On May 25, 2010, the New York Times carried a story by Sabrina Tavernise on Pakistan, “U.S. Is a Top Villain in Pakistan’s Conspiracy Talk.”
The entire piece describes how Pakistan and Pakistanis, over many decades the recipients of tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid from the United States, are consumed with conspiracy theories. These theories squarely place the blame for all of the country’s woes, real and imagined, on others – on India, the ancient enemy (but India does not make war on Pakistan; it is, rather, Pakistan that makes unceasing war, through terrorist groups and propaganda among Muslims in India, on India), and tiny distant Israel or, rather, those all-powerful “Zionist groups” (not all-powerful enough, apparently, to control any votes at the U.N., though that is said to be just one of the places those “Zionists” control), and, more and more, the most hated and feared of all, pari passu with the aid it gives, the United States.
And the United States is a country that since 2001 has plowed tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid (much of it hidden in the larger Pentagon budget) into Pakistan. The United States has done this despite the decades of Pakistani treachery, in flouting all the rules that as an aid recipient it had solemnly agreed to observe and then constantly ignored, a situation that finally led to the Pressler Amendment in the Senate.
That Amendment was designed to force the Executive branch of the American government to stop ignoring Pakistani actions and breaching of agreements. The Pressler Amendment, however, did little to keep successive American Presidents from indulging Pakistan, little to keep American generals from trusting those pukka-sahib Pakistani generals. It did nothing whatever to prevent the use of American aid to finance Pakistan’s entire nuclear bomb project, from the first thefts of nuclear secrets from Western labs by A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist, to the production of bombs – the “Islamic Bomb” is what the Pakistanis proudly called it – and then the attempt to sell nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and perhaps others.
Yes, the Great Satan for Sunni-dominated Pakistan, as for Shi’a Iran, is the United States. Yet that country has also permitted hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis of no proven economic or other value to settle, and even now has, for nearly a decade, plowed more money into Pakistan. It has done so even as that country behaves with a meretriciousness that even the most trusting and foolish American policy-makers now understand, amd not only in its mere pretense of dealing adequately with the Taliban. Pakistan is finally taking a harder stance only because now the Pakistani Taliban has shown itself, in Swat, to threaten the interests of rich Pakistani landowners, and hence of Pakistan’s ruling class.
Notice how the Americans have become the arch-villains, though other villains – India and Israel – sometimes replace America as moving members of the Infidel Conspiracy. It does not matter that Israel is halfway around the world, and has its hands full merely trying to stay alive. It is an enemy of Islam because the Arabs say it is, and they say it is because it exists on land once possessed by Muslims. Thus, on the To-Do List of the world’s Muslims, it is territory that ideally should be recovered before going on to conquer the rest of the world, that is, the lands where heretofore Islam never held sway.
India is next door, but India has never made war on Pakistan, except when goaded beyond endurance. It is Pakistan that defines itself entirely as a state based on religion. India does not. It is Pakistan where non-Muslims have seen their percentage of the population go down to one-tenth what it was at the time of the Partition, while in India the percentage of Muslims has gone up since Partition. It is Pakistan that wages war, sometimes through proxies, in Kashmir and in India extra-Kashmir, and Pakistan that is consumed with the idea of “recovering” first Kashmir and then, after that, the territories that once were ruled by Muslim Mughals – that is, most of India.
But right now it is the Americans who conspire and conspire, even as they keep shoveling money into the Pakistani maw.
And who in America is doing the conspiring against Pakistan? Who was it who actually was the master puppeteer who manipulated Faisal Shahzad, the son of a high Pakistani military man? Shahzad was allowed to settle in the United States, allowed even to acquire American citizenship. The same Faisal Shahzad, disappointed in his lack of success in America, ruminated and brooded, brooded and ruminated, and returned with fresh fanaticism to that old-time religion, which in his case meant Islam. And in that case it meant, as a Simple Solution to the Universe, that he simply had to kill some Infidels to justify his existence in the pitiful failure and mental disarray of his sublunary existence among infidels.
