Iran's ayatollahs are entrenched because we are silent - opinion

We cannot advance against the ayatollahs and other jihadis unless we overcome that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” that now paralyzes our thought and speech.

SHI’ITE PILGRIMS wear masks as they flagellate themselves with iron chains ahead of Ashura, in Tehran last month. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SHI’ITE PILGRIMS wear masks as they flagellate themselves with iron chains ahead of Ashura, in Tehran last month.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 It has been acknowledged by Iran-watchers that despite American sanctions, shortages of goods, inflation, protests, suspicious explosions and rampant pandemic, the ayatollahs’ regime is here to stay.
Per Micah Levinson in the Washington Examiner, “The Iranian regime is actually impregnable because the state’s security forces remain loyal and the opposition cannot organize a guerrilla army.... Ideological zeal usually drives soldiers to kill co-ethnics, as when communists murdered millions in Red Terrors. Venezuela’s military continues suppressing the democratic opposition partly because of what exiled Venezuelan retired Gen. Antonio Rivero calls ‘a deeply impregnated filial commitment to the late President Hugo Chávez and his ideology.’ Iran’s security apparatus is far more fanatical than Venezuela’s military.”
In other words, Iran’s clerical regime instilled such intense ideological fanaticism into people who man its power structures that for as long as that ideology holds, the rule of the ayatollahs is assured.
From which it reasonably follows that short of an armed invasion of Iran, the only way to topple the ayatollahs is to topple their ideology.
Can Iranians do it? Hardly, for the regime completely gags them. Can we? We can, if we wanted to.
It is in fact very easy to do. Over 15 years ago I tried to publish a book on the subject. The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly shows that the root of true believers’ aggressiveness lies in an unspoken premise that he or she has the ability to know that God indeed dictated the Koran to Mohammed. As the book showed, all two-step, three-party communications (in which the first party communicates information to the second party, and the second party relays that information to the third) such as used in the “revelation” that underpins Islam, are by nature unreliable, causing the unsolvable problem of the third party. 
There is simply no way for Khamenei – or anybody else for that matter – to know whether Mohammed was or wasn’t a prophet. Mohammed’s first follower and eventual first caliph, Abu Bakr, on hearing from Mohammed that he just heard from God, should have just said, “It is all fine and good, friend Mohammed, but how am I to know that God spoke to you? There is no way for me to do that.” 
However, he didn’t, simply accepting Mohammed’s claim, and his fundamental epistemic error has been repeated by billions since. Ultimately, not only is today’s true believer wrong in having confidence that he knows God’s will, but in purely religious terms, his confidence turns him into an idol-worshiper. He relies on the ability to know what is and what isn’t God’s word while that ability does not exist but is simply invented by him out of thin air. 
AYATOLLAHS, THEIR ilk and their followers are just idol-worshipers. So why don’t we stress the basic error behind the thinking of ayatollahs who see Mohammed’s revelation as fact rather than mere possibility, who claim that Islam is the ultimate truth, rather than mere culture they inherited, thus committing the sin of idolatry? Won’t that completely pull the rug from under their rule, exposing as laughable the notion that it was divinely sanctioned?
Whenever I have a chance, I pose this question to the experts. Responses, when I get them, while generally sympathetic, are not optimistic and fall into two categories as to who is to blame.
One line of thinking is, that it is all jihadis’ fault: They are obtuse and cannot take a rational argument. To quote one respondent, “No matter how correct you are, do you really think that reason is going to convince them? These folks are fanatics, and they define doctrine and words as they like in order to justify their views. I wish we could challenge them by argument, but how many people in the history of the world were ever convinced by religious argument?”
The other response, however, puts the onus squarely on us: “Certainly, we should spare no rhetorical device in disabusing idolaters of their idolatry. Many Muslim leaders, subconsciously, recognize Islamic dogma cannot withstand reasoned argument. That is why Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a leading Sunni cleric, claimed in a February 2013 interview, ‘If they left apostasy alone [i.e. did not execute apostates], there would not have been any Islam. Islam would have been finished right after the death of the Prophet.’”
The respondent continued, “Your definition of idolatrous ‘true believers’ fits al-Qaradawi perfectly, as only someone blinded by self-deception would concede that his religion’s survival relies on coercion rather than reason. Unfortunately, we need a Socrates to expose the irrationality of the ayatollahs’ underpinning assumptions and the Socratic method of critical thinking has fallen on hard times. You are actually one of the few people I have encountered who, like Socrates, imputes most immoral behavior to intellectual error rather than base motives. Technically, Socrates imputed all immoral behavior to intellectual error. While the existence of psychopaths suggests that naturally depraved people commit a small proportion of evil deeds, most suffering appears to flow from ignorance.”
The bottom line is, while we have the intellectual ammunition with which to defeat the ayatollahs, we don’t use it because “the Socratic method of critical thinking has fallen on hard times.”
Why did this happen?
I think that the misplaced desire not to offend, otherwise known as “political correctness,” is what stands in the way. I call it “misplaced” because there is no point being offended by a statement of fact. There is nothing offensive about saying that “no one (other than God, of course) can know whether God spoke to Mohammed.” 
IT BELONGS in the same category of factual statements as “The Moon is round” or “The circle cannot be squared.” God made the Moon round. He also made the circle impossible to square. Likewise, He made us incapable of knowing whether He dictated the Koran to Mohammed or not. What’s there to be insulted by? Accept it and move on. Fact are facts.
In fact, criticism of dominating religion has been happening through the centuries. There is a story – clearly apocryphal but revealing nonetheless because it is always cited with approval – of young Abraham (whose father, the story goes, was an idol-carver by profession) coming one night into his father’s workshop and breaking the idols. The next morning, seeing his work ruined, his father demanded an explanation. 
“Why,” said Abraham, tongue-in-cheek, “the bigger one got up and broke the rest.” 
“You idiot,” said the father. “Don’t you know that they are just blocks of stone and wood, and what you are saying is impossible?” 
“No, you are an idiot,” said young Abraham to his father, “or else why do you worship mere lifeless blocks of stone and wood?”
Or take Mohammed. Revolted by the mores of the Meccan religion of his youth, he criticized, and eventually overthrew it.
Since the eighteenth century – the “Age of Enlightenment,” the age of Voltaire and Diderot – obscurantist clergy and their views were the regular targets of the intellectuals. In 19th-century America, Robert Ingersoll, a Republican stalwart, delivered hugely popular anti-clerical public lectures that were widely distributed in print. But in the 21st century, the opposite is happening. Criticism of religion is suddenly a no-no. Have we entered the “Age of Darkening?”
What’s wrong with criticizing the religious? Why do we shy away from it, given that there are only two options for the West regarding Iran and its ilk: fight them, or submit to them? In their idolatrous self-righteousness, jihadis see their fight as divinely sanctioned incarnation of godliness, and their eventual victory as eschatologically inevitable, and they will never relent on their own. We cannot avoid the fight; our only choice is that of the weapon with which to fight them. 
Our current choice is diplomacy, sanctions and an occasional use of force, all used with very variable degrees of success. While all those may be necessary, they only contain, but do not defeat them. They only treat the symptom, which is jihadi aggressiveness, but not the disease, which is jihadi idolatry. Idolatry is not treatable with the sword but only with a much mightier weapon: a pen.
Yet we fear to use it, our fear so well described by FDR: “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
We cannot advance against the ayatollahs and other jihadis unless we overcome that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” that now paralyzes our thought and speech. Let’s muster our courage and speak up against the ayatollahs’ errors so we don’t have to fight them by the force of arms.
Will we do it? It is our call.
The writer is the author of pseudonymously-published The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly.