It should be emphasized, that in the age of social media and hyperconnectedness -- always VERIFY what you read from multiple sources. Furthermore, peddling well spun fiction (without any verification from reality) as opposed to studying the reality itself -- is one of the principle causes of decline of the Muslim world today.
It is our hope here at iSiyasah that any revival of the Muslim mind would first begin by engaging with reality, studying/observing it carefully, and then going through the rigorous process of finding evidence to justify political views and thinking-- rather than in believing the lazy fantasies of conspiracy theories.
Our Muslim Credibility Problem: It's A Conspiracy
By: Amir Butler
Matthew: It's a conspiracy.
Jack Bellicec: What's a conspiracy?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978
Muslims have a credibility problem. In the modern era, we have a tendency to believe and repeat wild theories, with our only criteria for accepting those theories being that they lend support to pre-existing attitudes. It takes an extremely sympathetic person to overlook such a deficiency, and sympathy for Muslims in a post 9/11 West is in short supply.
This is a deficiency that the clash-of-civilizations crowd has astutely begun to capitalize on. Pro-Israel groups like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) play a perpetual game of "gotcha," scouring the Arab press for the most egregious conspiracy-peddling, then forwarding it to a network of like-minded opinion writers as grist for the Islamophobia mill. MEMRI's job isn't difficult.
It seems so elementary: Don't repeat everything you hear as fact if you don't have evidence for it. Test theories with investigation, and modify theories in light of results. That's the scientific method that we all learned in sixth grade.
The lack of a grip on this basic principle is yet another proof of the extent of the Muslims' drift from their Islamic roots. The man who introduced the scientific method to the world was Abu Rayhan ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, an 8th century scholar who, by the age of 17, had calculated his hometown's latitude from the sun's altitude. "His bent was strongly towards the study of observable phenomena, in nature and in man," writes a Western admirer.
Observable phenomena seem quite irrelevant in the Muslim world's public discourse today.
When Princess Diana died in September 1997, a number of Arab columnists warned that she was murdered by British intelligence because she was going to marry an Arab Muslim. Other Muslims opined that she had in fact already converted to Islam and that she had died as a shaheed (martyr). Such ideas gained currency in Muslim communities in the West and East, with the basis for such claims being nothing more solid than the journalistic equivalent of reading tea leaves.
When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, some Arab commentators claimed it was all an elaborate "Jewish plot" to cause Clinton to be impeached and removed from office, in order to prevent him from eventually recognizing a Palestinian state.
The Egypt Air 990 crash in November 1999, was painted by some other columnists as having been the result of Mossad sabotage who, by destroying the plane along with its 271 passengers, hoped to destroy the Egyptian tourist industry.
Likewise, it was not long after September 11, before Arab columnists were pointing the fingers at the Jews. One such commentator, writing in Jordan's ad-Dustour, pointed the finger at the "great Jewish Zionist mastermind that controls the world's economy, media and politics."
Other columnists blamed Bush, claiming he ordered the attacks to solidify his grip on America and unify the country after the Florida vote-counting controversy. Yet others blamed the Japanese who had supposedly carried out September 11 as revenge for the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Some claimed that the Pentagon attacks never really happened. One journalist suggested that the World Trade Center was really blown up by a series of kerosene bombs deployed strategically around the building. Yet more suggested the planes may have been taken control over by NORAD and directed into the twin towers. And so on.
One of the most widely heard tales in the Muslim world is that 4,000 Jews, forewarned of the impending attacks, decided to all stay home on the morning of September 11. The tale began circulating shortly after the attacks, in the form of a report attributed to Hezbollah's al-Manar TV and quoting unnamed "Arab diplomatic sources." Thanks to the Internet, the report quickly circulated throughout the world, and continues to this day to form the underpinning for many Muslim's belief that Jews were responsible for the attacks on September 11 (see refutation of this here)
Of course, all of these theories, while of varying degrees of plausibility, are logically possible; sometimes, they have a grain of truth. Repeating theories without evidence is a sign of intellectual weakness, but it's equally absurd to assert that any claim of behind-the-scenes influence is paranoid bigotry, or that conspiracies as a rule do not exist. Pro-Israel groups mock Muslims for asserting that Jewish influence dominates US foreign policy, while AIPAC brags in its literature that it is the most influential lobby group affecting our nation's Middle East policy.
Nor can one deny that the Reagan administration traded arms for hostages. The FBI tried to break up Martin Luther King's marriage to derail his civil rights campaign. The US defense establishment developed a plan in the 1960s to kill innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities to create public support for a war against Cuba. But the people who exposed these conspiracies went beyond intuition; they dug up the hard evidence to back it up.
