Jihadists, “The Narrative”, Conspiracy Theories, and Us

May 2, 2010    By: Geoff J @ 10:38 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

There was an interesting segment on 60 Minutes last week titled “Jihadists And ‘The Narrative’”. You can watch it here:
Watch CBS News Videos Online

“The Narrative” is the all too pervasive worldview among radical Muslims that says the United States is secretly bent on destroying Islam. Near the end of the segment it became clear that The Narrative relies heavily on conspiracy theories for its support. In this case the radical Muslims are convinced that the CIA was the driving factor behind the September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks on the United States. The logic is that the CIA put Al Qaeda up to the attacks so America would have an excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and to proceed with its secret agenda to destroy Islam.

Now the motivation for the U.S. to desire to destroy Islam is completely unclear. But the problem with these sorts of twisted conspiracy theories is that no amount of logic or evidence seems to convince true believers that the theory is ludicrous. Any contrary evidence is assumed to be fabricated as part of the conspiracy.

Humans are prone to this sort of irrationality. We Americans and we Mormons are certainly not immune to the allure of logic-defying conspiracy theories. I spend some time at a BYU sports message board and I’m always shocked at the high number of conspiracy-assuming conservative wingnuts among the ranks of Mormon BYU fans. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • I saw a recent poll on that board that asked if the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a legitimate accident or sabotage (presumably sabotage by liberal tree huggers or something). Although only 30 or so people voted about half of them voted it was probably sabotage.
  • Some guy put linked to a site that claimed the EU was literally trying to be the modern version of the Tower of Babel. The page was complete with pictures. See here. The fact that anyone on earth would take that rubbish remotely seriously baffles me.
  • There are a handful of real live “birthers” over there who still think President Obama may not be a U.S. citizen and that the birth certificate is still missing
  • There are plenty of people who think global warming isn’t really happening at all (let alone debating human involvement in it)

What is the point of all of this? Maybe that the type of crazy we see among Muslims is not all that different at its core than our local type of crazy.

Or maybe this is the true deep and weighty point: We all know that people are the same wherever you go. There is good and bad in everyone. But we learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive — together alive…
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43 Comments »

  1. I agree that a lot of people like to believe in crazy stories and that a lot of conspiracy theories are ludicrous. However, I will not say that all of them are false. Only a lemming believes everything that he is told. I believe that climate change is real. Do I believe that Ban-Ki Moon gives a damn about it? No. He is in it, just like most of the other politicians, to achieve more money and power. I believe that living “green” is logical and financially wise, and that people need to be encouraged to do it, not taxed.

    The global warming movement is like the tea party movement. Legitimate concerned people have their movements hijacked by wackos, political parties, and corporations.

    Comment by Tirian — May 2, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

  2. Good point Tirian. If there were no real conspiracies there would not be such an allure to see them everywhere for some folks.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

  3. “The global warming movement is like the tea party movement.”

    Ouch. Ummm, hate to break it to you. The tea party was never hijacked by crazies. It started with the crazies (with the corporate support of Fox from the start).

    Geoff,

    The secretary general of the UN made it into the first comment of a conspiracy theory post. Classic.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  4. Hehe. Oh that’s who Ban-Ki Moon is… Conspiracy loonies love to assume the UN is some kind of nefarious plot don’t they?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  5. Do I believe that Ban-Ki Moon gives a damn about it? No. He is in it, just like most of the other politicians, to achieve more money and power.

    Nope. Ban Ki-Moon is “in it” because 1) it was Asia’s turn to nominate the secretary general and 2) Ban was available and 3) former US Secretary of State C. Rice liked him. Sure, plenty of horse trading was involved but on a national and not personal level.

    Comment by Peter LLC — May 2, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  6. Chris Henrichsen,
    Thanks for showing how us that not only radical Muslims and wingnuts are irrationally blind to their biases.

    One day I’ll break free from my shackles and see things how they really are: whatever your biases are. It must be liberating to have the true wisdom to know which conspiracies are ridiculous (BP oil spill) and which ones are factual (Fox News calling the Tea Party shots).

    Tirian, I couldn’t agree more.

    Comment by Trying to be like Chris H. — May 2, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

  7. Sorry, you will never be a prick like me. It takes practice. Plus, it takes spine to be a prick like my will using my real full name. So, you are obviously not trying.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  8. Conspiracists seem to assume that if you don’t already know about their pet ideas then you are part of the conspiracy.

