In the wake of great catastrophes, fantasies float to the surface and fill the minds of the credulous and the guileful. The assassination of John Kennedy led to widespread theorizing about a secret plot to kill him. The destruction of the Twin Towers inspired many to conclude that the U.S. government was behind it.
Paranoia appears in an individual as a milder form of dementia, the attempt of an ingenious mind to explain a failure or to defend itself from a mistake. I know people who are routinely described as "paranoid" by their acquaintances. "Even paranoids have real enemies," they sometimes say in their defence, quoting the poet Delmore Schwartz (he turned out to have a fatal case).
But when paranoia appears in many places across the landscape it's a kind of social contagion. It could be a maliciously concocted explanation for a government's inadequacy, or a whole culture's way of dealing with a guilty conscience.
In recent weeks journalists in the Arab media have generated a wave of paranoia, the result of the attack on Paris. Far-flung Arab journalists are writing versions of the same story, claiming that the true source of the killings is not ISIL but some nation, probably in the West. The Middle East
Media Research Institute has reported outbreaks of this paranoia in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, and under the Palestinian Authority. The contagion is pan-Arabic.
Muwaffaq Mattar, a columnist for the official Palestinian daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, said that ISIL members are the spiritual offspring of the "Talmudists (Jews) (and of ) the white Europeans who invaded the American continent and waged a war to wipe out the Indians." The perpetrators of terror attacks are "creations of the CIA, (Israel's])Mossad and Scotland Yard." Mattar says it's no accident that the Paris attack took place just as Europe began labelling products made in Israeli settlements and France was urging a two-state solution, between Palestine and Israel, at the UN Security Council.
"The French authorities would be wise to investigate who benefits - namely look for the latest place that the tentacles of the Mossad octopus have reached. Mossad will burn Beirut and Paris to achieve (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu's goals."
Others argue that the ISIL attack should be blamed on Turkey and its president. Sayyah 'Azzam, a columnist in Syria's Al-Watan, claims that Turkish intelligence sent "this message to Paris by means of ISIL." The motive? "Turkey believes that terror attacks will convince the international community to let it establish a safe zone on its border with Syria. That will allow it to target the Kurds." The same writer reported that "some believe" (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan was involved in shooting down the Russian plane, as a message to Russia that it would be punished for supporting the Syrian government.
The official Saudi Arabia daily newspaper, Al-Watan, has published the claim of Muhammad Al-Sa'idi that many attacks, such as 9/11, the downing of the Russian plane and the recent bombing of Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut, were planned by regional and international intelligence agencies. He suggested that in many cases the group ostensibly responsible for an attack becomes aware of it only after it occurs. Then it claims responsibility for its own propaganda reasons or to shield the intelligence elements that actually planned the crime. Both ISIL and al-Qaida, he wrote, were created with the co-operation of intelligence systems. He believes that al-Qaida, while it claimed responsibility for 9/11, "was nothing but a tool and perhaps just a cog in the system." It was the West that benefited most from the attacks.
Abdallah Nhari, a Moroccan cleric, said that recent terrorism was fabricated by Israel, Iran and the "Crusader" states of the West. Why? In order to mobilize the world against Islam and divert attention from flagging economies and prevent rebellions.
The conspiracy theories I've read have one thing in common. They absolve Arabs from blame for inventing and supporting the crimes of ISIL and al-Qaida. So far as Arabs were involved, they were mere tools of non-Arab masters.
Why would that idea appeal so widely? Perhaps it's a response to troubled Arab views of Arab society. The sad truth is that not one nation controlled by Arabs has succeeded in creating a way of life that provides adequately for their people. The Arab Spring, a movement for which many gave their lives, was a tragic misadventure.
These realities are painful to contemplate. It's more pleasant to shift the guilt to the West.