Conspiracy theory par excellence [against Gülen movement]

Şahin Alpay
Şahin Alpay

Date posted: January 5, 2014


I woke up to the fact that conspiracy theories were poisoning the minds of many at home in Turkey and elsewhere, in the process of settling accounts in the latter half of the 1970s with the Marxist paradigm that had captured my mind and distorted much of what I was looking at in reality.

My humble struggle against conspiracy theories in Turkey began soon after returning home from a long stay in Sweden as a political refugee engaged in graduate studies. As a first step, in 1982 I translated into Turkish the great philosopher of science Karl R. Popper’s essay “Prediction and prophecy in the social sciences,” which to my mind laid bare the nature of conspiracy theories. Ever since, that is, for over 30 years, I have often had to write and talk against such theories.

Going through my archive the other day I discovered some of the earliest columns I wrote on the topic. This was what I wrote in a column titled “External enemies, internal enemies…”: “I sometimes get the impression that we as a society have fallen victim to national paranoia, to irrational fears due to a mental disorder. Those who believe that our most burning problems are created by foreign enemies and their agents at home who aim to dismember Turkey, to destroy our state or at least render it weak and decrepit are so very widespread… According to many all that is bad and evil in Turkey is due to the designs of either ‘the communist states and their local agents,’ or of ‘imperialists and their lackeys…’ or of Zionists, or Christian missionaries…” (Cumhuriyet, Nov. 27, 1991).

I tried to explain, in reference to Popper, that conspiracy theories are a consequence of the secularization of religious beliefs; that human beings first explained everything by the work of God, which was later replaced by laws of nature and history; that conspiracy theories are the most primitive form of the secularization of religious beliefs which hold capitalists, imperialists, communists, fascists, freemasons, Zionists, etc., responsible for all that happens in the world; that conspiracy theories conflict with social science, which seeks to identify the causes of social phenomena by the study of the unintended consequences of intended social action. I argued that theories which explain all that happens by the conspiracies of a single all-powerful actor poison our minds and prevent us from making an objective assessment of what we see happening.

Mine and others’ warnings against the dangers of conspiracy theories seem to have failed entirely. Today in Turkey, a new version of the conspiracy theory is embraced by a broad spectrum of people, including not only Islamist or secular fundamentalists but also people you would normally expect to be sensible. That broad spectrum of people appears to be convinced that Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has advanced an interpretation of Islam in line with liberal modernity, and the faith-based social movement he has inspired, is to be blamed for all wrongdoing and crime that is going on in Turkey.

According to this conspiracy theory par excellence, it is the followers of Gülen in the judiciary and the police who have, with forged evidence, jailed those charged for engaging in military coup plots, fabricated the judicial cases against those prosecuted for being Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members, attempted to arrest the chief of the national intelligence service to undermine the peace process with the PKK, used illegally shot sex tapes to discredit politicians, wiretapped tens of thousands of people, concocted the case against a sports club president sentenced to jail for match-fixing, laid (as part of a global conspiracy involving the US and Israel) a trap to topple the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government with the recent corruption probe, murdered three PKK women activists in Paris, tried to stop the truck carrying, on orders of the national intelligence service, supplies for Turkmens in Syria, etc., etc.

Many happily subscribe to this “theory” due to their secular fundamentalist or Islamist prejudices, but those who market it definitely find it a convenient tool for covering up much wrongdoing and crime.

Source: Today's Zaman , January 5, 2014

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