John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

The Tower of the Winds

The Tower of the Winds in Athens, in the Roman Agora, was one of the world’s first clock towers.  It was built around 50 BC, and designed by the Macedonian astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus.
An enormous water clock was housed inside, fed every 24hrs by a stream running down from the Acropolis.  As the water level rose, a float rose, powering a mechanism that showed the progress of the sun across the sky.
The lines of sundials can still be seen on the walls, as another way of telling the time (so long as the sun was shining).  A bronze figure of Triton was placed on top as a weather-vane.

I adore word origins


1 : to lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of by making partial excuses : mitigate
2 : to lessen the strength or effect of
Extenuate was borrowed into English in the late Middle Ages from Latin extenuatus, the past participle of the verb extenuare, which was itself formed by combining ex- and the verb tenuare, meaning "to make thin." In addition to the surviving senses, extenuate once meant "to make light of" and "to make thin or emaciated"; although those senses are now obsolete, the connection to tenuare can be traced somewhat more clearly through them.

Play write opportunities

Greetings NYCPlaywrights


Sunday January 21, 2018
by Donna Stearns

Last year on January 21st, the historic Women's Marches took place. To celebrate this one-year anniversary mark on January 21st, plays written by women all over the world will be produced, promoted, and honored. "Broken Branches" is an autobiographical drama of the playwright's own adoption. The story follows a young adult woman who asks how she came to be adopted. In this memory play where the truths are shocking, she comes to understand how wonderful it is when family makes the choice to love a child they bring into their home. Full-length play with music written by Donna Kendall Stearns. Produced by Moonbeam.net Productions.  Free and open to the public.  Due to sensitive material, this play may not be appropriate for children under 12 years old.   



COMEDY WRITING FOR THE STAGE with KATE MOIRA RYAN (Writer (with Judy Gold), The Judy Show at DR2 Theatre) at at Primary Stages ESPA: A solid grasp of the mechanics of comedy writing for the stage is a powerful tool in the hand of any playwright. While comedy is a main element of a farce or a satire, it is just as essential to delicately lace comic elements into the most serious drama. In this class, you will study the specialized rules of comedy, and complete writing assignments to develop your comedic work over ten weeks. 
Payment plans available. http://primarystages.org/espa/writing/comedy-writing-for-the-stage 


Aberrant Theatre is currently seeking short, horror themed plays to be produced as part of our upcoming Ghost Light Anthology.
Working from an anthology model akin to Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt, Aberrant Theatre will be presenting an evening of short, scary plays as part of what we hope will become an annual event.


This year, Strange Sun Theater will select two plays as part of its Greenhouse Project, and we are proud to announce that each of the two playwrights will receive a $500 award, and be a part of our ‘ON BOOK’ series, which explores and develops the plays through a rehearsal process culminating in a public staged reading of the plays in New York City.*


Punk Monkey Productions is now accepting one-act plays for their seventh season of PL.A.Y Noir. Submissions should ideally range from between 10 to 20 and are required to fall in the genre of Film Noir and tradition of the vintage crime novels of the 30s and 40s by Chandler, Hammett, and Cain (think private detectives, femme fatales, unscrupulous villains, etc.).

*** FOR MORE INFORMATION about these and other opportunities see the web site at http://www.nycplaywrights.org ***


Last year NYCPlaywrights presented the WOMEN IN THE AGE OF TRUMP project. You can see all posts on the NYCPlaywrights blog about the project here:


The Women’s Voices Theater Festival, in partnership with the National New Play Network (NNPN) and the New Play Exchange (NPX), has announced the creation of International Women’s Voices Day. It will be on Jan. 21, 2018, which marks the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March. As part of that day, the organizations encourage theatres around the world to host free readings of unproduced plays by women.

The event will be held in conjunction with the Women’s Voices Theater Festival (Jan. 15-Feb. 15, 2018), where theatres around Washington, D.C. will produce new plays by women.

“NNPN is thrilled to partner with the Women’s Voice Theater Festival to create this worldwide celebration of new works by women,” said Nan Barnett, the executive director of NNPN, in a statement. “And now, with NPX, any theatre, anywhere, can find an unproduced play by a woman writer that’s perfect for their programming and mission and share it with their audiences.”


