It was perhaps an omen that we entered the 21st century riding a wave of doom-mongering. In case you’ve forgotten, as the world entered the new millennium, power grids were supposed to collapse, aircraft were expected to fall like rocks from the sky, humankind was endangered. You know, that Y2K thing?
Nothing of the sort happened. And brandmeisters got busy figuring out what the new decade would be called. The naughties? The noughts? I’m still not sure if they reached a consensus, but on September 11, 2001, the decade got its definition: 9/11.
Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of that traumatic day, and in the years in between 9/11 has become a global phenomenon. India had its 9/11 on 26/11, the Mumbai terror attacks; Madrid and London had theirs; and on July 22, Anders Behring Breivik added Norway to the list.
And we are constantly reminded of living in a post-9/11 world, as with the Delhi blasts on Wednesday.
What 9/11 also did was to create a booming ancillary industry of conspiracy theories. Manned by the ‘truthers’, these are people who question its fundamentals. In fact, there’s four-day conference featuring ‘hearings’ on that very subject this month in Toronto. The ‘truthers’ have allies in usually rational folk. Like an Indian restaurant owner in New York’s Curry Hill locality, who insisted to me one day, sans context, that 9/11 was nothing but an American false flag operation, a deliberate device of the Bush administration, abetted by Israel’s spy agency, Mossad.
They could Google the truth, but, then again, as I’ve been told, many truther clones believe Google is a CIA front.
9/11 is conspiracy gold, the gift that keeps on giving, even 10 years after. It could be that conspiracy is such a fundamental block of popular culture, at least in the United States. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, the bestest sellers of these times, indicate as much. But conspiracy makes for solid fiction, poor fact.
The conspiracy epidemic is global. We heard a few theories about 26/11. And more recently, about Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption fast. Was it brainchilded by the knickerwallahs? Or, wasn’t this a CIA plot? See? Conspiracies can be environment-friendly and those of the 1970s can still be recycled.
Not that conspiracies are a modern construct. Six million years ago, there were probably some early hominids arguing that others of their tribe that had started walking upright were backed by vested interests controlled by a crooked cabal of apes. But while their forebears had to transmit their messages using clumsy clubs for effect, modern conspirators have technology enabling their high jumps to conclusions. Today, he or she can post on Facebook that “Osama’s not really dead; you can see him alive in the Kim Kardashian honeymoon pix” and get dozens of lemming-like clicks of the Like button. Or, if on Twitter, retweet that.
The majority of 9/11 conspiracy buffs have a fine left-of-centre pedigree. But the political right isn’t left behind in this sphere. ‘Birthers’, for instance, don’t believe US President Barack Obama was born in the country, possibly because many of them don’t realise that Hawaii is an American state.
The art of conspiracy is so well-refined in America that there are actually identifying terms to describe the delusional on either flank. For the left, wingnuts, and for the right, moonbats. We live, truly, in the golden age of conspiracy. The 9/11 conspiracy pundits will market their con jobs into the decades ahead. Conspiracies, like cockroaches, are survivors.
The ugly truth is that nearly 3,000 people died that morning in Lower Manhattan in an incident of terror that, in Christopher Hitchens’ words, was “simply evil”. While al-Qaeda’s nihilist band may have shrunk somewhat, its comrades and fellow travelers like the Taliban, Hamas, al-Shabab or Lashkar-e-Taiba flourish.
Conspiracy buffs can choose to live in a world of their own creation. The rest of us have to cope with reality.
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal