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It was an Egyptian who first aroused my interest in freemasonry. Adel was a well-educated Copt, whose once wealthy family had fallen on hard times. Unable to find employment in his hometown of Alexandria, Adel set off for Lebanon hoping for better luck. The young man spent months trying to find an opening which matched his qualifications but when his savings ran out he had little choice but to accept the job of bawab (doorman) in a Beirut suburb.
Adel’s boss–the owner of a luxury apartment block–was pleased with his work and quickly upped his salary, but Adel hungered to improve his social status.
When the family of the Lebanese girl he wanted to marry turned him down, Adel’s ambitions grew: he was determined to be a ‘somebody’. And then a friend lent him a Masonic book that he had discovered tucked away in a second-hand shop.
Adel devoured its pages, learning by heart many of the rituals, signs and handshakes. This forbidden knowledge gave him a sense of self-worth and he would often use the Masonic handshake and postures when showing prospective buyers around the vacant flats.
Within just a few months, an impeccably dressed stranger knocked at the door of his basement room and thrust a blue envelope into his hands without saying a word. To the bawab’s amazement, inside it was US$600 in crisp new notes.
Shortly afterwards, he heard from his employer that important people were asking questions about him. The day came when a small delegation of men in business suits asked to speak to him.
They began the dialogue with coded Masonic greetings and handshakes, and were visibly satisfied when Adel gave the appropriate responses. But when he was asked the name of his Masonic lodge, Adel had little choice but to tell his new ‘friends’–and benefactors–the truth: he was not a Mason at all.
At first, his visitors appeared confused, but when they learned that it was Adel’s greatest wish to be a member of their exclusive ‘club’, they asked him to hand over his precious book and desist in using Masonic greetings until the lodge could consider his case. They also demanded his silence.
Within days, Adel was fired from his job and received another blue envelope. This time it held a typed note, politely suggesting that he return to Egypt. Feeling intimidated, he did just that.
Adel may have got off lightly. When a novice is initiated into masonry and becomes an Apprentice, he must swear ancient oaths related to Masonic secrets, his hand upon the book of his faith. Even if he breaks from Freemasonry, he must never reveal what he knows to anyone outside the brotherhood. If he does so, there are penalties to be paid, penalties he once accepted, including the tearing out of his tongue.
More exalted Masons accept to have their bowels turned to ashes and the top of their skulls sliced off. Some Masons maintain that these penalties have been removed from the rituals; others say they are merely symbolic, yet others are not so sure. The most usual penalty, however, is for a Mason to be ostracized by the fraternity, an act likely to reduce him to professional and financial ruin.
So what exactly is this organization with the power to change the course of a life?
A mason might describe the aim of this worldwide ancient fraternity as ‘making good men better, using the tools of bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love’.
Nobody knows for certain its origins although most Masonic scholars believe it has its roots in the guilds of stonemasons formed in the Middle Ages with Britain’s first Grand Lodge–established in 1717–symbolic of its growth into a unified and puissant entity.
There are others who contend the organization goes back to the days of Masons who built King Solomon’s temple, while some trace its beginnings to the Knights Templar said to have fought in Jerusalem during the Crusades.
There is no doubt that the various Masonic orders are philanthropic in nature, with North American Masons giving up to US$2 million to various charities each day. Freemasons own children’s hospitals, clinics, schools and they offer scholarships to children of poor families.
Such is the appeal of Masonry in the U.S., 14 presidents (including George Washington), eight vice presidents and more than 40 Justices of the Supreme Court have been Masons.
Indeed, among the designers of the seal found on both sides of a U.S. dollar bill, four were known Masons: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, William Churchill Houston and William Barton.
The pyramid and the eye on a one-dollar bill are also considered Masonic symbols. The Latin words appearing on the currency "Novus Ordo Seclorum" interestingly translate to "Bringing in the New World Order".
However, Freemasonry’s detractors put quite another spin on both the origins and the purposes of the movement.
One such was Stephen Knight who wrote an expose of Masonry entitled "The Brotherhood–The Secret World of Freemasons" as long ago as the 1980s. Knight’s book concentrated mainly on Britain.
One of his contentions was that Masons in the police force; courts, banks, the Post Office, the Civil Service, the military and in government share personal information on individuals when required to do by a ‘brother’.
He claimed that more than half of all British police chiefs were Masons and pointed a finger at some of the most prestigious firms of London solicitors as well as barristers, accusing them of conflicting loyalties.
Taking up Knight’s mantel after his death was author Martin Short who wrote "Inside the Brotherhood". He argued that the British police force and its legal system were so heavily laden with Masons that the course of justice must be being perverted.
