Why believe conspiracy theorists?
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:
Hindus and Israelis are working in tandem to destroy Pakistan
This is all a Zionist global conspiracy
Al Qaeda is just a front for Amrika
Tehreek-e-Taliban are a bunch of Hindus
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 Pakistan” here), 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.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.