    I visited the home of a high functioning independently employed editor who is deep into Mormon history, back in about 2003. She had a bumper sticker on her table that read “Bush Knew.” “Knew what?” I asked — and then I suddenly realized. That idea, which I had never heard before then, was so ludicrous that I started laughing. My former friend and I haven’t had much conversation since.

    Same thing when I sat down across the table from a stranger at the Church Office Building cafeteria. Out of the blue, with no prior conversation, she informed me that the Democratic Party was the preeminent secret combination warned against by the Book of Mormon. Again I laughed. (I’m sorry — these things take me by surprise and I think people are joking until it’s too late.) I said, “Just because the Book of Mormon says there *are* secret combinations doesn’t mean that you have successfully identified one of them. She picked up her tray and moved to a different table.

    So we’ve got Mormon loonies, sure. Other than stunting their own lives and wasting everybody’s time when they bring up their conspiracy theories, though, they seem harmless enough to the rest of us. Until they aren’t harmless anymore.

    I don’t know how you fight it, or protect yourself against it (not from the theories — a dose of rationality protects most of us) — I mean from the car bombs and the snipers and the other actions of loonies who can’t contain their rage against their own fantasies any longer.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 2, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  9. Oh, yes, I am a biased liberal. I assumed that was obvious to all. I will spell it out next time.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  10. Oh, and all this time I thought I was being clever…

    Is this “spine” you speak of the same one that enables you to make blanket claims about those who disagree with you?

    Comment by Trying to be like Chris H. — May 2, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  11. Yep. Well, that and my good looks.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

  12. Well nothing more poignant to Geoff’s post than showing how common conspiracy theories are in all circles of life, even – gasp – intellectual liberal circles.

    Comment by Trying to be like Chris H. — May 2, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  13. Haha good looks.

    I’ll concede that that was funny.

    Comment by Trying to be like Chris H. — May 2, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  14. Yep, liberals suck, too. You win.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  15. The fascinating part about conspiracy theories is that there is an assumption that education dispels conspiracy theories and that the real lair of the conspiracy theory lies in the dank corners of ignorance.

    My personal take is that conspiracy theories are tied to nationalism and ethno-nationalism, and that the conspiracy theories are simply there to buoy the base.

    Comment by Dan — May 2, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  16. Ardis: She picked up her tray and moved to a different table.

    Hehe. Awesome.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  17. Dan,

    That was one of the points in the 60 Minutes piece. They basically said intelligence and education is useful in creating zealots.

    Also I think that conspiracy theories are used in all kinds of in-groups — not just nations or ethnic groups. You will find them in sports fans and religions and schools. Any time we can assume the unknown “they” are conspiring against “us”.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  18. ardis,

    That lady missed out on a great opportunity. Her loss.

    “I don’t know how you fight it,….

    I find that mocking it in a sarcastic way helps me, but it does not seem to persuade the other side.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  19. Chris: I find that mocking it in a sarcastic way helps me, but it does not seem to persuade the other side.

    That’s my favorite approach too (for better or worse). I like to tell myself that it might actually help in some small way. If nothing else it might make people think about the assumptions a little harder.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  20. Geoff,

    I have found that I am happier these days. Instead of getting angry or worked up about some thread or post, I do a little eye-poking or mocking. This has alienated many, but it has done wonders in terms of re-locating my own humanity. Plus, now people are trying to be like me. I must be on to something.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 2, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

  21. I had to do a double-take. At first I thought this said, JI-hadists. I thought, I didn’t think we were THAT radical :)

    Thanks for pointing this segment out, very interesting.

    Comment by Jared T. — May 2, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

  22. I have tried to see evidences for a global banking conspiracy (New World Order).

    Someone supposedly in the know, Carroll Quigley (and college mentor to Bill Clinton), wrote “Tragedy And Hope” claiming the elites of the Western world have a decades long intention of subjugating the world into a socialist one world government. This was supposedly rooted in early British socialism. The book sounds plausible in some things, but with little or no verification of its alternative history.

    There are many quotations from national leaders, such as Woodrow Wilson, some alleged, some verified, stating they feared or were aware of an elitist conspiracy.

    I have seen documentary evidence that Wall Street helped finance the Bolshevik Revolution.

    I feel confident, using my own powers of deduction and induction, that the powers that be, contemporaneously in government and industry, in many nations, either knowingly or no, have made epic, colossal mistakes regarding sound money and honest bookkeeping; and that many lies are being said about such behavior; and this has and will continue to harm us all terribly. If true, this may be part of a conspiracy; it may also be mainly individual or group acts of criminal behavior. I believe this behavior is common among all political parties.

