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ISIS Truthers
Calling Out Conspiracy Theorists in Turkey

It is sometimes hard for people to understand just how delusional the thoughts of even leading thinkers and commentators in some parts of the world can be. In an excellent essay in Al-Montior, Mustafa Akyol, an Islamic Turkish writer, calls out some well-known Turkish intellectuals for the hothouse conspiracy thinking that leads prominent voices to label groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda as CIA plots… against Turkey:

For example, Abdulkadir Selvi, a senior journalist who has been quite vocal in the press and on television generally espousing a pro-government stance, wrote a piece last week titled “Who is ISIS working for?” This was his answer: “Al-Qaeda was a useful instrument for the US. To put it in an analogy, ISIS was born from al-Qaeda’s relationship with [the] CIA. The West gave its manners to al-Qaeda and now it designs our region through the hands of ISIS.” In short, al-Qaeda and its offshoot ISIS are both creations of the US Central Intelligence Agency and serve American interests.

Writing in the same pro-government daily, Yeni Şafak, the prominent columnist Yusuf Kaplan took a similar position. His culprit, however, was not the United States, but the United Kingdom. He wrote, “There is no such thing as ISIS. There is rather a heinous power called England … al-Qaeda was an instrument of the Americans, whereas ISIS is an instrument of the English.”

Yet another writer with strong pro-government views, Cemil Ertem, advanced a conspiratorial line in his column in the daily Star, but added a crucial element. ISIS, he argued, is “the product of the same center that also orchestrated Dec. 17” — referring to the day the corruption investigation, or “coup attempt,” against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became public. Accordingly, that conspiratorial “center” first tried to topple Erdogan with a bogus corruption investigation, and when that failed, it reignited Kurdish tensions in the country and finally ordered ISIS to attack “Turkey’s political and economic assets in Iraq.”

This kind of deeply flawed public discourse helps explain the social and political problems in many countries. Imagine how badly things in America would be working if 9/11 Truthers dominated the Democratic Party and the “Obama the Kenyan Muslim” theories were spouted by leading mainstream Republicans—if Glenn Beck were the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Lyndon LaRouche the editor in chief of the New York Times, and Michael Moore the president of Columbia University.

Turkey is far from alone in having an intellectual discourse that is in some ways off base; many of its neighbors are in much worse condition. This is unfortunately a reality today, and it means among other things that democracy won’t automatically lead to better governance anytime soon. This reality isn’t going to change quickly, either; American diplomats and policymakers need to understand that people around the world don’t all live in the same mental universe and don’t all see things through the same lenses.

The 21st century will be a time when people whose ideas and histories are deeply and even radically different from each other’s will come into closer contact on a wider scale than ever before and have to find ways to work together. It won’t be easy and it won’t always be pretty. The world is headed for interesting times.

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  • Andrew Szarejko

    On the bright side, Mustafa Akyol is probably more influential than any of the writers he cites (in Turkey and in the United States).

  • S.C. Schwarz

    And Turkey is far better than most Middle Eastern counties where a majority still believe that 9/11 was a joint CIA/Israeli plot. This is why our involvement in Syria, or further involvement in Iraq, to choose two current examples, is hopeless. We just can’t help people who believe such things.

    • Fred

      No, but we can kill enough of them and destroy enough of their societies (such as they are) to break their will to do us harm.

  • lukelea

    “American diplomats and policymakers need to understand that people around the world don’t all live in the same mental universe and don’t all see things through the same lenses.”

    True statement. Something else they don’t understand: a lot of this has to do with population genetics and what modern geneticists are starting to call “gene-cultural co-evolution.” It turns out that a society or civilization’s culture is part of the environment in which we evolve, and that evolution occurs rather rapidly (on a scale of centuries) in large populations. This has all kinds of real world policy implications, which WRM & Co. might start to grapple with.

    And no better place than in the Middle East:

  • Loader2000

    The explanation for this is probably rooted in the fact people will do anything to avoid shame, particularly shame associated with their own culture. One thing American’s just don’t get (because we have been so successful for so many decades) is what it is like to be part of a culture that ‘feels’ like it is under attack and in decline. It is extremely painful and produces extreme anxiety. The last time this happened in the West was Germany after WWI (and think of all the crazy conspiracy theories the Germans invented about Jews) and before that, the religious wars (which were in a very real sense both culture wars and power struggles) in Western and Northern Europe in the 17th and 16th centuries. The bottom line is that many people would rather believe anything, than that their culture is in decline and the cause is rooted in their own culture. It is much less painful for those in Turkey to believe that those murderous psychopaths in ISIS are a results of a CIA conspiracy than a result of their own Islamist culture (or what they perceive as their Islamist culture).

  • Andrew Allison

    All the more reason to support the Kurds (since we’re already being branded as evildoers, what do we have to lose)?

  • Breif2

    “It is sometimes hard for people to understand just how delusional the thoughts of even leading thinkers and commentators in some parts of the world can be.”

    Foremost among those sorely lacking in this understanding are people who generally prattle on about diversity and multiculturalism. But dare suggest that other cultures might have significantly different ways of seeing and thinking about the world (if only I knew the word “Weltanschauung”!) and they will cluelessly accuse you of racism.

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