You know… is a funny expression.
Someone leans forward slightly and confides, “You know…” on the assumption that the person he’s talking to doesn’t know. (I say “he” because men are much more inclined to share their presumed wisdom in this way.)
If I say you know what I really mean is I know and you probably don’t, but listen up because I’m going to share a privileged piece of information with you.
Conspiracy theories are favorites among those who like to trade in information in this way. They resolve much of the angst in a world weighed down by too many unanswered questions. For those who feel politically impotent, these narratives of intrigue secretly at play inside institutions which exercise unassailable power, provide a comforting vehicle for safely contained outrage. Knowing how the system works means knowing why you have no power to change it — so the mindset works.
Conspiracy theories spread as ad hoc clubs in which the storytellers — these are after all just stories — dole out offers of free membership to anyone who shows an interest.
With the creation of the internet we now live in the Golden Age of conspiracy theories where ill-formed ideas spread like invasive species.
These mind-weeds most easily grow where government is viewed with the deepest suspicion and the mainstream media is assumed to be inextricably bound in a servile relationship with concealed political and commercial powers.
An article of faith that seems to bind together most conspiracy theorists is a conviction that the root of all evil in the world is the U.S. government. Ultimately, everything comes back to Washington.
You know this terrorist group ISIS? Did you know it was created by the U.S. government?
Of course! How else could such a devilish organization have come into existence.
Robert Mackey has delved into the latest rendition of this familiar story.
According to the theory, which appears to have started in Egypt and spread rapidly across the region, ISIS was created by the United States as part of a plot orchestrated by the former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton to replace the region’s autocratic rulers with more pliant Islamist allies. The evidence cited to back up this claim sounds unimpeachable: passages from Mrs. Clinton’s new memoir in which she describes how a plan to bolster the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was foiled at the last moment when the Egyptian military seized power on July 5, 2013, and deployed submarines and fighter jets to block an American invasion.
If that plot sounds like the stuff of fiction, that’s because it is. The passages described by supporters of the Egyptian military on Facebook as quotes from Mrs. Clinton’s memoir were entirely fabricated and do not appear anywhere in the text of her book, “Hard Choices.”
But if the story that the U.S. created ISIS is a work of fiction, where did ISIS come from?
That’s a more complicated question than it sounds and at this point, I don’t think anyone can claim to have presented the definitive account. Even so, there has been wealth of strong reporting and analysis that fleshes out many of the key components of the picture — the role of Sunni disenfranchisement in Iraq; the cultivation of a nemesis that suited Bashar al-Assad’s narrative of his war on terrorism; and perhaps most importantly, ISIS’s focus on self-sufficiency.
Here is some essential reading:
Sarah Burke — “How al Qaeda changed the Syrian war” (December 27, 2013)
Peter Neumann — “Assad and the jihadists” (March 28, 2014)
Ziad Majed — “Fathers of ISIS” (June, 2014)
Victoria Fontan — “ISIS, the slow insurgency” (June 13, 2014)
Alex Rowell — “Blame Assad first for ISIS’ rise” (June 17, 2014)
Simon Speakman Cordall — “How Syria’s Assad helped forge ISIS” (June 21, 2014)
Rania Abouzeid — “The Syrian roots of Iraq’s newest civil war” (June 23, 2014)
Hannah Allam — “Records show how Iraqi extremists withstood U.S. anti-terror efforts” (June 23, 2014)
Bassam Barabandi and Tyler Jess Thompson — “Inside Assad’s playbook: time and terror” (July 23, 2014)
Gary Anderson — “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the theory and practice of jihad” (August 12, 2014)
Hassan Hassan — “ISIS: A portrait of the menace that is sweeping my homeland” (August 16, 2014)
Maria Abi-Habib — “Assad policies aided rise of ISIS” (August 22, 2014)