Saturday Reads: “Too Handsome” Hoax and Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories

Omar Borkan Al Gala, fashion photographer, actor, and poet from Dubai

Omar Borkan Al Gala, fashion photographer, actor, and poet from Dubai

Good Morning!!

On April 24, I put up a lighthearted post about a story I’d seen on-line about three men from the UAE who were thrown out of a cultural festival in Saudi Arabia and deported for being “too handsome.” We are still getting hits on the post from all over the world, and it has been viewed thousands of times.

When I put the post up along with photos of Omar Borkan Al Gala, I had no idea if the story was actually true; I just thought it was silly and entertaining. I did quote from legitimate sources like Time Magazine though.

The post didn’t get much reaction at Sky Dancing that night, but on April 25, we had 6,700 page views from 4,672 unique visitors to Sky Dancing blog, and most of those folks were checking out the “too handsome” story and photos. We were linked at Gawker, The New York Daily News, Huffington Post UK, and hundreds of smaller sites. We got hits from countries I’d barely heard of before.

BTW, our beloved JJ works some kind of magic with Google that helps us stay at the top of searches, so that probably has contributed to our getting so much traffic from a silly post.

Anyway, last night I came across this interesting piece at at a site called “Islawmix: bringing clarity to Islamic law in the news.” The headline is “The Man Too Handsome for Saudi Arabia Who Wasn’t.”

Saudi Arabia often makes US (and international) headlines for its laws (legal mishaps?) regarding women, sex and religious minorities. Some of these stories undoubtedly belong there, but a surprising number gain traction thanks to a small amount of research and suspension of critical engagement. It seems that when it comes to Saudi Arabia (and sometimes her theocratic counterpart Iran, albeit less so),  the more bizarre the story may seem – in that way only the Saudi Arabia of our perception could normalize – the more believable it is.

News and blog media have a particular penchant for covering ridiculous, often inaccurate and even false fatwas (here’s our quick definition and a more nuanced discussion on it). And in August 2012, the internet went into a bit of an uproar over the alleged building of an all-female city to promote women’s participation in the workforce. Unfortunately, the dreams of the impending matriarchy were dashed when it was eventually revealed that the city was for both men and women, but created facilities specific for women to encourage their participation.

On the “too handsome” story, Islawix reports that

As it turns out, three men were not, in fact, deported from Saudi Arabia. Actually, no one was deported from Saudi Arabia and certainly not for being too handsome. And, actually, no one was even kicked out of the heritage and cultural festival except for a member of the religious police for protesting against the presence of a Gulf female singer. According to UK’s Al-Arab:

A member of the Saudi feared religious police, known as Mutawa, stormed the UAE pavilion at National Festival for Heritage and Culture, also known as Al Janadriyah, but was forced out by the Gulf Kingdom’s national guards.

The incident took place when the Mutawa member objected to the presence of the Emirati singer Aryam in her country’s pavilion.

It turns out that Al Gala actually was in attendance at the event, but he wasn’t kicked out or deported.

There was, indeed, an incident involving Al Gala (and apparently him alone): according to the head of the mutawaeen, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh (Arabic source), Al Gala had made his way into the family section of the event and was dancing inappropriately. Several complaints were made against him and he was taken aside by members of the national guard, questioned and that was it. He was not asked to leave the event, let alone the country. It turns out his uncomfortable dancing and not his uncomfortably good looks were the reason for some cause for concern and discomfort at the festival.

I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Al Gala hadn’t even been in Saudi Arabia that day. I just saw this as a lighthearted and funny story. I’m grateful to Islamix for sorting out the real facts, and I apologize for any contribution I made inaccurate reporting on Middle Eastern culture.

Although I don’t really think the reporting on the Saudi Arabia story was that big a deal, it does highlight a real problem with misinformation in the media generally.

