Suddenly, influential voices blame the COVID-19 virus not on Communist China but on the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel. This shift fits a pernicious medieval pattern that needs to be taken seriously and refuted.
That pattern goes back to about 1100 A.D. and the Crusaders in Europe. Since then, confused folk hoping to make sense of unexpected and malign developments have the permanent option of conjuring up a world conspiracy. When they do, they overwhelmingly blame just two alleged conspirators: members of Western secret societies or Jews.
Secret societies include the Knights Templar, Freemasons, Jesuits, Illuminati, Jacobins, and the Trilateral Commission. Jews are supposedly ruled by a shadowy authority, the "Elders," that strictly keeps them in line through such front organizations as the Sanhedrin, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
In modern times, conspiracy theorists have added countries to the organizations: secret societies spawned the United Kingdom and the United States, Jewish Elders became Israel. Invariably, this trio of states is blamed for shocking surprises such as the JFK assassination, Princess Diana's death, 9/11, or the Great Recession.
And so it is with COVID-19. The virus demonstrably originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, perhaps at a "wet market" with live animals awaiting human consumption, perhaps at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or perhaps a mix of the two (infected animals from the institute sold for food at the market). That the Communist Party of China (CPC) went to extreme lengths to cover up the virus both facilitated its growth and then obscured its source.
But what happened next is known to nearly every sentient person alive today: the virus spread from Wuhan to other parts of China, thence to the world. Everyone reading this has lived through and experienced that recent history; no mystery surrounds the CPC's unique responsibility for the pandemic. Wuhan virus is not a racist slur but an accurate description.
Blaming only Britons, Americans, and Jews implies ignoring the other 94 percent of humanity: continental Europe's great powers (France, Germany, Russia); totalitarian movements (communist, fascist, Islamist); members of universalist religions (Buddhists, Christians, Muslims); and the entire non-Western world (Iran, China, Japan). Specifically, Communist China does not rate as a plausible conspirator.
And so, as the inevitable conspiracy theories emerged, they focus on the three eternal suspects. Not surprisingly, the CPC encourages these; foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao tweeted that "It might be [the] US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan" and he retweeted "very much important" information about "Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US." As a result of his and other official endorsements, the Washington Post explains, "anti-American theories gained steam" in China to the point that Internet communications in China are "inundated by the theory ... that the coronavirus originated in the United States."
Likewise, Russian media accused London and Washington of developing the virus either to harm China by undermining its economy or to prepare for offensive action by testing its biological weapon defenses.
Two of Iran's Revolutionary Guards generals raised the specter of the virus as an American biological weapons aimed at China and Iran, while Iranian state mediarepeatedly blamed the virus on U.S. or Zionist elements. Algerian and Turkish media accused Jews of developing the coronavirus to gain power, render peoples infertile, or make a fortune selling the antidote.
In the United States, notes the Anti-Defamation League, conspiracy theorists exploit COVID-19 "to advance their antisemitic theories that Jews are responsible for creating the virus, [and] are spreading it to increase their control over a decimated population, or they are profiting off it."
Indeed, that Israelis lead in the search for a COVID-19 cure is being twisted to confirm conspiracist cui bono suspicions of Israeli profiteering. That Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a leading Iranian religious figure, initially permitted buying an Israeli vaccine if it were the only one available, then changed his mind, reveals the tortured thinking of antisemites everywhere.
Thus has the Wuhan virus exhumed medieval themes in response to unexpected and malign news. However preposterous, these theories obstruct understanding the virus, dealing with it, and containing the damage. However tempting to ignore nutty conspiracy theories, they require refutation. Otherwise, they fester and grow and, as so often in the past – think Stalin and Hitler – threaten to do terrible damage.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.