The Humana Festival of New American Plays has announced the world-premiere works selected for inclusion in its 42nd year of original programming, which will take place February 28–April 8, 2018, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Five of this year’s plays are written by women, including God Said This by Leah Nanako Winkler; Marginal Loss by Deborah Stein; Do You Feel Anger? by Mara Nelson-Greenberg; You Across from Me by Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha, Brian OtaƱo, and Jason Gray Plate; and we, the invisibles by Susan Soon He Stanton. Also in the lineup: Evocation to Visible Appearance by Mark Schultz.



International Centre for Women Playwrights

ICWP began in 1988 in Buffalo, New York, with the mission of supporting and promoting women playwrights around the world and bringing attention to their works. Recently we have published books of scripts and given recognition awards to theatres operating gender equity in the annual season.



20% Theatre Company Chicago is dedicated to strengthening the presence and raising public awareness of women artists in theatre. It is estimated that only 20% of theatre professionals are women. By building a community of theatre professionals and fostering emerging female artists through workshops and new plays, we provide opportunities for women directors, producers, designers, and playwrights. 20% Theatre Company Chicago strives to increase the number of women in theatre.



Feminist play ‘Vinegar Tom,’ Feb. 2 to 11, adds voice to ‘Year of the Woman’

Called “a play about witches, with no witches in it” by playwright Caryl Churchill, “Vinegar Tom” follows the lives of seven characters, four of whom will be executed, in 17th century England.

Northwestern University’s Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts presents “Vinegar Tom” from Feb. 2 to 11 in the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.

Written in 1976 by the famously feminist Churchill, the play uses a witch hunt to reveal how nonconformist women who fail to fit into the narrowly defined social categories of the patriarchy were frequently labelled witches.



The Kilroys are a gang of playwrights and producers in LA who are done talking about gender parity and are taking action. We mobilize others in our field and leverage our own power to support one another.



Now in its fifth year, our BECHDEL FEST features an all female-identifying cast performing eight new short plays passing the now-famous Bechdel-Wallace Test. Created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, “the Test” asks whether a work of entertainment features at least two women in conversation about something other than a man. Bechdel Fest: Identity Crisis follows an array of diverse and powerful women wrestling with the questions that define them and fighting for the world to see them as they are. Join us for the fifth iteration of our favorite feminist festival!

The festival ran September 10th – 13th, 2017 at The Den Theater.



A story of a fictional 16th-century female painter. Greek warriors laying siege to the walls of Troy. A couple engaged in an eerily morbid sexual transaction. Families torn apart by France’s colonial rule over Vietnam.

All of the above came to the Paris stage this month courtesy of women. In a perfect world, that fact would be unremarkable, but don’t be fooled by the claims of Catherine Deneuve and others, who argued recently in the newspaper Le Monde that the #MeToo movement was starting to infringe on artistic freedom: France is a long way from gender equality, and the output of its theater sector remains deeply skewed toward stories written and staged by men.

None of the country’s five national theaters is run by a woman; last season, the proportion of female playwrights and directors they presented ranged from 11 percent to 32 percent. The situation is slowly improving in France’s network of 38 National or Regional Dramatic Centers, which make up the next tier of publicly funded theater institutions, but 71 percent remain led by men.



 The second Women’s Voices Theater Festival begins its two-month ripple of 24 new plays across Washington stages this month, and what has happened in terms of equality since the 2015 festival is . . . not much. And outside in the larger culture, there’s a #MeToo riot going on.

The festival is one of the great good deeds in the American theater right now, a full city push to get past the usual lip service of readings and panels. The idea is basic: Let’s actually produce new works by women! The imbalance remains appalling: In the reputedly progressive hothouse of U.S. theater, female writers get less than a quarter of the new productions — a mere 22 percent, according the slap-in-the-face three-year Dramatists Guild-Lilly Awards survey released in 2015.

So for at least two months, Washington will put its money where it ought to be fully half the time. And that gesture of solidarity puts the District ahead of most of the country.