So who was behind Faisal Shahzad? Certainly not any of the many Pakistani terror groups that have said they wish to kill Americans. That would be too obvious. That would be to take those millions upon millions of Pakistanis seriously, to think that Lashker-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani succursale of Al Qaeda, and a dozen other groups that neither you nor I can keep straight, actually meant what they said. (And why should we have to keep them straight, after all, since they all desire, less and mostly more, the same thing?) The Pakistani generals who wrote about Jihad meant what they said. What has been said and written and done in Pakistan to Christians and Hindus inside the country, and what Pakistanis abroad have said about the Infidel nation-states within which they have been allowed to settle, actually mattered.
Some — even many — Muslims in Pakistan know perfectly well that all this is merely the acting out of what Islam inculcates. Not everyone in Pakistan chooses to act on the teachings of Islam. Some prefer to consider first their own self-interest. If you are in the West, and thriving, you may be less likely to wish to endanger your own little position, even if it means that, for now, you will not engage in the kind of acts that, as a good Muslim, you will at other times realize it is your duty to engage in. Or you may think that you can better further the goals of Jihad not by participating directly in violent Jihad, that is, acts of terrorism, but by supporting financially, and through moral support (“moral” support!), those who do so participate. Or you may wish to engage in other forms of Jihad that you deem more effective in the long run, and that includes all the smiles and wiles and distractions and confusions with which you hope to permanently confuse and thus to paralyze the Infidels.
Yes, as Sabrina Tavernise reports, in Pakistan today it is all the rage to lay the blame for Fahsal Shahzad not on what he learned in madrasa and mosque — no one wishes to discuss that for, really, how can they do so truthfully? — but rather on those shadowy American Think Tanks. Never mind that Brookings and Heritage and a dozen others exist precisely in order to publicize, and hence be conduits for the eager grasping grant-getting members of those Think Tanks, who are always trying to be quoted by the media because this is a way to demonstrate their influence, their supposed importance, their value for money, and thus to keep those all-important grants, and that easygoing well-paid existence, continuing without interruption. Far from being shadowy, American Think Tanks live in the light, and keep seeking, though not in the Goethean deathbed sense, more and more of that light or rather spotlight.
Here is how Tavernise reports it:
Americans may think that the failed Times Square bomb was planted by a man named Faisal Shahzad. But the view in the Supreme Court Bar Association here in Pakistan’s capital is that the culprit was an American “think tank.”
No one seems to know its name, but everyone has an opinion about it. It is powerful and shadowy, and seems to control just about everything in the American government, including President Obama.
“They have planted this character Faisal Shahzad to implement their script,” said Hashmat Ali Habib, a lawyer and a member of the bar association.
Who are they?
“You must know, you are from America,” he said smiling. “My advice for the American nation is, get free of these think tanks.”
Yes, we must “free ourselves of those think tanks” that “planted this character Faisal Shahzad.” Who is saying this? Not some illiterate, but a leading lawyer, one Hashmat Ali Habib, a smooth anglophone who is perfectly capable of reading the American press, watching American television.
And yet this is what he, and tens of millions of others in Pakistan, so devoutly believe.
Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan’s collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here.
“When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore.
The problem is more than a peculiar domestic phenomenon for Pakistan. It has grown into a narrative of national victimhood that is a nearly impenetrable barrier to any candid discussion of the problems here. In turn, it is one of the principal obstacles for the United States in its effort to build a stronger alliance with a country to which it gives more than a billion dollars a year in aid.
Tavernise notes that there are a very few who recognize, imperfectly, even dimly, that the constant blaming of others has become an epidemic, and that it prevents any clear-minded analysis of what is wrong with Pakistan:
Lawyers in Pakistan have a strong streak of political Islam. Mr. Habib, who has had militants as clients, argues that Al Qaeda is an American invention. Their pronouncements are infused with anti-Semitism, standard for Islamic groups in the region.
“The lobbies are the Jews, maybe some Indians, working in the inner core of the American administration,” said Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, vice president of the bar association.
And along with the examples Tavernise offers of anglophone lawyers, that is, she offers more from those at the top of the social and political heap — along with the zamindars and generals — who are fomenters and encouragers of this nonsense and these lies, but also leading figures in the Pakistani media.