As someone who has lived in Boston for nearly half a century, I was shocked and traumatized by the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon on April 15. I think it’s understandable that as a Bostonian and as a psychologist with an interest in personality development, I’ve been curious about the alleged bombers and their motivations. Naturally, I have been following the story fairly closely since the beginning.

misinformation

I have been stunned by the amount of misinformation that has come not only from the media, but from the authorities involved in the investigation. It’s understandable that there is confusion in a chaotic story like this that involves horrible injuries and Hollywood-like shootouts in residential streets. I’ve lived here since 1967, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The misinformation coming from authorities and then printed unquestionably by the mainstream media contributes the the development of the kinds of bizarre conspiracy theories that appear in the wake of startling events.

For the past couple of days I’ve been on Twitter a lot, looking for information on the Tsarnaev brothers and their possible motives, as well as following updates on the investigation. I can’t begin to tell you the nutty stuff that is out there–claims that the FBI and/or CIA actually carried out the bombings and that the Tsarnaevs were framed; that the entire event was staged, with fake injuries and fake blood; that the shootouts were faked using “rubber bullets” or “dummy bullets”; that the bombings were carried out by Blackwater-type government mercenaries, and of course there were the inevitable Alex Jones blather about “false flag” attacks. I’ve had to block people who started following my tweets and trying to feed me this garbage.

wrong on Iraq

Here are some articles on the Boston conspiracy theories and their implications:

Newsday: Conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombings, by Rekha Basu.

Basu points out–and I strongly agree–that conspiracy theories are often fed by misinformation coming not only from the media, but from the government. After all the lies from the Bush administration that led us into two endless wars followed by the Obama’s administration’s refusal to investigate or prosecute Bush administration crimes, it’s hardly surprising that Americans are more suspicious of their government than ever. Basu’s concusion:

The problem is, we’ve been fed just enough mistruths from both parties, especially on war matters, to be susceptible. The Bush administration went to war with Iraq insisting it had weapons of mass destruction, when it didn’t. The Obama administration claimed Osama bin Laden was killed after a gunfight with U.S. troops, when he never had a chance to put up resistance. Americans were lied to about Iran-Contra, the My Lai massacre, the CIA-engineered overthrows of left-leaning governments in Chile and Guatemala. Some of us who grew up in the anti-war 1960s now pride ourselves on questioning official answers.

PolicyMic: Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories Aren’t Even Theories, Just Paranoia. This is a really thoughtful and helpful piece, IMO.

The wake of the Boston Marathon bombings brought with it an undertow of conspiracy theories ranging from the farfetched to the unbelievable. Two weeks ago, I never would have imagined being asked to explain, in casual social situations, what a “false flag” attack is. OnThe David Pakman Show, inspired in great part by curiosity about the response it would bring, we’ve been debunking many of these theories. In dissecting much of the material, in particular one short video released by Glenn Beck, I’ve been able to identify the fundamental misunderstanding that impedes productive conversation with conspiracy theorists. This is not an indication of my personal belief that any specific conspiracy theory is or is not true. This is not a denial, on my part, that governments don’t sometimes lie, distort, and distract, but merely an attempt to point out the fallacious nature of many conspiratorial arguments….

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Beck developed and expanded on a theory about the young Saudi national who was injured in the explosion. Initially incorrectly assumed to be a suspect in the immediate aftermath on April 15, Beck believes he is actually an Al-Qaeda recruiter who the government is trying to sneak out of the country. The theory is much more involved, but the details are irrelevant to my discussion here.

After outlining his case, Beck repeated the fundamental misunderstanding that so many conspiracy theorists hold. “The burden of proof is on the federal government,” Beck said, “and so far they have not presented one shred of evidence that has refuted what the Blaze (Beck’s associated internet media outlet) has reported.”

This is the central issue and fundamental problem surrounding conspiracy theories and theorists. The burden of proof is not transferred to whoever is accused by the conspiracy theorist. The desire for the federal government to address whether the moon landing was faked, whether 9/11 was an “inside job,” or whether the Boston Marathon bombing was a “false flag operation” does not transfer the burden of proof to the federal government. The burden of proof is on he who proposes the theory.

