Shades of conspiracy

Shades of conspiracy

Farrukh Khan Pitafi May 29, 2021
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi

Not a day passes by without a new set of totally crazy conspiracy theories reaching us. Now that Pakistan is making strides in vaccinating its citizens, you might have come across a video clip where someone is attaching a light bulb to various parts of his body and claiming that the microchips in the vaccine are responsible for that electricity. This one is easy. Microchips do not produce electricity. They consume them. And if for some reason nanotechnology and power generation had conspired to create automatically rechargeable batteries that could enter your body through a needle, I assure you, you wouldn’t need the heavy bricks you call smartphones with big batteries. Most of this propaganda can be dismantled through simple observation and deduction.

Similarly, at the height of the Covid-related oxygen crisis in India news broke that the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Rishikesh, was conducting a clinical trial to study the impact of chanting the Gayatri Mantra on critical Covid patients since February. The Gayatri Mantra is a religious hymn that is often chanted during Hindu religious ceremonies. Without prejudice to any faith a simple question to India's ministry of science and technology, the sponsor of the study, could have stopped further squandering of precious resources. When the smallest microbe known to humanity, a virus, lacks an auditory system and a brain, how do you propose to convey this message, this chant, to it?

It reminded me of an interesting episode in Pakistan where a televangelist, who is now an MP, inquired a religious scholar about killing lizards. If memory serves me correctly it was a what-if question about a djinn pretending to be a lizard. The said scholar told him without a trace of irony to shout out this line thrice before killing the lizard: “O lizard, if you are a djinn then go away”. Lizards neither lack auditory pathways nor a functioning brain, but I am not convinced that they are fluent in your native tongue. Otherwise, we would have known of a talking lizard. What’s more, if it was at all plausible what makes you think that this voyeuristic djinn who has taken so many pains to take the shape of a lizard to spy on you would be deterred by your threats or killed by your mortal instruments? Are they not supposed to be very powerful?

As I pointed out at the start, being ignorant misapplications of faith or direct products of superstition, these stories are easy to debunk. But not all are. They come in layers or levels. And like any steep climb the farther you get from the ground the scarier it gets. The first denial makes an entry. It is not easy to wrap your head around the suddenness and the scale of a black swan tragedy. You were never equipped to handle the shocking ingress of widespread pain and loss. Two tragedies immediately come to mind. The 9/11 and the Covid-19 crises. The former because it was truly a traumatic experience for anyone who lost a loved one or viewed it as an assault on his or her identity. The fact that the mastermind was living in a distant and downtrodden country and only 20 of his acolytes perpetrated this crime would not let the emotional closure come. So, what do you do? You look for conspiracies. And those who had initially failed to empathise with the suffering in the United States, dismissing it as somebody else's problem, were soon shocked to learn that war had reached their region. Hence, they also joined this conspiracy theory club. On its own denial as an emotional response comes with an expiry date. But more often it is co-opted by sinister motives. There always are groups out there to profit from your agitated state of mind. And they move in with the grace of vultures.

In the case of the Covid crisis, their presence was largely felt. Almost at the very start of the crisis the social Darwinists and staunch believers in the hierarchal society had already made their minds. The weak and the elderly are drains on the economy and the reason for the higher taxes the rich have to pay. Or so the argument. Why should the profitable businesses of the rich be closed to save them? Let them die. If you recall parties were organised with monetary rewards for anyone who voluntarily got infected. It is a test, right? Survival of the fittest. If you are not fit what is the point of your life. The lockdowns were an attack on liberty, those who supported it were either hyper-woke or then beta males and females. We all are exposed to some degree of corporate greed. But this, my friends, was the new, deadlier, and most despicable manifestation of corporate selfishness. From anti-maskers to anti-vaxxers you could see this selfishness rearing its ugly head again and again. The selfishness of the rich who sponsored these tirades, not the poor brainwashed johnnies who became the unwitting pawns.

There, of course, was a political context too. Most of it was happening in the Trumpian era. You can blame Russia for his victory all you want. But he was probably the worst example of the allies, not the enemies, getting greedy and selfish. Russia did not profit much in Donald Trump's time, but Israel and India did. Also a few Arab countries and Turkey. Every ally wanted to maximise its gains and Trump let them. In exchange, they would let Trump harvest their soft power. Notice that conspiracy worlds like QAnon are products of the very same soft power. Be as anti-Semitic as you want. Just don’t be anti-Netanyahu. Be as anti-Asian you want, just be kind to Modi. Be as anti-Muslim as you desire, just be nice to the Muslim strongmen. All such affluent countries would spend what mattered the most. Something from the theme song from Trump's The Apprentice show. Money, money, money. And these allies would take the abuse and exploitation of their diasporas to the breaking point. In Nikki Haley's obsession with China, the origins of coronavirus, and attempts to court Israel you can see this sad trend playing out. What is the way out? When democratic correction comes in these countries, do not stop it.

And despite all factors above, there is one element that can fix these problems like no other: transparency. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, which destroyed the Arab world and was ostensibly undertaken to deprive Saddam Husain of his non-existent weapons of mass destruction, could have been a very different story had it not lacked transparency. Another test is the ongoing inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus. The lack of empirical evidence and the provable causal chain has spawned a million conspiracy theories, all of them deadlier than any truth can be and is always benefiting the worst lot possible. A logical and satisfactory closure of this story can help the world heal faster.

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