On the Afterglow of Historical Fairy Tales

We are fortunate to be living in an age in which historical source material is becoming increasingly abundant and difficult to destroy, because we are also living in an age that has been prolific in the rearrangement of historical fact to suit ideological ends.  I just ran across yet another data point demonstrating the process whereby the myths created in the process are transmogrified into “historical fact.”  It turned up on Atomic Insights, a blog penned by nuclear power advocate Rod Adams.

The reason this particular “historical fact” turned up in one of Rod’s articles is neither here nor there.  As far as I know he’s perfectly sound politically, and has no ax to grind outside of his nuclear advocacy.  It was apparently reproduced without any malice or intent to deceive as a “well known fact” in an article about the mutual hostility of the U.S. and Iran.  According to Rod,

On the other side of the issue, Iranians date their hostility to America to 1953, when the United States CIA took actions to stimulate the overthrow of the democratically elected leader named Mohammad Mosaddeqh. Our main beef with him was the fact that he had decided that the oil and gas under his country actually belonged to the people, not to the companies that had arranged some sweet deals during a colonial era. When he moved to nationalize the oil reserves, the UK and the US took action to install a dictator who was more compliant with our “interests.”  That part of the controversy is pretty well known and discussed.

In fact, that part of the controversy isn’t discussed nearly enough.  If it were, this version of “history” would have been relegated to the garbage heap long ago.  I wrote a series of articles debunking it some time ago that can be read here, here and here.  The “official” version of this particular historical fairy tale, entitled All the Shah’s Men, was written by New York Times reporter Steven Kinzer, apparently in the proud tradition of Walter Duranty’s glowing accounts of Stalin’s Russia.  Kinzer’s “history” was based largely on a CIA source document, which is available to anyone on the web.  Evidently he assumed no one would actually bother to read it and the other easily available source material, because the idea that they “prove” the great Mossadegh Coup myth is palpably absurd.  The CIA activities described were so dilettantish they wouldn’t have seriously undermined the flimsiest of banana republics, not to mention Iran.  On the very day that the coup happened the supposedly miraculously effective CIA plotters in Tehran, convinced that the coup had failed, sat meekly on the sidelines, taking no significant role in directing events whatsoever.  To believe the claim that their actions were undertaken solely to mollify evil US and UK oil and gas cartels it is necessary to willfully blind ones self to the possibility that Communist aggression ever actually existed or that the US government ever honestly believed that it was a threat at the time.  Of course, I cannot prove that I am any less prone to historical distortions than Mr. Kinzer et. al.  However, I can suggest that anyone interested in the facts read the source material.  It speaks for itself.  I suspect that anyone reading it with an open mind will conclude that his yarn about the mind boggling effectiveness of the great CIA plot and the reasons it happened are baloney.

That hasn’t prevented these myths from gelling into historical “facts.”  Rob’s blog is hardly the only place you’ll find similar disinformation.  The more a given myth serves ideological ends, the faster the gelling process proceeds.  In this case it was doubly effective.  It stroked the egos of the CIA supersleuths who had no trouble convincing themselves that they really had “killed seven at one blow,” and it also had just the right “anti-imperialist” touch for the ideologues of the left.  But heaven forefend that you should take my word for it.  Look for yourself.

One could cite many other similar instances of rearranging history.  For example, there’s the old southern schoolmarm’s yarn about how the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, the anti-nuclear activists’ yarn about how the atomic bomb had nothing to do with ending World War II, the Nazi yarn about how the German army lost World War I because it was “stabbed in the back” by revolutionaries on the home front, and so on and so on.  One often hears the old bromide that “history is written by the victors” from the creators of these fantasies.  That may be, but in all the cases cited above, and many more like them, there is no lack of source material out there for anyone interested enough to dig it up and read it.  In the case of the Civil War, for example, it reveals that common people in the north thought it was about slavery, common people in the south thought it was about slavery, foreign observers uniformly concurred it was about slavery, and southern politicians made no bones whatsoever about the fact that it was about slavery in their declarations of secession.  Under the circumstances, based on the unanimous testimony of the people who actually experienced it, I tend to believe the Civil War was, in fact, about slavery.  If you make the effort to “go to the source” with an open mind, you’re liable to find a lot more fossilized historical “facts” that aren’t quite what they seem.

On the Risk of Believing Things that aren’t True

The rulers of Iran continue to poke sticks into the Iraeli hornet’s nest.  Of course, religious zealots, both secular and “spiritual” have done this since time immemorial, whenever they’ve gained enough power to make themselves a nuisance.  Every religion implies an outgroup.  For the Communist secular religion, the outgroup was the “bourgeoisie.”  In Cambodia, they murdered 2 million out of a population of 7 million in order to destroy the “bourgeoisie,” beheading the country in the process.  Spiritual religions tend to be longer lived than the secular variety because it’s impossible to fact check them until after you’re dead.  As a result the specific outgroups they focus on as “enemies of God” tend to vary somewhat over the centuries.  The fashion among the Christians, for example, has gone from murdering Jews to slaughtering heretics to burning witches and back again over the years.  The more “imperialist” Moslems have always focused more on seizing the territories of “infidels,” and continue to do so in the case of Israel.

