9/11: Conspiracy and Celebration in the Arab World

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has produced a video documentary of Arab and Iranian views of the devastating Al-Qaeda terror attacks in New York and Washington five years ago.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, | updated: 23:42

Narrated by well-known American actor Ron Silver and created by Interface Media Group, the video brings together for the first time televised and printed reactions from the Middle East immediately after the attacks, as well as over the course of the intervening years. All of the televised Arabic and Farsi material is subtitled in English, while quotations from the Arabic and Iranian press are cited and translated.

The material presented in the documentary by MEMRI is divided into several sections, covering the initial celebratory reactions expressed in print and in the Arab streets in September 2001, through subsequent elaborate conspiracy theories laying blame for the attacks on the Jews or on the American government.

Specific segments address Muslim media reactions in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in the West and in Iran, while others deal with statements of Arab government officials and of Islamic religious leaders, as well as critical analyses by reformers in the Arab world.

In addition to the online video, MEMRI has also produced a downloadable print version of its documentary of Arab and Iranian reactions to 9/11, available at http://www.memrifilms.org. The PDF book contains a compilation of articles and editorials from the mainstream Arabic and Farsi press, as well as transcripts from Middle Eastern television programs.

Among the most striking aspects of the MEMRI documentary are the video and print statements by Arab government officials - including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ("I find it hard to believe...."), Saudi princes ("It is impossible...."), Egyptian ("American agents did it.") and Lebanese legislators ("Osama Bin Laden is... popping up when needed.") - promoting theories that Arabs or Muslims were not at all involved in the September 11 attacks.

A related theme appearing in various forms in nearly all of the video's various segments is the claim that Jews or Americans were directly or indirectly involved in the cataclysmic attacks on New York.

In one recent example from July 10, 2006, Egyptian cleric Abd Al-Sabour declares: "The 9/11 story is, in fact, a Zionist conspiracy intended to transform the American position and to incite the American people against the Muslims."

MEMRI shows that the Arabic and Farsi media have been promoting such conspiracy theories for five years, including repeating the claim that (in the formulation of Egyptian historian Zaynab Abd Al-Aziz on Saudi Arabia's Iqra TV, May 26, 2005) "4,000Jews caught influenza on that exact day."

In contrast, MEMRI reports, minority Arab reformist voices including condemnations of Arab conspiracy theories, "have grown since 9/11 and are regularly seen on Arab TV and in the print media."

In one example from the MEMRI documentary, former Kuwaiti minister Ahmad Al-Ruba'i said (September 11, 2004):
I feel it requires a special effort to persuade them [students] to abandon this nightmare that has overcome the Arab mind. First, to fly a civilian airplane and crash into a building is not a great deed. A great deed is to manufacture an airplane and to build a trade center, as they are doing now in New York. The Arabs must replace the mentality that glorifies destruction with a mentality that glorifies construction. I'll say that the Arab mind is great when it builds a Boeing airplane, not when it blows it up, or when it builds a skyscraper. The truth is that the Arab mind is blinded by conspiracy theories.

Finally, in a fresh example of Middle Eastern reaction to 9/11, taken from one day before the 2006 anniversary of the attacks and not included in the documentary, MEMRI reported the accusations of Muhammad Al-Asi, affiliated with the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought on Iran's Channel 2 television. Reiterating themes that appear repeatedly in the material presented in MEMRI's groundbreaking documentary, Al-Asi claims, "The events of 9/11 were planned by the American administration, to be used as a pretext and justification to fight terrorism."