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Let's Assume it's a Conspiracy

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ByTarek Heggy

There are many in our part of the world who subscribe wholeheartedly to the conspiracy theory, firmly convinced that sinister forces are busy hatching plots against them. United in their belief, they differ only as to the motives of the conspirators. Some see them as motivated by an atavistic hatred for Muslims in general and Arabs in particular, others by a fear that an Arab awakening represents a danger that must be averted at all costs. Then are those who attribute the conspiracy to Jewish machinations. Finally, there are those who believe it is part of a grand design for the economic exploitation of the region.

The conspiracy theory has always intrigued me, and I have written frequently, in both Arabic and English, about the theory, those who subscribe to it, their logic and the implications of allowing their worldview to dominate our thinking. The reason I am revisiting the subject here is neither in the aim of supporting those who deny the existence of a conspiracy against us, nor of refuting the arguments of those who are convinced we are the targets of a conspiracy. Rather, it is to try and go beyond the question at the heart of what has become a sterile and demobilizing debate (is there a conspiracy against us?) to another question: assuming we are in fact pawns in a grand design orchestrated by others, is there anything we can do other than lament the fact, which so many seem to think is the only course open to us? In fact, our reaction to the conspiracy � assuming it exists � can proceed according to one of several scenarios.

The first scenario, which is embodied in the reaction of the majority of our conspiracy theorists, is to rant against the conspirators and speechify about how much they hate and envy us. This becomes an occasion to enumerate the qualities that make us an object of envy. I call this the �declamatory scenario.� Then there is the �confrontation scenario,� in which the self-perceived �victims� of a conspiracy adopt a confrontational stance towards the �conspirators.� Finally, there is what I have chosen to call the �Asian scenario.� I decided on this appellation following a discussion I had with a prominent Japanese personality, who asked me why our part of the world was so obsessed with conspiracies and conspirators, in contrast with East and Southeast Asia where, he said, �despite the atomic bombs dropped by the West on our cities, we did not waste our time talking of conspiracies. Instead of indulging in this futile exercise, we directed our attention at building ourselves up internally in all spheres, economic, political, social, educational and cultural. We opted for action rather than words, because we realized the declamatory scenario would get us nowhere: it would neither benefit us nor hurt others. As to the confrontational scenario, setting ourselves on a collision course with the West would have exacted a heavy price, and we would have ended up squandering our time, assets, resources and energy striving for the impossible.� 

The Asian scenario, which eschews words in favour of action, was adopted by China in another, very different, matter. Instead of getting bogged down in an endless debate over the respective merits of a socialist command economy based on centralized planning versus a market economy, China quietly pressed ahead with its own version of the Asian scenario, keeping most of its provinces under the old system while allowing a few to follow a market economy. After what had started out as a limited experiment proved successful, China gradually expanded its scope, moving smoothly from the old economic system to the new without tearing society apart by involving it in a polarizing and endless national debate which would have set the pro- and anti-change camps at each other�s throats and sapped the national will to move forward. Too much talk and no action can only erode society�s resolve and, as the old adage goes, �It is a nation�s resolve that can revive it. 

My interlocutor went on: �Look at China, which is -theoretically- more dangerous for the West (approximately a thousand times more dangerous) than you are. And yet it avoided getting bogged down in useless talk of conspiracies and focussed on the process of building itself up internally. I believe that Russia and India, like China, also represent a greater threat to the West than the Arabs do, and yet neither of them got caught up in a war of words against conspiracies and conspirators. Which tends to prove that you Arabs are using this talk of conspiracy for other reasons, maybe an inability to deal with what is essentially a conflict situation as active participants bent on affecting the outcome to their advantage, which entails building a strong, healthy, stable and thriving internal environment.�

I believe that talk of conspiracy can be as demobilizing for a society as talk of the clash of civilizations. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that we are the targets of a conspiracy, we should ask ourselves what positive action we can take to foil the designs of the conspirators. Loudly bewailing our fate while waiting passively for whatever they decide to throw at us hardly qualifies as positive action. At best, the declamatory scenario is the line of least resistance, a static scenario that locks us into a world of fiery language and prevents us from taking control of our destiny. And if we opt for the confrontational scenario, we must be ready to pay a heavy price in terms of our financial, economic, natural and human resources. In the final analysis, then, it is only by adopting the Asian scenario based on building a strong internal front in all fields, political, economic, social, educational and cultural, that we can hope to achieve our aim of serving this nation and ensuring a better future for coming generations. The point I am trying to make can best be summed up in the words of a character in one of Shakespeare�s plays (I do not recall which), that I will paraphrase here. When asked by another character what was the source of England�s pride, he attributed it to its ability to achieve success. It is an answer that can be used against both the declamatory and confrontational scenarios. The former, in which words take the place of deeds, is incapable of achieving pride, while the latter, in the absence of a strong internal front, can only result in great loss.

I believe it would be easy to convince most people in our part of the world of how ineffectual the declamatory scenario is when it comes to coping with external threats. It is a scenario we have long been familiar with, and we have seen at first hand how it has consistently failed to live up to its extravagant promises. We have also seen how it has all too often led us into situations for which we were ill-prepared, with disastrous consequences. But while most people realize that big talk has cost us dearly, and would be receptive to the idea that the declamatory scenario is no longer an option, they would be less ready to concede that the confrontational scenario too should be abandoned. In fact, there are those who would challenge my contention that the confrontational scenario can only be a losing proposition as defeatism. This accusation is easily rebutted. Even the most fervent believers in a conspiracy theory cannot deny that our internal front is weak and friable and that all our resources must be deployed to address this problem. Nor can they deny that overcoming the problem entails a concerted effort that combines scientific knowledge, modern management techniques, a serious programme for reform and development, an educational revolution aimed at bringing Egypt�s educational system into line with modern educational systems (which are based on creativity not memory tests), expanding the scope of general freedoms and allowing for wider popular participation in public affairs. And if we can easily reach agreement on this point, we should just as easily be able to agree that embarking on a confrontational scenario for which we are not prepared will cost us dearly. 

Thus building a strong internal front is the first task we must set ourselves because it is the only way we can deal effectively with the outside world, whether as partners in a state of peaceful coexistence or as protagonists in a confrontational situation. Neither coexistence nor confrontation is possible unless we focus on improving our internal structural buildup. In this connection, a useful lesson can be drawn from the experience of Mohamed Ali. As long as he confined himself to building up Egypt�s internal institutions, he was not subjected to external pressure or dragged into confrontations aimed at clipping his wings. But when he shifted his attention from the internal front, when he began harbouring ambitions to transform Egypt into a great power with a role to play and interests to promote beyond its borders, he found himself facing the same fate as that of countless dedicated rulers who succumbed to the temptation to expand their sphere of influence beyond the borders of their own countries. Like boxers entering the ring before they are ready, that is, without going through a lengthy regimen of training and preparation, they were easily defeated by their stronger and better prepared opponents, who managed to inflict heavy damage, not only externally but also internally. 

In conclusion, I have tried in this article to drive home the point that even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there is a conspiracy against us, we must be aware of the dangers of opting for the declamatory or confrontational scenarios. The former serves only to paralyze society and keep it in a state of suspended animation; the latter, while feeding the psychological cravings of some, satisfying the emotional needs of others and responding to the basic instincts of many, can only deplete our resources and cause us to incur heavy losses we can ill afford. As Shakespeare so perceptively put it, pride can only come from success. It is also useful here to recall another wise saying: There is nothing worse than allowing what is attainable to slip from our grasp while we strive for the unattainable! 


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