Yet Washington itself still lags, even among the major companies that generated the festival. The latest local demographic survey by D.C. playwrights and Woolly Mammoth Theatre staffers Gwydion Suilebhan and Olivia Haller finds scripts by women getting only 32 percent of the pie last season, a slow climb from the lowly 21 percent five years ago. And while Washington’s non-Equity theaters boast 50-50 gender parity in its directing ranks this season, Equity theaters still give two-thirds of the gigs to men.

In New York, Broadway’s 32-show season of 20 plays and 12 musicals includes only five projects by women, with six women directors.

“You’ve got to have the opportunities to work,” says writer Theresa Rebeck (of off-Broadway’s recent glass-ceiling comedy “What We’re Up Against” and NBC’s “Smash”), who is directing her updated version of the Restoration comedy “The Way of the World” at the Folger Theatre. “Or your work just doesn’t get any better.”



The Jan. 7 Arts & Style article “In her own words ” cited the woefully poor progress professional theaters are making toward parity for women playwrights. Of plays produced professionally, only 22 percent nationally are by women. Professional theaters in the District enjoy bragging rights for a higher percentage (32 percent) of women playwrights produced. Kudos to D.C. theaters for that distinction. There is, however, an even better story to share regarding a nearby professional theater that has achieved parity for women playwrights: the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va. CATF, in its 27 seasons, has produced 121 new plays. Of those, 60 were written by women, and 55 were directed by women. Each summer, Equity actors arrive in this historic town — just about 100 minutes by car from Washington and Baltimore — to produce daring and diverse stories, so many of which happen to be written by women.

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“Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing
can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel
that there is something in them
To look at the sunny side of everything
and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best,
and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past
and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times
and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself
that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
not in loud words but great deeds.
To live in faith that the whole world is on your side
so long as you are true to the best that is in you.” 

Love Joy Happiness

Cover up for a lack of real skill

Why there is no stress in writing

I work as a writer. 
I care about what I do.
I would do it for free if I had too because it is my passion.
My work is stress-free because it is my passion.
Working hard for a thing we don't care about is stress.


Save a foster child

Is there one reason, even a bad reason, that this is not the national guideline for all foster care in the USA?

New Hampshire Senate committee hears testimony for Foster Care Child Bill of Rights

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eighteen AN ACT establishing a foster parent bill of rights. Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened: 1 New Subdivision; Foster Parent Bill of Rights. Amend RSA 170-E by inserting after section 50 the following new subdivision: Foster Parent Bill of Rights 170-E:51 Foster Parent Bill of Rights. The department of health and human services shall ensure that each foster parent in this state shall be granted the following rights:

I. The right to advocate for a foster child in his or her care and to be treated with dignity, respect, and consideration as a primary provider of foster care and as a valued member of the child welfare team, including:
(a) Uniform treatment throughout the state by the department, ensuring the exercise of the rights granted to foster parents, including the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of religion, race, color, creed, sex, national origin, age, marital status, or physical handicap.
(b) Freedom from coercion, discrimination, and reprisal for voicing concerns about a child in the foster parent's care.
(c) A commitment that the department shall not discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against a foster parent for any appropriate inquiry regarding the decisions or practices of the department.

II. The right to accept or refuse placement of a child and to request, upon reasonable notice to the department, the removal of a child from the foster parent's home. This includes the right to be considered first for placement of a child previously placed in the foster parent's home, and the right to be considered first as the permanent placement if relative placement is not an option.

III. The right to personal safety and the protection of personally identifiable information. This includes the right to be consulted prior to the release of the foster parent's address or phone number to the child's birth parents; the right to be informed prior to the release of such information to the birth parent; and the right to maintain the foster parent family's patterns, routine, values, and beliefs.

IV. The right to information about the role and responsibilities of foster parents, including:
(a) A formal foster parent agreement, concise written expectations, and feedback in relation to being a member of the child welfare team, including periodic and timely evaluations of the foster parent's performance.
(b) Information regarding how a foster parent may provide the court with written documentation pertinent to the child's well-being.
(c) Guidelines related to permanency planning and standards.
(d) An explanation of policies and procedures specific to a foster parent's rights in accordance with this subdivision.

