Why believe conspiracy theorists?

Published: March 21, 2012

From the most civilised countries to the most downtrodden ones, conspiracy theories weave their web of lies with relish. PHOTO: AFP

I read an article written in The Express Tribune yesterday by veteran journalist Nadir Hassan, titled “What if the conspiracy theorists are correct?”. In his piece, he said that all anti-US conspiracy theories of recent years have proven to be true. He also expressed the view that it is possible to be both anti-US and anti-Taliban at the same time.

I was surprised at the lack of understanding displayed by the esteemed writer. Conspiracy theories, by definition, cannot be proven either right or wrong; as far as anti-US conspiracy theories are concerned, he just glossed over a few of them and justified them later as being true. Anti-Americanism and conspiracy mongering are not as simple and straightforward as have been presented by Mr Hassan.

I would like to share some of my thoughts about conspiracy theories, their origin and genesis. According to historian Dr Mubarak Ali:

“Myths gradually have lost their appeal in those societies where intellectuals produced new ideas, thoughts, and concepts to guide people. Myths flourish in those societies which are stagnant and rely on the out dated ideas”.

We have all heard the following phrases:

Everything is being controlled by America

Hindus and Israelis are working in tandem to destroy Pakistan

This is all a Zionist global conspiracy

Osama was dead long before the May attacks

Dengue is an American Conspiracy

Al Qaeda is just a front for Amrika

Tehreek-e-Taliban are a bunch of Hindus

Imran Khan is a Jewish agent

It never ends.

Such conspiracy theories and people who promote them are present across the length and breadth of this world. From the most civilised countries to the most downtrodden ones – conspiracy theories weave their web of lies with relish.

A primary factor responsible for the proliferation of myths and conspiracy theories is the pathetic state of our textbooks. In 2003, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI ) published a report titled “The Subtle Subversion” on the state of textbooks in Pakistan. The report drew the following conclusions with regards to to textbooks in Pakistan:

Insensitivity to the religious diversity of the nation

Historical falsehoods and inaccuracies

Glorification of war and the military

Omissions that could have been enriching

A recent report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated that schools in Pakistan are using textbooks that preach intolerance towards non-Muslim religious minorities. Probably the best text on the fallacies present in our textbooks is the book “Murder of History” written by historian K K Aziz in 1991.

Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Fasi Zaka have also written about the rise of conspiracy theories and the way they shape our understanding of the world. In a television program on “conspiracy theories”, Nadeem F Paracha recalled that the film “Loose Change” (about the theories regarding 9/11) was broadcasted in Pakistan with much fanfare. In fact, there were three to four other parts of that documentary that were subsequently made, in which the earlier mistakes were rectified. Those “other” versions were never shown in Pakistan.

The above-mentioned conspiracy theories have never been proven correct, neither can they ever be. As far as anti-Americanism is concerned, a survey for international broadcaster al Jazeera by Gallup Pakistan found that 59% of Pakistanis felt that the greatest threat to the country was the United States. A separate survey by the Pew Research Center, an independent pollster based in Washington, recorded that 64% of the Pakistani public regards the US “as an enemy” and only nine per cent believe it to be a partner.

In one of his columns, Fasi Zaka, suggested that the kind of anti-Americanism found these days (among the middle-classes of the country) is extremely ill-informed. He wrote that a lot of young Pakistanis are basing their understanding of international politics by watching low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on YouTube!

These so-called documentaries that Zaka is talking about are squarely based on re-hashed conspiracy theories that mix age-old anti-Jewish tirades and paranoid fantasies about Zionists, Freemasons and the Illuminati. Locally, all these are then further mixed with flighty myths about certain Muslim leaders, sages and events recorded only in jihadi literature and flimsy ‘history books.’

The aforementioned article also pointed out that Farhat Taj’s research is not based on actual statistics and that’s a controversial thing to say. Her book “Taliban and Anti-Taliban” should be read by Mr Nadir for clarification.

The writer further metioned Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat; these two have said a lot of weird things, but if one or two of them turned out to be true, it must be regarded as an exception, not the rule. Let’s not forget that Zaid Hamid said in Episode 17 of his program, “Iqbal ka Pakistan” that long marches or democracy can’t bring any change in the country.

In episode 21 of the same show, he mentioned “Tsunami” as a political force. Ali Azmat claimed in another show that after 1945, all the musical instruments in the world have been tuned to a specific frequency that is destructive for cellular structure and cause mass hypnotism and crowd control.

These are just some very obvious examples of conspiracy-mongering by these two guys. (If anyone is interested, please take out some time to read a complete post-mortem of Zaid Hamid’s musings in “Iqbal ka Pakistanhere), merely the tip of the iceberg.

At the end, I just have one thing to say to the respected Nadir Hassan: I expect better from you.

Read more from this author here.

