If anyone has lived in the Middle East for any amount of time, you will be familiar with the love of conspiracy theories. The Manichaean worldview that there are powerful forces constantly working behind the scenes to control the world is mainstream. Here in the ME, everything is believed to happen for a reason. There are no coincidences. The really crazy part is that sometimes they’re right
One of the difficulties of living in the Middle East for foreigners and residents alike is that you simply are never 100% sure of what’s going on. What you see is never what you get and there is always something deeper and then something deeper and on and on. Just try following the Ergenekon case or ask about the Deep State (derin devlet) here in Turkey for a taste of the complexity involved.
So if you ever have a conversation class or need to cover a class on short notice, conspiracies is a great topic that has always worked for me. Students will start arguing about the validity of the various theories and constantly propose alternatives. Here is a video on the New World Order that I often use to introduce the discussion. Can you make sense of all the connections?
Connections made: Kennedy assassination, sacred geometry, the Masons, Jewish Kabbalah, the US government, transnational corporations, Satanism, Christianity, the Knights Templar, Ancient Egyptian religion, Ancient Greek religion, 9/11, Crop Circles, Da Vinci, Nicholas Tesla, El Salvador, the Illuminati, the Pope/Catholicism, Tarot Cards, Capitalism
I bet you didn’t know that was all connected under one big conspiracy. Consider yourself enlightened.
After showing the video, you can ask, “What did you see and do you agree or disagree with it?” That usually leads to about a 1 to 2 hour discussion without even needing to feed the convo in any way.
Other Interesting Activities:
1) I like to talk about conspiracy theorists in general and their characteristics. This is a good video because of the text. It shows the seeker mentality: “The truth is out there” but you have to find it. It’s hidden, but for those with access to the hidden knowledge – i.e. the theorists – the evidence is everywhere if you make the effort to search it out. You could create a profile of a conspiracy theorist and even compare theorists from different countries and discuss why they may be different.
2) Creating a list of other conspiracy theories. Aside from American standards like the Kennedy Assassination, Pearl Harbor, the fake moon landing, 9/11 n such, there are tons surrounding Turkey and, of course, the Jews. Some of my all time favorite theories I’ve heard from students are:
- All suicide bombers in Turkey are hired by America. We know this because when we examine the pieces we always find Tommy Hilfiger underwear. (Note: Tommy Hilfiger is sold in Turkey and can be bought as a knock-off or the real thing in almost any city.)
- Israel causes earthquakes in Turkey like the big one in ’99 by detonating nuclear bombs deep under Turkish soil. Alternatively, I’ve heard that this is done by a super secret satellite in the sky that shoots some special seismic rays into Turkey.
- Greenpeace is a secret British organization that infiltrates countries to find out their nuclear capabilities.
- Turkey buys most of its grain from Israel but Israel secretly genetically engineers the grain so that it doesn’t produce seeds. This forces Turkey to re-buy the grain from Israel every year. (Why Turkey doesn’t buy from another country instead is never explained.)
- China, Europe, Israel , or America put some poisonous chemical in some type of Turkish food or clothing that gives people cancer.
- The Masons are actually a secret group of Jews who believe that they are specially chosen by God and will become the Mahdi.
- The last Turkish plane to crash in Europe was actually engineered by Denmark to make Turks look like bad pilots.
Do you have any favorite conspiracy theories? Maybe they are your own or maybe you’ve heard them from others.
3) Do an interview with either yourself if you’re a non-believer or another teacher who doesn’t believe in certain conspiracy theories. Often I’ll focus on 9/11 for this one. As the majority of the populace here believes 9/11 was perpetrated by either the U.S. government or Israel, this is a real interesting one. Just make sure you or another speaker researches the subject heavily beforehand as you’ll find you need to know quite a bit of detailed info.
3) Take a more academic look at these beliefs and why they persist. I use a short piece on the persistence of super conspiracy theories by Michael Barkun – a leading academic on the topic.
4) It’s great for homework or research. Pairs research evidence for and against various theories and present it. This can be done debate style as well.
A final note of caution: While I love these kinds of lessons, the few foreign teachers I’ve shared it with before have always cut their lessons short as they become quite surprised and even overwhelmed by some of the beliefs here. You really have to be able to keep an open mind on this one if you’re not familiar with this kind of thing.
Remember, I can only show you the door, you have to step through it.
Update: Just after putting up this post I came across an article on Turkey’s Tattoo Politics about many young people now getting tattoos of Ataturk. When one women is asked about her new tattoo standing as a symbol against the current Islamic-oriented government, her friend says, “These people want to want to divide Turkey. That’s because they’re Jewish agents.” I think this is a perfect snapshot of the casualness with which conspiracy theories are accepted here.
The article goes on to make some very insightful points. I recommend giving it a look if you are interested in Turkish culture.
Turkish and Conspiracy Theories - a Turkish students take on the reason for conspiracy beliefs.
How Conspiracy Theories Spread – from the Turkish Daily News