07 February 2012

American Evangelicals Beating the War Drum Against Iran Part 1

I will not make the same mistake the mainstream media often does by calling Rick Santorum an Evangelical. He's a Roman Catholic, however Evangelical has doctrinally become an all but meaningless term, and the media is in part correct in basically viewing it as a socio-political movement. In that sense, it is appropriate to speak of someone like Santorum when talking about American Evangelicalism, even if he cannot actually be placed under that label. His recent endorsement by famed Evangelical leader James Dobson only validates this framework.

For most Americans the present situation with Iran dates to the Carter administration, the fall of the Shah, the arrival of Khomeini, and the Hostage Crisis. Some Americans will remember the glamorous Shah and his queen visiting the United States during every administration going back to Truman, but the real focus today in the American mind is 1979.

For the Iranians, this is all goes back to World War II, when Reza Shah was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion. They preemptively overtook Iran to secure its oil from the Nazis who were pushing toward the Caucasus. The Shah was forced out and his son Reza Shah Pahlavi (the one everyone remembers in the West) came to power.

He like his father was a liberal reformer, but he was young and allowed others to essentially run the country. Liberal reforms are dangerous because it can lead to elections...and when the people voted for Prime Minister Mosaddegh who wanted to nationalize the oil fields (effectively removing British interests) the Anglo-American alliance acted, staged a coup and subsequently installed the Shah as something akin to an autocrat. Over the next twenty-five years the Shah acted as a proxy for Western interests, offended his people on many social fronts, and crushed dissent with a brutal force of secret police.

This led to the rise of what has been called Shiite Fundamentalism and the revolution in 1979 which helped to destabilize the whole balance of power in the Middle East. Some of the instability was deflected by Carter's peace deal brokered between Egypt and Israel at Camp David.

Former enemy Saddam Hussein was embraced and encouraged to militarily engage the new force in Persia, something he was keen to do. The Kurds were betrayed then and would be again. And of course to the Iranians, this war with Iraq was viewed through the lens of further American aggression against the country. Over a million people died, and the war resolved absolutely nothing.

Iran has never forgotten these events and it continues to be a very complicated society full of internal turmoil. The internal conflict is both masked and magnified by the severe Islamic social cast. Women are forced to wear the chador, but behind closed doors there's a vibrant youth and party culture where the drugs and alcohol flow and at least as recent as a few years ago the most popular television show was Baywatch. Satellite dishes are forbidden and the regime usually looks the other way, but can also use the dishes and other minor infractions as an excuse to crack down on dissent when it wants to.

For years Iranian experts have predicted massive uprisings. The majority of the people don't like the Islamic regime, and the population in Iran is very young, the result of a post-Revolutionary baby boom. Iran is actually a pretty modern country with modern social attitudes. Westerners have reported that behind closed doors, women are vocal, smoke, and look you in the eye when they talk to you...something that just doesn't happen in much of the Middle East. There are a wide range of Iranian films available to the western audience if you're willing to listen to Farsi and read English subtitles. Many deal with the dark side of the regime, but many more show something of Iranian life and culture which is full of surprises.

Americans mistakenly believe that all people desire freedom and impose this thinking on other societies and cultures. Many do desire social freedoms, but first and foremost people desire security and stability. Americans are actually no different on this score. Iran is caught in a geo-political maelstrom and is both victim and perpetrator. The regime uses this to maintain power.

Wilsonian ideals lead the United States to want to intervene and help Iranian dissidents but Iranian pride (yes other nations have it too) and anti-imperial resentment works against this. They don't like it when powerful empires step in and manipulate their internal affairs. The present mess they're in is a result of outside meddling extending back over seventy years.

An external threat helps to unify the nation. People will put aside their differences and unite when the nation as a whole is perceived to be under threat. Just think of the days after 11 September 2001. Everyone except for a handful of people like me was behind President Bush and he was practically given a blank check to do what he wanted.

The narrative in America at present is that Iran is a threat to the world order. Rick Santorum and thus many Christians who are feeding from the same ideological trough want to cast this in terms of 1938. The Iranians are the Nazis...will we sell out the innocent nations adjacent to Iran through a Munich style appeasement? Santorum wants to portray Obama as a Chamberlain clone, a diplomatic weakling, a blind misguided and naive lemming while he's the brave Winston Churchill warning the world and telling everyone how it really is.

