Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Can “The Whole World” Be Wrong? Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad is a book that makes you shake your head a lot. You just can’t believe how stupid people are. The stupid things they say and do to make themselves feel better about themselves; the stupid things and the lies they say that allow them to hate Jews and look the other way at the jihadists who target the liars, their loved ones, and their way of life. It’s hard to watch—you want to look away from this slow, global, own-goal suicide. But the author, Professor Richard Landes, has made this work so compelling, you have no choice but to continue reading, even when, as a sane person, it leaves you, the reader, feeling rather queasy. 

Richard Landes

The book takes its title from the words of two men on the subject of blood libels, issued a century apart. There are the mocking words of writer Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsburg), who in 1897, echoing the oft-expressed sentiment by European non-Jews when confronted with proof that, no. Jews don’t use the blood of Christian babies in the manufacture of matzah: “Is it possible the whole world is wrong and the Jews are right?”

Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsburg)

In 2002, little more than 100 years later, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, referring to Israeli denials of a massacre in Jenin that never occurred, said, “I don’t think the whole world, including the friends of the Israeli people and government, can be wrong.”

In this way, antisemitism takes its path. Because there are plenty of Jew-haters in the world. And the more there are, the more they give themselves moral permission to hate. The media, of course, is there to help things along with its own rendition of the modern blood libel. It’s called “lethal journalism.” They use fake footage, knowing it’s fake. They lie, because the lies are what their audiences want to hear. And they demonize Israel every time, because again: it’s exactly what their audiences want to hear.

Landes takes you on a journey, beginning in 2000 with the Al Durah hoax, moving on to 9-11, the phony Jenin “massacre,” and the Danish cartoon scandal (Danoongate). At the end of each chapter, Landes summarizes the stupid things that various figures have said in relation to these events. For example, journalist Catherine Nay said of the faked viral photo of the dead boy in his father’s arms, “This death erases, replaces the image of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.”

Every bit as shockingly stupid are the words of George W. Bush, spoken at the Islamic Center of Washington only days after 9-11, on September 17, 2001, “Islam is peace.”

Regarding the fictional Jenin massacre, journalist Janine di Giovanni wrote, “Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechniya, Sierra Leone, Kossovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life," 'Inside the Camp of the Dead,' The Times, April 16, 2002.

And off Danoongate, the French Director of Intelligence speaking in 2005, said, “These riots have nothing to do with Islam.”

Landes has been documenting this astounding stupidity and world folly for more than a decade. The result is this 500-page compendium with its prodigious, painstaking footnotes that leave the reader open-mouthed and astonished. You wonder: “How on earth did we get here?”

But you already know. Landes has connected up all the dots: the lies and lethal journalism, and the way the world gave jihad a pass, while damning the Jews. The facts and the progression of this deadly state of affairs have been amply covered by the author and you begin to understand the depth of the threat to our world, today. 

This a book you want on your shelf. It is not an easy read, but a necessary one if you want to understand how we got here—and how we are to dig our way out of this ugly, Jew-hating, jihadi, fake news mess. I put some questions to author Richard Landes to learn more about his book and its implications for the future:

Varda Epstein: Most writers think about who they’re writing for and gear their writing to that reader. “Can The ‘Whole World’ Be Wrong?” seems to be identifying who the reader is not. The book begins with a warning, but it’s more like a dare, or even a threat—like you’re trying to scare the reader off: “If you feel up to the task . . . turn the page. If not, just sit in your tub tweeting about white, racist privilege, while you bleed out.”

Who do you envisage as your reader? Who is it you’re trying to reach?

Richard Landes: My ideal reader is someone who really does care about liberal and progressive values. I actually lay out my concerns in the introductory chapter by contrasting zero-sum and positive-sum values, and stating my unequivocal preference for the latter, while conceding that the former has an inevitable presence in our lives and warning that those thinking they can eliminate zero-sum are not only fooling themselves with messianic dreams, but ultimately opposed to key life forces.

