Germans lapping up 9/11 conspiracy theories
Munich, Germany - Conspiracy theories on the September 11 attacks are gaining ground in Germany two years on, with books claiming that the United States government was behind the atrocities climbing bestseller lists.
Thanks to a handful of new "non-fiction" works in bookstores, wild accusations have gradually become part of public debate amid a sizeable minority in Germany, home to the so-called Hamburg cell that in 2001 produced three of the suicide hijackers.
Although each book has a different take on the events of that day, they share the premise that the government of US President George Bush planned the kamikaze jet attacks or allowed them to happen to advance a radical foreign policy agenda.
Frankfurt-based publishing house Zweitausendeins (2001) boasts the runaway success of Mathias Broecker's book Conspiracies, Conspiracy Theories And The Secrets Of September 11 on its website, with more than 105 000 copies sold in 10 months. A follow-up volume has just hit bookstores.
Broecker, a former journalist with the leftist daily Tageszeitung, argues that dozens of "unanswered questions" about the attacks point to a spectacular cover-up on the part of the US administration.
More than 70 000 Germans have also bought The CIA And September 11 by former federal research minister Andreas von Buelow, in which he argues the planes were piloted into targets in New York and Washington not by Islamic extremists but rather by remote control.
A third work, Operation 9/11 by public television reporter Gerhard Wisnewski, claims that the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were wired with explosives, has already secured a fourth print-run after three weeks in stores.
France's Thierry Meysson has found success at home and in Germany with 9/11: The Big Lie, which argues that the attack on the Pentagon was an attempted coup d'etat by US military officials to justify future wars.
Influential news weekly Der Spiegel tackled the phenomenon of crackpot theories in the cover story of its edition released on Monday, before this week's second anniversary of the attacks.
The article meticulously knocks down the most popular conspiracy theories making the rounds and attributes their popularity in Germany in part to the deep unpopularity of the conservative US administration in the country.
Social psychologist Heiner Keupp said that conspiracy theories served a basic human need, leading to the remarkable success of such books.
"People have the feeling after reading them that they understand something about this complicated and inscrutable world," Keupp said, adding that a healthy dose of paranoia was also usually part of the equation.
Mass communications expert Rudolf Stoeber said that the shock of the September 11 attacks made the search for simple answers to complex events particularly tempting.
He said he found it particularly striking that young people appeared most susceptible to such arguments.
A survey produced by the respected Forsa institute and published in the weekly Die Zeit in July found that 31 percent of Germans under the age of 30 believed the US government was directly involved in the September 11 attacks.
Amid all age groups, the rate was "only" 19 percent.
"September 11 was so irrational. We are raised that there has to be a rational solution and that is why we look for one," said Stoeber.
He also saw cultural ignorance as a factor in explaining why Germany has given fertile ground to theories that seem unthinkable to most.
"We don't understand Islam and have no idea about the lives of the attackers. That is why we prefer to look in our own cultural circles for possible causes for the incomprehensible," he said. - Sapa-AFP