"One must assume that people join lodges predominantly to feather their own nests, and to form a loose combination against the interests of everybody who is not a Mason," he wrote.
Architect of the "New World Order"
One of the best-known founding fathers of U.S. Freemasonry is Boston-born General Albert Pike, a 19th-century architect of the ‘New World Order’. He was a linguist who rose to Grand Commander of North American Freemasonry from 1859-1891 and authored a Masonic handbook called The Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry.
In this, Pike explains how the true meaning behind the symbols of Masonry must be kept from ordinary Masons: "Their true explication is reserved for the Adepts, the Princes of Masonry…"
On August 15, 1871, Pike wrote a letter to his friend Guissepe Mazzini, a third degree Mason, who had headed the Illuminati (a Masonic offshoot, rooted in Bavaria) in 1834. The missive–formerly on display in the British Museum–was a blueprint for three world wars Pike envisioned as necessary to bring about the One World Order.
According to Pike, the First World War must be brought about in order to overthrow the power of the Russian Tsars and of making that country a fortress of Communism… At the end of the war, Communism will be built and used in order to destroy the other governments and weaken religions.
The Second War must be brought about so that Fascism and German (Aryan) Nationalism is destroyed, strengthening Zionism enough to institute a sovereign state of Israel in Palestine…
The Third World War would take advantage of the differences between Zionists and the leaders of the Islamic World. The war must be conducted in such a way that Islam and Zionism destroy each other.
Wrote Pike: "Meanwhile, the other nations, once more divided on this issue, will be constrained to fight to the point of complete physical, moral, spiritual and economical exhaustion…"
The Arab view
It’s little wonder that the Arab world views Freemasonry with a jaundiced eye. Few Moslems become Masons. I did, however, speak to one who succumbed to the initiation ceremony, a Lebanese, whom I shall call Ahmed.
Ahmed was invited to join a secret lodge by an influential business associate. He told me about his initiation into the Scottish Rite; how he had been blindfolded, given a Masonic name, and how religiously conflicted he felt inside having to swear oaths to a group of people he didn’t know and, worse, didn’t know what they really stood for.
As soon as he returned home, he destroyed his Masonic apron and certificates, never to contact the lodge again. He hoped they wouldn’t get in touch with him.
The Jewish connection
In the minds of many Arabs, Masonry is inextricably linked to Judaism, mostly due to the Qabbalastic system of numbers (Gematria) used during the rituals and references to the Temple of Solomon. In reality, Masons are mostly Christian (90 per cent in the U.S.) although it must be said that Jewish Masons tend to be influential, and are said to include several Israeli politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu.
In 1996, a new lodge was formed in Israel, named after Sir Moses Montefiori, a prominent Mason and the brother-in-law of Nathan Rothschild. Its website reads: "The consecration (of the new lodge) took place in the quarries of Jerusalem…"
From this choice of location, one can, perhaps, interpret that members of this lodge believe that the origins of Masonry are linked to the construction of Solomon’s Temple.
Albert Pike in his Morals and Dogma writes: "The room of place in which they (Masons) meet, representing some part of the Temple of Solomon, is also called the lodge".
One must surely, therefore, wonder why so many Masonic scholars have concluded that Freemasonry has its roots in European stonecutters guilds… or is this organised deception?
Masonic Forum magazine, while profiling Isaac Grassiani, the founder of the Supreme Masonic Council of Israel, suggests that Israel is "the legendary birthplace of the Craft." So, perhaps the view of some Arabs that Freemasonry’s ideology is tied to Judaism isn’t far wrong.
Although an international movement, Masonry tends to be different depending on the country. In the U.S., for example, lodges often tend to more ‘Mom and Pop’ holding family barbecues and parties. Most American lodges allow would-be members to petition to join.
In Britain, this is not the case. There, individuals must be invited to become a Mason by someone already on the inside.
A British Masonic website, suggests that interested parties should make their interest in joining known on every possible occasion, when eventually a Mason will hear. This advice speaks volumes as to just how many there are throughout every strata of British society.
There is no doubt there are many genuinely honourable people within the Masonic movement. Some have achieved true greatness and benefited Mankind. Sir Alexander Fleming, Neil Armstrong and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart immediately spring to mind.
Members have varying motives for joining the organization and they shouldn’t all be tarred with the same negative brush–especially those at the lower levels.
But for those on the outside looking in, there will always be questions concerning an esoteric, elitist society with powerful adepts, a murky history, and, a less than transparent agenda.
LINDA S. HEARD is a specialist writer on Mid-East affairs and can be contacted at <firstname.lastname@example.org>