Choose-to-Know-Stop-the-Misinformation-Profile-Picture-1

From Verdict, a legal analysis blog at Justia.com comes a piece by former Nixon lawyer and Watergate figure John Dean: Unfortunately, Conspiracy Theorists Are Now Busy Concocting Bizarre Explanations of The Boston Marathon Bombing.

Conspiracy-theory believers are now focusing on the Boston Marathon bombing, just as they did with the Sandy Hook killings of children and their teachers, by rejecting official information about the events. The increasing Internet prominence of people who reject “official” accounts of such events again raises questions: Who are these people? What are they doing? And why are they doing it?

Dean references a story in the Guardian that presents “a jaw-dropping list of the leading explanations being offered by conspiracy theorists for the Boston Marathon bombing,” and offers some background.

Conspiracy-theory thinking has had varying degrees of prominence throughout history.  Broadly defined a conspiracy theory is “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.”

A recent poll shows, for example, that “37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77.”  And “51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone.” The poll noted that “28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.”

You can read the rest at the link. I admit I have some issues with what Dean writes, because he suggests that to buy into any “conspiracy theory” is to abandon all critical thinking. And that definition is strange. I thought a conspiracy theory was the notion that more than one person was involved in planning or executing some event. Anyway, I would argue that the Warren Commission was based on a trumped up theory similar to the Bush administration’s propagation of it’s conspiracy theory about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It seems to me that one needs to apply “critical thinking” to both government activities and claims and to anti-government conspiracy theories. The problem IMO is that there are so many people out there who are just plain ignorant and/or stupid.

Anyway, I may have more on this in a future post. For now, here’s a link to a Salon article that Dakinikat posted awhile back on “the psychology of conspiratorial thinking” and another more recent article at Salon, originally published by Scientific American on “how conspiracists think.”

Now what’s on your mind today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and Have a terrific weekend!

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40 Comments on “Saturday Reads: “Too Handsome” Hoax and Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s something to consider. Glenn Greenwald writes at the Guardian: Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government? A former FBI counterterrorism agent claims on CNN that this is the case.

    Is that a “conspiracy theory” or frightening reality? You be the judge. Is it any wonder that many Americans are paranoid or that horrible people like Alex Jones and Glen Beck use the fear and ignorance of many to make millions?

    • bostonboomer says:

      From the Greenwald article:

      Over the past couple days, cable news tabloid shows such as CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett have been excitingly focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As part of their relentless stream of leaks uncritically disseminated by our Adversarial Press Corps, anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way.

      On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:

      BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

      CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

      BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

      CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

      “All of that stuff” – meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant – “is being captured as we speak”.

      • boogieman7167 says:

        I don’t know if I want to buy into that idea that U.S. government has a record of every telephone call the every took place buy anyone text maybe. e-mail probably. but voice recordings of every phone call . I don’t buy that .

      • bostonboomer says:

        You don’t buy it, based on what evidence? It’s been repeatedly and widely reported that the NSA records everything and Telcom companies help them. Why do you think Congress had to pass a bill to immunize the Telcoms? Obama lobbied for and voted for that bill–the FISA renewal under Bush.

      • RalphB says:

        There are 315 million people in the US. Tons of them are adults with one or more phones. Lots of them make multiple phone calls/day. The volume of data is ludicrous and would not be even cursorily analyzed. The data storage requirements would be gigantic. I can’t imagine they would keep recordings for very long, if they collected them all in the first place.

      • What is the point of that (tapping everyone’s phone/recording them), if they get to Russian TIPS of CONCERN and one in writing from the Saudis, but they don’t act on them? I am left confused and upset by the grab on our civil liberties.

    • I guess they never watched Star Trek, where 7 or 9 informs the Captain they are under attack…with useless information overloading their time and computers and so she shut them down and was operating the ship manually. Turns out the useless information was young people (fans) of DATA. So, with all the millions of people in the US, how are they going to filter the information?

  2. Delphyne says:

    Count me in as one of those anti war ’60s kids who prides myself on questioning “official answers.”

    Looking forward to getting into those links in more depth – great post, BB!

