Everybody loves a bloody conspiracy theory.
But according to the NY Times, this is especially true in Pakistan. The news agency noted yesterday that conspiracy theories are “a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history.”
Forget cricket (*cough* hockey), guys! Let’s play conspiracy battleship! Maybe we’ll actually win!
The Times added in its report,
The problem is more than a peculiar domestic phenomenon for Pakistan. It has grown into a narrative of national victimhood that is a nearly impenetrable barrier to any candid discussion of the problems here. In turn, it is one of the principal obstacles for the United States in its effort to build a stronger alliance with a country to which it gives more than a billion dollars a year in aid.
In the foiled Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad episode, the United States, not Pakistan, was the culprit. At least according to some Pakistanis. Hashmat Ali Habib, a lawyer and a member of the bar association, told the NY Times, “They have planted this character Faisal Shahzad to implement their script…My advice for the American nation is, get free of these think tanks.” In an accompanying video report to the Times piece, Adam Ellick interviewed a family friend of Shahzad who further emphasized, “This is absolutely not a true story…[the plot was done] just to justify American and Allied forces’ presence on both sides of the Afghan border.”
So here’s a question for you, dear readers – are conspiracy theories an integral part of Pakistani society? I have blogged about this topic on numerous occasions, oftentimes venting my frustration with leaders and media personalities who peddle Zionist/RAW/Blackwater enemies like a freaking bake sale. Bomb blasts in Lahore? It was obviously the work of Mossad. Bomb threat in Peshawar? Well, I did see some Americans with beards roaming around. Must be Blackwater up to no good again.
Scapegoating is often used by politicians (I’m looking at you, Rana Sanaullah) to absolve themselves from blame. Media personalities and fixtures like ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul (why does this man still get air time, why?!) and the red-bereted Zaid Hamid propagate a hardline but digestible narrative, what Chapati Mystery’s Manan Ahmed has termed, a “national victimhood.”
But does this narrative exist within a spectrum of opinion of Pakistan, or does it represent the national sentiment in Pakistan?
If I was reading the NY Times article and didn’t consider the nuances of such an issue, I might believe that conspiracy is a collective part of Pakistan’s imagination. But I would ironically be doing the same thing as someone who parroted yet another one-sided theory, wouldn’t I?
Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com called the Times piece an attempt “to mock and pity Those Crazy, Primitive, Irrational, Propagandized Muslims and their Wild Conspiracy Theories, which their reckless media and extremists maliciously disseminate in order to generate unfair and unfounded hostility toward the U.S.” He noted,
There’s little doubt that many Pakistanis believe all sorts of things that are false and that some extremist sectors peddle paranoid conspiracies. Propaganda is a standard tactic used by political and religious leaders of all types to manipulate their followers, as is casting blame on external enemies for those leaders’ failures. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to find a society free of extremist paranoia, and Pakistan undoubtedly has its share.
Paranoid voices exist in all societies where a spectrum of opinion is allowed to be expressed, including the United States (hello, Glenn Beck and Fox News). As Greenwald emphasized,
And that’s to say nothing about the orgies of “conspiracy theories” churned out on a daily basis from right-wing talk radio, blog outlets, Fox News and even establishment Republicans over the years — from Iranian computer viruses, Vince Foster’s murder, the nefarious Muslim-Leftist alliance, ACORN’s omnipotence, and Obama death panels to The Vicious War on Christmas, the DOJ’s “Al Qaeda 7,” Maoist followers in the administration, Obama’s Kenyan birthplace and Islamic beliefs, and the subversive Congressional interns serving at the behest of CAIR.
According to a poll by Harris Interactive in March, many Republicans believe that President Obama is a “domestic enemy,” with 24 percent (14 percent overall) claiming he was the Anti-Christ (Interestingly, 38 percent of Republicans polled also believe he’s doing “many of the things Hitler did”). Um, yeah.
The issue of paranoia in Pakistan is not without merit, but it’s also unproductive to view this phenomenon as a reflection of the entire nation, (unless we have significant poll numbers). Moreover, it’s important to ask why such beliefs actually exist, and look at the root causes of the problem. In the case of Faisal Shahzad, shuttling blame from one country to another is really not going to get us anywhere.