Pakistan is full of conspiracy theories about the recent terror plot in Britainby Emran Mian / September 24, 2006 / Leave a comment
I arrived in Lahore the morning that the latest terrorist plot was revealed. I was on a flight from Glasgow full of young British Pakistanis who, like me, hadn’t been to Pakistan for years, and who looked slightly alarmed when the cabin crew greeted them with a formal Assalaam-o-alaikum. I had come to see family and friends, and in virtually every house I visited, people asked me about whether the terror plot was an invention. I took this for a joke on the first few occasions, but soon I realised that people meant it. Everyone from teenage cousins to ex-members of parliament then went on to explain that the arrests and the publicity surrounding them were obviously an attempt to divert attention from Israel’s aggression in Lebanon.
Like any conspiracy theory, this one draws on paranoia and a desire to shift the blame—in this case, to shift it away from British Pakistanis. But there are other elements in this reaction, and they reveal a lot about Pakistan’s encounter with the modern world.
I had lunch with a group of cousins, all studying at university and some with hopes of studying abroad. I answered detailed questions about which mobile networks were the most popular in Britain and the features of the latest handsets. I struggled to articulate the difference between certified and chartered accountants. There was a fascination in Lahore with the “west,” which isn’t surprising on account of its relative wealth, but there is also a profound belief in its ingenuity. Of course the Americans could engineer the events of 9/11 and blame al Qaeda. After all, they’ve led the revolution in computing. Their streets are tidy. Their water is clean. When I try to puncture this view of American omnipotence by pointing out the US’s failure to master Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m told that the US wants a civil war in Iraq, that it is looking for an excuse to stay for as long as possible. These views are an expression of the belief the west is at war against Islam—but one of the roots for them is an almost touching belief in the overwhelming power of the west.
The other factor behind the conspiracy theories is that Pakistanis are bitterly aware that their newspapers and television do not tell the truth. Corruption is widespread in Pakistani society, and yet is rarely reported. People know how things really…