 V. The right to receive in a timely and consistent manner information related to a foster child's behavioral problems, health history, educational status, cultural and family background, and other issues relative to the child which are known to the department at the time the child is placed in foster care. When the department receives such information after placement, the department shall make that information available to the foster parent in a timely manner. The department also shall fully disclose any information regarding any past or pending delinquency petitions, criminal charges, and previous hospitalizations, whether due to mental or physical issues.

VI. The right to contact a representative of the department 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the purpose of aiding the foster parent in caring for the child.

VII. The right to receive fair and equitable payments and other financial reimbursement for the care of a child in foster care.

VIII. The right to receive training and support to enhance a foster parent's skills in meeting the needs of a child in foster care, as well as the right to notice of changes in department policies, procedures, and related statutes in a timely manner.

IX. The right to information concerning scheduled meetings and appointments involving a foster child. This includes:
(a) Participation in a foster child's individual service planning meetings, foster care reviews, individual educational planning meetings, permanency planning, medical and dental appointments, and any other meeting related to the service planning decision making process.
(b) The right to provide information that will be considered in the same manner as information presented by any other team member for the case planning and decision-making process regarding the child, and the right to advocate for the same without intimidation, discrimination, or retaliation.
(c) The right to request a team meeting to address concerns specific to the child, including the right to participate in development of the child's permanency plan.
(d) The right to feedback in a courteous and respectful manner from any team member when a foster parent's opinion or recommendation differs from that of the department.

X. The right to information regarding collateral agency policies and procedures that relate to the role of the foster parents. The right to communicate with professionals who work with the foster child, including, but not limited to, therapists, physicians, and teachers who work directly with the child within the context of the team and receive written reports directly from said professionals.

XI. The right to communicate with the child's birth family, former or prospective foster parents of the child, and prospective and finalized adoptive parents of the child, with approval from the court and the department. This may include the right to:
(a) Receive any information concerning the number of times a foster child has been moved and the reasons why.
(b) Help plan visitation between the child and the child's siblings or biological family members.
(c) Maintain contact with the foster child after the child leaves the foster home, unless the child, a birth parent, or other foster or adoptive parent refuses such contact.

XII. The right to be given reasonable written notice of:
(a) Any change in a child's case plan, including a revised copy of the case plan in a timely manner.
(b) Any plan to remove a child from the foster home, including the reason for the change or termination in placement.
(c) Any motion, petition, or hearing, including a court order for removal involving the foster parent.

XIII. The right to reasonable notice from the department of all court proceedings, the right to attend such proceedings, and, at the discretion of the court, the right to be heard.

 XIV. The right to submit written reports to the court to ensure that personal and accurate information concerning the child's behaviors and developmental needs are included in the court's findings.

XV. The right to report factual, objective information about a child's placement, medical and dental information, education, behaviors, special interests and activities, visitation including dates, observations of the child and any dates of contact with parents, professional contacts and recommendations of services a child may benefit from.

XVI. The right to hire an attorney to assist a foster parent in abuse and neglect, permanency, and termination cases; however a foster parent is not a party to a child's case and may participate in the legal proceeding only in the manner prescribed by the court. Permission for a foster parent to enter the court with legal counsel is at the discretion of the presiding judge.

XVII. The right to be promptly informed, in writing, of any complaint against a foster parent or any problem in the foster parent's home which adversely affects the person's license as a foster parent. This department shall provide guidance and support to facilitate resolution of the complaint or problem.