Abdul.Majeed

Abdul Majeed

A final year medical student with interests in history, political economy and literature. He blogs at abdulmajeedabid.blogspot.com/ and tweets as @abdulmajeedabid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • asad humayun

    Our people choose to believe in conspiracy theories because it’s much easier than facing upto the truth about the doings of our religious fanatics.It’s much easier and satisfying to blame everything on the yahodis or the amreekis.Not taking responsibility for one’s actions is a good way to hide from the truth.
    everything must be a yahodi sazish,behind all the bad things happening in our country must be RAW,MOSSAD,CIA .It’s much easier to blame outsiders rather than face upto the truth of how religious extremism has destroyed our country.Recommend

  • Modazul

    Well Zionist agenda and global control theories are true. The powerful US Federal Reserve, who the world looks upon for economic data which can bring down economies or pull them up, is controlled by the Jews. Ben Bernanke is Jewish, the rest of the board of directors are also Jewish.
    The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist!Recommend

  • Ursilla

    Nadir I’m afraid is slowly slipping onto the same path as Ali Azmat. He started out very well as a writer some years ago but lately he has sounded highly convoluted and confused. 
    Good piece and thank you for sharing the NFP footage. How old is it? Recommend

  • zeeshan siddiqui

    Ye blog bhi aik yahoodi sazish hai.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    Conspiracy theories sell.

    Who would want to admit that we are the architects of our own destruction? No, no. It’s easier to say that there is an international conspiracy against us involving Israel, USA, India, Afghanistan, Switzerland and..Tajikistan or something. And we’re just the wide-eyed, innocent creatures that got caught in the middle of it for no reason.Recommend

  • http://www.zaidzamanhamid.wordpress.com Zaid Hamid

    When Pakistan was burning…Zaid Hamid was blaming the Zionists…

    Nahiii… ye sab yahoodi saazish hai..Recommend

  • Critical

    There is a proverb in my local language

    “As long as there are fools in this world,the con artist will survive”

    I always thought Bal Thackeray as one of the most deluded persons in the world…But after watching Zaid Hamid’s speeches,Thackeray seems to be a rational and thoughtful man….atleast thackeray doesnt create his own version of history to explain his theories…..

    The success of Zaid hamid goes to creation of pakistan itself…It was created to protect muslims from Hindu majority India..But not more than half of muslims migrated to pakistan which was the first blow to their “two nation theory”…
    When east pakistan became bangladesh,Pakistan govt feared more questions from the citizens regarding the muslim brotherhood…So they started changing history and made people more Islamic and anti-India…
    RAW,Mossad,CIA was blamed for every problem caused in Pakistan…as time progressed,these religiously conditioned people started believing all the lies and do not acknowledge the truth from others even when given incriminating evidence
    West media is blamed as Zionist lobbies,Najam Sethi,Hasan Nisar are called Indian agents…

    Pakistan is heading towards a dystopian govt as seen in the book ’1984′ and the movie “V for Vendetta”Of course,there is still time for people to correct themselvesRecommend

  • M Ali Khan

    @Zaid Hamid:
    not sure if you are actually serious or being sarcastic.Recommend

  • Modazul

    Yes even we are involved in this mess. The Jews aren’t coming to Pakistan. They are using their agents through money and power. Pakistanis are helping foreigners in destroying Pakistan. Whatever mess we and the Muslim world is in is due to our faults and weaknesses which the enemies use to destroy us. If Muslims hadn’t sold themselves for money, and stuck to our morals and values, we wouldn’t be suffering and the aims of others would have become difficult to achieve. Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    Not every thing is false like not every thing is true. this is the best theory keep in mind.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    @Modazul:
    The problem with you guys is that you are allergic to criticism, you are incredibly gullible, and you believe that you are the custodians of the muslim world, which gives not two hoots for your opinion, honor or economy – text book ingredients and conditions for conspiracy theorists to maintain high productivity levels.Recommend

  • CNG

    I think the main issue arises when defining what a conspiracy theory is. Nowadays anything that isn’t on mainstream media or presents a different viewpoint from what comes on television or the more popular newspapers is labeled as a ‘conspiracy theory’. Bear in mind I am not talking about the freemasons, illumanati, et al. (although I do believe there are people pulling the strings even of global politicians; people who have influence and wealth and also the ability to exert them), rather I am talking about theories which attempt to fill gaps and plotholes in many events, such as JFK’s assassination, or even Bin Laden’s for that matter (I will get to this on the 2nd paragraph). I don’t follow any one theory ardently, and I remain skeptical on anything presented later on of which I am not a witness to, whether it comes from CNN or RT, I tend to stay neutral and hear all of the thousand sides of a story.

    On the second example, I am still doubtful of whether bin Laden was actually there – newspapers and channels like this one tend to state that he indeed was yet we have still to this day not been given any evidence (aside from the usual word-of-mouth) that he was living under our army’s wing. Not to mention the fact that the entire story itself seems unlikely given how nefarious a global name the target was among other things. The best evidence that could have been shown to us was abruptly thrown into the ocean, and now just a few months back the entire compound was demolished making it pointless to search for clues and evidence now.

