Even before the towers fell, conspiracy theories were spreading around the world

We all remember the first “conspiracy”. September 11 was a Mossad plot to force the US to war against the Arabs. Indeed, all over the Middle East, there are Arabs who believe there were no Arabs on the airliners. Then there was the vicious and blatantly false claim that Jewish-Americans were warned not to go to the World Trade Centre on 11 September. But then, a year later, I was in a Manhattan taxi when the driver told me that Arab-American taxi-drivers had been warned not to approach the World Trade Centre on 11 September. He was South Korean and I mercifully reached La Guardia airport before he could finish explaining how North Korea was involved in the suicide attacks.

Even as the Americans bombed Afghanistan, I found a letter in an Indian newspaper which said that there were no pilots in the four US airliners on 11 September; they were all flying by remote control. Given the amount of secrecy that still surrounds the international crimes against humanity committed that day – the US government’s refusal to release the voice recorder of hijacked flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field, for example; the secret post-attack departure of bin Laden family members from the US (with Bush’s permission), the true story that Israeli “students” had been arrested by the FBI and then deported after they were found to be in the US with the wrong visas – the conspiracy lads were bound to have a field day.

Was Flight 93 shot down by a US army aircraft? Were Bush and the bin Ladens in a joint plot to start a war? How come – a story, this, from the Israeli press – Israeli agents were already watching the suicide pilots as they were undergoing flight training? Conspiracy specialists have now created a whole library of plots and sub-plots, of which David Icke’s Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Centre Disaster: Why the Official Story of 9/11 is a Monumental Lie is among the most ingenious and crazed.

But then we all believe in conspiracies. President Bush first told us he was setting out on a “Crusade”. Then he claimed that the US was at war with “Evil”. Which, of course, is exactly what Osama bin Laden claimed he was doing – fighting against US “Crusaders”, along with “Evil”. Oddly, General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior US commander in Iraq, was blathering on in the same vein a few weeks ago, referring to dead Iraqi policemen as compatriots in “our Crusade”. There is something subliminal about all this, a kind of Biblical-Koranic subtext in which the treacheries of the Old Testament and the rules of Koranic engagement have created a new world of unreality for the protagonists.

September 11, 2001, did not change the world – Bush did that. First he was going to kill bin Laden, who was at the centre of a giant plot to destroy democracy. “They can’t stand freedom – they hate what America stands for.” This morphed, after the US’s failure to find bin Laden, into a campaign to destroy Saddam Hussein. Now Saddam was suddenly found to be responsible for 11 September, even though the campaign to overthrow him – a real plot – had been hatched during Clinton’s administration.

The Arab and American versions of the war contained weirdly parallel conspiracy theories. The Americans, Arabs said, were invading Iraq for its oil; because Saddam had switched from the dollar to the euro in oil trading; because the US wanted Israel to “buy up” Iraq. Not so, claimed US support. They were invading for democracy. They wanted to liberate Iraq, to bring justice to its people, to change the Arab world for ever and create a role-model that would push the Middle East into the modern world. The more specific the Arab claims became, the more otherworldly the Western response. It was good against evil again. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He planned to sell them to a world terror network. If the people of the world did not accept this, it was time for brave leaders to press ahead with war anyway. This, the Blair line, was complemented by a British minister, who, speaking of the Prime Minister’s leadership qualities, said that people “sometimes need a guide”. The Guide – Führer in the German language – is what Saddam called himself.

So how to unravel plot and fact? Well, Iraq did have oil, but it didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction – even though Bush went on claiming it did until he blurted out that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 11 September. The new US proconsul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, did admit that Israelis would be allowed to bid for Iraqi companies. But so far there’s no democracy in Iraq, precious little justice and no Arab nation right now that would want to use Iraq as a role model. The Plot, cried the Arabs again: the real reason for the invasion was to destroy Iraq as a country and weaken the Arab homeland in its struggle against Zionism.

Saddam, of course, was a fantasist. He built a state founded on conspiracies and plots for which his minions were for ever being tortured and executed. Osama bin Laden always believed in plots. His original version was that the infidel royal family of Saudi Arabia had conspired to sell the Muslim world to the West. Then he believed he was freeing the Middle East from the shackles of the Americans – as a result, he actually got the American army into two more Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. Both bin Laden and Bush have talked endlessly about prayer, although bin Laden believes in dreams as well – seeking visions from Koranic quotations seems to be a habit of the Sunni Muslim Wahabis.

By the summer of this year, the conspiracy had changed again. The Americans brought bin Laden back on to their television screens. “Foreign fighters” were attacking the Americans in Iraq, according to Mr Bush – ignoring the fact that there were 120,000 foreign fighters in Iraq wearing American uniform. Iraq, announced Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was the “new front line in the war on terror”. This was news to the Iraqis – indeed it was news to just about everyone, since this conspiracy hadn’t been disclosed to us before we invaded Iraq. Then up popped the real bin Laden to declare that, yes, the war against the Crusaders would be fought in Iraq.

Somewhere in the human brain fear and fantasy create conspiracy. Never more so than now. The “axis of evil” exists in all our minds. Presumably only Iran and North Korea are still in the axis. But we’ll have to dream up some more nightmares before we send the tanks in again. By then, we may have forgotten the real plot – in which four hijacked airliners were smashed into the symbols of American financial and military power to prove that the United States was no longer invincible.

Courtesy Josh Kirby and www.dissidentsreport.com

Correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk is resident in the Middle East and comments on events unfolding there