Saturday, November 26, 2011

Conspiracy Theories and Freedom Don't Mix

By Joseph Kellard
A recent commentary piece in The New York Times taps into the corrupted mentality — the faith-based conspiracy mindset — that pervades Egypt and explains why that Muslim nation, as well as the wider Islam-dominated Middle East, will not establish freedom anytime soon.

When dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from power earlier this year, a major development of the so-called Arab Spring, it was widely pronounced that Egyptians were now “free,” or had won their “freedom.” Actually, they were merely freed temporarily from the force imposed by their latest dictator. Political freedom, in fact, depends on each individual’s freedom from government coercion, or, to put it positively and more fundamentally, freedom depends on the establishment of a government that upholds individual rights, including the right to free thought and speech — that is, the freedom to adopt whatever philosophy or religion one chooses and to voice its teachings.

Such a government cannot and will not take root in Egypt when the interim government there indiscriminately guns down non-Muslims on the streets of Cairo, nor when the next elected government is likely to be dominated by Muslims that will force their religion on others.

In his Times’ commentary on Nov. 20, "After Egypt’s Revolution, Christians Are Living in Fear," Andre Aciman, an Egyptian-born Jew who is a literature professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, writes that Egypt's interim government failed to take responsibility for its massacre of Christians as they demonstrated in Cairo after their church was burned to the ground. Aciman writes that confusion and conflicting accounts ensued over who instigated the incident, and that the interim prime minister blamed the massacre on “hidden hands.” Aciman explains:

Sadly, the phrase “hidden hands” remains a part of Egypt’s political rhetoric more than 50 years later — an invitation for every Egyptian to write in the name of his or her favorite bugaboo. Rather than see things for what they are, Egyptians, from their leaders on down, have always preferred the blame game — and with good reason. Blaming some insidious clandestine villain for anything invariably works in a country where hearsay passes for truth and paranoia for knowledge.

Sometimes those hidden hands are called Langley, or the West, or, all else failing, of course, the Mossad. Sometimes “hidden hands” stands for any number of foreign or local conspiracies carried out by corrupt or disgruntled apparatchiks of one stripe or another who are forever eager to tarnish and discredit the public trust.

The problem with Egypt is that there is no public trust. There is no trust, period. False rumor, which is the opiate of the Egyptian masses and the bread and butter of political discourse in the Arab world, trumps clarity, reason and the will to tolerate a different opinion, let alone a different religion or the spirit of open discourse.

In short, a nation cannot establish freedom when, by and large, its people fundamentally gather what they believe is knowledge and truth based on hearsay, paranoia, false rumor and conspiracy theories at the expense of reason. Reason is man's only means of knowledge, and it is the basis of the only free or semi-free nations in history, all of them Western products of the pro-reason Enlightenment. When reason is the first to go in dealing with other men, so goes freedom.

When freedom is at stake and people yearn to possess it, conspiracy theories, particularly those based on faith, won't cut it. Yet they are a product of the Islamic world's basic mental modus operandi: religious faith. As Elan Jurno, author of Winning the Unwinnable War, explains in his essay “Exposing Anti-Mulsim ‘Conspiracies,” published in the Spring 2006 issue of The Objective Standard:

“...[T]hough it is unsupported by facts or logic, the conspirator steadfastly clings to his belief. The source of his belief is faith — the blind acceptance of some idea sustained by feeling in the absence or defiance of evidence. This epistemology, or philosophy of knowledge, is a fundamental tenant of Islam, as it is of all religions. And this is the key to understanding the conspiracy mentality.”

It also is the key to understanding why freedom will continue to elude Egypt and the Middle East.