Excerpt from Heaven on Earth: Varieties of the Millennial Experience
This section in principle comes either at the end of a chapter on UFOlogy as a form of millennial thought, in which I discuss the close relationship between UFOlogy and conspiracy thinking, or in an epilogue, after the final chapter on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic millennial movement. The text is still raw — needs to be more coherent, and possibly more substantive — and the version below has been altered in ways that correspond with the style of my blog and the style of my academic writing (less of my “jargon” about demopaths, more careful about passing judgments). I welcome comments, links, reflections, criticism, etc.
9-11 and Post-Modern Western Conspiracy Thinking: We Are to Blame
9-11 Conspiracy constitutes the most powerful conspiracy theory in the brief history of the internet age. Within hours of the attacks, accusations that the Israeli Mossad had planned and executed the attacks while “4000 Jews stayed at home,” appeared, particularly in the Arab world, a textbook case of internet conspiracy mongering.
In the Muslim world these theories became the dominant public voice. There, traditional conspiracy operated: We are innocent, our enemies are guilty. In 2002 a Gallup poll found a majority of Muslims interviewed did not believe Bin Laden or any Muslim did 9-11. A 2006 Pew poll found this attitude widespread even among Muslims in the US — 28% — believe that Muslims did not do 9-11 (and 32% unsure, leaving only 40% of US Muslims polled agreeing that Bin Laden carried out 9-11.
Such claims, and their eager acceptance among fringe elements of Western conspiracy thinkers, especially those who already believed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, should not astonish observers. Like so many other such conspiracies, they combine “cui bono?” [who benefits?] – Israel, Fascists in the US government – with a semiotic arousal that moves from perceived anomaly — isn’t this strange! — to “obvious” conclusion — what else could explain this? — in the blink of an eye. Among the plethora of Muslim conspiracies that blossomed in the wake of 9-11, perhaps the most scholarly and consequential came from the “progressive” Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, The War on Freedom which came out within months of the event in February 2002 and blamed not Israel, but the US Government.
But the story was only beginning. Over the next months, a vast array of hypotheses, laid out in detail at a host of websites, accused George Bush and his administration either allowed the 9-11 attack to occur (Pearl Harbor version), or actively carried it out (Reichstag Fire version). The logic behind all of these theories focused on the perceived anomalies – the size of the hole in the Pentagon (too small), the collapse of the Twin Towers (too neat), of Building 7 (too far away), even the overall success of the plan (too great) – and rapidly moved to explaining them in terms of a government plot, primarily aimed at turning the US government into a police state. Cui bono? – the proto-fascists in the Bush administration.
Of course, no responsible claim of conspiracy at the highest levels of government can stop at anomalies in the available evidence. It must also explain the anomalies created by the conspiratorial version. In order for Thierry Meyssan’s “Pentagon Missile Attack Theory” to work, for example, not only would Bush and Co., in their first nine months in office, have had to order the military to attack the Pentagon with a missile, but also eliminate all trace of that extraordinary order, disappear a Boeing 757 aircraft, vanish all the passengers and crew aboard AA Flight 77, and carry out an extensive cover-up at the site of the alleged crash at the Pentagon. To so proceed would have involved the flawless cooperation of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Americans of all walks of life. In order, then, to believe a 9-11 conspiracy theory – certainly any “Reichstag version” like Meyssan’s – one needs to believe not just that the Bush administration is evil, but that the US is already a fascist society where everyone takes orders without question, where such a huge and complicated affair can go off without a hitch.
These formidable intellectual and emotional obstacles to articulating an aggressive conspiracy theory, may explain why the first major Western bestsellers claiming 9-11 theories came, not among Americans, but in Europe, first in France (2002), then in Germany (2003). Meyssan’s Terrible Imposture about the Pentagon came out March 8, 2002, a half year after the events, and a half year before the story even reached the internet media in the United States. And even then, it penetrated the MSM via Canadian MSM. Perhaps unfamiliar with American non-conformity, perhaps projecting expectations of their own society’s “obedient” civil servants, perhaps indulging resentment of American “hegemony,” Europeans showed remarkable receptiveness to conspiracies that called for ludicrous levels of administrative prowess and public complicity among Americans. Conversations with Europeans often took on the form of a dance around the issue, but once an interlocutor knew that you, as an American, would entertain a conspiracy theory, the avalanche of suspicious anomalies poured forth.
In the United States, self-protectiveness alone made any such reflections difficult to voice in the Mainstream media. Gore Vidal, the first major American figure to publish a conspiracy theory did it in an English Newspaper, using the work of a Muslim “human-rights” advocate. Conspiracy theories multiplied and spread by word of mouth and by internet, which offered the Petri dish conditions in which sites could display an increasingly detailed case, available for perusal by people the world over at any time.
The spread of 9-11 conspiracy theory deserves its own extensive treatment. Suffice to say that in the United States, it has moved from the margins well in towards the center, convincing many (some polls put the figure at a third of the population), and making the discussion legitimate for many more.
On July 8, 2007, the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, made the following statement about 9-11 to a Public Forum organized by “Atheists for Human Rights”:
It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that… After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I’m not saying it [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box — dismiss you…
The audience applauded him at several points in his talk, while some Mainstream media and blogs proved hostile. The incident chronicles one of the stages of the conspiracy theory’s passage into the public sphere. He made the remark in answer to a question, orally, not “for the record,” and he rapidly backtracked once it “got out.” The “Atheists for Human Rights,” however, whom one might expect to show more signs of skepticism and “reasoning” ability, seem largely supportive of Ellison’s remarks.
Many Americans still prefer not to even discuss this matter: the owl’s first line of defense is to ignore the roosters. The necessary disproofs, including a new, peer-reviewed Journal of Debunking 911 Conspiracy Theories (2006-) — are available online for all to consult; what more need be said? That, as in so many cases of conspiracism, reasoning takes a back seat to desire? That people can visit a site with good evidence for a plane crash, and still believe the conspiracy. That the consequences of not thinking clearly about this may be very serious?
In fact the importance of intelligently assessing 9-11 conspiracy theories becomes clear when one considers the stakes involved. The authors of 9-11 declared violent hostility to the American people. If Osama bin Laden planned and executed 9-11 as he claims, then global Jihad represents the enemy; if 9-11 was largely or wholly the work of the Administration, then our own government is the enemy.
And here we come to the anomalous mutation that 21st century conditions – including cyberspace’s Petri Dish – have wrought in conspiracy theory. Most conspiracy theories view “them” as evil and “us” as innocent. But in the case of 9-11, we find a “post-modern” variant: the Reichstag version has Americans/Westerners believing “we” are guilty, and “they” are innocent. Bush, not Bin Laden, did 9-11. Gore Vidal, introduced a Muslim 9-11 conspiracy theory (we Muslims are innocent, you Americans are guilty), with the following explanation:
On the subject “How and Why America was Attacked on 11 September, 2001,” the best, most balanced report, thus far, is by Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed . . . Yes, yes, I know he is one of Them. But they often know things that we don’t — particularly about what we are up to. A political scientist, Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development “a think-tank dedicated to the promotion of human rights, justice and peace” in Brighton.
It would be hard to find a better example of the Moebius Strip of dupe and demopath: they demonize us, we agree. One article quoted Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR on American Muslim attitudes towards 9-11:
As for the fact that a majority of respondents either don’t think Arabs were behind 9/11 or say they don’t know, Hooper called it “just a bit of wishful thinking. They would hope no Muslim is capable of that.” He added that “a growing number of Americans [are] buying into conspiracy theories” about 9/11.
Why should Muslims become self-critical, when the rest of Americans will do the job. Masochistic Omnipotence Complex joins up with Demonizing Scapegoating, and you get The Suicide of the West.
For the problem is not merely academic. Radically different policy options and directions for politicians, strategists and activists flow from conclusions about responsibility for 9-11. And if they are wrong, these conspiracy theories militate for policies that can only encourage our foe.