eyes on the U.S.

Why Conspiracy Theories Are Thriving: A French Explanation

French writer Bruno Fay argues that lies regularly told by the authorities and a general mistrust of official speech are to be blamed for the spread of conspiracy theories for everything from 9/11 to Nicolas Sarkozy's biography.

Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania (Jeff Kubina)
Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania (Jeff Kubina)
Pascal Boniface

PARIS - Times are booming for conspiracy theorists. French journalist Bruno Fay's book Complocratie (Complocracy) attempts to explain the growing audience for those who espouse secret-plot theories for the major events of our times.

The book focuses of course on the 9/11 attacks, which many people – including and especially Americans – are convinced were plotted and executed directly by the United States government. But this general denial of reality stems from other cases that were never solved, such as the Kennedy assassination.

Fay offers some convincing clues to understanding this phenomenon. He argues that the main reason why conspiracy theories thrive is that authorities too often resort to telling lies, which inexorably results in official information being completely discredited. Conspiracy theories, however, have their advantages – where governments are concerned - since they work especially well when it comes to diverting attention from the real scandals.

"The Cartesian doubt, holy and legitimate, has been gradually giving way to a systematic questioning of current events," he writes. "The success encountered by conspiracy theories reflects the emergence of a new mass "conspiracionism" feeding on the lies of our societies."

After all, how can anyone think that repeated public departures from the truth have no consequences on the public opinion? By desecrating official speech, by rearranging the reality in a more suitable way, politicians stoke the need for rumors.

Bruno Fay gives the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his assertion -- which later proved to be false -- that he was in Berlin the day when the Wall came down. If he is capable of lying about something as trivial as this, people might ask, it is tough to be sure that he does not lie on much more important topics such as the the reasons why France joined the war in Afghanistan or the Iranian nuclear threat?

But what is the right way to fight against conspiracy theories? Insults, questioning motives and direct accusations are the weapons of choice most frequently used by the media hostile to conspiracy theories. Bruno Fay thinks that this is the wrong way to do it, since "demonizing conspiracy addicts is advertising them and their cause." He suggests instead that people concentrate on analyzing established plots rather than attacking the conspiracy theory itself.

For example, saying that the 9/11 attacks represented the perfect opportunity for neoconservatives to bring about the political changes they had been dreaming of for so long, is not adopting the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists. Bruno Fay believes that the moving details given of the heroic revolt mounted by the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 are simply part of a story constructed to cover up the decision by the US government to bring the aircraft down in Pennsylvania (to avoid it being used by the terrorists to crash into another target).

He thinks that it is increasingly harder to draw a clear distinction between the information issued by a traditional communication agency, a consulting company in business intelligence and public relations and a private intelligence agency. If it would be unfair to accuse all the media of regular conspiracy theories, he says, it would be just as wrong to discharge them of any responsibility.

Bloggers, alternative web sites, collaborative forums are nothing else but reactions to the failure of traditional counter-powers to do their job, illustrating a chronic lack of trust in traditional information channels. Fay's very well-documented book avoids the easy shortcuts and accusations, and provides a true reflection on a phenomenon which is not likely to disappear from the social landscape anytime soon.

Read the original article in French

Photo - (Jeff Kubina)

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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