Conspiracy theories are present in all cultures but are more prevalent in cultures in which political or religious dogma guides thought and behaviour. Pakistan is the perfect example.
One of the great joys, and there are many, of discussing politics with many of my fellow Pakistani friends and colleagues is being exposed to a wide range of bizarre and eclectic conspiracy theories. I have come across so many classics over the years that I have lost count. I have also had to master the art of containing my laughter and putting on a serious face when faced with absolutely ludicrous theories about why things are happening in the world.
Conspiracy theories are present in all cultures but they are certainly more prevalent in cultures in which political or religious dogma guides thought and behaviour. In such a context, a conspiracy theory serves to bridge the gap between dogma and reality. The only way one can cling to their dogmatic world view, when faced with evidence to the contrary, is to concoct a fanciful and self-serving conspiracy theory.
Here is a round-up of my favourites:
1. The Taliban is secretly working for the US – this theory is particularly interesting because the people that defend it also hail the Taliban as champions of Islam when they carry out a successful attack on a US target. It is so fanciful and far-fetched that one cannot possibly go about disproving it and I normally respond to it by saying, “anyway, did you see the Cricket last week?”
2. The US is behind all terror attacks in Pakistan – this one has been doing the rounds even before the undercover CIA agent Raymond Davies was captured after shooting dead two Pakistanis in Lahore. But after that incident the conspiracy theorists had a field day; they thought they had been given all the evidence that could ever have wished for.
This one is also unique because it really annoys terrorists in Pakistan that are trying to claim credit for attacks only to have their claims trampled on by the conspiracy theorists. I love it when that happens.
3. The Media is controlled by the Jews – this one is a classic and has been around for decades, perhaps originally invented by fascists and later adopted by sections of the far-left. Either way it is pretty much dogma amongst Pakistanis and almost impossible to challenge. Pointing out that Rupert Murdoch isn’t Jewish is normally a good start and that can be followed up with pointing out the significant stakes Saudi princes have in News Corporation and CNN.
4. The CIA created bin Laden and al-Qaeda – this one is quite common around the world and based on a popular misunderstanding. The CIA did indeed support the Afghan mujahideen effort against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, as did Saudi Arabia, the UK and other nations. But what many in the international community were supporting was a broad-based resistance effort that included secular, nationalist and religious groups.
The funds were channelled through Pakistan’s ISI and ended up equipping mainly Afghan nationalist groups, after an ISI 10 percent cut no doubt. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the CIA ever met with, funded, or trained bin Laden or other individuals that went on to form al-Qaeda. To the contrary, they had their own funding via bin Laden’s own money.
5. 9/11 was carried out by Mossad – this one was spouted the minute the planes hit the twin towers and is still rolled out, over a decade later, in spite of confessions of 9/11 conspirators, documents that show how the attack were planned, and a video tape recorded shortly after 9/11 in which bin Laden gloats about the attacks and his role in them. I normally respond to this one with “do you know what the weather will be like next week?”
6. Iraq war was all about oil – another classic that started before the 2003 Iraq war and will never go away because it is just too convenient. Let’s start by putting to one side the fact that all of Iraq’s oil could not cover the cost of the war and the US didn’t need the oil since Saudi Arabia had spare production capacity. Oil contracts in Iraq have now been given out and guess what? They have gone to mainly Chinese and European firms.
7. The war in Afghanistan is about a pipeline – yes the international community spends billions of dollars and loses thousands of lives for a pipeline that isn’t even entirely necessary. Landlocked central Asian states can either use Russia’s pipeline system or use the Baku-Ceylin pipeline which is far more efficient than sending energy through Afghanistan.
There are, of course, many other classics too, like Malala Yusefzai being an undercover CIA agent, and others that are just too ridiculous to mention. But I thought I’d limit myself to these ones for now. No doubt I’ll have more to look forward to after the ISAF departure from Afghanistan in 2014.
Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH
(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 8)