17th September 2012: Conspiracy Theories In The Middle East

Foreign Policy blogger Stephen Walt observes:


It’s no secret there are conspiracy theories circulating in the Middle East (as there are here in the good old USA: Remember the “birthers?”) I’ve heard them every time I’ve lectured in the region and done my best to debunk them.


I used to edit the alternative news site Disinformation (1998-2003 site archive here). When I got access to the server logs I found the site was getting significant readers from Middle East countries. This was one of several reasons why I did not pursue or publish September 11 conspiracy theories during my editorial stint (which subsequent editors and user-generated content have reversed). It is territory that historian Jeffrey Herf examined during the World War II period in his book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Ithaca NY: Yale University Press, 2009). An Amazon.com search on “conspiracy theories” reveals the book Orientalism and Conspiracy: Politics and Conspiracy Theory in the Islamic World (London: IB Tauris, 2010).


Marc Ambinder and Daniel Drezner’s comments (here) on the Cairo and Benghazi riots recalls a point that Ben Eltham and I made in our Twitter Free Iran (2009) conference paper: social media content can trigger a causality chain that leads to deaths ‘in real life’.

24th October 2011: Stephen Walt on the Social Sciences

Harvard’s Stephen Walt has a well-argued case for valuing many different approaches to international relations:

But because academic disciplines are largely self-defining and self-policing (i.e., we determine the “criteria of merit” and success depends almost entirely on one’s reputation among fellow academics), there is the ever-present danger that academic disciplines spin off into solipsistic and self-regarding theorizing that is divorced from the real world (and therefore unlikely to be refuted by events) and of little value to our students, to policymakers, or even interested citizens. This tendency occurs primarily because proponents of one approach naturally tend to think that their way of doing business is superior, and some of them work overtime to promote people who look like them and to exclude people whose work is different. Anybody who has spent a few years in a contemporary political science department cannot fail to have observed this phenomenon at work; there just aren’t very many people who are genuinely catholic in their tastes and willing to embrace work that isn’t pretty much like their own.

I read Walt’s comment after re-reading Michael Desch‘s discussion of Waltzian structural neo-realism, constructivism, and strategic culture (PDF), which is shaped by how different proponents have approached their research programs.