Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

When Truth Hurts - Conspiracies Abound
The Benazir Bhutto assassination has joined the long list of news stories that have a legion of conspiracy theories attached to them. Some theories are plain silly, like the 9/11 conspiracy theory that the building was brought down by the Bush administration by a series of internal explosions. Some are more thought provoking like the truth about Area 51 and so on. Then there are others which have lingered for over decades like the Kennedy assassination and the Zia plane crash. Most of these incidents have plausible explanations but have some loop holes that can help an industry of conspiracy theories to flourish and even make money. Of the most famous of these theories is on the man landing on the moon. Many allege that NASA faked the entire incident and actually Neil Armstrong’s small step was very much on earth rather than on our nearest satellite. Then again, the conspiracy theories about age old myths and legends continue till this day. Was the Mona Lisa a man? Was Mary Magdalene actually the wife of Jesus who was abandoned by the patriarchal church that followed after Jesus? Does the Ram Sethu really exist or is it the figment of a fertile imagination? All these questions may never get reasonable answers or worse still theorists choose to overlook the explanations either because of a genuine sense of doubt and over questions over a governmental cover-up or worst still just to make petty cash in the process.

Some conspiracy theories which involve religion are especially troublesome. Many lives have been lost over the years over differing theories on the subject of religion. Be it the differences between the Shias and Sunnis in the Muslims, or the various theories put forth in Christianity over Jesus’ succession and the role of Mary Magdalene apart from the various offshoots that hold different beliefs over their religion. Then there are the various theories based on ethnicity and Semitism – the ever existent Zionist conspiracy that holds much currency on the Arab streets. Closer home there is a clear industry in the field of conspiracy theories on the role of the ISI in just about everything – right from terror strikes to food shortages and maybe even the entry of big retail to India!. A quick hop across the border reveals the other end of the spectrum. In Pakistan anything and everything that goes wrong has a Zionist-American theory attached to it. But the subcontinent pales in comparison to the United States not only in having a fertile imagination, but also in terms of the number of believers. Every major incident in the US has thrown up as many conspiracy theories. The Kennedy assassination, the Apollo missions, Area 51, Watergate, 9/11, the Obama candidacy, Gulf War 1 and 2 and the list goes on endlessly. Much of it has to do with a certain sense of paranoia that exists amongst many towards big brother. Big Brother has not done itself too many favors by selectively hiding and selectively leaking information that not only plants the seeds of nagging doubt but also discredit the official version of any event that may have happened. This is more so true in the post-9/11 world with the expansion of the internet to nearly every household in the West and the burgeoning media offering different aspects of a story from ‘reliable’ sources. Much of the conspiracy theories that exist today are a direct fallout of this intense sense of competition and opportunity that interplays between the media and the new media of the internet. Mush of it though, is just plain silly and holds mere entertainment value.

So why are we intrigued with the whole idea of conspiracy theories. Much of it has to do with the fact that often the truth is rather pale in comparison to a competing conspiracy theory. Did Hitler, the greatest villain of the twentieth century actually just shoot himself in the head? Sounds rather dull for a man who achieved so much notoriety. While a competing view that he escaped and lived somewhere in South America holds certain romanticism and adds to the legend. When Saddam was on the run, he was reportedly on a virtual world tour, with some opining that he may be actually be in US smoking cigars with the President, he was thought to be anywhere in world except a spider hole where he was eventually found. Osama too seems to be a frequent flier having potentially been in Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia and now has settled somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Romanticism aside, some incidents actually need more prodding to reveal the truth. Many times, governments choose to become more economical with the truth in order to save their own skin. And it is the credible work of theorists, independent investigators and journalists that ensures that truth sees the light of day. Pop culture too seems to play on that notion well. The award winning series X-Files harped on that very aspect by claiming that the ‘truth is out there’. And so, till the time spectacular incidents take place and till the time governments continue to cover their tracks, conspiracies will continue. And so shall we all revel in talking to each other about our own ‘explanation’ on how things happened. Truth can wait.


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