Conspiracy – ‘Why?’ not ‘What?’

Mamdouh Habib

Today brought the welcome news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed by US Special Forces in Pakistan. I hope this brings some closure to the families of victims of the September 11 Terrorist attacks.

I was curious to see that within hours of the announcement, the Australian Yahoo news site was already reporting that Mamdouh Habib had said that there was no evidence that Osama Bin Laden was a terrorist. He also apparently said: “America is the war on terror, George Bush is the war on terror”.

Mamdouh Habib is an Australian who was arrested after the September 11 attacks, accused of knowing about the terrorist plot, training hijackers and staying in an Al Quada safe house in Afghanistan. After being incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay and eventually released without charge, Habib accused the Australian government of letting the Americans torture him. No evidence has ever been uncovered that shows Habib did anything wrong, so it’s no wonder that he is fairly unhappy with both the Australian and American governments.

Habib is welcome to his resentment, but is he a believable conspiracy theorist? Can we trust what he says about Osama Bin Laden? In my opinion, he has no credibility whatsoever. After all, his defense case was built on claims that he knew nothing about Al Quada and had no involvement in their plans. So he can’t have it both ways! He can’t now promote himself as a defender of Osama Bin Laden when he supposedly knows nothing about him! His motivation for promoting this conspiracy theory is far from reliable. I suspect he’s trying to promote his book.

If you ever read my book Conspire you will find it full of conspiracies. But this is not to say that I am a conspiracy theorist. My fascination is with why conspiracies develop, how they are uncovered, whether there is any truth in them, and why some people choose to believe them and others don’t. This is why Habib’s claims interest me.

There is no simple way to define conspiracy, but I think another Australian, Julian Assange, did a fairly good job in his Wikileaks manifesto. I like his definition so much, I’ve made it the foreword to Conspire:

“to make secret plans jointly to commit a harmful act; working together to bring about a particular result, typically to someone’s detriment. ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French conspirer, from Latin conspirare agree, plot, from con- together with spirare breathe.”

Assange also placed this definition under the heading of:

“Authoritarian power is maintained by conspiracy”

This is the part that I find particularly interesting.

Assange believes that all conspiracies are detrimental to a democratic society – and that all secrecy is in some way a conspiracy. He thinks the only way to remove conspiracy is to have total transparency – which is the justification behind his releasing of documents on Wikileaks.

I don’t, however, think that all conspiracy is the work of those with authoritarian power. There are a myriad of reasons why people choose to partake in conspiracies, uncover them, or in some cases, fabricate them for their own self-interest.

It is sometimes impossible to tell the difference between a real conspiracy, and a false conspiracy someone has made up. But it seems to be human nature for people to try to work out if there is something untoward happening that they should know about, or if someone is trying to con them into believing their lies to discredit some other party or to promote their own cause.

Conspire is a work of fiction, about Alex North, a cynical journalist, who comes across a conspiracy that at first seems too outrageously ridiculous to be true. Alex looks down her nose at conspiracy theorists, and would never like to be accused of being one. But she is slowly persuaded that there really is something untoward going on. As she is convinced, I hope the reader is too.

Like many good conspiracies, it’s not just knowing about it which makes it important; it’s deciding what to do about it. And that’s what Alex’s challenge is. Not only is her life at stake, but the future of the world is being threatened. How that’s for high stakes?

If you like your conspiracies big, brutal and scarily believable, I think you’ll like Conspire.

2 Comments on “Conspiracy – ‘Why?’ not ‘What?’”

  1. griffithinsider says:

    Am writing a thesis on Public Trust in WikiLeaks, the Media and the Government and need to know what your opinions are. The online survey is multiple choice and will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Please follow the link: Would be great if you would encourage others to do the survey also.

  2. […] is writing about conspiracy theories, and has an earlier post about them. So it was with interest that I noted that regular Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike […]

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