Reading the newspaper tends to be a dismal and pretty depressing daily ritual. I felt a particular shiver of anxiety reading this article in the Guardian about an arrangement between the United Arab Emirates and the British Government. I'm not particularly into conspiracy theories, but it's hard to avoid speculation when details like this begin to leak: according to the article, the UAE and the British have been reaching secret deals in order to boost the arms trade. Increasingly, I start to question how much policy here is dictated by those on whom we apparently depend for morally problematic economic deals - there is such a lack of transparency in government that we're left wondering.
Shrouding things in secrecy is a dangerous game. It's an effective way to maintain control - knowledge is power and all that. But it will also always encourage speculation.
|Jacques de Molay, grand master of the Templar order, burned 1314. Source: wikicommons.|
Some of the most persistent conspiracy theories surround the Templar order. This military order, initially founded to fight on crusade, had become obscenely wealthy by the late thirteenth century. The king of France had his eye on their cash, and orchestrated their demise. The Templars were accused of heresy, and burned. It is astounding that the trumped-up charges were able to stand - the Templars were accused of some pretty absurd practices - worshipping idols, kissing each other's bottoms. Why were the charges so effective? Because all the Templars ceremonies had been highly secretive. Secrecy attracts public suspicion, and it makes it very hard to prove innocence. Wild speculation is possible when facts are buried behind mists of obfuscation.
Openness and transparency are right for ethical reasons. They help to ensure accountability. But they also protect those who are open in the first place. There's a big difference between my examples though - it seems most likely that the Templars were almost entirely innocent of the charges put to them; what is going on with the arms trade is morally abhorrent.