Conspiracy theories: A dangerous obsession

Emad Gad , Sunday 31 Jul 2011

Generations of Arabs think the world is against them or envious of them, when in fact it is indifferent to them, sailing ahead into the future

Conspiracy has been part of human interaction since the dawn of history and it is also inherent in international relations. Conspiratorial thought and intrigue have evolved in modern times into conspiracy theories that play a prominent part in analysing interactions between states. Hence intrigue is part of our daily lives as human beings and also present in international relations as countries seek to achieve and defend their interests, as well as obtain more power and influence, or even to avoid hazards and offset threats.

Conspiracy theories are a component in the outlook of all states, large or small; they use intrigue, anticipate it or work to undermine it. But such theories are perilous under two critical circumstances. First, when they go beyond decision makers to infiltrate public opinion and nestle in the culture of the people. Second, entertaining such theories extensively and using them to interpret most international and regional interactions.

This result is sometimes like a sickness, whereby conspiracy theorists gain influence and suggest conspiracies to explain and analyse every event or development. Some take conspiratorial thinking too far, making it the reason behind any “foreign” decision, even if it is taken by an international organisation founded on humanitarian principles, and even if the decision focuses on purely humanitarian goals.

The fixation on conspiracy theory is a threat to the security and stability of society, as well as its interaction with the outside world. At the same time, it greatly diminishes one’s own responsibility and blames all things evil on “foreign” conspiracies. The media translates any commonplace incident into part of a phenomenon, and talks to people who will explain and analyse it in order to tie it in with previous events. The target in the end is to conclude that it is not a unique or extraordinary event, but part of a plot.

In this manner, the reaction is equal to the action and even supersedes it. The analyst says what the average (disenchanted) citizen wants to hear, which means that the media is “pandering” to public opinion and urging more fanaticism and extremism. Obsessing about intrigue has “created” a citizen who is inclined towards conspiratorial thinking, whereby he automatically sees intrigue in any action or event. He then begins to seek analysts who will serve up the opinion he is looking for by saying it’s a conspiracy, explaining its components, its phases, and goal, to harm the country, nation or belief system. If anyone tries to steer the debate towards objectivity or reason, they are accused of being part of the conspiracy.

Promoting and applying “conspiracy theories” to any event is no longer exclusive to specific political and intellectual currents. There are entire satellite channels as well as daily and weekly newspapers that focus solely on and perpetually advocate this concept. It is the cause of all developments and every action, irrespective of how minor or irrelevant it is.

The danger lies in the constant stream of conspiracy claims bombarding the average citizen that the West is scheming against us and is targeting all aspects of our lives —as if we could in any way challenge the West. We are a threat to no one in terms of science or civilisation, or even economic development. We only pose a threat to the West because of our arsenal of terrorism that we export to the world to wreak havoc and destruction everywhere, transforming the lives of people around the world into a living hell.

Our problem lies in our minds, which imagine that we could possibly be of any positive interest to the West or even the East. Our problem is that some of us believe this delusion to the extent of persuading us that we are better, and that we are the objects of envy by “the Other” who is preoccupied with scheming against us. The truth is that we are a burden on the world and an inconvenience for advanced societies that are looking to the future and dealing with reality, while we wallow in the past and focus on metaphysical debate —the latter by definition in the heart and founded in beliefs.

Our state-owned, independent and private media churns out conspiracy theories night and day to pander to the average citizen’s conspiratorial mind that was nurtured during upbringing. The media is endorsing these beliefs and compounding the problem, because it creates generations who are unable to relate to modern civic life. As a result, they either choose to embrace extremism, fanaticism and spreading havoc, destruction, envy and hatred of the Other and life, or instead become schizophrenic.

The problem with our media is that it is promoting delusions and conspiracy theories more than anything else. There are very few exceptions to this rule among private and independent media.

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