This habit of attacking outgroups in order to please some non-existent supernatural being, to promote some fantastic “forces of history,” to acquire “Lebensraum” for some nonexistent race, or whatever, is becoming increasingly risky.  The risk is becoming particularly acute at the moment in the case of Iran.  The Jews, always an attractive outgroup because they have typically been both different and weak, have just experienced the result of “passive resistance” against a powerful enemy who wants to kill you.  I suspect that they’re not inclined to try it twice, and this time they’re armed with nuclear weapons.   The theocratic rulers of Iran, who “sigh for the prophet’s paradise to come,” and confidently expect their reward in the next world, are, of course, indifferent to the threat.  The citizens of Iran who are less sanguine about the existence of a next world, or who suspect that the one awaiting their rulers might turn out to be more tropical than they expect, would do well to either emigrate or start digging.

Iran: Dazzled by Fusion

According to Media Line, Iran is pressing ahead with plans to build a fusion reactor:

Rather than bowing to international pressure to curb its nuclear development program, Iran has announced a new project: a nuclear fusion reactor. On Saturday, Iran’s nuclear chief announced that, “The scientific phase of the fusion energy research project is being launched with no budgetary limitation.” The head of Iran’s Nuclear Fusion Research Center told an Iranian news agency that, “We need two years to complete the studies on constructing and then another 10 years to design and build the reactor.”

You go, Ahmedinejad! I can think of no more “useful” way for Iran to spend its oil wealth than on a fusion reactor. If it works, Islam will have a clear edge over Christianity in miracles.  The Crusader’s competing ITER reactor isn’t even supposed to be loaded with fuel until 2028.  Besides, as seen in the image below, we know large scale fusion reactors are scientifically feasible.

The WaPo and the Mosque at Ground Zero

H. L. Mencken, himself on of America’s greatest editorial writers, had meager respect for most of the species. As he once put it, “Give me a good editorial cartoonist, and I can fire half the editorial staff.” He wouldn’t have been surprised by a piece entitled “A Vote for Religious Freedom,” that recently appeared on the editorial page of the Washington Post. It was marked by the self-induced imbecility about “freedom of religion” that has been the bane of serious debate about the role of Islam in today’s world.

The piece addresses the issue of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, noting with approval the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote to deny historic status to the existing building on the site. In the words of the editorial,

The agency’s correct call is a victory for cooler heads in city government, and for a fundamental American ideal – freedom of religion.

In fact, as far as the current debate about Islam is concerned, freedom of religion is a red herring. I suspect that, among all those who have expressed opposition to the mosque, the number of those who really care whether their neighbors believe in Jehovah, Allah, or the Great Green Grasshopper God is vanishingly small, as long as their opinions are between themselves and their God, and don’t imply any requirement to intervene in or control the lives of others. I have not yet read a single article on the subject that takes issue with the right of Moslems or anyone else to think and believe as they please. Many of them, however, take issue with the claims of Islam to political control and social coercion. The question, then, is whether these arguments are justified, or are merely smokescreens for an assault on freedom of religion.

The answer is obvious. Is it credible to argue that the Islamic theocracy in Iran has not practiced religious discrimination against those of other faiths, or that its justification for that discrimination has not been based on Moslem religious doctrine? Is it credible to argue that Islam does not explicitly reject freedom of religion, prescribing severe punishment for those who would leave Islam for some other faith, and institutional discrimination, including special taxes and denial of freedom of speech in matters relating to religion, directed against those of other faiths? Is it credible to argue that Islam poses no challenge to separation of church and state, or that it has never favored substitution of religious for secular law? Is it credible to argue that much of the terrorist violence that has plagued the world in recent years has not been justified in the name of Islam? Is it credible to argue that severe limitations on the equal treatment of women, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Islamic world, are not justified in the name of Islam? No, in all of these cases, it is not credible.

The proposed mosque is to be part of a complex known as the Cordoba House, and the Wapo editorial tries to gull its readers with the revisionist version of history according to which Islamic Cordoba was a “medieval Spanish city where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace for 800 years.” It boggles the mind to consider the possibility that Wapo’s editorialists are really stupid enough to believe that. Do they not have access to Google? Can they not confirm for themselves that Jews were subjected to pogroms in Moslem Spain, including one in Cordoba itself in the year 1011? Did not Ibn Abdun, one of the foremost Spanish Islamic jurists in this “golden age” write,

No…Jew or Christian may be allowed to wear the dress of an aristocrat, nor of a jurist, nor of a wealthy individual; on the contrary they must be detested and avoided. It is forbidden to [greet] them with the [expression], ‘Peace be upon you’. In effect, ‘Satan has gained possession of them, and caused them to forget God’s warning. They are the confederates of Satan’s party; Satan’s confederates will surely be the losers!’ A distinctive sign must be imposed upon them in order that they may be recognized and this will be for them a form of disgrace.

Were the Jews of Cordoba not forced to wear such a sign, in the form of a yellow turban, reminiscent of the yellow Star of David they were forced to wear under a later European regime? Were Christians not martyred in the city for daring to criticize Moslem religious beliefs? Was not Maimonides himself, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the Cordovan “golden age,” forced to flee the city to avoid religious persecution? I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.

