobia is sometimes misused by rotters, it doesn’t exist at all - as Melanie Phillips appears to have done - we are indistinguishable from the likes of the Labour Against the Witch-hunt mob, who devote themselves to denying clear cases of antisemitism, and defending obvious antisemites.
We should begin with a proper understanding of the nature and the shape of anti-Muslim bigotry and conspiracism, as it currently manifests. I have previously argued, on these pages, that such an exercise should start with an understanding of the form that such hateful extremism currently takes. An effective definition that is fit for purpose should be created as a matter of urgency. Thereafter, it is essential that all political organisations put in place proper processes that are able to identify and address conspiracism, as it arises.
The task cannot be delayed. Over the last few years, I have seen the creep of Eurabia/Great Replacement thinking from the fringes of the far Right, towards the mainstream. A few years ago, a mainstream pro-Israel US advocacy group - headed by an academic whose field of specialism is conspiracy theories - threw its lot in with Tommy Robinson. Friends who are at the heart of fighting antisemitism have attended conferences in which variations of Muslim-centred conspiracy theories have been aired. To their great credit, they walked out.
Here’s why this matters to me. I spend my days writing and organising against antisemitic conspiracism. I saw the Labour Party taken over, in short order, by a clique of antisemitic cranks. Their ideas, too, were once thought to be restricted to wild eyed blokes with pointy fingers, ranting in rooms above pubs, who were never going to get anywhere.
Bad ideas drive out good ones. We must maintain the dams that have held conspiracism out of public discourse. If we fail to do so, the tide of hatred will eventually overwhelm us all.
David Toube is Director of Policy, Quilliam