Are Pakistanis more gullible than other people? That's what the New York Times would have you believe. In a front page May 26 article, "U.S. Is a Top Villain in Pakistan's Conspiracy Talk," the Times reports that "Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan," where "the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan's collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here."
As a video sidebar that runs in the Web version of the Times article reports, "In most of the world these conspiracies are the stuff of fringe, but in Pakistan they make for mainstream television."
The Times notes some far-fetched allegations, including that the failed Times Square bombing suspect, Faisal Shezad, was a U.S. plant, but it also cites as conspiratorial a commentator who says that if the Times Square suspect were really trained by Al-Qaeda, he wouldn't have left his keys in the truck and the bomb would have actually worked. It's hard to see how that is a conspiracy theory, or even an unreasonable opinion.
But are Pakistanis more credulous than, say, Americans? Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald cites several instances of unfounded conspiracy theories that were embraced by large numbers of Americans, including the 2003 poll that found 70 percent of Americans believing that Saddam Hussein was linked to the 9/11 attacks.
But there's also the significant numbers of Americans who believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan, a Muslim sleeper agent, a Communist sleeper agent, the Anti-Christ or some combination of these. And what of the many Americans–including some major media figures–who see global warming as a conspiracy hatched by the world's scientists?
There is one difference between the U.S. theories and their Pakistani counterparts. While there is virtually no evidence for these U.S. allegations, the Pakistani charges that "place the U.S. at center stage" are rooted, as the Times briefly mentions, in the U.S.'s imbalanced, largely secretive relationship with Pakistan, which includes the officially unacknowledged U.S. missile attacks in the country and the U.S.'s support for the former Pakistani dictatorship.
Moreover, the Times video sidebar closes with a clip of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks about the Times Square bomb plot: "If, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we could trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences."
Of course, the Clinton threats undermine the Times' central theme that Pakistanis who see the U.S. as a menace to their country are all raving conspiracy nuts. Perhaps that's why they were relegated to the end of a video sidebar in the Web version of the story.