What I document in the book, however, is a massive shift in what was considered “liberal” or “progressive” in the new century/millennium. By 2003 it became a “litmus test of liberal credentials” to be pro-Palestinian (Buruma in NYT), at a time when the Palestinians were engaged in a suicide-mass murder war against Israeli civilians. By any standards of real liberal values that was a travesty which continues to this day (think Gays and LGBTQ for Palestine). So in a sense, the book is an attempt to go back to the moment this travesty first “took” and rethink how it could have happened so quickly and thoroughly. But since I firmly believe that the willingness to hear criticism and take it seriously is one of the key components of the liberal sensibility, I address this criticism to liberals sufficiently committed to their values to take it seriously.

Varda Epstein: Do you worry you’re preaching to the choir? Do you even aspire to reach the masses?

Richard Landes: Well that’s hard to say. Obviously a 500-page book with notes at the bottom of each page is not for “the masses.” But, between masses and choir lies many a circle of readers. Obviously, the “choir” of pro-Israel people are going to find it congenial. A number of people have written me about devouring the book in one sitting and thanking me: “Someone finally has the words for everything I’ve been struggling to say!” wrote one person. And if it helps them make the point to others, that’s great. But my real audience is what we might call the goats. As shepherds know, if you have about one goat to every ten sheep, then when there’s a problem, the sheep look to the goats. If they’re calm, the skittish sheep settle down. Similarly, I don’t think I’m going to reach some gay guy so caught up in his peer group that he repeats nonsense about being passionately for a political culture that hates gays. But if I can reach the thoughtful ones, then maybe they can explain it to him.

Varda Epstein: You write, “In a sense, this book should not have had to be written and I should be able to work on the origins of modern Western civilization in the demotic millennialism of eleventh-century France to my heart’s content.” Why did the “Can The ‘Whole World’ Be Wrong?” have to be written, and why by you, Richard Landes? After all, as you suggest, lethal journalism, antisemitism, and global jihad are not your chosen field.

Richard Landes: Well, actually, global jihad is my field since it’s an apocalyptic millennial movement, and it came on my screen in the mid-90s through the (then) graduate work of David Cook (now at Rice U.). Actually, in the mid-1990s, in my work on the 11th century, I began to work out a model of antisemitism that went in waves starting with philo-semitism, leading to important socio-economic changes that eventually produced an antisemitic reaction. Given that the period after the Holocaust (i.e. my life) was the longest and most philo-semitic period in recorded history (especially in the USA where I grew up), I speculated that the advent of 2000 might mark the reappearance of antisemitism in the West. At the time I thought it would come from the apocalyptic “right” – fundamentalist Christian Zionists disappointed that the Rapture didn’t happen, and Jihadi Muslims who were already openly and ferociously antisemitic. What I didn’t see coming were two linked phenomena: 1) the attraction of the “Left” for the Jihadi apocalyptic narrative that Israel and the US were “Satans”/Antichrists, and 2) the utter failure of liberals, who had a huge presence in the public sphere, to resist. As a result, what I thought would be a wave of Jew-hatred that we could resist, has, over 20 years of astonishing and self-destructive mishandling, become an existential threat not only to Israel (its purported target) but to democracies around the world.

Why did I have to write it rather than someone else? I don’t know. But someone else didn’t write it. It’s such a hard thing to grasp, a history of your own time. Maybe working historians in the early 11th century writing histories of the turn of that millennium made it a conceivable project. Obviously I don’t write about everything (and neither did they). I write in depth about what I think were errors of judgment on a civilizational plane, which continue to be made by very smart people. We all love the story of the emperor’s new clothes, but few of us want to entertain the notion that it’s actually happening. Someone jokingly said that Amazon should bundle my book not with another book, but with antidepressants. It’s dark stuff. Very depressing. Without a deep sense of humor, I wouldn't have been able to keep my eye on this ball over the course of decades.

Varda Epstein: How, if at all, does your work as a medievalist inform your book, and in particular your interest in eleventh-century France? Does your work on the al Durah story, which you mention in your book, have anything to do with that? You cite many French sources and drop French phrases in your book. I’m getting the idea that you’re a Francophile—but not!

