Jonah, Daniel Pipes wrote a book about the role paranoia and conspiracy theory plays in Arab political thinking. I’ve not read it, but I’m eager to. I’ve told this story before, but every time I hear Arabs in the Middle East ranting like loons on TV. Three years ago, walking the road to Bethlehem, I met a Catholic priest from America. He had been serving in an Arab church for a decade. He told me he loved his people, but he didn’t understand them. He couldn’t believe how emotional they were, and how they allowed themselves to be ruled by conspiracy theory. The priest said that recently, Yassir Arafat had done something of which they didn’t approve, and the whole parish was buzzing with the news that Arafat was a closet Jew. As far as his people were concerned, the priest said, this was established fact.
“Next week, they’ll believe something completely the opposite, and won’t even notice the contradiction,” the priest said. He went on to explain how he’s seen cynical Arab political leaders use this to exploit people. He told me how Arafat and his top people were robbing the people blind, but they get away with it by playing on people’s willingness to believe a Jewish conspiracy is behind everything bad that ever happens to them. I could tell it really bothered this cleric, who obviously cared about his parishioners, but had no idea how to help people so willing to believe in superstition.
Last week, I read an account of an Iraqi soldier who had been captured in fighting, and was quoted saying that given all the misery and defeat Saddam has brought on Iraq, Saddam must surely be an American agent. It sounds like a sarcastic joke, but I bet the poor bastard meant it.