Sites and organisations like Gagnauga.is and Snarrót may not be large or thriving here in Iceland, and they certainly fight for a number of good causes, but they are two examples of the extremes that uncritical acceptance of conspiracy theories can lead to. While anyone can eschew these websites, you don’t need to spread your e-mail address very far in order to start receiving all-caps e-mails espousing the same theories. More mainstream media outlets have occasionally picked up on the very edge of this fringe, and usually give it little serious coverage, but an informal survey of any medium-sized workplace will probably turn up quite a number of people leaning towards ideas like the one that the Bush administration, Jews or some huge international conspiracy was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. There are people that spend hours analysing video from that day and pulling nonsensical ‘facts’ out of their posteriors, such as the contention that no plane hit the Pentagon and the towers were detonated from within; then there are others who are prepared to listen and uncritically accept that speculation as a viable alternative to expert opinion. While space certainly does not permit me to critically assess every one of the hundreds if not thousands of outlandish claims one regularly hears about this issue, any reasonable and open-minded person should be able to come to the right conclusions by employing healthy scepticism rather than emotional speculation.
First of all, if someone comes to you with a theory that contradicts what you thought you knew, it’s a good idea not to dismiss it out of hand but ask for references and look it up for yourself. You may find links to a slew of sites with banner ads and names like “911lies.com”, but note not just what they say but who is saying it and with what evidence. Then compare that to what the impartial experts in the relative fields have said on the issue; it’s really not that hard to find structural engineers and pilots who are neither obsessed with conspiracy nor are they members of some shadowy government agency. Google is your friend in these matters, as are sites like Snopes.com.
No one knows exactly what happened on 9/11; no one knows exactly how the world is run ‘behind the scenes’, but despite what conspiracy theorists would lead you to believe we have quite a number of clues and they don’t suggest a collusion of powerful forces so much as a colossal screw-up on every level. It’s certainly not a comfortable thought to imagine that 19 religious zealots with box cutters would be able to kill 3,000 people, start two wars and a jihad and arguably change international politics and American culture forever. You might think that the most powerful government in the world could never be struck such a devastating blow in such a straightforward way, but you might also think that such a powerful government would be able to keep a single act of oral sex in the Oval Office under wraps. Or, say, a break-in into a hotel?
I happen to think that people with an unwavering belief in the omnipotence of unseen forces and governments are wrong and that ironically it is comfort that leads so many people down that path of false rationalisation of far-fetched theories that do not match any known facts. It’s time we faced a different set of facts: our governments are made up of people every bit as fallible and petty as the rest of us are. Your average government agency works about as efficiently as an underwater toaster. If you are one of the people sending out e-mails suggesting that Halldór Ásgrímsson announced the closure of the military base to take the heat off the Baugur ruling or that Dick Cheney shot his friend in the face to draw attention away from an accounting scandal, you might want to think of Occam’s razor and consider an alternative: Perhaps they are simply not all that competent?