    I know many of these leaders are Jewish on the one hand, or Anglo-Saxon on the other, but I see no evidence these groups are in a conspiracy.

    I know several Church leaders have spoken about secret combinations, and related prophecies of the last days, but their comments seem mainly general or nonspecific in nature; focusing more on concepts such as the dangers of inflation or selfishness.

    I would like to think I know some specifics about Book of Mormon prophecies about secret combinations, or the remnant that will survive the latter day destruction – but I probably know little more than the next person. I can understand how someone could get themselves worked up about a view they have little evidence to believe in.

    Comment by cadams — May 2, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

  23. Actually Chris, that’s what I’m talking about. The original Tea Party movement was started by Ron Paul and wasn’t given the coverage this one receives.

    Peter, I’m not talking about the fact that Moon is the Secretary General. I’m not a UN conspiracy nut. I believe that he is in on the GW craze for the profits that can come from it.

    Comment by Tirian — May 2, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

  24. I think the point is that we’re all pretty much idiots in our own special ways, susceptible to believe crazy things in spite of all reason. To dismiss the wacky beliefs of others and then pat ourselves on the back for our exceeding rationality is remarkably shortsighted.

    It’s fortunate that as we age we humans (most of us) continue to examine our assumptions and toss out the bad ones as we find them. Some do this much better than others, and we rightly refer to them as the Wise.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — May 2, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

  25. Chris H,

    I have found that I am happier these days. Instead of getting angry or worked up about some thread or post, I do a little eye-poking or mocking. This has alienated many, but it has done wonders in terms of re-locating my own humanity.

    Interesting, I guess that explains it. I used to be a big fan of your posts and comments and lately I’ve been disappointed and confused by what seems like a new viciousness and rudeness in your comments. I never would have guessed this was a conscious decision on your part. I am among the alienated.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 3, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  26. Well, sorry to disappoint.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — May 3, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  27. Jacob,

    More seriously, because I do value your opinion. I blogged for almost 3 years and was largely ignored. Maybe I prefer to have a negative response than no response at all. I am a shallow and lonely person. I apologize if I have offended you. Maybe I need a break. You have also inspired me to go back and abbreviate my last name again.

    Comment by Chris H. — May 3, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  28. I like Chris H’s new philosophy: it’s ok to be a prick as long as it makes you happier.

    It’s funny to see that even in an open-minded environment like this, there is still one subject that tends to close all of our minds: politics.

    My question to everyone is: if the Book of Mormon makes specific mention of secret combinations for us, as if we are going to have the same problems, why are we always so quick to defend this group or that group with, “ah, they aren’t what the BoM was referring too.”

    It seems to me people are very quick to defend all the possible “secret combinations” as just misunderstood groups.

    At what point can we come out and say, “ok, these people are dirt and extremely dangerous. We need to do something about them”?

    Comment by Riley — May 3, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  29. Chris,

    I just call you Chris H by habit because that’s how I’ve known you forever and it’s easier to type. I like your full name just as well. You make a good point about the amount of attention one gets with different approaches to blogging. If you started blogging in 2006 that was about the same time I started, but I always had the impression you had been at FPR before I arrived to the bloggernacle. I guess it took me awhile to get to know everyone, which probably explains that.

    Riley makes a good point about blogging in the way that makes you happier. I read your posts over the years and enjoyed the wildly different perspective than the one I come by naturally, but there is absolutely no reason that should matter to you. You’ve certainly gotten a lot more exposure during the last year and it seems like you’ve ventured out into more forums (personally I value the cross-blog-participation so this is great by me). The people who tend to agree with you probably love your new persona. So probably your new approach is just fine, I’m not in any position to tell you how to blog and it wouldn’t occur to me to do so.

    On the flip side, if you thought no one ever noticed you before I can tell you that I did. I’ll just be honest about where I’m coming from. I have lots of people who I read in the bloggernacle and I feel like they are friends (even though I know most of them don’t have any idea who I am). I recently made a comment at FPR and you came after me with teeth bared and I was reminded that the people I respect don’t necessarily feel the same about me or even have any idea who I am. I’ve realized it many times before and there will be lots of occassions for me to be reminded of it again.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 3, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  30. Riley: why are we always so quick to defend this group or that group with, “ah, they aren’t what the BoM was referring too.”

    Because, as radical Muslims have proven, conspiracy theories have the ability to radicalize people and lead us down dangerous paths. So while there surely are some conspiracies in the world we ought to be careful with them.

