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31 December

The anatomy of conspiracy theories

OMER TASPINAR

Reports in the Western media are presented as nothing but disinformation engaged in a "perception operation" to hurt our wonderful country

 
The Middle East has always been prone to conspiracy theories. Most of the states in the region are products of colonialism bereft of a strong sense of  national and civic empowerment. The role played by West in the region left deep scars in the national psyche. The collective memory of most Arab states is based on a sense of victimhood and inferiority complex vis a vis the West. All these dynamics are exacerbated by the absence of democratic institutions, accountability, civil rights, individual liberties, transparency and an independent media. As a result, the citizenry of these states believe their destiny is not in their hands. It is always external powers that dictate the domestic conditions. The destiny of the region is always written in far away places. Add to this dismal picture the military and economic success story of Israel and the support the country receives from the United States and you have all the ingredients of a toxic political culture full of resentment, frustration and humiliation.
 
Normally one would expect Turkey to escape this predicament. After all, Turkey was never colonized and the Ottoman Empire saw itself as a great power. To be sure, there always existed a sense of paranoia about Western intentions in Kemalist Turkey, particularly regarding the Kurdish question fueled by the legacy of the Sevres treaty. But lately it is no longer the good old Sevrephobia that is fueling Turkish conspiracy theories. Instead it is a new type of anti-West narrative that dominates the pro-AKP media. Rather than coming from below, this anti-Western discourse is dictated by the government and its cronies in the media. In many ways, this conspiracy is now the "official" reaction of the AKP promulgated by the pro-government media.
 
The AKP government resorts to the same tactic each time it is facing criticism in the West. The pattern gained full steam with the Gezi protests. The basic premise is simple: there is always a conspiracy orchestrated by nefarious external forces with strong domestic connections. Who are these external forces? These days, the list goes beyond the usual suspects such as the CIA and MOSSAD. My favorites are Germany and the interest rate lobby. You never know what Lufthansa is up to, since this German company is very angry about Erdogan's plan to build a new airport in Istanbul.
 
There are different stages in the minds of conspiracy theorist. First, you need to start with victimization. Whatever happens you are always the victim. The key is to share this message of victimhood with large masses. This is where the media strategy kicks in. It is not sufficient to believe that you are the victim. The masses need to see and believe your victimhood. Victimhood is very convenient because it allows you to escape responsibility and accountability. If you can convince the media and the army of pro-government columnists that you are  at the mercy of external forces determined to destroy Turkey, you are on the right track.
 
The second stage after victimhood is the focus on the bad guys. Since you are never guilty, someone else has to be at fault for causing all the problems. Once the devil is identified, there is almost no limit that bounds the imagination. You unleash the media and blame the West on the grounds that they are racist, orientalist, imperialist, etc. This is where the media can use its creativity in describing the conspiracy. The external foe has to be very powerful and full of intricacies. The more intricate and powerful the better. This way, victimhood is reinforced and the stage is prepared for the next phase: the struggle between David and Goliath.
 
In this third phase stage, conditions are ripe for the underdog to stage a come-back. Because the victim is facing a powerful and dangerous enemy, there are no ethical or legal rules in fighting back. The threat is existential and therefore the victim can resort to extraordinary measures. It is a simple matter of logic: extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary methods. Since the enemy is dehumanized, the domestic collaborators of the enemy can also be dealt with impunity. Given the extraordinary nature of the circumstances, the fight against the conspiracy has no legal bounds. Everything, including extra-judiciary methods are fair game. This third stage usually culminates with the victim resorting to coercive methods and a suspension of all sense of normalcy in the country. The sense of alarm paves the road for the suspension of media freedoms and other rights and liberties.
 
Finally, there is a need to fight back against how the external media will evaluate all these dynamics in the country. Since the external media is often part of the conspiracy, the most convenient way of fighting back is to stick with victimhood and innocence. As a result, the  media reports coming from American and European newspapers are presented as nothing but disinformation engaged in a "perception operation" to hurt our wonderful country. No wonder the AKP government now tells us that there is a black propaganda campaign against Turkey. After all, the universe of conspiracies has become the permanent residence of the AKP and its army of columnists.





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