There is, for example, Zaid Hamid, a major figure in the Pakistani media who only now has had his wings clipped by the real rulers — the generals and zamindars — whose own wealth and power they now see as being threatened by the Taliban, as lately in the temporary takeover in Swat. Here is Hamid:
One of those pundits is Zaid Hamid, a fast-talking, right-wing television personality who rose to fame on one of Pakistan’s 90 new private television channels.
He uses Google searches to support his theory that India, Israel and the United States — through their intelligence agencies and the company formerly known as Blackwater — are conspiring to destroy Pakistan.
For Mr. Hamid, the case of Mr. Shahzad is one piece of a larger puzzle being assembled to pressure Pakistan. Why, otherwise, the strange inconsistencies, like the bomb’s not exploding? “If you connect the dots, you have a pretty exciting story,” he said.
And what do the Pakistani “liberals,” the ones who deplore these conspiracy theories, have to say?
One unnamed but high-ranking Pakistani diplomat “who asked not to be named because of the delicate nature of the topic” admits that “people want simple explanations, like evil America, Zionist-Hindu alliance….It’s gone really deep into the national psyche now.”
And other “liberals on Pakistan’s beleaguered left see the xenophobic patriotism and conspiracy theories as a defense mechanism that deflects all responsibility for society’s problems and protects against a reality that is too painful to face.”
“It’s deny, deny, deny,” said Nadeem F. Paracha, a columnist for Dawn, an English-language daily. “It’s become second nature, like an instinct.”
Mr. Paracha argues that the denial is dangerous because it hobbles any form of public conversation — for example, about Mr. Shahzad’s upper-class background — leaving society unequipped to find remedies for its problems. “We’ve started to believe our own lies,” he said.
And then there is Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist who deplores the collapse of whatever once existed in Pakistan of what was inherited from the period of British rule, that is, some semblance of sane intellectual life, of the possibility of a least a few (such as Pervez Hoodbhoy himself, who is now a very lonely man) ignoring the madness of conspiracy theories, and not only conspiracy theories, in Pakistan’s public life.
But notice what is not said by that “unnamed Pakistani diplomat” nor by Nadeem Paracha, nor by Pervez Hoodbhoy.
Not one of them dares to connect this crazed conspiracy-theorizing with Islam itself. But it is Islam itself that explains, in large or perhaps complete part, such conspiracy theories. For Muslims cannot allow themselves to see that a society, a state, a civilization, that is suffused with Islam and only Islam, that attacks and keeps out, or offers only hysterical opposition to, anything that smacks of or comes from or can be claimed to come from the world of non-Islam, that is, of Infidels, is a society that is smothering in its own ways, and cannot intellectually breathe.
And when the ideology of Islam, that is not merely a faith, a “religion” as we in the West interpret or understand that word, but rather a Total Belief-System, that is, something that provides a Complete Regulation of Life down to the tiniest detail of What Is Commanded and What Is Prohibited, and at the same time (at no extra charge) provides a Complete Explanation of the Universe, and furthermore requires of Believers that they acquire and maintain the habit of mental submission so that they never ever allow themselves to question any of the Received and Immutable Truths of Islam, as set out in Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, and become used to such a mental attitude, one of total and unquestioning respect for whatever Islam is said to dictate even if those dictates make little or no moral or other kinds of sense, then naturally you will raise up people who are ripe for Conspiracy Theories.
Muslims in Pakistan have a mental grid prepared, or perhaps more accurately a prism, through which they view the universe, and apprehend it in ways that ensure that no matter what happens, the Infidel will be there to be blamed. That Infidel may variously be called America, or Israel, or India, or any number of other names. It doesn’t matter as long as it is, indeed, an Infidel or Infidels who are to be blamed.
And even those — Paracha and Hoodbhoy and that diplomat — who see the problem do not dare to admit to themselves that the real problem is Islam. For Islam’s canonical texts are immutable, and the Gates of Ijtihad slammed shut more than a thousand years ago. There is nothing they can do about it, and they must, some of them, obscurely realize that the mental formation that Muslims naturally acquire makes them incapable of recognizing that there is something terribly wrong with Islam itself. So they must blame the Infidels.