    We all can opt to believe what we want to, but to accept everything from one news source as true is myopic, given the fact ALL news sources are run by humans after all and there is always a possibility of the message getting lost in translation and also how our minds can change our perception of reality when it comes events like these. I also believe it is extremely naive to assume that the world leaders of any country actually care for the welfare of its people, let alone people of other countries and humanity as a whole. We should also remember that no event happens in isolation and that it should be important to connect the dots and juxtapose contemporary events.Recommend

  • Dino Babic

    Okay so let me ask you this; what makes a claim made by other people any more of a conspiracy than a claim made by the U.S. government. Our government has lied to our people before. Conspiracies arise from inconsistent information. Our media is extremely bias and the U.S. loves to put twists on stories. History books in our school are completely different from a history book in a different country. So what makes the U.S. so truthful compared to another country? Nothing. Maybe if our government hadn’t lied to us countless times in the first place, people wouldn’t be doubting them. People have every reason to believe that they are being lied to and the only people to blame are the people running this country. Having a mentality thinking that what the U.S. says is correct and what others say is wrong in my opinion is a close-minded way of looking at things. If you tell a baby that Santa is real throughout it’s whole life and that baby has no reason to question it, you’ll eventually be seeing a 30 year old man preparing cookies and milk every Christmas Eve. Recommend

  • abhi

    if you believe in greatness of islam you don’t have any other option but to believe in conspiracy theories.Recommend

  • Dr.A.K.Tewari

    If onspiracy is supporting the war against terroris then I treat such news as correct . For eg. OBL was butchered on the Pakistani soil even if the news may be incorrect . Since the news is a great blow to Talibans as well as their supporters in Pakistan and give signal to the international force to operate on the site where the terrorist breeds . Now it isup to Pakistan to prove that they are honestly dealing with the menace otnerwise the international force knows how to deal with it . There is nothing like conspiracy theory , It is just how you perceiive it .Recommend

  • Dr.A.K.Tewari

    @ Dino , Why are you talking about Santa . Look at we Hindus . Their religious believe is full of such stories . You might have seen on TV that how an arrow multiplies and becomes a cutter bomb . Patriot missile to encounter Scuds . Hanuman jee is favouring Darwinism , Navgrah says earth revolves arround the sun and solar systems has nine grah ie planets . We believe on these conspiracies since time immemorial .Recommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    the main problem is that we think we are “holy” and “mausum” and every single person has decided to destroy islam. while we are busy doing this, the west is making progress in technology, medicine and science.Recommend

  • http://pakistani-edu.blogspot.com Usman Shahid

    I agree with CNG.Recommend

  • Syeda Soobia Fatima

    The people start beleiving in/making conspiracy theories when they tend to refuse the explanation given to them about any event due to their own strong convictions ( read delusions). Its like when you don’t like the reality than reject it and make one by your own. Why conspiracy theories sell so rapidly in Pakistani society ? well its because as a nation we ‘re made to believe that we ‘re the “most important nation (Islamic nation with Islamic atom bomb) and hence all the Westren world along with our Eastren neighbours ‘re bent upon to destroy us. What we forget is that in the presence of our very own home-made power crisis, terrorists, economic crisis, sectarian clashes, ethnic rivalries, feudalsim, corruption and so on , does anyone with a bit of sanity will do something to destroy a nation which itself is walking indeed running on the path to sure destruction ?Recommend

  • maria

    welll ok fine even if you don’t believe in these conspiracies, what is your take about aspartame, and having puberty at such a young age, and the increase of homosexuality in recent years???

    and the music study was done by Harvard.. Recommend

  • http://www.thepillarsfoundation.org Imran Haider

    strong textWith all due respect here, first we have to see what we are talking about here…Religion, culture, values? Do we, as Pakistanis, know what these actually are and what they mean to us? Seriously, let’s weigh the situation of Pakistan as it stands today. You cannot do anything or take one step into any government office there without bribing even the door man. Need light? Sure but you’ll have to pay a price just short of giving up your first born. As civil war breaks out across the country people living in privileged areas happily live in a cocoon of fantasies and lies that they think foolishly is impenetrable.

    If we want to know how we should live and how we should conform, we should look to the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Never has there been a man who lived his life in complete surrender and related to so many people from so many walks of life on so many levels (He is still considered the most influential personality in history).

    If we learned to live our life simply and honestly then we would not have these issues, more or less, anything would be enough. In this life of overspending and dreams of greatness we forget that we are human beings and our Creator is watching our every move, so don’t be idle, MOVE…Learn, apply, adapt and follow His words to insure success…Let’s pray all together that Allah gives us Guidance. Ameen.

    Recommend