Mamdouh al-Muhainy
Mamdouh al-Muhainy is the General Manager of Al Arabiya and Al Hadath.

The Three Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theories

In my estimation, three categories of conspiracy theories shape our mindsets. Before listing them, we must understand what makes conspiratorial thinking so mesmerizing. It is a psychological mechanism that comforts the individual- or nation- by absolving them of responsibility and putting all the blame on the shoulders of others. We were not defeated because our armies are crumbling, but because of the traitors in our countries and the wicked enemies outside them. These theories also give us a "scapegoat” to blame. All of my mistakes and shortcomings are blamed on another, and I then execute him, executing them with him, thereby purifying myself.
They are also a convenient way to avoid reality and dealing with it. That is why they are narrated with the intrigue of intelligence agencies and the spirit of crime novels, which is not suitable for reading the cold reality of our world, which lacks the heated drama of thrilling movies. Conspiracy theories offer all of these temptations to those who believe in it. It isolates them and leads them to a fantastical, magical world in which they sit on the victor’s throne. Why would they want to return to the cold, unflattering reality of our world where they are vanquished? We used to think that older people tended to believe in and push conspiracy theories. Today, they have become more widespread and popular among youths who unfortunately internalize these beliefs at an early age.
In my view, these are the three most dangerous conspiracies we face:
The Political Conspiracy: This conspiracy theory boils down to the view that Western countries, primarily the United States, are intent on tearing us apart, exploiting our resources, and subjugating us. This thinking has popularized terms such as neocolonialism, dependency, and submission. More recently, "Americanization" and "Zionization," among others, have been added. However, briefly reflecting on reality and history demonstrates that this narrative is merely a trick that plays on our instinctive sense of dignity, pride, and drive to demonize others.
The West has not torn Arab nations apart or precipitated their collapse, nor has it plundered their resources. Rather corrupt rulers, revolutionary governments, and extremist regimes are to blame. The governments that have freed themselves from this illusion are the most successful. This list includes not only the governments of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, but also those of South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Chile. All these countries have followed roughly the same path and succeeded. They abandoned delusional conspiratorial views and focused on development and growing their economies, throwing extremist religious and nationalist ideologies out the window and allowing investment in through the door.
This conspiracy theory reflects an obsolete notion of European colonialism, a historical phase that has ended and cannot recur. The world has changed and evolved. Today’s international system is different from that of the time when resources were plundered, or what is known as dependency theory.
Supporters of the Resistance Axis, and Shia and Sunni Islamist groups, are the most fervent advocates of these theories. They push the idea that a war with "infidels" in the West is coming, and we know all the destruction they have brought about. Political conspiracy theories are now more than a means for avoiding the need to address the real causes of failure. They have become a sentimental slogan that inspires horrific actions. Militias kill Syrian children and then chant "Death to America and Israel!"
The Religious Conspiracy: This conspiracy theory boils down to the popular claim that there is a war against Islam and Muslims. A closer look at reality shows that Muslims thrive and succeed in Western countries more often than they do in their home countries. If they were truly persecuted, why would they be allowed to live there? And why are they granted opportunities to succeed? It is not Westerners who have tainted the image of Islam, but figures like Zarqawi, Baghdadi, and Soleimani. As London elects a Muslim mayor, terrorists blow up markets, trains, and airports, killing innocent civilians.
Some extremists claim that this conspiracy is even more sinister. Its objective is to water Islam down and "Americanize" it, through the promotion of tolerance and coexistence among sects. However, these ideas are not alien to us. For long periods of our history, Muslims were tolerant and prosperous. That was before the logic of extremists prevailed and children were taught to hate anyone who believes in a different religion and belongs to a different sect. Promoting tolerance and coexistence is not part of a conspiracy but an important step for reducing social tensions and animosity. Instead of fueling sectarian strife and tearing societies apart, we should focus on achieving national and humanitarian goals.
Those who create hurdles to the realization of these objectives are the real conspirators, not those who advocate for it. The claim that foreign devils whispering in our ears are to blame for the sectarian wars fought in many Muslim countries is untenable. We must not forget that these sectarian conflicts have a very long history. They began long before the modern West emerged, and if Britain and France were to vanish tomorrow, groups like ISIS, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda would not disappear with them. Religious conspiracy theories are merely a ruse meant to prevent humanitarian ideas from influencing and rationalizing our culture. Even the virtues of our Islamic and Arab heritage and history are present as dubious in this effort to protect intellectual inertia and prevent us from asking questions or raising doubts that might shake and then disprove these theories.
The Social Conspiracy: This conspiracy theory claims that we must confront schemes to change social values with the aim of erasing their identities and values. This idea stems from the isolation of the past, which left people seeing foreigners as wicked bearers of cultural disease. However, the logic behind this idea has collapsed as borders faded away because of airplanes and communication technology. We've discovered that no one is lying in wait and intent on undermining our societies. In fact, we are sending our children to study abroad. The concept of identity is no longer static. Identities now constantly evolve and change.
A healthy identity is one of renewal, an identity open to different languages and cultures. It is the opposite of a fixed identity that lives in the past- one that will not come back. Individuals now hold multiple identities and even different nationalities, and there is nothing contradictory in that. The real conspiracy against society is isolating and restraining it, not the opposite. Some warn that women are targets of the social conspiracy, which seeks to strip them of their values. However, experience has shown that this is nothing more than an illusion. Granting women more rights is beneficial; not only for them but for society as a whole. We all thrive when women feel fully respected.
All of the notions discussed may seem self-evident to some. Nonetheless, these theories persist, and they are passed from one generation to another. It is crucial that we criticize these theories and expose their shortcomings. Belief in these theories is not confined to a small segment of society. Conspiratorial thinking will not perish, and it exists in all societies, even the most advanced ones, but it is limited to an obsessive segment of the population. We must ensure that these convictions are not prevalent among teachers, preachers, journalists, and university professors. Conspiratorial thinking is like a drug, and the worst thing we can do to our children is to have it force-feed to them on a daily basis.