What brought the Russian airliner down?

The battle for answers was launched on predictable political lines.

People lay flowers and candles in memory of the victims of the Russian MetroJet Airbus accident in Sinai, in Pulkovo airport in St. Petersburg, Russia [EPA]
People lay flowers and candles at St Petersburg airport in memory of the victims of the Russian Metrojet Airbus crash in Sinai [EPA]

When the Russia-bound Metrojet Flight 9268, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia, crashed on October 31, in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board, a battle of interpretations ensued almost immediately – before any, let alone all the facts were known. The battle was launched along entirely predictable political lines. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a vested interest in the cause of the crash being blamed on mechanical failure and not the work of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in order to exonerate his Syrian campaign having cost the lives of hundreds of innocent Russian lives. The repeated Russian narrative that its military operation in Syria is meant to make Russians safer at home would be radically compromised otherwise.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had a similar vested interest in this crash being due to mechanical failure or pilot error, and not because of the failure of security at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, in order to safeguard a major source of income for the Egyptian economy – and save himself from the embarrassment of the fact that his army is only good to crush the democratic aspirations of Egyptians and not to face a gang of murderers in Sinai.

Egypt’s tourism industry suffering after plane crash

Vested interests

Meanwhile, both UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama had a vested interest in the cause of this crash not being due to a mechanical failure or pilot error, but a work of deliberate murder by ISIL. That scenario would vindicate their opposition to the Russian involvement in the Syrian war and mark its human cost in part on innocent Russians.

So, both the UK and the US rushed to find what they wanted to find: a bomb on that plane. 

What we are witnessing, entirely independent of the truth of this tragic crash, continues to be a blatant display of the politics of interpretation: States with vested interests in one scenario or another, finding what they want to find, and feeding the world press what they want them to say.

Also read: Who should we trust on the Russian plane crash?

The same intention remains evident on the part of the mercenary murderers of ISIL, who also rushed to claim they had done it, in order to bolster their claim to a delusional omnipotence.

Which one of these four countries – the US, the UK, Russia, or Egypt – with their deeply rooted and vested interests in making us believe one thing or another, are we to believe?


Wag the dog

So who did it? What happened to the Russia-bound Metrojet Flight 9268? Was it a mechanical failure, a pilot error, or did some ghostly apparition in Sharm el-Sheikh plant a bomb on that plane before it took off from the airport? 

Which one of these four countries – the US, the UK, Russia, or Egypt – with their deeply rooted and vested interests in making us believe one thing or another, are we to believe? 

Does the combined “intelligence” of the US and the UK, which brought us Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” and wreaked havoc on this world, have any claim to credibility left to their names? Do the Russians and their own Afghan memories, now resurrected in their Syrian military adventure, leave any room for credibility?

Can Sisi and his military junta be believed, presiding as they do over a corrupt administration that harbours thieves who steal a poor student’s entire academic record and give it to another favourite student? 

The tragic fate of the Russian airliner is emblematic of the larger predicament of our times, where the competing politics of fabricated narratives have overcome the factual fate of people caught in the snare of ruling states and their pure politics and twisted, vested interests.  

As millions of Syrians, the immediate victims of multiple proxy wars waged on their homeland, flee their homes and become refugees in or out of their country, all the non-Syrian powers – shooting at the ghastly ghost of the thing called ISIL and Co – gather in a Viennese landmark hotel to talk about “Syria”.

US and UK security officials claimed that the Russian airliner may have been brought down by a bomb [EPA]
US and UK security officials claimed that the Russian airliner may have been brought down by a bomb [EPA]

What Syria? There is no Syria, except in the delusional fantasies of these warring factions – all of them non-Syrians – negotiating for a bigger share of their own geostrategic interests. The actual Syria, the Syria that belongs to the Syrians, has packed itself with its children heading out to perilous seas, leaving “Syria” to Russians, Iranians, Israelis, Hezbollah, the Turks, the US, the Saudis and their other Arab allies – turning Syria into a shooting gallery.  

The fact of Syria, as indeed the fact of what exactly happened to those 224 innocent Russians, have now joined together to mark the daunting politics of pure propaganda: competing narratives among the US, the Russian, the Iranian, the Saudi, and the Israeli ad nauseam “intelligence” deciding the next headlines of our mass media. 


In an iconic scene in Hamlet, we encounter a playful Prince of Denmark marking the whimsical politics of Polonius’ boneless character, appeasing his royal superiors with whatever he thinks they want to hear, not what they need to know. Hamlet points to a cloud in the sky and asks Polonius: 

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the’ mass, and ‘tis like a camel indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale.
Polonius: Very like a whale …

To Polonius in this scene as to the propaganda politicking of those who are shooting at the ghosts of their own creation in Syria and now spinning tall tales about what happened to that Russian airliner: There is no truth except that which they think serves their immediate interests. Their intelligence is informed by stupidity. They think of themselves as that proverbial dog, so smart when wagging its tail and spinning stories to feed the world.

But as that splendid tagline of the movie Wag the Dog would have it, if we were just to grab the tall tales of their tail for a second, you’d see how they’re wagging the dog.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.