No, the problem is not necessarily the theories themselves, but the thought process that generates them or accepts them as true. If they were formed on the basis of evidence and rational analysis, then there would be no problem, however the methodology employed to reach such conclusions is often anything but rational. We are like the Hindus of the 8th century, of whom Al-Biruni wrote:
"I can only compare their astronomical and mathematical literature ... to a mixture of pearl shells and sour dates, or of costly crystals and common pebbles. Both kinds of things are equal in their eyes, since they cannot rise themselves to the methods of strictly scientific deduction."
When faced with an incident of massive scale like the Bali bombing or the September 11 attacks, many of us search for groups or individuals that we can charge with having acted secretly or deceptively. That's because the alternative explanation, that Muslims were capable of doing it, is too uncomfortable to accept. For many Muslims, the starting assumption is invariably the Jews. For Muslims of an earlier era, it was the Freemasons. So within hours of the Bali bombings, some Muslims were declaring quite confidently that it was the Jews behind it, or that America attacked Australia in order to solidify Australia's support for the war. Such an approach is fundamentally flawed, because it leads to conclusions being made in isolation of evidence and proper analysis of that evidence.
The conspirators are almost always seen as being monolithic, unified in purpose, unshaken in their determination to fulfill their nefarious objectives and almost omnipresent. For example, recall the Jordanian journalist who warned against the "great Jewish Zionist mastermind that controls the world's economy, media and politics". The conspiracy theorist oversimplifies and personalizes every event, ignoring the complexities of the situation. Do Jews control the media, or do they influence it? There is a subtle difference. The conspiracy theorist will affirm the former, whereas the latter is demonstrably true. Jews, like other social and political forces, exert pressure on the media through advertising expenditure, participation in the media industry, and so forth.
Anything that occurs which seems in any way related to the aims of the conspirators is attributed to them. For instance, Bali, quite unrelated to Middle Eastern politics on the face of it, was linked to Israel because it was argued that Israel benefited from the attack because it discredited Muslims and therefore strengthened Israeli arguments at the Palestinians.
Evidence or arguments that are actually contrary to the conspiracy theorists position get contorted to actually support the conspiracy. For example, one points out that the 4,000 Jews story is not credible because no reputable media source outside of the Hezbollah substantiated it. The conspiracy theorist may reply that the failure of the media to report the story confirms that it was indeed true. Jews, he will opine, own the media and so naturally they would cover up for their own.
As such, it is almost impossible to reason with a person who has adopted these thought processes. As Donna Kossy writing in Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief noted:
Conspiracy theories are like black holes--they suck in everything that comes their way, regardless of content or origin...Everything you've ever known or experienced, no matter how 'meaningless', once it contacts the conspiratorial universe, is enveloped by and cloaked in sinister significance. Once inside, the vortex gains in size and strength, sucking in everything you touch.
However, such approaches do severe damage to the cause of Islam and the Muslims.
Firstly, the propagation, however earnest, of such ideas has led to Muslims now facing a crisis of credibility. The association of Muslims with extremist groups and discredited material like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The International Jew provides our enemies with easy fodder to attack us.
Secondly, the adoption of these theories leads us to enter into alliances, whether overt or tacit, with organizations and individuals that we should be opposed to. For example, in the aftermath of September 11, the Arab News was running articles by American neo-nazi, David Duke, and other Muslims were signing petitions for the right-wing Lyndon Larouche cult.
Thirdly, when we promote such baseless theories, we should know that such ideas are competing with reality for the attention and energies of the people. In many cases, the conspiracy will win over reality because conspiracies are often a lot more attractive to our desires than the truth. It leads to wasted time, wasted resources, and a loss of focus for Muslims.
Fourthly, as Muslims we follow a religion whose Creator ordered us to rationalize our faith by observing the world around us and witnessing the miracle of God's creation. Ours is not a religion where reason and reality are pummeled into submission by blind faith. It therefore goes against everything we believe for our intellect to acquiesce to conspiracy theorizing and urban myths.
Lastly, and most importantly, conspiracy theories have led Muslims to ignore the most fundamental cause of our problems, whilst focusing on the machinations of the Freemasons or the Zionists. Subscribing to many of the contemporary conspiracy theories can breed feelings of helplessness and despondency. We sit, drinking coffee, lamenting, in hushed tones, our powerlessness against a Masonic conspiracy hatched by the Knights Templar in Medieval Europe; a plan now being executed through backmasked Michael Jackson songs and Madonna videos. In doing so, we are distracting ourselves from our own failings as Muslims which have more genuinely contributed to our condition.