"There must be some group out there doing things"
Conspiracy theories have garnered a lot of attention as of late, especially when it comes to talks of the Illuminati.
This is for multiple reasons, but especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, there has been an “infodemic”.
The sheer amount of misinformation amplified on social media has been like an epidemic itself.
On a base level, a conspiracy theory is a contesting of the official narratives of an event.
Scepticism in isolation is not an issue.
But conspiracy theories have gone beyond this, into grand speculation about society. Worse still, belief in conspiracy theories has caused harm.
During COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy among minority ethnic groups was driven by a distrust of medical authority.
And it’s this uncertainty, whether it’s about one’s health or the society we live in that causes conspiracy theories to thrive.
One conspiracy theory of interest is that of the Illuminati.
The theory goes that there are powerful people who have banded together and secretly control all of society – but is this true?
There are numerous sources of content that have dived into the deep history of the Illuminati, trying to decipher the origins and factuality of this ‘secret group’.
However, whilst different crowds believe there is an Illuminati, do British Asians also play into these whispers?
If so, it could mean that the Illuminati theory is much more poignant than originally thought.
What is the Illuminati?
The Bavarian Illuminati were a secret society that existed in the 1700s. According to a report by The Week, it was an Enlightenment-era institution formed in 1776.
The founder Adam Weishaupt believed that “the monarchy and the church were repressing freedom of thought”.
The Bavarian Illuminati were interested in promoting enlightenment values such as “reason and philanthropy” as well as other secular values amongst influential people.
But they were outlawed in 1785, as the Duke of Bavaria opposed the formation of secret societies.
The Illuminati itself didn’t remain secret for very long, however. Nor did it ever grow to a sizable amount.
According to a Vox report from 2016, it grew to between 650- 2500 members at its height.
The modern conspiracy theory of the Illuminati has little in relation to the original Bavarian Illuminati group.
According to a BBC Futures article, it gained traction in the 1960s among counterculture writings.
In the modern world, the Illuminati refers to a secret organisation or group of figures that have impacted global affairs for fame, notoriety, money or success.
Whispers hint that the Illuminati includes prominent figures, including Presidents of the USA and musicians such as Jay Z.
But the intrigue doesn’t stop there; some theorists go further.
They suggest that historical events like the French Revolution and JFK’ assassination were all put in place by the Illuminati.
Some believe the Illuminati’s power has expanded to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and there is a plot within the film industry called the “New World Order”.
Have British Asians Spread These Conspiracies?
Among British Asians, conspiracy theories have certainly spread.
There is the trope about the “WhatsApp uncle/aunty”, that relative in every British Asian family who sends conspiracy messages via WhatsApp.
These chain mail threads are not exclusive to British Asian elders, as they have also permeated other minority ethnic groups.
But they remain a central feature for many older British Asians, where fake news can thrive.
A general awareness of these theories, however, has existed online more widely.
There are a range of forums and places on the internet where theories of the Illuminati have spread.
Whilst the amount of searches has declined in the UK, the Google Trends page shows that there is still some interest in the issue.
More widely speaking, it would be inconclusive to say that the conspiracy has thus died.
The Illuminati theory has merged with other theories over time, to a general conspiracy that the world is run by a group of shadowy individuals.
Concerningly, 25% of Britons believe this to be the case, according to a 2021 YouGov poll.
But, there is some difference between this theory and the New World Order theory, as an example.
British Asian Opinions
Speaking to a range of British Asians, there seems to be a mix of opinions on the matter.
There is some scepticism and disregard for the conspiracy.
One person, Jay, believes that “this Illuminati stuff” is “just a distraction from valid things going on”. Further stating:
“Capitalism has pulled the wool over our eyes and people wanna talk about the Illuminati.”
Anna* believes that “the whole thing is quite silly”. She clarifies that:
“The Illuminati and such conspiracy theories are quite simplistic [in terms of] how the world works.”
In her view “as we are struggling, some British Asians may want to find easy explanations”.
But there also is some level of understanding of where the theory comes from. When speaking to one individual named Ali, he said:
“I think there would be some sort of group that has extended control over some functions of the world.”
But he adds that:
“[They are] nowhere near as strong as people make them out to be.”
He dismisses the Illuminati specifically because he doesn’t think that any group “influences everyday life too much. We still get food and safety on the whole and that”.
Furthermore, John* states:
“It is an obtuse idea, that they’d even exist!”
However, he expressed concerns that he does have elders who “believe the Illuminati exist”. He reveals:
“It is very difficult to have any discussion because they feel as though there’s a wall.
“Those relatives are already dead-set on believing; they don’t wanna hear it.”
Abdul, another sceptic of the theory, expresses that “it is more prevalent back home [in Pakistan] compared to here”.
He believes that:
“A lot of the community believes in it… [due to] them [being] uneducated and not really having an understanding of the topic.”
In his view, it is more hearing “what others have said and basing their opinions on others’ judgement.”
Overall, he says:
“It’s less prevalent [among British Asians].
“However, there is still a good percentage of [the] community that believes in these theories.”
Moreover, there are definitely some who believe in it.
Shareef told of his strong beliefs in the Illuminati’s existence. He notes:
“I think a lot of large events and disasters are connected.”
“To me, it makes sense that there would be a group [such as the Illuminati] at the top.”
Shareef showed a set of DVD documentaries he has specifically about the Freemasons.
They are another group that frequently has such conspiracy theories attributed to them.
Another group that was also mentioned when discussing with people was the “Rothschilds”.
They are a wealthy family of Jewish descent of whom many conspiracy theories exist.
Whilst they didn’t come into discussions many times, the times they did show the interconnected nature of many conspiracy theories.
Another British Asian, Junaid, said:
“When I see the news it is all very scary. There must be some group out there doing things.”
To him regardless of who it was, there’s a “comfort” in it. That means that “stuff isn’t random”.
On the subreddit r/India, there were references to the Illuminati on a question “Who do you think controls the world?”
Similarly, there is some discussion of conspiracies as this on the r/Pakistan subreddit, with a mixture of scepticism and acceptance.
There seems to be a mixed response to this theory. Most generally accept that the idea of the Illuminati is both out of date and simplistic.
However, there does seem to be some acceptance of the theory, particularly with more vulnerable older people.
It is here where the need for verifiable sources and distrust of mainstream sources has a negative effect.
But also, we have seen a shift in conspiracy theories, whereby many of them have merged.
This involves the exploiting of general anxiety and discontent. No matter how contradictory, these channels have been effective for some.
Social media has been a very strong outlet for this, as information does not need to be verified.
It is important to have difficult conversations regarding conspiracy theories among British Asians, as they can cause real harm.