I wrote in The Hidden Hand, my 1996 book surveying conspiracy theories in the Middle East, that
Turkey and Israel stand out as the only two Middle Eastern countries where leaders are fully accountable to electorates, where the West is viewed more as an ally than as an enemy, and where conspiracy theories have a relatively minor role in public life. … Few mainstream politician, intellectual, or religious leaders [in Turkey] engage in conspiratorial thinking, which exists mostly at the fringes of polite society.
How sadly have things changed in the intervening years. Here’s one example of many, not more egregious but more spectacular than most:
The background: On Jan. 30, Israeli warplanes struck targets in Syria. A week later, the exact details remain murky, but it concerned the transfer of advanced armaments by the Syrian regime to the Hizbullah terrorist group in Lebanon. One might expect the Turkish authorities to applaud this step, both because it did damage to the regime Ankara wants to overthrow and because those advanced armaments could potentially be used against Turkish interests. But no, both the government and the communist opposition spun elaborate and unconvincing conspiracy theories about the Israel raid.
- Government: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticized the Syrian government for not responding to the Israeli attack and spoke of a secret deal. “Why has the Syrian army, which has been attacking its own people with warplanes and tanks for 22 months, not responded to this Israeli operation? Why doesn’t [Bashar al-Assad] throw a stone at the Israeli planes while they fly over his palace and insult his nation’s honor? Why doesn’t he do anything against Israel while he drops bombs on the innocent people of his country? Is there a secret agreement between Israel and Assad?” He suggested that the Israeli air strikes serve the interests of the Syrian government, arguing that Assad is “exploiting” the Israeli attack to increase his support among Muslims.
- Opposition: SANA, the Syrian news agency, quotes Bülent Esinoğlu, vice chairman of Turkish Labor Party (EMEP), saying that the AKP government in Turkey “has cooperated with Israel in its aggression” on Syria. He goes on to claim that Davutoğlu turned a blind eye to this event and that “the Turkish Government was aware of the aggression in advance.”
In brief, the government has Assad cooperating with Israel and the communists have Prime Minister Erdoğan cooperating with Israel.
Comments: (1) This sort of reasoning can quickly leave one with a sore head. (2) With inane conspiracy theories flying back and forth, the population gets confused, public life is degraded, and the portents for Turkey look dim.
About the Author: Daniel Pipes is a world-renowned Middle East and Islam expert. He is President of the Middle East Forum. His articles appear in many newspapers. He received his A.B. (1971) and Ph.D. (1978) from Harvard University and has taught at Harvard, Pepperdine, the U.S. Naval War College, and the University of Chicago. He is a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace and other institutions. His website is DanielPipes.org.
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