The danger of conspiracy theories

It has been 13 years since the 9/11 attacks. Since then, many paths have been set upon their tangents. The event also established one key fact: nobody knows what is going on. From the US administration and its intelligence bodies to those of the rest of the world, no one can be credited for pointing out the inevitable course of those hijacked planes. This leads to the second important key fact: leaders are phonies. They are mostly men in suits who are clueless about what lies in the future. Yet they behave like they have all the answers and compete with each other about who knows how to pretend they know more.
Pakistan’s course was altered because we had to make a deal and declare war on the elements that believed ideologically in the annihilation of everything western and, by their imagination, progressive. Whatever the reasons for this new course in Musharraf’s Pakistan — arm-twisting, greed or wisdom — Pakistan was saved from itself. It was cured from a growing malignancy in the form of extremism that was being bred as a weapon against those the Pakistan army perceived as enemies. The war on terror turned the guns towards those very festering militants they were breeding. Fact: even the Taliban and al Qaeda factions had no clue what was hitting them. Pakistanis, especially the diaspora, were saved too. Isolation is not particularly enjoyable.
The US is among the most plural and tolerant societies, even though it is agreed that the Swedes of the world put it to shame thanks to Fox News and all, but it still remains true to its promise of granting hard work a fair break and opportunity. Right after 9/11 though, the US dream carried a clause that blocked Muslims from its promise.
Having the unfortunate timing of graduating from a US university at the time, I felt the doors close on me and others like me. I also had turned silent; it was not my time to speak during a period of such national grieving. Their loss was something that I could feel but not internalise to the point that they could. I could only internalise my shame. The narrative had turned bitter: all Muslims were terrorists. A man refused to sit next to me because my country ended with ‘stan’. One was expected to condemn the attacks immediately after one said one’s name, people in authority were just harsher and those who were not were abrasive. Kind of like a usual day for an Ahmedi, Shia or Christian in Pakistan even without them ramming planes into buildings and military headquarters.
So it helped that we were a supposed ally in a war against those who would use such ghastly violence as a political tool. For a while. Then you realised that many in the US did not get that memo. They could not point out that Pakistan and Afghanistan were not interchangeable or where they were on a world map. US Pakistanis ran out of space. Momentarily. Pakistanis ran out of space entirely. This was not just unpredictable but also seemingly unsolvable. There was no quick way to restore the name of the country as one that used its soil to nurture physicists and artists and not terrorists with a golden ticket to world domination. There was only a long way to do that. That way was to actually nurture physicists and artists. More importantly, nurture people who have humanity. Those heroes like Salman Hamdani who went into the twin towers to save people.
Inductive reasoning explaining that 9/11s will not happen because no planes had ever been rammed into buildings in New York and the Pentagon before does not work. When people fall victim to their own fallacies in thinking they get so discombobulated that they turn to religion, superstition or, in Pakistan’s case, conspiracy theories to explain how things happen.
The danger of superstitions and conspiracy theories is that they take away our ability to understand futures. They act like black screens before our eyes. They focus on first identifying an enemy then blaming them and often the one against whom the aggression is committed is the focus of wrath. It is a form of victim blaming. We saw it with Malala Yousafzai, the young activist and educationist shot by the Taliban. As the reaction to Malala’s killer’s being caught comes in, we realise that the conspiracies hatched against her are just as alive. Fortunately for her, she has gone on to do more for education of the girl child than anyone has done to date. The Punjab and Kashmir floods were another inductive reasoning disaster: the Chenab had never flooded before. The theory: the people must have sinned.
9/11s, like all unforeseen calamities, will continue to happen. We have to realise that we will need to keep choosing the side we want to be on when it happens. Know also that there is a side that we can be before it happens; that side is reason.

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