Innocents in Islam

 Posted by on 29 September 2006 at 7:02 am  Uncategorized
Sep 292006

In the course of some arguments on SoloPassion about moral conduct in war, I wrote the following post about the supposed multitudes of innocents oppressed by dictatorial regimes. I thought it worth reproducing here:

[Someone unworthy of identifying by name] said: “Bearing in mind that most Iranians loathe and despise their enormously repressive theocratic regime and its puritans and religious police and love America…”

If that were true, the Iranians would have overthrown that theocratic regime ages ago. (In fact, it never would have come into existence at all.) No government — no matter how repressive — can possibly maintain its grip on power when actively, seriously opposed by a majority — or even a dedicated minority. The fact that people in Iran might grumble about the concrete policies of their government does not mean that they oppose it in principle. Sure, a few do that — but the sputtered-out student revolts of a few years ago indicate that they were nothing more than a small minority.

The history of the 20th century proves that people willingly submit to the most horrifying dictatorships — but not from fear alone. As Ayn Rand illustrated in We the Living, people will accept vicious regimes as fundamentally moral or justified — and/or they passively submit to the horrors perpetrated by it. In Russia, autocracy was the only respected form of government — and crushing government interference in economic affairs had a long history. Communism was merely a more extreme version of the kind of government widely accepted as right and proper. Moreover, one basic ideal of the culture — instilled in substantial part by the Russian Orthodox Church — was the passive resignation to the evils of this world. The people who accepted and perpetuated those ideals made possible all the evils of Soviet Russia. They cannot rightly claim that they ought to be exempt from the consequences thereof, e.g. in war with free countries defending themselves against Soviet aggression.

Contrary to [quoted person's] fantasies, governments are not imposed upon a people from another dimension against their will. If the Iranians are genuinely opposed to their regime, it’s their responsibility to overthrow it. If they fail to do that, then they have no grounds for complaint when the nations threatened by that regime act swiftly and decisively to eliminate the threat. American soldiers certainly ought not be put in harm’s way so as to preserve the lives of Iranians who either support their belligerent, theocratic regime, passively accept its evils, or cowardly refuse to act to overthrow it.

In his lecture course on “The Rise of Totalitarian Islam” at OCON this past summer, Dr. Yaron Brook made a good case against the standard view that Iran was substantially pro-Western and pro-American at the time of the seizure of power by the Ayatollah — and remains so to this day. I won’t reproduce my full single-spaced page of furiously-typed notes, but I will highlight a few key points. (Remember that these are just my lecture notes, so I can’t guarantee full accuracy in reproducing Dr. Brook’s points.)

  • Iran was actually one of the least Westernized countries in the Middle East at the time of the Revolution. French and English colonization substantially impacted the cultures of Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. Iran was not so affected: it was in the middle of nowhere, left alone to indulge in its own primitive culture.
  • The Shah of Iran attempted to Westernize Iran during his rule from the 1950s through 1979. In particular, he tried to aggressively secularize and nationalize Iran. He was also very oppressive, alternating between appeasement and oppression of religious leaders. Notably, the vast majority of the Iranian people never benefited from that Westernization. In fact, the traditional middle class traders in the bazaars were very threatened by the imported Western companies and goods, as well as by Western values. They funded the religious leaders opposed to the Shah. So very few Iranians were actually Westernized. Mostly that influence was limited to just students attracted to communism or socialism. At the time of the Revolution, the country was predominantly Muslim and oriented toward its religious leaders.
  • Unsurprisingly, many of the pro-Western Iranians left Iran after the Revolution. Many of the student opponents of the regime are just slightly more moderate Islamists. The genuinely pro-Westerners are (1) a very tiny minority and (2) usually socialist. So why is Iran so widely regarded as pro-West? It’s due to (1) the rosy memories of pro-Western exiles and (2) Western desire for a better government in Iran without the blood of military conflict.

    I’ve omitted much of great interest in Dr. Brook’s presentation, particularly regarding Khomeini’s ideology and its relationship to Shiism. Those interested should order the course when it becomes available sometime in the next year.

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