XVIII. The department and their contractors shall provide access to a fair and impartial grievance process to address licensure, case management decisions, and delivery of service issues. Foster parents shall have timely access to the child placement agency's appeals process and shall be free from acts of retaliation when exercising the right to appeal. 2 Effective Date. This act shall take effect 60 days after its passage

...so keep writing

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” - Jim Watkins

Bad writing

Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

Either or

My latest work



I miss Richard Brautigan

"I drank coffee
and read old books
and waited for the year to end."
Richard Brautigan

Eye candy

Here's a poem for yous


Who does not love the Titanic?
If they sold passage tomorrow for that same crossing,
who would not buy?
To go down…We all go down, mostly
alone. But with crowds of people, friends, servants,
well fed, with music, with lights!Ah!
And the world, shocked, mourns, as it ought to do
and almost never does. There will be the books and movies
to remind our grandchildren who we were
and how we died, and give them a good cry.
Not so bad, after all. The cold
water is anesthetic and very quick.
The cries on all sides must be a comfort.
We all go: only a few, first class.

The Stolen Child

I’ve read this poem for decades.  
Notice how you could take the first sentence of three first stanza’s (of which the first words all begin with a calming W sound and establish place) and blend them in, easily, to fit into the last paragraph.
The W sound is replayed again at the end of each stanza  (To the waters and the wild, With a faery, hand in hand) but not in a soothing sense, rather as words to excite the child about a wonderful place.

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Where the wave of moonlight glosses
Where the wandering water gushes

The Stolen Child
By Yeats

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world's more full of weeping than he can understand.

