This article originally appeared on Dawn’s web edition.
The other day, my brother had an animated argument with a relative of ours who thinks that Tashfeen Malik was innocent, and that she had been “set up” and just happened to be in the “wrong place at the wrong time”.
My relative, who holds a Master’s degree and resides in the US, believes that Tashfeen was not even a religious person and did not wear the hijab, as “photoshopped” pictures in the media inform us.
Soon after this incident, I received a forwarded WhatsApp message that had a similar crux: There is a conspiracy afoot to target Muslims in the US.
Anyone familiar with the Muslim world would tell you that propagating conspiracy theories is a popular pastime of ours, especially if the intent is to incriminate the West in unfairly targeting Muslims.
Unfortunately, so profound is our delusion that our collective critical thinking skills tend to recede into oblivion when confronted with even the most ludicrous of urban legends.
I cannot comprehend how anyone seriously bought into the theory of all New York Jews being secretly asked to stay home on 9/11 so that their comrades could blow up the twin towers (yes, blow up – remember the planes were just part of an airshow).
Equally ridiculous was the tale that made a rather forgettable older uncle in my family infamous — and probably hurt deeply the sentiments of sci-fi writers. This gentleman went around saying that the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan was the outcome of an underground explosion by the US — and he wasn’t the only one who believes so.
We’re parroting each other
I wish I could just laugh at some of these poorly conceived ideas. But enjoyment turns to frustration when you keep running into sombre faces who parrot the talking points of the conspiratorial anti-West brigade.
I am especially troubled when I meet “educated” people who have no qualms about believing in remote-controlled earthquakes in Pakistan, and the diabolical capacity of an entire community to stay tight-lipped about an impending act of terrorism.
To be fair, the idea of Western intervention in our affairs is not crazy. At the root of our paranoia lies a collective consciousness that is still reeling from colonisation.
And we are no stranger to imperialism considering Western adventures, covert and otherwise, in numerous Muslim countries such as Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, not to mention drone warfare in Pakistan or the Shakil Afridi case.
But the problem is when we begin attributing Western imperialism to an anti-Muslim bias (which probably speaks to our own prejudices against non-Muslims), rather than understanding that states take such actions to further their own self-interests.
If we assert that America’s anti-Islam bias shows in their meddling in Iraq, Indonesia and Iran, then we are being ignorant of US’s adventurism in Argentina, Brazil and Chile among other non-Muslim countries.
This is not to discount the very real Islamophobia that obviously exists in the West, including in government circles. Donald Trump is the latest cheerleader of the movement but we have seen numerous politicians and ‘thinkers’ who have resorted to anti-Islamic demagoguery before.
But hatred of a religious group or indeed of an entire religion is not what generally inspires governments to invade other countries or overthrow their regimes. While personal prejudices of rulers and their electorates are not altogether irrelevant, it is the volition of a far more powerful juggernaut that dictates foreign policy decisions.
It’s just business
The 1953 coup in Iran against the nationalist democratic Mosaddegh regime was instigated by Britain and USA to wrestle back control of the nationalised oil industry that had previously been dominated by their multinationals. If this sounds suspiciously similar to America’s quest for “Muslim oil” in Iraq half a century later, consider the list of other notorious examples of disastrous interventions in non-Muslim countries.
America’s interventionism in Latin America has been particularly gruesome. For instance, from the 1950s through the 1970s, through direct and indirect help of the US government, democratically elected governments in Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia were ousted through military coups.
There were many parallels in the events that unfolded in each of these countries:
Each of them had a progressive, left-wing government that set to empower the working classes, nationalise resources and thereby limit the influence of foreign multinationals.
In each case, the US-backed military government reversed the policies of its predecessor to impose free market reforms, which included slashing of state-run social services and selling of public assets.
In each case, the majority suffered while economic prosperity was reserved for the elites and the multinationals.
In each case, the opposition from left-wing forces was brutally repressed.
Over 300,000 people were tortured or killed by the military governments across Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
In a similar vein, corporations ran amok in Iraq when America dismantled Saddam’s protectionist economy in favour of a free market. The infamous Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and numerous other corporate giants made fortunes by conducting business in Iraq.
In short, the intertwining geo-strategic interests of USA and the business interests of corporate America and its allies have no religious prejudices.
The destruction caused by the US overseas isn’t a reflection of hatred of a religious ideology, but of a religious devotion to a parasitic one — capitalism.
The logic of unrestrained capitalism — that requires constant growth, cheaper resources and ever-expanding profits — almost necessitates the exploitation of weaker people who are unable to protect their own wealth. In fact, over the past few decades, the predatory American elites have successfully lobbied for the liberalisation of their domestic economy, resulting in massive income inequality.
Frustratingly, our collective failure to understand the context of America’s actions makes us more susceptible to accepting false narratives.
Extremist groups are well-known for exploiting anti-American and anti-Western sentiments to recruit people for their vile cause. While many in Pakistan have expressed their shock at the recently unmasked ‘educated’ terrorists, it is not hard to fathom the jihadist appeal for people who have already been indoctrinated by conspiracy theories and come to see war as inevitable against an “Islamophobic” West.
In this failure of ours to comprehend the reason for ostensibly anti-Islam acts, we miss the point and waste our time on frivolous matters.
Personally, I am a little tired of spending my lunch hour hearing conversations about Malala’s secret allegiance to the US or how the Israeli/Indian/American nexus has been putting in extra hours to curb the growth rate in Muslim countries.
It is high time that we, as a society, strive to be more well-informed; pay a little more attention.
Leaping to conclusions on the basis of ill-sourced, viral social media content (or a good old-fashioned water cooler chat) is only counterproductive.