    Today is the anniversary of the Kent State massacre. It is still vivid in my memory. I hope this video is okay to post and that it embeds properly.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks for the reminder. I knew the anniversary was around now. I fixed your link.

  3. RalphB says:

    In most of the current cases I think the people ultimately behind the conspiracy theories, like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, are con artists who are bleeding money from dumbass followers. They want their fans to believe the truth only comes from Jones, Beck etc so they’ll keep ponying up $19.95 or whatever to get that “real” truth every month or buy the latest book etc.

    Like “Movement Conservatism” in general, it’s another way to fleece the rubes.

    • RalphB says:

      That doesn’t make it less dangerous, just more despicable.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Oh, I agree. John Dean makes that point and calls people like them despicable for concocting stories that ignorant people will believe.

      But to argue that there aren’t troubling aspects to government behavior in events like 9/11, Katrina, and the Boston bombings is ridiculous. See the Greenwald article and reports about FBI questioning.

      For example, I’d love to know how the FBI got all the information they are leaking from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev when he couldn’t even speak during their interviews. He would have to have written a book to reveal as much as they say he has. More likely, they asked highly leading questions to a suspect who was barely aware of his surroundings.

      • bostonboomer says:

        OTOH, the fact that I think there was a conspiracy of some kind behind the JFK assassination doesn’t mean I accept every lame-brained, half-baked theory about it.

      • RalphB says:

        Chances are the leaking is coming from people who are full of crap but want to seem more clued in to reporters asking leading questions. I have questions myself about all the information about the investigation of Tamerlan’s widow. We have no business knowing they are even looking at her, assuming they really are now.

      • RalphB says:

        CBS News: Boston Marathon Bomb DNA Does Not Match Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Wife

        This post from CBS in Boston seems fair but a Washington Post story reads like she may be the head of al-Qaeda.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Well, a search was done of the home the widow shares with her parents and computers and other items were removed. We certainly have a right to know that–search warrants are public information and the media was outside the house during the search taking video and photos.

      • RalphB says:

        What we have a right to is “no comment” from law enforcement until they have something to say.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I’m not saying that the leaks are OK. I said that already. But the media/public have the right to public info like search warrants, affadavits. Isn’t there enough government secrecy without closing off info that has always been public? Are you saying the media shouldn’t cover the search of the home of a person of interest? They don’t need to get info from LE about that. The search goes on in broad daylight with police/FBI cars parked outside the house. Hard to miss.

        The leaks from law enforcement sources have a purpose–to predispose the public to think what LE wants them to. I don’t approve of the leaks and I take them with a grain of salt.

        In the case of the questioning of Dzhokhar, though, I believe questions need to be asked. The kid was questioned by FBI agents when he was in a vulnerable state without being informed of his rights, and he was refused an attorney when he asked for one. That’s outrageous. If it could happen to him, it could happen to any one of us. Questions need to be asked, IMHO. And leaks about what Dzhokhar supposedly said need to be questioned again and again.

  4. RalphB says:

    This isn’t a conspiracy theory.

    NYT: U.S. Spending Cuts Seen as Key in Slowing Growth

    Whatever the data ultimately show for April, economists like Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial in Chicago, say the economy would be showing much more momentum if it were not for the combination of higher payroll taxes that went into effect in January, as well as the process of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that began to bite last month.

    “What’s the biggest drag on the economy? The government,” Ms. Swonk said. “If the government simply did no harm, we could be at escape velocity.”

    Without the impact of federal cuts and higher taxes, Ms. Swonk estimates, annual economic growth would be close to 4 percent, above the 2.5 percent pace she is expecting in 2013.