Sabrina Tavernise is a mere reporter, not an analyst. But even as a mere reporter she has a duty to attempt to make sense of what she reports, and she did not ask anyone outside of Pakistan as to the reasons why these conspiracy theories are so rampant. Nor did she go into another matter, which is why one observes such conspiracy theories among other Muslim peoples, and especially among the Arabs who are, with the Pakistanis, those Muslims who take Islam most to heart, with no other softening or nuancing that comes from local history or custom. Many of those who identify themselves as ethnic Arabs, as possessors of ‘Uruba or Arabness, naturally support or promote Islam even when they are not Muslims. Even many Christian Arabs (not the Copts or the Maronites, who know that though they use Arabic they, as peoples, pre-date the arrival of both Islam and the Arabs, in their lands) may so identify with Islam as to become what I have termed “islamochristians.”
And the Pakistanis identify themselves as Muslims living in a country set up for one purpose only: to keep those who are Muslims, the “Pure” in the “Land of the Pure,” safe from Hindi and other non-Muslim influence, power, and presumed aggression. Pakistan has no reason for being other than Islam.
The Arab countries are riven with conspiracy theories too. Remember when, during the Six-Day War, Nasser could not face the fact of his defeat, and so he, and the Syrians and Jordanians too, concocted tales of British and American pilots, flying their own planes, who had supposedly attacked the Egyptian Air Force? It would not have been possible to admit to the humiliation of a defeat so total at the hands of the despised Jews; nor would it do to accept the fact that the Egyptians had been defeated fair and square. There had to be a conspiracy. In Iraq today, despite the two trillion dollars spent by the Americans to rescue Iraqis from Saddam Hussein and to try — vainly — to ignore or overlook Islam and to create something much better — any failures in Iraq are blamed now, ultimately, and quite naturally, on “the Americans. ” The Sunni Arabs blame the Americans for not supporting Allawi. The Shi’a Arabs blame the Americans for not allowing the majority Shi’a, who outnumber the Sunni Arabs 3 to 1, to retain power through some kind of alliance between Maliki and other Shi’a. The Arabs blame the Americans for giving the Kurds ideas about autonomy, or even independence. No matter what happens, America will be blamed.
Nor is it only the Muslim Arabs and Muslim Pakistanis who engage in these conspiracy theories. In Afghanistan, whenever he feels threatened Karzai rants against the Americans, though it is he and his family who are sickeningly corrupt, and he who is incompetent, he who is most responsible for the utter mess in Afghanistan. Yet he can invoke American perfidy because he knows such charges will immediately find a response, as do all the conspiracy theories all over the Muslim world, when Infidels are blamed for every conceivable ill. For decades, in Iran, the left did not merely attack the Shah, but attacked the Shah as a puppet of perfidious Albion. No one could think straight because even the most secular of the Shah’s opponents kept insisting that all the country’s ills stemmed from the Anglo-Ameican coup against weepy Mossadegh in 1953. A quarter-century after Mossadegh’s departure, they were still harping on that event, blaming the Infidels (though they did not use that particular lexicon — underneath the veneer provided by socialism or Marxism, one could find the imagery, the concepts, of Islam).
Islam discourages, and even punishes, free and skeptical inquiry because, in the first place, such free and skeptical inquiry is a threat to the mental stranglehold of Islam on the minds of its keenest followers, those keen enough to begin to question the Received Version of Islam. In the mental and physical freedom, and freedom from fear, in the West, the most outstanding and brilliant and morally advanced of those who were born into and raised within Islam naturally have chosen to jettison Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, Magdi Allam, Nonie Darwish — these are some of their names, but there are others, many others. The very best people born into Islam, when they have the possibility of jettisoning Islam, may do so. But these are, as I have said, the very best people, and these are necessarily few.
But their numbers are less likely to increase, and the understanding by Infidels of the otherwise strange conspiracy theories and mental constructs of those Muslims who, outwardly, may smile and be plausible, and seem to inhabit the same mental and moral planet with us, the Infidels, but in truth do not, is not made more possible or even easier, when journalists such as Sabrina Tavernise offer a phenomenon that they can no longer ignore, but merely report on, and offer no plausible explanations for.
But it’s okay, I suppose. This isn’t the first time I’ve done Sabrina Tavernise’s work for her, fulfilled the task that she left undone.
And I doubt if it will be the last.