An essay by Terry Mattingly describes the primitive superstition which lies behind the conspiracy theories that are spreading like viruses through Pakistan, roiling the waters and causing unrest.
In reading his article, I was reminded that human beings are, above all, reasoning creatures. That this faculty can be short-circuited by the notion that other people (or groups of people) conspire against us, bears witness to two tendencies. One is our susceptibility to project onto others what we most fear, and the other is our laziness: in a perversion of Occam’s razor we settle for the crudest explanation for a phenomenon — or an imagined one — so that “reason” gives us the needed justification for going on the attack.
Here’s the example that Mattingly uses:
The rumor spread across Pakistan in a blitz of text messages on cell phones.
There was a killer virus on the loose, and all you had to do to catch it was answer a call from an infected number. The virus didn’t hurt cell phones but would — eyewitnesses confirmed this — cause users to drop dead. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority was forced to issue a denial, telling users that it was safe to turn their phones back on.
Unfortunately, Pakistan doesn’t have a Snopes page — a place to check out things like the latest weird email your co-worker sends you about a new destructive virus that eats your hard drive and metastasizes into a blood-sucking robot that will consume you and your mates in short order.
It will come as no surprise that many of the viruses in Pakistan often have one origin: the all powerful, evil Joooos:
Then there were messages claiming that Israeli trucks were carrying a million HIV-infected melons to Arab consumers in a new biological-warfare plot. This was not to be confused with other urban legends about a “Western-Zionist conspiracy” to use polio vaccines and other medical means to sterilize the next generation of Muslims.
Having lived through the firm conviction of many otherwise reasonable African Americans that the US developed AIDS in order to commit black genocide, I have often pondered the notion that people who feel oppressed and fearful look outside themselves for the nearest enemy to blame — in the case of HIV in black Americans, the Man is at the bottom of this nefarious plot. Pointing the finger away from oneself to the villain in charge allows for a certain amount of emotional security. At least you “know” the cause of your troubles. Faced with the ambiguity of chance and of having to accept responsibility for our behavior, it’s much easier to find a bad guy.
Mattingly excerpts from a recent speech (“Fact vs. Rumor: Journalism in the 21st Century”) in Istanbul by Husain Haqqani of Boston University. Haqqani says:
“The contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories often limits the capacity for rational discussion of international affairs…”
He doesn’t add that it also leaves the average, illiterate Muslim susceptible to the propaganda of the various factions spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood for the last several generations, all of whom have Utopian fantasies of conquering the world once and for all.
But Haqqani also argues — not very convincingly — against this “fascination” as being at all inherent in Islam:
“The Muslim world’s willingness to believe rumors is not a function of the Islamic religion. Like other Abrahamic faiths, Islam emphasizes truth and righteousness. The Quran says: ‘O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and (always) say a word directed to the Truth.’ And one of the sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad … specifically forbids rumormongering: ‘It is enough to establish someone as a liar that he spreads what he hears without confirming its veracity.’“
Hmmm…another one of those cherry-picked quotes that fails to take into account the universal Islamic belief in taqiyya, a belief that arose very early, during the Sunni-Shi’ite split. Originally, Shi’ites — the oppressed group — developed the notion of taqiyya as a method of dealing with the superior Sunnis. Eventually, however, most of the splintered groups of believers in Allah found the concept useful when dealing with anyone outside the confines of their particular group. “Taqiyya” may be Arabic but the concept is as old as tribalism and I have no doubt you could find it being practiced under another less exotic name in some of the more remote hollers in the Appalachian Mountains here in the USA.
However, this behavior is quite limited in much of the rest of Western culture, which has long moved past tribalism, even past the nuclear family to some arrangement of serially monogamous relationships with others, however fleeting. Keeping secrets, lying to outsiders, universal dissembling - all have been replaced with another set of false premises based on building an image for public consumption. Where there is no belief in a permanent Truth, taqiyya is irrelevant.
