Well apparently the Osama “deather” meme has become a full-blown conspiracy theory in record time. The idea is not so much that Osama bin Laden is still alive but that he was killed years ago (some say as early as 2002) and kept in hiding – on ice, I’ve read – for some obscure purpose.
Has that purpose been revealed? Clearly, Obama is using it to put the “birther” business behind him and get re-elected in 2012. But that would also imply that the Obama administration and the Bush administration are in cahoots, working together in the cultivation of the Greatest Conspiracy Ever. This notion was echoed by noted truther Giulietto Chiesa, who called Obama a “neocon” on Italian television last night.
It’s slightly exhilarating to watch the weeds of conpiracy theory sprout up literally overnight. Before I’d even heard the news that Osama was dead, Twitter was brimming with announcements of the new manifestation of “birtherism”, tagged #deather/s. “Show us the birth certificate” was the new “Show me or draw me a Nazi gas chamber” and is now “Show us the photos/corpse of Osama bin Laden.”
Of course no photos would ever be enough (they could be faked), no cadaver would ever be that of the real Osama, and how could we trust the “experts” even if they told us that his DNA matched? So the White House is – very wisely, in my opinion – brushing the whole business aside by refusing to go there.
Because the truth about conspiracy theorists is that they never stop when evidence is shown to them; they never say, “Alright, we were mistaken. Now that you’ve shown us adequate proof of X we’ve accepted your narrative.” That never happens. Conspiracy theorists are not skeptics, though they love to think of themselves as such. Skepticism is after truth through supporting evidence, while conspiracy theorists are after “truth” despite evidence to the contrary. The more you give them, the stronger the conspiracy becomes. Their minds are already made up.
We want to believe theories that contradict the idea that young, iconic people died senselessly. If a story takes away the accidental from their death, it gives them agency. After the JFK assassination, it was unbearable to many people that they could live in a country where a lone gunman could kill a president. In those circumstances, it’s not surprising that an overarching conspiracy theory emerges. It suggests that somebody is in control, rather than that we’re at the mercy of our neighbors and to some extent of ourselves (as was the case with Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana). It’s the urge to make sense of a particularly traumatic moment.
In some ways, it’s not that different from the impulse to believe in God.
It is deep down a leap of faith, but it doesn’t present itself as a leap of faith. It presents itself as not only rational but a better kind of rationality. It’s incredibly important that a conspiracy theory has the appearance of science. The literature on Kennedy is beyond voluminous. It’s absolutely enormous. There are vast tomes to suggest that the CIA did it, or other people did. [Conspiracy theorist] David Ray Griffin has come out with a half dozen 9/11 books, and all of them have hundreds of footnotes. They’re either to instant news reports that have since been contradicted, or to other conspiracy theories — but the work nevertheless takes on the appearance of scholarliness.
Aaronovitch also has a blog called AaronovitchWatch, a nod to all the paranoids out there. How long until AaronovitchWatch Watch pops up in a search?
Belief in conspiracy theories can be comforting. If everything that goes wrong is the fault of a secret cabal, that relieves you of the tedious necessity of trying to understand how a complex world really works. And you can feel smug that you are smart enough to “see through” the official version of events. But widespread paranoia has drawbacks. For a start, it makes calm, rational debate rather tricky. How can you discuss the trade-offs of health-care reform, for example, with someone who thinks the government is plotting to kill grandma?
The answer is, of course, you can’t. Which is the same reason you can’t teach a creationist evolution, or a Holocaust-denier twentieth-century history. Either they don’t want to know, or they’re so far gone down that winding road to nowhere that they can no longer process contrary information.
Some 70% of American Jews voted for Barack Obama in the last elections. Now, we find out we voted for Hitler? This is something I can’t quite digest, this pro-Israeli Obama-bashing. How did the conservatives hijack Zionism?
“The dhimmi in the White House” has increasingly become a sort of anti-Obama rallying cry. The scope is not to discuss or criticize Obama’s ideas on Israel (entirely debatable,as ever) but to dirty him with the dhimmi brush. He has been tarred and feathered as an enemy of Israel and the Jewish people and a lackey of Islamic rejectionism. As my blogger friend Jew With a View posted recently (quoting Joseph Farah):
I hope my Jewish friends remember this well. Many of them voted for Barack Obama. Many of them voted for Hillary Clinton. These are not your friends. These are the same kinds of people who turned away ships of Jewish refugees from Germany in the 1940s. These are the same kinds of people who appeased Adolf Hitler at Munich. These are the same kinds of people who made the reformation of the modern state of Israel so difficult.
We have gone from understandable criticism of Obama-administration pressure on Israel to stop existing settlement growth to a mischaracterization of Obama as–what? Hitler? Ahmadinejad? Appeasement incarnate, apparently. Farah goes so far as to call this “ethnic cleansing”, perhaps borrowing his human-rights jargon from the anti-Zionist hard left. My baloney detector is going haywire.
Is Barack Obama a cosmically-charged enemy of the Jewish people? Was he sent by God (or the Adversary) to beguile and destroy Jewish continuity in the guise of the president of the USA? Is he, as we are expected to believe, completely subservient to the Islamist lobby? Is he ransoming the State of Israel to appease the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Iranian regime? Does any of this sound familiar?? It sounds like the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis turned on its head. If only everything in politics were so black and white.
I’m all for crticism where it is due, and Obama is no exception. I used to feel disgusted at the hatred against Dubya, though I’ve never felt close to the Republican party or kinship with American conservative causes. I even stood up to fellow liberals when they crossed the line from criticism to hate speech. And there was a lot of that back then. Now it’s back–with a vengeance.