The long read: why people believe conspiracy theories

Providing plots for hit TV shows and dark material for online chatrooms, conspiracy theories are gaining more and more credence, particularly in the Middle East. Why?
Conspiracy theories around the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington run rampant in the United States. Nicholas Kamm / AFP
On the night of January 7 this year, hours after the terrorist attack on the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a senior French police officer shut himself in his office and shot himself in the head.
The French media reported that Helric Fredou, the 45-year-old deputy director of police in Limoges, a town 350 kilometres to the south of Paris, was single, childless and depressed. His death was a melancholic but irrelevant footnote to a black day on which 11 people were murdered.
To the denizens of the digital world of conspiracy theorists, however, his suicide was something else entirely. Fredou was not, as countless conspiracy websites have suggested, “one of the lead investigators” on the case. Nevertheless, to them it was obvious that he had been “suicided” – because he knew the truth.
That “truth” is that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a “false flag” operation, carried out not by two radicalised Muslim brothers but by agents of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, or the CIA.
Within minutes of the news of a foiled attack on a train in France last Saturday, websites such as Project Avalon, Blacklisted News and Crimes of Empire were confidently declaring the incident a “false flag” operation that had gone wrong.
As with Charlie Hebdo and the French train attack, so with aliens at Roswell, the multiple assassins of John F Kennedy, the faking of the Moon landings, the creation of HIV by the CIA and, of course, 9/11 – the ultimate “false flag” operation.
Welcome to the evidence-lite world of the conspiracy theorist, where mysterious forces are at work and nothing is as it seems.
We all love a good conspiracy. Homeland24American Odyssey – even The X-Files is returning to our screens. To most of us, conspiracy theories are just harmless fun. But there is a dark side to them, as governments around the world are beginning to recognise as they struggle to stem the rising tide of destabilising propaganda threatening to carry off society’s more credulous members.
In the borderless world of social media and smartphones, Jonathan Swift’s observation that “falsehood flies and truth comes limping after it” has never been more true.
Last month, the British prime minister David Cameron attacked the “ludicrous conspiracy theories of the extremists” that were enticing young British Muslims onto the path to radicalisation.
The Arab world has no shortage of conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, many feature Israel or the United States as the sinister puppetmasters behind many of the region’s woes.
For example, Coca-Cola maintains a “Middle East rumors” section on its website, to counter often-repeated claims that its beverages contain ingredients unsuitable for Muslims and that anti-Islamic messages are hidden in its trademark logo.
Middle East governments are not above muddying the waters. In 2010, for example, Egyptian officials suggested that Mossad agents might somehow be behind a series of shark attacks on tourists in the waters off Sharm El Sheikh.
In August last year, the US ambassador was summoned to the Lebanese foreign ministry to explain false allegations that former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton had conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to create the terrorist organisation ISIL. Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister, stoked the flames of speculation higher by tweeting details of the meeting to his 65,000 followers.
Psychologists say different people have different reasons for being susceptible to conspiracy theories. Personal circumstances certainly play a part, says Michael Wood, a Canadian lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom, who specialises in the psychology of conspiracy theories. “If you feel like you’re not in control [of your life], you are more likely to believe them.”
In September 1999, exactly two years before 9/11, the journal Political Psychology carried a study by researchers at New Mexico State University, who concluded that “beliefs in conspiracies are related to feelings of alienation, powerlessness, hostility, and being disadvantaged”.
In these circumstances, says Wood, the brain faces two psychological possibilities: “Either somebody else is controlling what’s going on, or nobody is.”
People are more likely to believe that someone else is controlling what’s happening, he says, “because then, at least in principle, the world is a knowable and controllable place, and not random. Someone is in control, even if it’s not the right person.”
Azeem Ibrahim, a British Muslim who is a research professor at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, believes that the widespread belief in conspiracy theories in the Arab world is a substitute for people taking responsibility for their own destinies.
Needless to say, having expressed this view on Al Arabiya, Ibrahim is now the subject of his very own conspiracy theory in which he stars as (you guessed it) an agent for the CIA.
“Conspiracy theories are a serious problem in the Muslim world,” says Ibrahim. “The British prime minister is absolutely right ... conspiracy theories are an integral part of the radicalisation process.”
And, he says, they are “a symptom of intellectual laziness. It is very easy to blame outside powers for all your problems, because that alleviates your responsibility for doing anything about them, your own corruption and your own communities”.
But for political scientist Matthew Gray, an associate professor at the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Canberra, that view ignores the wider political and historical contexts of the Arab world, where the causes of conspiracy theories go “beyond the basic or pathological explanations”.
Anti-western and anti-modern views, he wrote in his 2010 book, Conspiracy Theories in the Arab World, were “more a source than an outcome of conspiracism”. In a region undergoing radical changes, there was “a contest between traditional values and the changes brought by modernity”. Such an environment, “where earlier political ideologies have become redundant or stale ... and subsequent ideologies have been inadequate to the task of filling the void”, was a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories.
For a western government such as Cameron’s to tackle such theories head-on, he says, would be to play into the conspiracists’ hands. “If you hire some moderate Muslim leaders to go out and spread the word about moderation and peace in Islam, the conspiracy theorists will just say: ‘See? The West is co-opting these people and turning them against the true religion. The only answer is our more radical interpretation’.”
