Leaks Legitimize Conspiracy Theories
Wikileaks has not only knocked open the door on 250,000 secret diplomatic cables, it may also have inaugurated an era when audacious discourse will not be placed under the stifling blanket of that expression – “Conspiracy Theory”. So far only a tiny fraction is in the public domain. In fact at this rate we are in for a sensational five years unless, ofcourse, Julian Assange loses the world war in cyber space.
Eversince Columbus set sail to discover the new world, all important discourse has been controlled by the West. We learnt to remember Columbus Day, but nurse an amnesia about the genocide that followed his landing. Over the five centuries since Columbus the avenue for discourse has narrowed to an alley: bear left or right and you stray into the forbidden turf of conspiracy theories.
In no other field were the terms of discourse increasingly more rigid than in the conduct of international relations, particularly since the First World War when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and transformed into modern Middle-East, Israel being central to it.
A sort of dismissive disbelief greeted me earlier this week when I told a group of media scholars that Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussain’s Foreign Minister, was a clear headed, and one of the more lucid interlocutors I had ever met. How could someone on the side of “Evil”, so acclaimed universally, have anything to commend him?
Do the US ambassador to Baghdad, before operation Desert Storm, April Gillespie’s cables to Washington paint Aziz in flattering colours? Wait for Wikileaks.
It was not quite Kosher to discuss at a diplomatic dining table, say, Anthony Lewis columns in the New York Times suggesting that Gillespie had told Saddam (though with some diplomatic ambiguity) that his interests in Kuwait were understandable. There were all those encouraging gestures from the US Exim bank, senator Bob Dole’s meetings with Saddam. Again, wait for Wikileaks to confirm it all.
A number of writers and diplomats gave credence to the line that Saddam had been “lured” into Kuwait to create justifications for a new global coalition. This coalition had multiple objectives: to smash the old Soviet affiliate, Saddam and his Baathist infrastructure; to confirm a post Soviet role for the US in NATO; to check enhanced German-Japanese (Axis) role in the post Soviet distribution of global power.
The discourse was not centered in India, although the MEA may find its Baghdad ambassador’s notes of the period interesting. He now rears honey bees!
It did not take long to snuff out such unauthorized discourse. Deviants from conventional wisdom were promptly proclaimed the lunatic fringe, “conspiracy theorists”.
Take the bombing of Tripoli Libya, in April, 1986. Why was Qaddafi being targeted? His six month old daughter was killed in the attack. Conventional Wisdom in Tripoli’s sea front hotel, infested with journalists, was that the CIA had picked up “reliable” gossip that a Berlin discotheque was singled out by Qaddafi for acts of terrorism. A Berlin discotheque? Strange target. Was trouble not brewing since the Tripoli regime laid claims to the Gulf of Sidra? Such queries were greeted with raised eyebrows. Qaddafi was a fundamentalist supporting terrorism. That settled the issue.
Qaddafi’s much advertised fundamentalism was nowhere to be seen in Tripoli. The country had possibly the world’s first military academy for women. No Mullahs, but the most educated in the community led the Friday prayers. Women had equal rights. Indeed, Qaddafi’s personal bodyguards were women. Where was the alleged fundamentalism?
No, I was told. I was deluded by conspiracy theories. To end my isolation, Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat, with a few other Non Aligned Foreign Ministers, materialized in Tripoli to commiserate with Qaddafi. Wikileaks may be able to confirm why, but soon upon his return, Bhagat was sacked! Was Rajiv Gandhi rapped on the knuckles by Reagan? Conspiracy Theory?
A conspiracy theory I have nursed privately concerns Israeli “hippies” keeping a watch on the straits of Mallaca, from Indian territory – Nicobar islands.
When the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka, Aceh in Indonesia, Andhra and Tamil Nadu on December 26, 2004, guess who was the first ambassador to call on South Block? The Israeli Ambassador! He sought permission to evacuate Israeli citizens from Nicobar which was in the eye of the Tsunami. The Ambassador asked if he could arrange to fly out the Israelis. But once the waters subsided, the Israeli “holiday makers” preferred to stay on!
So good was the subsequent co-operation between the US and India during 2004 that a term, “Tsunami model” was coined to institutionalize co-ordination between New Delhi and Washington in South Asia, a sort of three legged diplomacy.
This is just a flavour of the kind of stuff that will find its way into journalism in the coming weeks, months or years. Is this good or bad? As the Editor said to his doubting reporter: publish and be damned!
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