Abdul Majeed: Why believe conspiracy theorists?

In the piece below published by Express Tribune, Abdul Majeed examines the claims of journalist Nadir Hassan who recently wrote that all the anti-American conspiracy theories of recent years have proven to be true. After careful examination, though, Majeed finds Hassan’s argument lacking. We wanted to highlight this piece for our dear readers for two reasons.

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First is that it reflects well on Express Tribune that the editors are willing to allow alternative points of view to those projected by their regular columnists.

Second, it should be noted that Mr Abdul Majeed is not an investigative journalist by training but a medical student. This may have some advantage for his ability to see through conspiracy theories as he is trained in the scientific method which puts the greatest value on facts.

In the pre-scientific period, many believed that medical issues like seizure were caused by evil jinn and the patient would be treated by a mystic who would try to expel the jinn to cure the seizure. Following fact-based research during the scientific revolution, it was learned that seizure was actually a result of medical causes like abnormal brain activity, stroke, fever, etc etc etc. As a result of this emphasis on facts instead of superstitions, doctors were able to cure more people improve quality of life for the masses.

Do we need a scientific revolution in journalism? Till date many journalists continue to look for modern day jinn like ‘foreign hand’ and ‘Hindu-Zionists’ to explain all types of events rather than using the scientific method to find facts that can give a correct conclusion based on reason, not superstition.

Abdul MajeedI 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.

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