De-program Persian paranoia

The conspiratorial thinking that came to Iran in the wake of Khomeinism must be combated.

Ahmadinejad defiant 298. (photo credit: AP)
Ahmadinejad defiant 298.
(photo credit: AP)
If the West realistically wants to do away with the Iranian regime - and it should - it must combat the thinking that underpins it. It is conspiratorial thinking that occupies a front and center position in the Islamic Republic's vocabulary and worldview. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to George Bush and the American people, for instance, obsessed about 9/11 conspiracy theories and supposed Zionist control of American media and cultural institutions. What can be done? Tell the truth. Expose the lies. America, through mediums such as Voice of America, could bypass the Iranian regime and directly explain to the Iranian people just how foolish and dangerous is such thinking. Perhaps, for a start, VOA could provide a historically accurate account of the origins of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But why does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have such a paranoid view of the world in the first place? When you think of recent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, you think of Arab dictatorships, not Persian ones. Nonetheless the Iranian president's Holocaust denial is typical of the genre. Holocaust denial is much the same as any other "ZOG" - Zionist Occupation Government - conspiracy theory, and demands the same twisted thinking that justified the genocide in the first place. You have to believe that "international Jewry," through its "proxies" the US and Soviet Union, made war against the Aryan race and that the destruction of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators never happened - but that for their nefarious motives, the Jews want the world to think it did. Paradoxically, both the Shoah and its denial require a paranoid conspiratorial view of the world. Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle East studies, says that Arab regimes have been influenced by Nazi ideology. The Ba'athist Party, for example, directly inherited the idea of the one party state, wherein that party is the keeper of the people's destiny. Such Nazi ideology helped fuel anti-Jewish conspiracy theories which purport to explain how Arab states could fall so far behind Israel - let alone destroy it. Because they are up against an enemy bigger and more powerful than first meets the eye! But how did this pernicious thinking spread from the Arab world to Iran? Iran under the shah had a relatively cordial relationship with Israel. Though no democracy, the shah's Iran was a modernizing country with a developing economy. Khomeini's 1979 Islamist revolution immediately brought conspiratorial thinking into Iran. Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah described how the US embassy hostage-takers believed they had captured a James Bond-like spy compound. In reality, most of the work done in the embassy was rather mundane and the CIA actually lacked sufficient resources in Iran to influence or predict events. Many of the Iranian hostage takers came from the countryside and had no real grasp of peoples and cultures outside their own. They filled that void with what they saw from American movies. Khomeinism as an ideology immediately pinpointed Israel as an enemy. In his view, Israel was a crusader state - part of the West's war against Islam. Iran had to recapture a lost era of purity - the Caliphate. The messianic goal was to build the classless society of believers that Muhammad envisioned. However much Khomeini believed his theology was authentic Islam, the case can be made that it more accurately reflects totalitarian ideologies that historically emanated from Europe. Nazism sought a lost pure Germanic utopia of Aryan blood and Teutonic knights. Stalinism pursued the perfect classless society. As Lewis has written, Khomeini had more in common with Stalin than he ever did with Muhammad or Ali. Totalitarian ideologies pick a scapegoat to explain the deficiencies of the otherwise perfect society, be they Jews, or capitalists or kulaks. Khomeinism is no different, picking Zionism as one of the many corrupting influences on the revolution. The Iranian regime hates Zionism for more than just Israel's relationship with the shah. Indeed, Zionism is not merely Jewish nationalism, but rather symbolizes all Western efforts against Iran. Thus Zionism includes Rotary clubs, Freemasons, imperialists and colonialists. Notice how Ahmadinejad blames the British and the Zionists for having created the Holocaust "myth." As a true believer in Khomeinism, Holocaust denial fits in very well with Ahmadinejad's worldview. Thus conspiratorial thinking came to Iran partly from the totalitarian nature of Khomeinism. Islamism and its goal to restore lost Muslim glory focused on Israel as the cancer upon that goal. Conspiracy theories explained how America dominated Iran under the shah, and why the revolution has proved such an abject failure. For Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel's destruction is the final step in the realization of the revolution. He certainly must believe in his own propaganda, and he means what he says. But it's the Iranian people we want to communicate with, not the government. Does the average Iranian on the street believe the Zionists are out to get him? Not every Iranian is a member of the Revolutionary Guard. We need to tell the Iranian people that their regime's ideology mimics that of every other totalitarian country in history, in which conspiracy thinking has always played an integral part. Let them know what an embarrassment Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is for Iran. Let them know that their government's ideology is leading them to disaster. Nearly every Iranian home has a satellite dish; tell them, and they will listen. The writer, a Jerusalem Post intern, is a recent graduate of Emory University.