    At what point can we come out and say, “ok, these people are dirt and extremely dangerous. We need to do something about them”?

    Well I don’t think we ever conclude that children of God are dirt (unless you mean that in the “dust to dust” sense). But we can conclude a group is extremely dangerous when they start openly killing people for sure. Thus Al Qaeda meets the definition, but Democrats/Republicans don’t (despite the rhetoric of some wingnuts at that BYU board).

    Comment by Geoff J — May 3, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

  31. Jacob,

    The name thing is more an attempt to go back to old ways. I think that I am just tired.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Chris H. — May 3, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

  32. Jacob,

    Also, I vaguely recall that post at FPR (though I am blanking on the details). Sorry about that. It was not meant as disrespect towards you.

    Comment by Chris H. — May 3, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

  33. Geoff J,

    Oh I completely agree that we need prudence. We don’t want another Salem Witch trial again.

    And but dirt I meant what they choose is dirt.

    I just think there are many dangerous (authoritatively, physically, etc.) groups that we need to try and be aware of before or if they start killing. I don’t think we need wait for them to slam planes into buildings or blow themselves up to be able to say, “aha, they were a secret combination and want power and money.

    Comment by Riley — May 4, 2010 @ 8:59 am

  34. Thanks Chris, no hard feelings.

    Riley, do you think someone is making excuses for terrorists in general or do you think it is important that we show a willingness to associate bad groups with specific BofM prophecies?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 4, 2010 @ 9:45 am

  35. do you think someone is making excuses for terrorists in general

    No, I’m not saying people are making excuses for the terrorists.

    do you think it is important that we show a willingness to associate bad groups with specific BofM prophecies?

    I’m not sure. I personally don’t feel comfortable or capable of specifically labeling a group with a corresponding scripture. (But then again I’m not wingnut BYU student or read read the Huffington Post).

    I’m merely asking if anyone has any ideas as to why all of us (me included) tend to be quick to reject or be extra-critical of the reality of conspiracies or secret combinations. It’s like when people hear of someone saying they saw an angel or some other miracle. It just seems too distant, as if that stuff only happened in Bible times, etc.

    Does that make sense?

    Comment by Riley — May 4, 2010 @ 11:52 am

  36. Yea, that helps. I read your #28 much differently in light fo #35.

    It seems to me people are very quick to defend all the possible “secret combinations” as just misunderstood groups.

    I think the reason is that it is good to assume the best of people. My initial assumption is that other people are honest in their opinions trying to do what they think is right. To switch from that to a belief that they are secretly conspiring to do harm I need some solid evidence, for example, that they are democrats (I kid, I kid). At least, charitable assumptions about other people’s motives is a big reason why I try not to be quick to label groups as secret combinations.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 4, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  37. http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/96713-white-house-doesnt-rule-out-sabotage-in-market-fluctuation

    Comment by Riley — May 7, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

  38. Well when “fat finger” (someone accidentally typing “billion” instead of “million”) is one of the leading suspects for a market jolt it isn’t a stretch to wonder if the mistake was intentional Riley. Also this post is certainly not saying there is no such thing as sabotage in the world.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 7, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

  39. I bet he was a tea party memeber or wingnut trying to make th epresident look bad…They are always trying to sabotage this presidency.

    People use the same reason you do to wonder if a lot of things are conspiracies or intentional sabotages.

    Comment by Riley — May 9, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

  40. I’m afraid I am failing to grasp the point you are trying to make Riley.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 9, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  41. I think Riley is just trying to illustrate why conspiracy theories take off so easily. People have things they want to believe. A conspiracy theory resonates with their pre-conceived narrative. Voila.

    It doesn’t matter that how unlikely it is that a single day’s market fluctuation will have an appreciable effect on the president’s approval. Tea party members want to make the president look bad, so it was probably one of them bringing down the market to hurt the president.

    Of course, on the other side of the isle, it is a bit too convenient that there is a manipulation of the market just when the president is trying to push his regulatory reform.

    Neither of these is inconceivable, but neither begins with a charitable assumption about those we disagree with either.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 9, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  42. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories about things that are possible, and occasionally even plausible. The mark of a conspiracy theory is the inability of its most impassioned proponents to tell whether it is probable. The CIA blowing up the World Trade Center, killing JFK, or creating the AIDS virus, to name a few.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 9, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  43. Jacob,

    Exactly.

    I’m glad I have you as a translator because I’ve been terrible at explaining my points.

    Comment by Riley — May 11, 2010 @ 9:04 am

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