The cap­tive Arab mind

This mock­ing "anal­y­sis" is of­ten de­ployed dead­pan by my col­league, Robert Worth, the New York Times cor­re­spon­dent in Beirut.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Roger Co­hen

At this point it is clear enough who in­vaded Iraq. Con­trary to gen­eral opin­ion, it was Iran. Af­ter all, ap­ply­ing the Ro­man prin­ci­ple of cui bono - "to whose ben­e­fit?" - there can be no ques­tion that Iran, the great­est ben­e­fi­ciary of the oust­ing of its en­emy Sad­dam Hus­sein and the rise to power of Shi­ites in Baghdad, must have done it.

I know it ap­pears that the United States was be­hind the in­va­sion. What about "shock and awe" and all that? Hah! It is true that the de­cep­tion was elab­o­rate. But con­sider the facts: The in­va­sion of Iraq has weak­ened the United States, Iran's old en­emy, and so it can only be - quod erat demon­stran­dum - that Tehran was the de­vi­ous mas­ter­mind.

This mock­ing "anal­y­sis" is of­ten de­ployed dead­pan by my col­league, Robert Worth, the New York Times cor­re­spon­dent in Beirut. Af­ter three years liv­ing in Le­banon and criss­cross­ing the Arab world, he uses this "the­ory" to ex­press his frus­tra­tion with the epi­demic of cui bono think­ing in the re­gion.

I say "think­ing," but that's gen­er­ous. What we are deal­ing with here is the paltry har­vest of cap­tive minds. Such minds re­sort to con­spir­acy the­ory be­cause it is the ul­ti­mate refuge of the pow­er­less. If you can­not change your own life, it must be that some greater force con­trols the world.

While I was in Beirut this month, the con­spir­a­to­rial world view was in over­drive, driven by Wik­iLeaks and by the im­mi­nence of an in­dict­ment from an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal in­ves­ti­gat­ing the 2005 as­sas­si­na­tion of the for­mer prime min­is­ter Rafik Hariri: more on that later.

The no­tion was ac­tu­ally do­ing the rounds that re­cent shark attacks at the Egyp­tian re­sort of Sharm el Sheik were the work of Mos­sad, the Is­raeli se­cret ser­vice. Hadn't some­one seen an elec­tronic de­vice at­tached to a shark be­ing di­rected from Tel Aviv, videogame style, to de­vour a Rus­sian tourist's leg?

One Egyp­tian govern­ment of­fi­cial sug­gested the the­ory was plau­si­ble enough. Af­ter all, dam­age to the Egyp­tian tourist in­dus­try could only please Is­rael. Cui bono ?

In his sem­i­nal col­lec­tion of es­says, " The Cap­tive Mind," Czes­law Milosz de­scribed the in­tel­lec­tual's re­la­tion­ship to Stal­in­ist to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism: " His chief char­ac­ter­is­tic is his fear of think­ing for him­self."

Le­banon is a free­wheel­ing de­light on the sur­face - as far from Soviet gloom as can be imag­ined - but it be­trays the servile mind-set of pow­er­less peo­ple con­vinced that they are ul­ti­mately but pup­pets. This play­ground of sec­tar­ian in­ter­ests, where each com­mu­nity has its ex­ter­nal backer, may be the per­fect in­cu­ba­tor of con­spir­acy the­o­ries. But Le­banon is only an ex­treme case in an Arab world, where the In­ter­net and new me­dia out­lets have not prised open minds con­di­tioned by decades of re­pres­sion and weak­ness.

Hariri, who was pro-Western and anti-Syr­ian, was as­sas­si­nated in down­town Beirut. Sus­pi­cion fell on Syr­ian agents. A United Na­tions tri­bunal was set up to in­ves­ti­gate - it­self a re­flec­tion of Le­banon's weak­ness in that the coun­try's own in­sti­tu­tions were deemed in­ad­e­quate.

Five years later, I found the in­ves­ti­ga­tion ir­re­vo­ca­bly in­fected by cui bono fever. "Who took ad­van­tage of the killing?" Talal Atrissi, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, asked me. "Not the Syr­i­ans, they left Le­banon after­ward. It was the United States that ben­e­fited." Hah!

Ali Fayyad, a Hezbol­lah mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, told me: "The tri­bunal is en­tirely politi­cized, an il­le­gal en­tity used by the United States as one of the tools of re­gional con­flict against Syria and the re­sis­tance."

The­o­ries abound that Is­rael pen­e­trated the Le­banese cell­phone sys­tem to co­or­di­nate an as­sas­si­na­tion por­trayed as pro­vid­ing the pre­text for a failed an­tiSyr­ian putsch by the West (much as 9/11 is grotesquely per­ceived in the Arab world as a self-in­flicted pre­text for the United States to wage war against Mus­lims).

Why, it is asked, was an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal set up for Hariri but not for Be­nazir Bhutto's killing? Why has the C.I.A. not been in­ter­ro­gated? Such ques­tions now have such a hold on Le­banon that I have re­luc­tantly con­cluded that jus­tice and truth in the Hariri case are im­pos­si­ble, vic­tims of the cap­tive Arab mind.

In the cui bono uni­verse there can be no clo­sure be­cause events stream on end­lessly, open­ing up bound­less pos­si­bil­i­ties for ex post facto the­o­riz­ing. Of course, the saga of Wik­iLeaks' Ju­lian As­sange and the leak of a quar­ter mil­lion se­cret U.S. diplo­matic ca­bles are also viewed as part of some grand con­spir­acy. They re­flect the de­cline of Amer­ica and the re­volt of its vast fed­eral bu­reau­cracy! No, they demon­strate Amer­ica's en­dur­ing power, re­cruit­ing fe­male Swedish agents to ac­cuse As­sange of sex crimes!

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