“Everyone is entitled to his own opinions; he is not entitled to his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan
A Conspiracy theory can be defined as “collection of distorted or misrepresented facts presented to propagate a particular agenda”. Conspiracy theories consist of one or two established facts and a fantasy story woven around them.
Most of conspiracy theories lie in the zone of absurdity and it is their characteristic feature that they can be disproven by using logical thinking. According to historian Dr Mubarak Ali, “Myths gradually have lost their appeal in those societies where intellectuals produced new ideas, thoughts, and concepts to guide people. Myths flourish in those societies which are stagnant and rely on the out dated ideas”.
In Pakistan, Zaid Hamid is the most prominent conspiracy theorist. He is considered to be the Glenn Beck of Pakistan without the drawing board. His ideologies have changed as fast as a chameleon that changes its colour upon sensing danger. (A detailed analysis of Zaid Hamid’s propaganda has been done by this author).
A primary factor responsible for proliferation of myths and conspiracy theories is the pathetic state of our textbooks.
In 2003, SDPI (Sustainable Development Policy Institute) published a Report on state of Current Textbooks in Pakistan named, “The Subtle Subversion”. The report noted the ‘Insensitivity to the Religious Diversity of the Nation’, ‘Historical Falsehoods and Inaccuracies’, ‘Glorification of War and the Military’ and ‘Omissions That Could Have Been Enriching’ in the textbooks taught across Pakistan.
A recent report by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated that Schools in Pakistan are using textbooks that preach intolerance towards non-Muslim religious minorities. Probably the best text on the fallacies present in our textbooks is the book “Murder of history” written by historian KK Aziz in 1991. Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Fasi Zaka have written about the rise of conspiracy theories and the way they shape our understanding of the world. Nadeem F Paracha in a Television program on the topic of “Conspiracy theories” recalled that the film “Loose Change” (about the theories regarding 9/11) was broadcasted in Pakistan with much fanfare. In fact, there were 3-4 other parts of that documentary that were subsequently made, in which the earlier mistakes were rectified. Those “other” versions were never shown in Pakistan.
A second, very important factor is the lack of effort to search for the source of particular news. This societal trend finds its roots in the make-up of our education system. In our education system, plagiarism is given precedence over original thought. Students are supposed to write the answers mentioned in textbooks and not their own opinion. Even creative writing is not appreciated and people who are good at cramming get better grades than those who try to write their own stuff.
According to historian Hasan Jaafer Zaidi, we should look at the example of the “Transfer of Power” documents that were declassified by British Government in 1976 and contained official documents pertaining to events in 1946-7. The presence of those papers should lay to rest many misconceptions present about issues surrounding the partition of India but sadly, that has not happened due to lack of interest of historians and Government.
Another important and recent factor that has led to the rise of conspiracy theories is the presence of YouTube and Wikipedia. It should not be forgotten that people who upload videos on YouTube are not College Professors (in most cases). Similarly, Wikipedia is not a substitute to a Scientific Journal.
The rising tide of conspiracy theories and theorists needs to be halted in its ranks. It is only possible if we upgrade our textbooks; inculcate our future generations with quest for knowledge and research.
This article has been cross posted from Abdul Majeed Abid’s Blog, Courage to Differ