I grew up with a love of Sherlock Holmes. Millions of us have. When I was teaching a class on logic and debate to high school students, I used a book of quotes and incidents from Sherlock’s cases to study critical thinking and teach informal syllogisms. So, when I saw a review of a modern version of the detective, not written by Arthur Conan Doyle, and read about the plot, I was intrigued.
The author of the book is Nicholas Meyer, a contemporary scriptwriter as well as novelist. It’s called The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols. The plot is built around actual events from the past that are still haunting the present.
The Protocols mentioned in the title are actual screeds, lies, disinformation that were first published in the nineteenth century and, unfortunately, have been reproduced even today. They are called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The document was created to deceive people into believing Jewish leaders had come together to plot the takeover of the world. In the novel by Meyer, Sherlock is asked to find out if the plot is real and, if not, expose the lie so the truth could be revealed.
In truth (as well as in the novel), the Protocols were plagiarized from a work of satire called The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, by a writer named Maurice Joly in 1864. It included no mention of any Jew. According to Wikipedia, Joly’s piece was an attack on Napoleon III, elected President of France who later made himself absolute ruler.
Joly has Montesquieu speak in support of democracy and argue that the “liberal” spirit in people was indomitable. Machiavelli argues it wouldn’t take him even 20 years to “… transform utterly the most indomitable European character and render it as docile under tyranny as the debased people of Asia.”
In the end of the satire, absolutism wins, and Montesquieu is consigned to hell.
The piece would have been consigned to oblivion, except probably for Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Russian Okhrana or secret police of the Tsar Nicholas II. He commissioned a re-write, to replace the attacks on Napoleon with attacks on the Tsar. And to turn the meeting between two philosophers in hell to a meeting in Switzerland by Jews.
In the original, Machiavelli argues “Men must not scruple to use all the vile and odious deceits at their command to combat and overthrow a corrupt emperor…” Just change a few words and we get the tenth protocol, “Jews must not hesitate to employ every noxious and terrible deception at their command to fight and overturn a wicked Tsar…”
And there were in fact meetings by Jews in Switzerland in the nineteenth century, but they were not secret. They were Congresses called to create a Jewish state. Unlike the plot of the plagiarized and fictional Protocols, the meetings had nothing to do with overthrowing the Tsar or any other state.
The document was created by Rachkovsky as disinformation, to stoke a fear of Jewish people in the Tsar and hate in the Russian people⎼ and to justify anti-Semitic violence. He was successful. Publication of the Protocols led to pogroms, deadly attacks in many parts of Russia against Jewish people.
In 1903, for example, in the city of Kishinev, at least 47 people were killed, hundreds wounded, 700 houses and 600 stores destroyed. The authorities joined in or did not intervene to stop the violence. The New York Times at the time published an article from the Zionist News saying that babies were torn apart, and women repeatedly raped.
What set it off? According to Wikipedia and other reputable sources, it was faked news, particularly by Pavel Krushevan, editor and owner of the publication Bassarabets, which often printed anti-Semitic attacks. There are contradictory accounts, but the Protocols were either used to inflame hate, or they appeared afterwards to justify it. Krushevan falsely claimed the Jewish community murdered a Christian boy in a town 25 miles away and were responsible for the suicide of a girl declared dead in a Jewish hospital. He alleged the children were killed so their blood could be used to prepare Matzos for the Passover holiday. It was soon revealed Jews had nothing to do with either death.
Accounts agree that the real murderer was someone in the boy’s own family but disagree on when the evidence was discovered. The novelist Nicholas Meyer says the truth was uncovered 2 days after the pogrom. Other accounts say it was discovered beforehand, but the attacks went on anyway.
These same tactics, of using hate and blame of Jews to distract people from the need for substantive social-political change, have been used by rulers for thousands of years. The Protocols were used by Hitler to arouse hate of Jews to gain political power. He also used it to indoctrinate students. It has been used by hate groups and Holocaust deniers throughout the world to stimulate terrorism. Henry Ford published it in the Dearborn Independent, which he owned. White nationalists in the U. S. continue to circulate the lies.
In a similar vein, remember pizzagate? In 2016 (and since), American hate-groups spread lies not only about Jews but people of color, LGBTQ, and Democrats. They particularly attacked DJT’s opponent in the election, Hillary Clinton. She was ridiculously accused of operating a pedophile ring out of a pizzeria to finance satanism⎼ and harvest adrenochrome from the brains of children and inject the chemical so she and others could stay young⎼ and enjoy an hallucinogenic trip in the process. A twisted sibling to the lies about Jews in Russia using the blood of children in their matzos.
When people are wrapped in hate and addicted to lies, the truth can seem like poison and healing like death. They don’t even look at facts, like the fact that adrenochrome has almost no hallucinogenic affect and certainly does not extend life⎼ and there was never any pedophile ring. But the lie led Edgar Welch, a 28 year old from North Carolina and a follower of conspiracy theories, to show up at the Comet Ping Pong Pizza Restaurant with an assault rifle, fire the rifle, scare customers to leave as he searched the premises for evidence of the pedophile ring. Of course, he found nothing.
The horror of Kishinev led to emigration from Russia. It also spurred on the Zionist movement, awakened people in America to the savage attacks and disinformation directed at Jews, and helped bring more attention to the inhumanity, pain and destruction wrought by racism and scapegoating, as in attacks against Black people in the U. S.
This history exposes why authoritarians throughout the world so vociferously attack teachers and the study of authentic history, as the GOP are now doing. It amazes and terrifies me that some people with power or who crave it will use the same documents of hate wrapped in lies over and over again in a quest to secure their dangerous goals.
Without better understanding our emotions, learning history, media literacy, critical thinking, and empathy, we are too easily deceived, habituated to lies and invested in delusion. Community is undermined, and absolutism, inhumanity to others, rules.
In the novel, Sherlock succeeds in unraveling the anti-Semitic lies. Only by continually unravelling hate and lies can the fabric of our society be re-woven into a sustainable and working democracy.
This Post is republished on Medium.
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