At the Frankfurt Book Fair, 9/11 conspiracy theory books are a hot topic of conversation. And three books -- all by German authors -- are topping the country's bestseller list. Why are the works such a focus of interest?
At this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest gathering of publishers, editors and writers, everyone's talking about 9/11 conspiracy theory books. Organizers may have highlighted Russia as the official country of this year's conference, but it's the United States -- particularly its role in 9/11 -- that has captured the popular imagination.
Andreas von Bülow's The CIA and September 11
Three books, all by German authors currently topping the German bestseller list, are conspiracy theory accounts about 9/11. Perhaps the most famous of the bunch is written by Andreas von Bülow entitled The CIA and September 11 (photo). A former government minister of Research and Technology, von Bülow suggests that U.S. and Israeli intelligence services blew up the World Trade Center from the inside and that the two planes were flown in by remote control.
Why? This, quite obviously to von Bülow, was part of a plot by the neoconservatives to give the Bush administration the necessary cover to launch an attack against Iraq and, ultimately, take over the world.
Perhaps von Bülow could be dismissed as a one-off crack-pot, if there weren't so many others peddling similar tales of deleterious intent. Von Bülow is joined by fellow authors Mathias Bröckner and Gerhard Wisnewski. Wisnewski, in his book Operation 9/11, also believes that the towers were toppled using explosives, and Bröckner, in Conspiracies, Conspiracy Theories and the Secrets of September 11th, offers, as the title suggests, a similar catalogue of such notions.
Profits driving publishing buzz
Clearly, writers making such allegations are open to criticism. And the best means of isolating themselves from attack would be to rely on iron-clad sources and systematically substantiate each and every one of their claims. Yet, these books largely rely on dubious sources, and that is why they have become a subject of debate at this year's book fair. Editors are not only debating the validity of the claims made by von Bülow and friends, but they are debating whether the publishing industry is doing itself a disservice by distributing work based on questionable reporting.
Klaus Stadler, the editor of Piper Publishers, which published von Bulow's book, knew his company would face criticism. "We told ourselves that we would take it seriously, but we do not feel obligated to independently check each and every detail," Stadler told Deutsche Welle. "And my own personal position is that Mr. von Bülow poses a number of very interesting and important questions. The answers to these questions should be weighed by responsible readers, who should take time to consider them. We don't want to patronize people."
Others, however, who have observed the German book industry of late, believe that the drive to increase profits is what has prompted publishers to accept and distribute such books. They are likely to sell, and in a competitive market -- 90,000 new titles appear every year -- publishers must take on ever more spectacular tomes in an effort to gain an edge over their competitors.
"The pressure to be successful has increased," Christoph Heimann, from German bookstore Börsenblatt said. "And that might help explain why some books that are appearing today might not have appeared five or six years ago -- or at least not so quickly."
Conspiracy theories finding increasing takers?
But it's not just the publishers who have shown interest in the conspiracy theory books. A recent poll published in German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, found one in five Germans believe Bush orchestrated 9/11 as a pretext to further his aims of world domination.
In some ways, these books are not entirely out of the ordinary in Germany. They are simply an extreme example of books and journalism critical of the U.S. government, which increasingly resonates with the German public. Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, a biting criticism of the Bush administration, has enjoyed great success.
German editorials and magazines too have hinted that a sinister plot -- though perhaps not so malefic as suggested by von Bülow -- is behind the Bush administration's foreign policy. In a cover story earlier this year, respected German news magazine Der Spiegel suggested that U.S. policy, largely influenced by the oil industry and the religious right, was driven by a desire to control the world.