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By Barry Rubin

An Australian reporter writes the following from Libya:

“Gaddafi’s forces have had the upper hand in the desert battle that has raged for more than a month.

“Rebels say this is because of black magic. They invoke Satan. `These are magic papers,’ said mobile phone dealer turned rebel Ashraf al Houmi, 25. The papers-185 pages of writing, symbols and numbers-were found near abandoned government tanks.

“`This is the Israeli Star of David and this is some of the Koran backwards. The Koran reversed is Satan,’ explained Khaled el Faitouri, 27. “`We know they can do black magic with these drawings.'”

Now I wouldn’t have bothered with this except for one thing: the amazing disconnect between being a mobile phone dealer and believing in this kind of thing. Possibly al-Houmi also repairs phones.

Westerners assume that technology and thinking precisely the way they do goes together. Not so. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pioneered in using tape cassettes for spreading Islamist revolution. Back in 1979 that was the equivalent of using social media. Revolutionary Islamists have used the Internet far more effectively than democratic reformers in the Middle East. Technology does not necessarily mean moderation or democracy.

Then there’s Mr. el Faitouri (I’m not responsible for the bad transliteration). He equates “the Israeli Star of David” with demonic powers, taking us back to the Middle Ages. By the way, by saying “Israeli Star of David,” makes him an “anti-Zionist” while if he had said “Jewish Star of David” that would supposedly make him an antisemite. Such is the sophistication of the Western intellectual debate on such issues today. But never mind.

The truth is that in the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority worlds the attitudes of even educated people toward Jews and Israel are often quite bizarre, a fact usually concealed by mainstream media.

Have no doubt: this kind of thing finds its way into political decisionmaking and public opinion. Reading revolutionary Islamist materials–say, from Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood–is often like reading something from the Spanish Inquisition or Medeival times. Unfortunately, this is the doctrine guiding a steadily advancing doctrine which all too many people in the West believes can be made moderate or is even already moderate.

I remember the first time I experienced this when in university. A very Westernized, cosmopolitan Egyptian student explained that Israel and Idi Amin conspired to create the Israeli rescue at Entebbe Airport of hostages held by airplane-hijacking terrorists in order to make Israel look good. These crazy conspiracy theories and bizarre worldviews are not merely amusing sideshow acts, they are the foundations of people’s thinking.

The gap between Mr. el Faitouri, whose cause is now being aided by NATO forces, and Mr.Ahmadinejad,who will soon have nuclear weapons, is not very wide at all.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The GLORIA Center’s webside is: His blog is on PajamasMedia: 

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