Saturday 4 January 2020

The Great Satan

In the late '60s, Richard Nixon developed and implemented the "madman theory" of international relations, based on his observation of Eisenhower's handling of the Korean War, with precedent in Machiavelli's admonition in his Discourses on Livy that "at times it is a very wise thing to simulate madness". He would project an image of insanity and instability to scare his adversaries in the Communist Bloc into backing down and avoiding provocation, as when you have an enemy with nuclear weapons and he is angry as hell at you, any wrong move can result in your immediate annihilation. Nixon used this strategy often, but he combined it with the idea that if the Communists would just back down and come to the table he'd calm down himself and cease to lay his twitching finger on the button.

As of the time of my writing this, it has been an hour and a half since Donald Trump announced that the US military has fifty-two Iranian cultural and strategic sites targeted for destruction. The number fifty-two is symbolic: between 4 November 1979, after the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran by a group of pro-Khomeini college students, and 20 January 1981, the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage in said embassy. (There are allegations that the Reagan campaign paid off the Iranian government to keep the hostages until the inauguration in order to damage incumbent Jimmy Carter's reputation before the election. Personally, I believe these allegations, but that is a topic for another time.)

The difference between Trump and Nixon in this regard is that Nixon, as mentioned, would return to a seeming sanity upon the lowering of tensions. Trump has not ceased his threats nor de-escalated them. His primary objective in foreign policy seems to be the constant destabilisation of every territory not under the dominion of the US empire. Far from his promises of isolationism, this is the insanity of the Bush administration on steroids.

It should go without saying that the destruction of cultural sites is a terrorist tactic and a war crime. In fact, it is such a terrorist tactic that it was one of the favourites of DAESH, who became infamous for smashing Buddha statues, destroying Christian icons, burning manuscripts, blowing up mosques, and generally annihilating all beauty and history that stood before them. DAESH, of course, had a Wahhabi fascist agenda that included the wholesale cultural and physical genocide of all religions and ethnicities, including Muslims, that did not agree with their narrow and bloodthirsty interpretation of Islam. This is why they raped, murdered, and enslaved Yezidi and Assyrian people en masse. It should be noted that cultural genocide often precedes or accompanies the physical destruction of people. Lemkin noted in his incomplete "Introduction to the Study of Genocide":
Frazer who is generally considered to be the father of modern anthropology was aware of a sociological fact: that all human beings have so-called derived needs which are just as necessary to their existence as the basic physiological needs. These needs find expression in social institutions or, to use an anthropological term, the culture ethos. If the culture of a group is violently undermined, the group itself disintegrates and its members must either become absorbed in other cultures which is a wasteful and painful process or succumb to personal disorganization and, perhaps, physical destruction. Malinovsky [sic], the founder of the functional school in anthropology, regards culture as having three interdependent dimensions: a material base, social ties, and symbolic acts. He believes that no definite line of demarcation can be drawn between form and function. According to this view it is clear that the destruction of cultural symbols is genocide, because it implies the destruction of their function and thus menaces the existence of the social group which exists by virtue of its common culture.
Have you ever seen Persian architecture? There is almost nothing like it. Its basic principle is the symbolism of humanity entering into communication with Heaven; it accomplishes this by grand symmetries, the use of perfect circles and squares, elaborate mathematical designs, and stunning colours. The Sassanid Empire pioneered the use of immense domes that, after the Muslim conquest, became a defining feature of nearly all Islamic architecture. Various empires designed entire cities around circles and squares, incorporating buildings and gardens in elaborate schemes. The diversity of the architecture is shown in the fact that there are six separate styles of classical Persian architecture, spanning millennia. The buildings in ancient Persepolis influenced architecture throughout the world for centuries, and even today architectural techniques pioneered by Persian and Iranian architects long ago are praised and used widely.

Go and look up photographs of Persian mosques, temples, and palaces. Many of these buildings have withstood Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, the Mongols, and countless other conquerors and wars. Many of them are used today and actively maintained. Others are preserved simply because of their majesty and inestimable cultural value.

Now imagine them annihilated in an instant by American bombs due to the fanatical and sadistic desire of a small cult of warmongers and apocalypticists to see Iran brought to its knees and its people subjugated to their empire. Imagine the ruins of Persepolis blown to dust, the Sheikh Lotfolla Mosque vaporised, the Naghsh-e Jahan Square reduced to a pile of rubble. Imagine the human lives that will undoubtedly be lost in the blasts. All in the name of petty revenge.

This is what is at stake. Look again at the interior of the dome of the Sheikh Lotfolla Mosque. A monument to the glory of God, designed to bring the eye of any human being entering it toward heaven. The windows are precisely designed to bring in light. To walk through the mosque is to symbolically ascend from the darkness and sadness of a fallen world to the light and peace and life of God. The United States government, under the Trump administration, is threatening to destroy this. To do so would be to symbolically annihilate the bridge between humanity and God. I can think of no more appropriate title for anyone who would dream of such an act than "the Great Satan".

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