    • boogieman7167 says:

      one of the problems with conspiracy theories, is the people that believe them don’t every question them. they just buy the story at face value. then spread them with out even thinking . and don’t even realizes there just pawns in somebody’s twisted agenda,

  5. ecocatwoman says:

    Wow bb, so much to think about & digest. The fact that people like Beck & Jones make a very healthy living (not unlike the “religious” hucksters on tv) from lying to and fleecing vulnerable people makes me reluctant to admit that I certainly believe our gov’t lies to us. Maybe not all of the time, but certainly more frequently than I’d like. I don’t believe we know the truth about either JFK’s or RFK’s assassinations. LBJ lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. And there is no doubt that W’s familiars lied us into an illegal war in Iraq. It certainly benefits our politicians and puppeteers like the Koch Bros to have a country populated by people whose critical thinking skills are seriously impaired. Ooooh, my very own conspiracy theory. Oh, my!

    Personally, the Al Gala story was worth posting just to gaze at his photos.

    I visited Alternet this AM and read about Romney’s latest escapade. He delivered the commencement address at Southern Virginia University. Everyone should get married and have LOTS of children, a quiver full of them: http://www.alternet.org/mitt-romneys-advice-recent-female-grads-have-quiver-full-kids

    And the Koch Bros aren’t just looking to buy up newspapers, they’ve started a new political organization, The Association for American Innovation: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/kochs-form-new-dark-money-group-hide-political-activities-public I guess ALEC has gotten too much publicity and too many donors & participants have been outed.

    Kat, in case you missed it, MHP expressed her outrage at how the Shrub’s Ly-berry covers Katrina in The Decision Room. She filled in for Rachel on Thursday night and on her show this AM did her “letter” to W about it. Apparently Bush’s most difficult decision following Katrina was whether or not to send in national troops to quell the looting and lawlessness. Rescuing those in need, saving lives or cleaning up the disaster weren’t on the list. I’m sure the videos are online, if you’re interested. I think it’s worth watching, for all of us.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Oh, I don’t feel bad about the Al Gala story at all. I wrote in the post that I wasn’t sure it was true. I quoted “respectable” sources, and I’m not at all sorry that Sky Dancing got lots of hits out of it. We’ve gone way up in the Alexa rankings.

  6. RalphB says:

    Business Insider: Harvard’s Niall Ferguson Reportedly Blamed Keynes’ Economic Philosophy On His Being Childless And Gay

    Niall Ferguson should be dropped by Harvard now. Will this despicable asshole ever go too far for them?

  7. dakinikat says:

    Great post BB! I think the Republican Party thrives on conspiracy theories these days. Probably because they all listen to big fat lying liars like Rush Limbaugh and crazy dry drunks addicted to cult religions like Glenn Beck.

  8. prolixous says:

    Conspiracy as a business model — let’s see, gold and silver, Life Lock, apocalyptic food supplies and seeds, oh, and guns, guns, and more guns. Pretty much the lineup of the advertisers on Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck. I’ve never listened or watched Alex Jones, but I’m sure he has a “turn in your grandparents” club for kids.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yup. But in fact Life lock and goldbug companies also advertise on liberal talk radio shows like Thom Hartmann’s.

  9. Tsarnaev’s Wife isn’t cooperating anymore. BB, any updates on that?

    • bostonboomer says:

      I don’t know anything, and I doubt she was involved. It sounds to me like she worked morning, noon, and night and was beat down by her husband. If she really worked 80 hours a week, he could have been doing anything and she wouldn’t know.

      Her problem with the authorities is that she texted her husband and talked to him on the phone after the photos were released but she never contacted police and identified them.

      I certainly can’t blame her for not talking to the FBI. I’m sure that is on the advice of her attorney.

    • RalphB says:

      From the CBS/Boston piece I posted upthread and like BB said…

      Miller said since the FBI’s visit Monday, she’s basically stopped talking.

      “From that point on what’s being put out is that she’s no longer cooperating. I think what we’re actually seeing is lawyers doing their job, which is, she retained counsel and it was very clear that she was developing into a potential target of this investigation and they basically said if you want anything, it’s not that we’re not cooperating but bring it to us and we’ll send you back an answer.”

      By the way, this story says Tamerlan called her and CNN says she called him after the bombing, so even that’s confused.

      • bostonboomer says:

        WaPo says she he called her and she texted him, but that’s one of those things that shouldn’t be leaked!