Richard Landes: As for the Middle Ages, there are three key issues:

1)      Honor-shame societies: As a medievalist I work on a society in which gaining/keeping honor and avoiding/revenging shame were key components of public life, where it was legitimate, accepted, even required that one shed blood for the sake of honor. Without understanding those dynamics, you don’t understand Arab political culture. Now Edward Saïd made it taboo to discuss these matters (the quintessence of “Orientalism”), and in doing so blinded the West to the cultural dynamics of this region. In my book I show how the Oslo Accords were based on thinking that Arafat and Arab political culture were ready to give up the view that the very existence of Israel was so shameful that it must be destroyed, and go for the positive-sum, win-win, of “land for peace,” to the benefit of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And how ignoring those dynamics meant that right up to the last second, the peace negotiators thought we were “sooo close.” And still do.

2)      Apocalyptic millenarian: the jihadis are a classic expression of a distinctly (but not exclusively) medieval form of eschatological thinking, namely they embrace an “active cataclysmic apocalyptic scenario” – evil permeates the world and we are God’s agents in destroying it – aiming at a hierarchical millennium – Islam will dominate the world, infidels either accept dhimmitude (subjection), or convert, or die. It’s really hard for moderns to take apocalyptic beliefs seriously because every time in the past that people have been so moved, they’ve been wrong, sometimes disastrously so. (This included modern historians of the Middle Ages.) As a result of this cognitive lapse, and the pressures of political correctness in the 21st century, to avoid anything too negative about Islam (don’t say “radical Islam”), has produced a Western culture that cannot see its enemy (embodied in the absurd formula “war on terrorism”).

3)      Public Secrets: for reasons that I’m not sure about, both my academic career and my journalistic one have found and investigated public secrets, that is, something everyone “in the know” knows about, but when it comes to the public record, they deny any knowledge or existence of the issue in question. In the Middle Ages it was about how Charlemagne was crowned on the first day of the year 6000 from Creation – a millennial date Christian chronographers had been tracking for over 6 centuries – and yet no one who wrote about the coronation, or his imperial period, mentioned it. In this book, the main public secret I deal with is that the Palestinians fake news footage all the time, and that the press is so profoundly intimidated by them, that they run Palestinian “lethal narratives” as news. This unacknowledged, even denied phenomenon, has immense impact on the kind of lethal journalism that we get constantly from our news media.

Varda Epstein: There’s a lot about stupidity in your book—you call it when and where you see it, using exactly that word “stupid” in its various forms. Why is it important to you to use precisely this descriptor and how do you account for the sheer amount of it that exists in the world? 

Richard Landes: First because it’s a technical term in economic and game theory for someone who hurts someone else without gaining any advantage (Cipolla). Secondly because it’s so stunningly prominent in our times. I define “astoundingly stupid” as creating advantages for an avowed enemy. And as far as I can make out, that has been a consistent pattern among the Western opinion leaders – journalists, academics, public intellectuals, politicians, and policy makers – for the last two decades. As Elder of Ziyon put it, my book is a “modern take on the Emperor’s New Clothes.” Then, when I found the comment by Bonhoeffer (which I included in the epigrams)—who also lived at a time when his society was being seized by apocalyptic memes—about the impossibility of arguing with precisely this kind of self-destructive stupidity, I knew I was on the right track. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Varda Epstein: How did you decide on the structure of the book? How does the first part complement the second? Why not have it in, say, two volumes? Oh, and you must tell us about the haikus! That must have been fun.

Richard Landes: The structure wrote itself. The first four chapters are my “history of my time,” namely four incidents in the early aughts (‘00s) that chronicle key moments in the assault of global jihad on western democracies, and the astoundingly stupid way in which the West processed what was happening to them: the outbreak of the intifada and the al Durah affair; 9-11; the “Jenin Massacre”; and the Danish cartoon scandal.

Then, to explain how this could happen, I went through the key players: 1) Shame-Honor driven Arab culture; 2) Apocalyptic-Millennial driven Jihadi beliefs – what I call Caliphators; 3) Liberal Cognitive Egocentrics: people who project their positive-sum values onto cultures that don’t share it; 4) radical progressives who, blinded by Saïd’s assault on Orientalism, end up allying with the most imperialist movement in the world because it’s “anti-imperialist,” i.e. anti-USA and Israel; 5) the lethal journalists who radically disorient their audiences with their Palestinian-compliant “news” reports; and 6) the virtue-signaling Jews who adopt their enemy’s narrative (something an apocalyptic Caliphator predicted in 2001), thereby giving wings to the very kind of exterminationist antisemitism that fueled the Nazi madness.