Back in Pakistan, and much of the Middle East too, feasting on rumors and fear is an every day function, like eating or sleeping. Consumption of these rumors increases the fear and bigotry so commonplace in the “Arab Street.”
Mr. Mattingly says:
The result is a climate of confusion and cynicism that prepares millions of people to believe the next round of rumors, often with violent consequences in an age in which ancient prejudices and modern technology merge seamlessly.
I would disagree that these two opposites “merge seamlessly”. In fact, their collision helps to create and foster the “climate of confusion and cynicism” he observes.
Haqqani, quoted by Mattingly, looks at the results of surveys in organizations like World Public Opinion. Here much of the Middle East speaks positively about globalization, religious freedom, and democracy. At the same time, the majority of respondents also hold that Muslim nations should enforce Islamic theocracy in order to avoid contamination by the West.
So who will point out to them that they are already contaminated? Cell phones and cable TV and jihadi porn videos have changed them irrevocably. The only course left when faced with such overwhelmingly uncomfortable cognitive dissonance? Why, reach out and blame someone - and three guesses who the Evil Someone is:
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Large majorities affirmed the belief that the United States is trying to “weaken and divide” the Muslim world and slightly smaller majorities said America’s goal is to “spread Christianity in the region.”
The impact of the rumors can, perhaps, be seen in another paradox in these surveys, said Haqqani. Large majorities in Egypt, Indonesia and Morocco (results were mixed in Pakistan) agreed that violent groups that kill civilians are guilty of violating the “principles of Islam.” However, less than a quarter of those polled believed that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Many Muslims seem to believe that 9/11 was a great achievement, but that Osama didn’t do it. They are confused by all the rumors.”
Confused? That’s a polite way of saying “ignorant.” Haqqani pleads that:
Leaders in the West must understand that almost half of the world’s Muslim population is illiterate. Meanwhile, the 57 nations in the Organization of the Islamic Conference contain about 500 colleges and universities, compared with more than 5,000 in the United States and 8,000 in India. That is one university for every 3 million Muslims.
One college for every three million Muslims? And did that just happen? What about the billions of petrodollars the House of Saud has poured into treacherous propaganda madrassahs aimed at creating monsters bent on destroying the West? The Saudis could have spent those untold sums on real schools with real teachers and actual educational content. Who is to blame for the ignorance and poverty in the Middle East (and its murderous consequences), if not the Saudis? Follow the money and you’ll find the cause for the widespread illiteracy and ignorance. It resides palatially in the middle of the desert, a snake lying in wait for its next opportunity to spew more venom.
Haqqani claims that —
“What we are seeing is not just a crisis rooted only in religion or education. This is a culturewide crisis of politics and economics and technology and education, and it is easy to see the role of religion because of the powerful role that faith plays in the lives of millions of people.
“The greatest fear of most Muslims is that their societies will be overrun by the Western world… They believe that modernity equals Westernization; Westernization equals promiscuity and licentiousness; and all of that equals a loss of faith. We cannot change that overnight. It is a project of a century or more, in which millions of people must learn that the modern world is built on values, laws and tolerance, not just highways, airplanes and cell phones.”
He fails to say Islam has always attempted to take just the technology of the West while avoiding contamination by its ideas. He also fails to say it has never worked. And when is this “project of a century or more” going to begin? Haqqani fails to mention the already decades-old project of the Muslim Brotherhood to bring about the exact opposite. Not a world built on “tolerance” but a world founded on submission to the will of Allah.
As long as the corrupt House of Saud continues to churn out hate-filled Wahhabists and/or Salafists, there will be no peace, no tolerance, and no education in the Middle East. They need that Pakistani ignorance firmly in place, or how else are they to carry out their stated mission?
Mr. Haqqani, you are being willfully deceitful: this is not about “values”; this is about the triumph or the defeat of the Ummah. From your academic perch at Boston University, which eventuality do you hope for?