If amateur political analysis and debate is the Lebanese national sport, conspiracy theorizing must be its major leagues. The appeal of the conspiracy theory in Lebanon is entirely understandable. It injects reason into the bewildering arena of shifting alliances, chronic instability, and random acts of violence, which animate the political stage. Beirutis root out conspiracies with the zeal of string theorists searching for an elegant narrative that can turn chaos into order. It is an intellectually and emotionally satisfying activity, far more rewarding than philately or cricket.
The perfect conspiracy theory combines several ingredients: counterintuitiveness; actors with no free will who are easily manipulated like automata; a straightforward reading of the same events that is rejected out of hand; and a smugly arched Levantine eyebrow.
When combined perfectly, these ingredients produce a kind of cathartic experience. For some reason, the Lebanese feel at ease when they know that several predatory nations are dancing around their tiny country, rubbing their hands together and cackling menacingly as they cook up ways to exploit and subjugate them. Being reminded of this on a regular basis makes them feel safe, for indeed, the alternatives are far more disturbing.
For all of its centrality to political life in Lebanon, the conspiracy theory is hardly given the attention it deserves in the mainstream press. It is shunned, swept under the rug, and replaced by more prosaic analysis supposedly informed by journalistic responsibility. I say: To hell with responsibility! Let us embrace our national pastime and celebrate it, for what would this country be without it?
This series will seek to document the most delicious Lebanese conspiracy theories that land on this observer’s plate.
(Read the whole series here.)