Reading Andrew Scott Cooper’s The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran, I had something of a revelation. Islam isn’t at all the backwards, medieval death cult we think it is. There is indeed a “moderate majority” of Muslims. We just keep killing them all off.
Those who undertake Cooper’s study won’t know whether to sob hysterically or put their fist through a wall. The Pahlavi tragedy is an archetype of sorts, a founding myth: a high-minded, secular authoritarian whose attempts to lead his country into the modern world are undermined by dangerously stupid Western idealists. It’s the story of diplomats and reporters emerging from the Beltway cocoon, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, and deciding to reshape a volatile Middle Eastern nation in their own image. Their ignorance and hubris will drive you mad, and you’ll understand why even the Islamosphere’s most (relatively) progressive leaders want nothing to do with us.
The travesty of Western intervention in Iran really must be read to be believed. We see that The Guardian uncritically took up Islamists’ claim that the Shah massacred 3,000 peaceful protesters at Jaleh Square on Sept. 8, 1978. Michel Foucault, ever the drama queen, showed up eight days later and somehow counted the dead at 4,000. But the protesters were hardly peaceful, and even the Islamic Republic later settled the number at just 88—just two more than the Pahlavi government’s estimate in the immediate aftermath. But the 3,000 figure stuck. And we see the droves of fawning journalists who followed Khomeini around like a puppy during his exile in France. On one occasion a local reporter asked Khomeini, “What is an Islamic republic?” The Ayatollah replied, “It will be like the French republic,” which set the bien-pensants to orgiastic cheers.
This propagandizing made its mark on U.S. policy toward Iran. Jimmy Carter’s obsession with the Shah’s “human rights abuses”—his unforgivable habit of jailing terrorists and their clerical dupes—led him to impose crippling sanctions on the royalist regime, leaving it vulnerable to Islamist revolt. And declassified reports from William Sullivan show our then ambassador calling Khomeini a “Gandhi-like” figure with no political aspirations.
It’s enough to do your head in. But doesn’t it explain things? Destroying perfectly meh countries in the Middle East wasn’t something Bush and Rumsfeld came up with. On the contrary: It’s a modern American tradition, like going apeshit over Starbucks’ holiday cup. From Iran in 1979 to Iraq in 2003, the United States has actively worked to depose moderate Muslim strongmen, even at the risk—and sometimes for the explicit purpose—of elevating fundamentalist theocrats. Now, that’s plenty to resent. But then, after standing by as the triumphant jihadists purge those loyal to the fallen secularist regimes, we puzzle at the lack of pro-American Muslims in the Middle East.
To add insult to injury (literally), the elites—after giving aid and comfort to the extremists who butcher moderate and secular Muslims—have the audacity to scold those who say Islam is an inherently violent and backwards religion. No, it’s not. But when photos emerged of John McCain allegedly posing with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it’s no wonder people doubt their leaders can tell a moderate from extremist, even from spitting distance.
Of course, it’s foolish to believe John McCain or any other American official is collaborating with ISIS. They’re not crypto-jihadis—they’re just morons. And that’s exactly the point. Because, regardless of who photobombed the senator, we know exactly who he meant to be seen with: top leaders of the Free Syrian Army, originally the USA’s big dog in the fight against the Syrian governme—excuse me, ISIS. That turned out to be a farce: The FSA battalions who haven’t defected to the Islamic State have become puppets of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Islamofascist leader of Turkey.
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