Churchill was a brilliant and very flawed man. Despite his tremendous mistakes and miscalculations and his own dubious morality on many fronts, he was more than anything a leader. The emotional outpouring of affection at his funeral displayed the general consensus, the high regard and esteem the British people have accorded him. Santorum is an amateur, utterly lacking in the worldly-wise sophistication and instinct Churchill had acquired through his long career spanning the globe. He had a certain cunning and a sense of his own ability long before World War II. Santorum is untested and comes across to many as something of a boy scout or even a whining child. I think he's much worse than that and in addition to his potentially disastrous foreign policy, his adherence to Roman Catholicism, his views of government and the role of the state in personal lives, 'in our bedrooms' as he put it, reminds me much more of Franco than Churchill.

This Revolutionary Iran/Third Reich parallel is a fantasy and it’s dangerous. This is just not the situation. Iran is not ruled by a Hitler even though American media has often tried to portray Ahmadinejad in this light. His Holocaust denial language has helped to further this portrayal and identification. I'll come back to that. However it must be noted the Iranian president is not a dictator. He is a political leader but in the Iranian system the macro-agenda as well as individual policies have to pass through the Ayatollah's, the clerics who are the guardians of the Revolution. Ahmadinejad frequently clashes with the clerics led by Khamenei who could probably be described as a sort hands-off but actual or de-facto ruler of the country. He doesn't get his hands dirty so to speak in the way a president must and it places the president in a very difficult and sometimes impossible situation. There have been several rifts recently between these groups.

Prior to Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Khatami was president and he tried to maintain the balance between social pressures and the Islamic programme. He failed and was forced out. He was viewed as a reformer, his policies leading to people taking to the streets giving some indication as to level of pressure beneath the public veneer. The Ayatollahs wanted him out because his concessions were destabilizing the country.

Ahmadinejad has tried to ramp up the geo-political situation to focus his public on these issues and galvanize the country. The fact that America invaded and conquered the countries on either side of them has helped in this regard. An external threat always helps to cool down internal pressures. A regime in danger will always look for a threat as a political distraction.


Anonymous said...

Hi Proto,

"his adherence to Roman Catholicism, his views of government and the role of the state in personal lives, 'in our bedrooms' as he put it, reminds me much more of Franco than Churchill."

That is such a contrast to the late Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, of Canada (also a Roman Catholic), who said, "We take the position that there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.". He paraphrased the quote which he read in an editorial written in the Globe and Mail Newspaper, December 12, 1967.

I didn't realize all these facts about Iran. The information you have provided sure puts a different light on them. It's very helpful to me.


Protoprotestant said...

Thanks Lorena. That means a lot.

Yes when it comes to politics there are some Catholics that are actually quite decent...quite revolutionary considering the historic positions of the Church. Kennedy was like that.

While portions of Rome have moved in a better direction on these fronts...it's still Rome.

I don't really care if a Catholic is president but I do care if he's supported as president by Christians who think he's representing their values and goals.

I think Chretien irritated Bush a bit. Are you Canadian? If so, I'm curious about Harper. How do most Christians feel about him?

Anonymous said...

Hi Proto.

I do agree, Rome is still Rome, is still Rome!

Yes, I'm a Canadian.

Trudeau was a very different kind of PM. I didn't get the impression he cared about his Roman Catholicism.

He was a bachelor when he became PM, and even dated Barbra Streisand.
Here's a famous quote about America from him,

“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
Most Canadians would probably agree with that :)

Chretien was a part of the Trudeau government before ever running for PM, years later. He did irritate your President, and most Canadian PM's have irritated US President's, at one time or another. . Except maybe Brian Mulroney who had an 'Irish' connection with Reagen, as well, a conservative one. Chretien really put George W. Bush off when he refused to send any Canadian military into Iraq. We really felt the displeasure of many Americans whom I think, hated us for sure, then.

Harper is an Evangelical. I didn't know that till recently. He doesn't come across like a hard conservative, at least not to me.
From what I've read most Canadian evangelicals like him. However, I'm not up on everything about it.
He's very pro-Israel. He is a part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance which is Evangelical-Protestant.

Sorry for being so long-winded, and hope you find this a little interesting.