THINKING ALOUD: Conspiracy theories strike again —Razi Azmi - Thursday, May 05, 2011

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Some conspiracy theories owe their origin to human naiveté and refusal to accept an unpalatable truth, others are the product of clever minds who wish to confuse and obfuscate others with ulterior motives

Nothing is eternal or immortal, not even the universe. Everything can be destroyed, including the famed Twin Towers. Anyone can be tracked and killed, even Osama bin Laden. Theories come and go, with the exception of conspiracy theories. The latter have a life of their own, defying the normal rules and laws of survival and longevity.

One thought that the killing of Osama would also kill a few conspiracy theories. But it seems new conspiracy theories are being churned up while the old ones linger.

Not surprisingly, an editorial in a Pakistani English daily declares that Osama’s hideout in Abbottabad did “not suit a person with a head money as high as $50 million”. Other details provided by the Americans “would set tongues wagging, confirm the suspicion of mystery around the place and prompt serious investigation. Then the released picture of dead Osama does not show the age he must be in at this time!” By the way, the so-called “released picture of dead Obama” is fake.

Robert Fisk writes in The Independent (UK): “By midday yesterday, I had three phone calls from Arabs, all certain that it was Bin Laden’s double who was killed by the Americans — just as I know many Iraqis who still believe that Saddam’s sons were not killed in 2003, nor Saddam really hanged.”

A substantial number of people will, however, believe the American account of Osama’s demise, and also begin to question the many extant conspiracy theories regarding 9/11, al Qaeda and Osama.

As memory fades, it is apt to recapitulate some of those theories. The most radical of them questioned whether Osama bin Laden even existed, suggesting that he was a bogyman invented by the US to serve its goal of destroying Muslim countries. Another supposed that he has long been in American custody, but has now been killed to help Obama win his re-election. Yet another wondered, in somewhat subdued tones, whether or not Osama was actually an American agent who was providing them with the excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

A peculiarly Pakistani version of the conspiracy theories believes that the whole thing about Osama and al Qaeda is an American charade designed to incapacitate, seize or destroy Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Not a few believed that 9/11 had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda. Arguing on the basis that since 9/11 benefited the US and Israel while hurting Arabs and Muslims, many nurtured the belief that either the US or Israel or some unknown ‘dark hands’ had planned the whole thing. Some even doubted that the 19 Arab Muslim hijackers named by the US were actually involved in the hijacking.

A Frenchman sold millions of copies of his book claiming that the wreckage at the Pentagon pointed to a missile attack, not a plane hitting the building. Others produced ‘evidence’ showing that the twin towers were brought down through controlled demolition!

In fairness to Muslims, it has to be said that many non-Muslims, including a substantial number of Christian Americans, subscribe to some of the above conspiracy theories.

In circumstances such as those surrounding this military operation, facts emerge in bits and pieces and tend to get bloated and distorted with exaggerations and bravado. Too many officials try to grab the limelight by talking too much with too little information, while those most directly involved are bound by professional secrecy to say nothing.

Let us look at some of the anomalies that resulted from the media circus. To begin with, Abbottabad has been variously reported to be anywhere from 30 kilometres to a whopping 200 kilometres from Islamabad. The house in which Osama was living was situated 200 metres or 800 metres from the Pakistan Military Academy.

How many people lived in the house, how many were killed and how many captured is a mystery. And what was their relationship to Osama? The ‘million-dollar house’ was not that expensive after all.

There were two, three or four US helicopters in the raid, with two dozen, 69 or 72 commandoes. Did the helicopters fly from Bagram or Jalalabad in Afghanistan or from Tarbela Ghazi in Pakistan?

The attack was launched with Pakistani cooperation, but then it was launched in complete secrecy from the Pakistanis. But, wait a minute, Pakistani forces began to scramble their planes before the operation was over!

The inmates of the house kept to themselves and were rarely seen. But one neighbour claimed visiting the house many times and talking to two “very nice and normal people”. Another female neighbour who made a courtesy call on the house met an Arab woman who spoke only Arabic. They moved around in a white Suzuki and a red jeep. No, they travelled in armoured cars!

The house had no internet or phone connection, but the raiding party seized many hard discs. If Osama was unarmed, how did he resist arrest? The ‘coward’ used a woman as a shield! No, sorry folks, he did not.

Obama and his team were watching the unfolding raid in ‘real time’ and visually on screens. No, I take that back, it was a somewhat delayed transmission, not in real time, after all, and not visual either — but rather like updates from the CIA director sitting in the command centre!

Sceptics (not to mention conspiracy theorists) wonder why the US has not produced pictures of the dead Osama, as if a photo or two would convince them. While many people believe that Osama bin Laden was killed long ago by the Americans, his hardcore admirers are convinced that their hero continues to elude American attempts to capture and kill him.

Some conspiracy theories owe their origin to human naiveté and refusal to accept an unpalatable truth, others are the product of clever minds who wish to confuse and obfuscate others with ulterior motives.

American credibility is so low after the Iraq ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fiasco that people tend to disbelieve everything that emanates from Washington. Truth is that the freest country in the world cannot keep secrets and it cannot efficiently handle information either. Lie it does, but Washington is not a compulsive lier like many other capitals, which is why it does not have and does not need a ministry of information.

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