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!

Advertisements

Tamerlan Tsarnaev Was An Alex Jones Fan

Jones-Tsarnaev

Authorities have been trying to figure out how deceased Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was radicalized. It turns out it could have been at least partially a result of following uber conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of InfoWars and PrisonPlanet fame.

From Alternet:

In a bizarre twist befitting a Hollywood conspiracy theory movie,  the AP reports today that Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was influenced by conspiracy theories, including Alex Jones’ website InfoWars, which has been  pushing a narrative that the Tsarnaev brothers were patsies set up by a government cabal to take the fall for the bombing.

Tamerlan “took an interest in Infowars,” according to Elmirza Khozhugov, the ex-husband of Tamerlan’s sister. He was also apparently interested in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and was trying to find a copy of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” one of the most notorious conspiracy tomes of history.

Every time the government calls anything a “terrorist attack,” Alex Jones starts ranting about false flag operations. In fact, when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick gave a press conference after the bombings, the first question he got was from some Alex Jones or Ron Paul follower:

“Is this another false flag attack staged attack to take our civil liberties?”

Now we find out the head bomber was one of those guys too. This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. As I was telling Dakinkat a little while ago, the Tsarnaev brother were the Beavis and Butthead of “terrorism.” Check out this list of “The 11 Most Mystifying Things the Tsarnaev Brothers Did.”

To me the most bizarre thing they did was confess to the guy whose SUV they had carjacked, then leave the guy alone in the car while they went into a convenience store for snacks. After the guy escaped, they didn’t even notice his cell phone was still in the car, giving the police the ability to follow their every move by GPS.

But I digress.

According to Buzzfeed, Jones is “downplaying” the reports that Tamerlan was a huge fan.

Alex Jones is not surprised that the media is reporting that Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a fan of his Infowars website, he told BuzzFeed on Tuesday.

“It’s just standard,” Jones said. “Anyone you talk to is familiar with my show. When I go out in public, half the people I meet in this country and in other countries too say they listen to my show. The show is bigger than the mainstream media admits.”

Jones — whose site has peddled conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombing and suggested that Tsarnaev is innocent — conceded that Tsarnaev “may have actually been a listener.”

“He could be a listener,” Jones said. “It could be true. I’ve talked to the family and most of them are listeners. My show is anti-terrorism and my show exposes that most of the events we’ve seen have been provocateured.”

“Provocateured?” Is that in the dictionary? I think that’s an example of “verbing.”

But again, I digress.

Another big influence on Tamerlan was apparently a mysterious “radical exorcist” named Misha. Adam Clark Estes of The Atlantic Wire:

The major development in the sleuthing of the Tsarnaev brothers, specifically sinister Tamerlan, involves a red-bearded exorcist named Misha. Misha was a few years older than Tamerlan and had emigrated to the Boston area from Armenia. Whereas the Tsarnaevs were born into a Muslim home, Misha converted and soon became involved in radical teachings. Citing the boys’ uncle Ruslan Tsarni, the Daily Mail reports that Misha used to “give one-on-one sermons to Tamerlan over the kitchen table during which he claimed he could talk to demons and perform exorcisms.” That’s really weird.

According to multiple reports, Tamerlan and Misha met between as 2007 and 2009 near the Cambridge area. “Misha was telling him what is Islam, what is good in Islam, what is bad in Islam,” said Elmirza Khozhugov, the former brother-in-law of the Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, who sat in on some of the conversations. “This is the best religion and that’s it.” Khozhugov told the Associated Press. “Misha was important. Tamerlan was searching for something. He was searching for something out there.”

It all sort of unraveled at that point. Tamerlan immersed himself in radical Islam and even quit listening to music because, he said, it’s “not really supported in Islam.” (Misha told him that.) The 26-year-old’s radical thinking wandered into the political sphere as well, and apparently, he started getting into conspiracy theories. We’re not talking Area 51 or the 9/11 Truther movement. Tamerlan got into pretty much all of the conspiracy theories, including one century-old fantasy that Jews rule the world.

Here’s a longer article on the mysterious Misha by Adam Goldman, Eric Tucker, and Matt Apuzzo.

Under the tutelage of a friend known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing and stopped studying music, his family said. He began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Jews controlled the world.

“Somehow, he just took his brain,” said Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who recalled conversations with Tamerlan’s worried father about Misha’s influence. Efforts over several days by The Associated Press to identify and interview Misha have been unsuccessful….

Throughout his religious makeover, Tamerlan maintained a strong influence over his siblings, including Dzhokhar, who investigators say carried out the deadly attack by his older brother’s side, killing three and injuring 264 people.

“They all loved Tamerlan. He was the eldest one and he, in many ways, was the role model for his sisters and his brother,” said Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, the ex-husband of Tamerlan’s sister, Ailina. “You could always hear his younger brother and sisters say, ‘Tamerlan said this,’ and ‘Tamerlan said that.’ Dzhokhar loved him. He would do whatever Tamerlan would say.

“Even my ex-wife loved him so much and respected him so much,” Khozhugov said. “I’d have arguments with her and if Tamerlan took my side, she would agree: ‘OK, if Tamerlan said it.'”

Of course the Obama administration is trying to peddle the story that the Tsarnaevs were followers of Anwar al-Awlaki. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I’ll say it again, these guys were the criminal version of Beavis and Butthead, except maybe not as smart.

The media has only uncovered the tip of the iceberg so far. There is going to be a lot more crazy stuff coming out about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. What will tomorrow bring?