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Michael Young

Falling for it

The problem with conspiracy theories is that efforts to deny them are regarded as their confirmation

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends a US- Gulf Cooperation Council forum at the Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat in Riyadh on March 31, 2012 (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

In recent days a story has been circulating on social media that was picked up by Samir Mansour in a column Wednesday for the daily An-Nahar. It affirms that the United States was responsible for the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – since renamed the Islamic State.

 

That would have been a remarkable scoop, had it only been true. On Wednesday the US Embassy in Lebanon issued a statement saying the story was “a fabrication.” More surprising is how easily Mansour was duped, as Al-Nahar’s publication of his article lent credibility to an otherwise doubtful story.

 

In the article, Mansour cited an alleged passage from Hard Choices, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently-published memoir. According to the passage, the United States sought to use the Islamic State as an instrument to partition the Middle East, including the territories of such longstanding allies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and control its oil. Along with other countries, Clinton purportedly wrote, Washington was prepared to recognize its state as soon as it was formed.

 

Everything about Mansour’s article displays sloppiness and gullibility. For a start, he should have simply picked up Clinton’s book to confirm that incriminating passage. Instead, he appears to have reproduced it from a social media outlet, simply assuming it was accurate. In fact, no such quote exists in the memoir, and no one would seriously expect it to.

 

The reason is fairly obvious. American politicians, particularly those with their eye on the presidency, do not generally admit to cooperating with terrorist groups, let alone supporting a vast conspiracy to break up and destabilize the Middle East. Surely that alone should have set off alarm bells in Mansour’s head.

 

Secondly, Mansour should have remembered that a principal reason why the United States has avoided sending weapons to the opposition in Syria is because it fears that they may fall into the hands of jihadists such as the Islamic State. America wants to avoid blowback, similar to what happened on September 11, 2001. If you write a column, you should be able to grasp context to better distinguish the truth from the nonsensical.

 

This was also an embarrassment for An-Nahar, where nobody caught Mansour’s mistake. It really does pay to hire fact-checkers. Yet on Friday, after the embassy’s denial, the piece was still up on the newspaper’s site. Was there no alert editor around to ask Mansour, for example, on what page the Clinton quote was located? Ghassan Tueni must be rolling in his grave.

 

But beyond the awkwardness of Mansour’s article, a great deal has been written about the propensity in our region to believe conspiracy theories. The irony is that such accounts can be reassuring. If events are explainable and appear to have a rational, guiding hand, they are easier to absorb than those that seem propelled by chaos – neither planned nor predicted.

 

The impulse to believe and disseminate conspiracy theories can also be ahistorical: the narratives are often based on archaic interpretations of behavior, frozen in time. Hence, Mansour still adheres to the image of an omnipotent America that no longer corresponds to reality, if it ever did.

 

Arabs should wake up and see that America, despite its great strength as a nation, is in relative decline. It is struggling economically; its infrastructure has deteriorated dramatically; its uninspiring politicians can’t work together as populism gains ground; and its people have lost the confidence they once had, and are wary of their country’s involvement in the world as they find themselves increasingly preoccupied by parochial concerns.

 

Obama may be the worst president in decades, but his focus has been, understandably, on reversing the malaise at home. One thing he is definitely not thinking about, and does not want to think about, is being sorcerer’s apprentice to the Middle East’s disintegration. Why do so many Arabs not see this, instead harking back to an all-powerful America working slyly to manipulate all global events to its advantage?

 

The problem with conspiracy theories is that, to the believers, efforts to deny them are regarded as their confirmation – a sign that powerful forces seek to conceal their ways. This is where Mansour comes back in. His piece has legitimized the arrant absurdity of Clinton admitting to an American plot to break up the Middle East. He must admit his error and withdraw his article. All journalists slip up, so we will sympathize.

 

Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper. He tweets @BeirutCalling

Presidential hopefuls don't normally expose plans to carve up the Middle East. (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

Arabs should wake up and see that America, despite its great strength as a nation, is in relative decline."

  • albertzakhia

    I appologize Michael but tell me what had the US done until today to stop ISIS? And where is ISIS getting its weapons and funds from and how? How can a small militia of jihadists who has never read a book except the Qoran knows so much in geography and the locations of over 20 oil wells and how where they able to take hold of this gold wth no one spotting nor stopping them. Someone is helping them. And when it comes to driving extremists, it always smells US!

    August 12, 2014

  • Beiruti

    I would say that indirectly and inadvertently, yes we did arm ISIS. We provided arms to the Iraqi Army, they were attacked, fled, left their arsenals behind and ISIS seized the arsenals. So now, ISIS fighters are doing wheelies and donuts in US made tanks. The end result, ISIS has our equipment, but the critical difference is that we didn't give it to them, our erstwhile allies, the Malaki Government abandoned the equipment in the field and these guys took it.

    August 11, 2014

  • dominus

    "CIA declassified document: 1035-960" shows the creation of the word "conspiracy" & how it would be used as "weaponized language" against decent. Are you that ignorant, to allow brainwashing to dictate your individualism?? Research info for yourself, do not listen to this propagandist.

    August 9, 2014

  • dominus

    The only conspiracy here, is this article's failed attempt @ being relevant. This author must either A: think his small audience is mentally incapacitated, B: think his audience are total idiots, C: think his audience will not do a simple 5mins worth of research. All options are embarrassing for someone trying to establish a false reality. Are you an enemy of reality? or humanity? Either way quit being so condescending to your audience for fear you might not receive your 5 comments next time.

    August 9, 2014

  • dominus

    Obama giving $500 million to Syrian rebels was reported in WSJ, huffington post, nytimes, cbs, etc. While being rationalized by party cabinet members. NOT a conspiracy, its a fact! Also, in the words of Hillary "what does it matter" which quotes do or dont appear in he memoir of lies. The quotes that matter are written by the those whom dictate geo-politics! Such as Bryzenski, who in his novel "the grand chessboard" clearly states the creation of Islamic terrorist by the West, for the purpose of dividing the Mid-East into multiple states (specifically Iraq).

    August 9, 2014

  • dominus

    First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Mahatma Gandhi (this article is trying to take the "disinfo" war back 2 steps, too late! your mainstream garbage propaganda has already loss)

    August 9, 2014

  • Beiruti

    Dominus, you're cherry picking historical facts in order to make your argument. Were you an employee of Dick Cheney during the Bush Administration? Sounds like the same modus operandi

    August 11, 2014

  • khalil.elsaghir

    When I first read the alleged translated excerpts from Mrs. Clinton's book, I though it was a kind of joke, an Onion-like political satire. Then within a couple of days, it became apparent that many people on social media believed it! But it was only when this An-Nahar article was published that I realized how vulnerable these Arab societies have become to propaganda, misinformation, and the most radical, and even ridiculous, conspiracy theories. This is really scary!

    August 9, 2014

  • Ren

    Mansours creditability is now seriously in doubt, who will believe him in future . Sad that a newspaper like the Nahar don't have someone to proof facts and quotes

    August 8, 2014

  • m.nourallah

    it is really weird that the most convincing stories are the conspiracy theories, don't you think? No the US didn't create it we know. but it sat down and watched. how the crazy ISIS grew without doing anything. no? DONT U THINK? why do u care anyways? let them die.

    August 8, 2014