There is a moment in the film Dr Strangelove when Peter Sellers' gloriously over the top depiction of the badly disabled, German nuclear scientist of dubious political allegiance really hits home. One of his arms leaps up of its own accord into a Nazi salute only for Strangelove to force it down again with his other one. It looks very much like the quenelle, the new anti-Semitic gesture that made its debut on the football pitch courtesy of Nicolas Anelka. His protestations of innocence, that he thought it anti-system and not anti-Jewish, are like those of its originator, the 'anti-Zionist' French comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, utterly unconvincing.But this disingenuous defence is more alarming when it becomes clear that the perpetrators are being sucked into anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, where Jews, sorry, Zionists, are seen as an integral and dominant part of that very system (the one that made Anelka a multi-millionaire of course). It is a form of delusional political thought, something that appeals to the narcissism of the self-defined 'radical'. And it is pervasive. Liel Leibovitz describes the attraction and the dangers beautifully:
The garçons who quenelled by a large photograph of Anne Frank aren’t going to be mended by more or better education. They are creatures of the age and children of the Internet, driven by emotion, prone to extremism, allergic to nuance. They’re political idiots, and they gravitate mainly to figures who lay it on thick with fantasies, conspiracies, and hatred. They’re not as likely to elect a new madman as they are to consistently reject the solid institutions on which democracy depends...Leibovitz concludes,
Hate, like the quenelle itself, is self-explanatory and irredeemable. If we stay vigilant, if we continue to cultivate the values that define us, and if we refuse to trivialize hate because it appears as a goofy post on Twitter or Facebook, we may someday defeat it.When I look at much social media, I despair. It is stuffed with pseudo-science, itself linked to conspiracist thought and the financial interests of snake oil merchants. It is filled with an obsession with Israel that not only goes way beyond the reality of of the conflict, but also obscures the real interests of the Palestinians. It overflows with fantastic ramblings about secret elites. This is not a sign of mental health. Anti-Semitism is not sane. Even worse, a detachment from reality marginalises the real stuff of politics. Social justice is just not as sexy. But then reality never is as much fun as the dark corners of the human brain, but is considerably less dangerous.