While no quick fix, be believes the best solution probably lies in a return to absolute transparency.
“The US government has probably been less transparent in the past 14 years than it was in the post-war period up to 2001,” he says. “The argument now is that it should be returning to as much transparency as it can – shining a light into the dark corners where conspiracy theories thrive.”
For western governments to concentrate solely on shutting down extremist Islamic websites peddling anti-western propaganda is to overlook the enemy within – the home-grown conspiracy theorists for whom their own leaders can do no right.
In the US, the events of 9/11 triggered fantastic speculation about “what really happened” on the day that 19 terrorists hijacked four aircrafts and killed 2,996 people – speculation that, as the 14th anniversary of that day approaches, shows no sign of abating.
The common, wholly unproven, theme among the various organisations searching “for 9/11 Truth” is that the American government either carried out or condoned the attacks to justify invading Muslim countries.
All three of the buildings that fell in New York say groups such as Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth were felled not by the impact of the aircraft, or by the resultant jet-fuel fires, but by controlled-demolition explosives, secretly planted in all three of the buildings that fell.
Other “truthers” even believe no aircraft were involved in the attacks. The world and its media were fooled, either by digitally manipulated footage or by missiles equipped with holograms that made them look like aircrafts.
Consider, for a moment, the impossibility of keeping such a complex and widespread conspiracy secret. And then dismiss it. The lack of leaks and moles, truthers will declare triumphantly, shows only how well the conspiracy is working.
It’s one thing for someone living in Gaza to believe such theories. But what is the attraction of this stuff to the comfortably well-off lawyers, pilots and engineers, living free and without much obvious oppression in the US, who are at the core of the 9/11 truth movement?
Perhaps the US establishment has shown itself to be too untrustworthy, too many times. Watergate, Bay of Pigs and – a favourite touchstone on conspiracy websites – Operation Northwoods, a scheme cooked up by senior US military chiefs in the Sixties to justify invading Cuba by covertly carrying out acts of terror on US soil and blaming Castro. JFK rejected the plan.
But whatever the possible logical justification for fearing the worst about one’s own government, psychologists say certain people are simply hardwired to assume conspiracy is afoot.
A recent paper published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that political extremists of any kind, wedded to “simple political solutions to societal problems”, were attracted to conspiracy beliefs. And according to a 2008 paper by psychologists at the University of Texas, some types of people are just mentally predisposed to “signal detection” – spotting “illusory patterns” where none exist, “including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock-market information [and] perceiving conspiracies”.
Of course, none of the three key organisations – Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911truth), 911Truth.org and Pilots for 911 Truth – accepts it is peddling conspiracy theories.
AE911truth “doesn’t have theories”, says Andrew Steele, the group’s public relations manager, “but rather evidence that supports the need for a new investigation ... supported by those with the professional expertise to know that the US government’s own theories are unsound”.
Likewise, Mike Berger, media co-ordinator for 911Truth.org, says his organisation is merely filling the vacuum created by “the inability of journalists” to ask “the tough questions demanded by the absurd fabrications presented by the government as fact”.
All three groups also indignantly reject the suggestion that their ongoing campaigns help to fuel hatred of the West and the radicalisation of some young Muslims.
It is “easy, simplistic and convenient to blame conspiracy theories for fomenting Muslim violence”, says Berger. In fact, “the West’s persistent hypocrisy provides more power to foster Muslim rage and undermine the credibility of America and her allies”.
Closer to home, for Cameron, is British 9/11 conspiracy theorist Michael Aydinian, whose website features a series of angry on-camera monologues insisting 9/11 was “an inside job”.
It may be wild, unsubstantiated stuff, but it certainly has a following. On August 18, Aydinian celebrated more than a quarter of a million hits and 66,000 shares for one recent post. In an email exchange, Aydinian also rejects the suggestion that he is peddling baseless and dangerous conspiracy theories. “The only conspiracy theory,” he says, “is the official explanation, because the only people who could have committed 9/11 were dual national [sic] Zionists ... Cui Bono – Israel is the only country to gain.”
The Latin phrase cui bono – who benefits? – crops up a lot on conspiracy websites. This is the invisible glue used to stick random facts and conjecture together, and translates as “OK, we have no evidence – but come on!”.
Wherever they stand on a spectrum that ranges from suspicious at one extreme to downright deluded at the other, together the “truthers” are broadcasting a disturbing and pernicious message that is being heard loud and clear around the world.
A poll carried out by Ohio State University five years after 9/11 found that a third of Americans believed the US government was behind the attacks.
By 2013, a YouGov poll found that 50 per cent of Americans doubted the official account – 46 per cent suspected World Trade Center Building 7 had been brought down by planted explosives, as many “truthers” insist.
Scepticism is similarly rife in the Middle East. In 2011, a decade after the attacks, a poll by the non-partisan Pew Research Center in Washington, found that the majority of Muslims in seven Middle Eastern countries did not believe Arabs had been involved in 9/11. Scepticism was strongest in Egypt (75 per cent), Turkey (73 per cent) and the Palestinian Territories (68 per cent).
In fact, the Pew Center reported that there was “no Muslim public in which even 30 per cent accept that Arabs conducted the attacks”.
For some who believe in such shadowy plots against them, says Ibrahim, the next logical step is to support those who are taking up arms, apparently in defence of Islam.
And that, he says, is where the dangerous weapon that is the conspiracy theory comes full circle and stabs its believers in the back.
“The number one killer of Muslims around the world is neither the Americans nor the Israelis. It is other Muslims.
“But once you subscribe to these conspiracy theories, all of this is ‘justifiable’. Everybody, even other Muslims, become part of this imagined plot to subjugate Muslims and to enslave them.”
Jonathan Gornall is a freelance journalist based in London.