The last part sketches developments over the next decade and a half (mid-aughts to now), identifying some of the phenomena so striking in our current culture that I think this turn-of-the-millennium seizure helped set in motion – woke, cancel-culture politics, fake news, anti-racism discourse, and what I call pre-emptive dhimmitude, namely the adoption by our information elites of a posture of subjection to Muslim demands for respect which ends up attacking not the invaders of democratic culture, but those (like me) who warn and mobilize against those enemies.

As for the haikus, I’ve been writing them ever since I ran across the form in my youth. The one for al Durah (chapter one) was originally written for Y2K: “We need not have been/ Mouths open inhaling, when/ The sh*t hit the fan.” My favorite is the one for the chapter on Jews against themselves: “Have ever before/ lambs denounced lambs who refuse/ to lie with lions?”

Varda Epstein: I so appreciated all the detailed footnotes you included at the bottom of each page (I hate it when writers put them the end and I have to flip back and forth). But that would have been a daunting task! You must have been taking voluminous notes for years on end, as you read, watched, talked . . . does that about sum it up? How many years was this book in the making? 

"A book that keeps writing itself,"
Tat Aluf Yossi Kuperwasser

Richard Landes: Yes, it does sum it up nicely. Thanks to Evernote (I have over 35,000 notes clipped there), I’ve been able to preserve access to articles that no longer can be found online. I’m ashamed to say the book was over a decade in the making. The working title – They’re so smart, cause we’re so Stupid – was inspired by the Fort Hood Massacre (2009) in which a Palestinian-American major in the army, after extensively displaying his jihadi sympathies, shot dozens of his fellow-soldiers, and inspired Mark Steyn to write an article entitled: “These days, it’s easier to be even more stupid after the event.” It’s just hard to write a history book about your own time. As Yossi Kuperwasser put it, “It’s a book that keeps writing itself.” When Shireen abu Akleh was killed, I knew I couldn't include this ongoing, slow-motion train wreck.

As for the footnotes, I feel passionately about a) having many, and b) at the bottom of the page. I took out all the URLs one can find for oneself easily from the hard-copy book, but for those who want to get them, I have them up at my personal webpage for the book:

Varda Epstein: There are so many shocking parts in your book still rattling around in my head. For instance, that remark from a peer, “Well, the Jews have been asking for it, and now, thank God, we can say what we think at last.”

Richard Landes: For me it will always be Charles Enderlin, when I pointed out how much faking was going on at Netzarim Junction the day Muhammad al Durah was allegedly shot, saying to me “Oh yes, they do that all the time.”

But the two worst comments by far were a) when a colleague in the history department responded to my bemoaning the suicide terror war of the Palestinians with the comment, “What choice do they have?” and b) the journalist Catherine Nay saying that the image of al Durah “erased, replaced” the picture of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. Hard to get more empirically and morally disoriented, and yet people heard these kinds of remarks and nodded knowingly.

What would you say shocked you most about your findings? I’m guessing it’s the stupidity. . .

Richard Landes: That’s one way to put it. Cowardice is another. The way I’d put it, in the ‘90s, I may have seen a wave of antisemitism coming in 2000, and even a wave of Jihadi attacks on the West, but I never dreamed that Western democracies would be so feckless in responding.

Varda Epstein: What do you want the reader to take away from your book?

Richard Landes:

1) that when “the whole world” agrees on something (whether it’s the emperor’s courtiers or the academics and journalists and pundits who think they speak for “the whole world” and are sure they’re right) they can (and have, and are and will) be, sometimes, wrong.

2) that the meanings of “liberal” and “progressive” have been terribly distorted, even betrayed, in the 21st century. 

3) that when the legacy media reports Israel has done something terrible and Israeli sources deny it (or even admit to it only partially) it’s possible that the legacy media is wrong.

4) that we’ve gotten into this mess because a lot of nice and well-intentioned people have allowed themselves to be pushed around, silenced, and cowed by those filled with passionate intensity, and we need to speak up.

5) that to continue down this path spells disaster.


Landes, R. (2022). Can “The Whole World” Be Wrong?: Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad (Antisemitism in America). Boston : Academic Studies Press, 2022. 

(available on Amazon.)

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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