In fact, there is no such thing as a “mere religion” among any of the major religions in the world today. All of them have, at one point or another, claimed the right to political control, attempted to elevate their religious tenets to secular law, and discriminated against and penalized those who thought differently. I am hardly a defender of Christianity, and it is no different from any of the other religions in this respect. However, devout Christians can, and have, as in the case of Roger Williams, convincingly argued for the separation of church and state based on religious doctrine. The enlightenment has further neutered its claims to state support and established status, to the point that, today, one can reasonably speak of freedom of religion in nominally Christian countries. Not so with Islam.

The principle that the WaPo editorialists and others who make similar arguments are defending, then, when they evoke “freedom of religion” has nothing to do with private religious beliefs. Objectively, what they are saying, whether they are prepared to admit it themselves or not, is that, as long as the adherents of some system of belief can manage to convince the rest of society that they are a religion, no matter whether their “religious beliefs” include such things as a monopoly of state power, severe restrictions on freedom of speech on matters touching their beliefs, and a right to profound intervention in the lives of others, then they automatically become immune from criticism in the name of “freedom of religion.”

One wonders what kind of a two by four it would be necessary to whack people like this up alongside the head with before they finally realized this debate isn’t about “freedom of religion.” Would they defend the murder of a Moslem friend for “apostasy” because he decided to convert to Christianity in the name of “freedom of religion?” Would they tolerate the nullification of democracy and the imposition of sharia law in the name of “freedom of religion?” Are they prepared to tolerate “honor killings” in the name of “freedom of religion?” Would they assist in the genital mutilation of their daughters if it were required in the name of “freedom of religion?” Would the editors of the Washington Post claim that these things are not required by the Moslem religion? A great many devout Moslems who have spent a great deal more time studying Islamic scriptures than they would claim that they are required. Who are the editors of the Washington Post to define what it means to be a Moslem?

The debate about the mosque at Ground Zero does not and never has had anything to do with freedom of religion. There is a point beyond which it is no longer acceptable to sacrifice one’s own Liberty and tolerate intervention in one’s own life to accommodate the religious beliefs of others. The debate is about when that point is reached.

Iranian Protests and “Western Instigation”

According to a German proverb, “lies have short legs.” That’s not always true. Sometimes lies become enduring myths. A remarkable instance thereof is the yarn about how the CIA single-handedly toppled the “legitimate” government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in their famous “electric Kool-aid acid coup” back in ’53. Earlier posts on the subject may be found here, here and here. This particular thigh slapper became “historical truth” by virtue of what John Stuart Mill would have called its “utility.” It was useful to the CIA dilettantes in Tehran at the time because it allowed them to take credit for something that happened more in spite of than because of their botched efforts, even as they were justifiably commiserating with each other on their abject failure. It was useful to their bosses back in Washington to go along with the charade, so that some of the “glory” would reflect on them as well, although it beggars the imagination to believe that any of them were really bone stupid enough to take the transparently bogus after action report of their operatives in Tehran at face value. It was useful to the editors of the New York Times because it enabled them to strike their usual pious pose as noble vindicators of the “truth,” and fit their chosen narrative, according to which the CIA consists entirely of evildoers whose goal in life, for reasons incomprehensible to the rest of us, is to go about commiting bad deeds. It has been abundantly useful to generations of Iranian intellectuals, because it gave them a plausible pretext for experiencing the virtuous indignation and sense of victimization that have been the twin delights of intellectuals in all ages, assuming, of course, that they weren’t too finicky about the facts.

Small wonder, then, that the pathetic theocrats who now call the tune in Iran are, once again, playing the “Western instigation” card. There was a time when her people could bid defiance to the power of Rome in her heyday. How sad, that her rulers must now base their claims to legitimacy on such abject lies. Well, be that as it may, her people have lost none of their courage in the intervening years.

The Iranian Bomb: Guessing the Date

According to the latest estimate by Israeli intelligence, Iran is capable of building a bomb by 2011. These estimates always beg the question of what kind of bomb one is talking about. In fact, Iran will have a perfectly adequate bomb or, more accurately, nuclear device, the moment it has enough bomb grade plutonium or uranium to assemble a critical mass. In the first place, it does not take a great deal of technical finesse to build a gun assembled atomic bomb. In the second, Iran needn’t bother, because, if she were really determined to carry out a nuclear attack, something much more crude would be more attractive from her point of view. By “crude” I mean, for example, a suicide bomber equipped with two subcritical masses that, when combined, would form a critical mass. This could be done by dropping one subcritical mass on top of another, or simply slapping them together. Unlike something as sophisticated as the device dropped on Hiroshima, such a “bomb” would preserve plausible denial for Iran. Even if the material could be traced to one of her reactors, she could claim that it had been stolen or diverted by terrorists. If assembled in the middle of a large city, it may not produce the familiar mushroom cloud, but it would certainly produce a radioactive mess that would inspire terror, likely cost billions to clean up, be much less likely to provoke nuclear retaliation than a high yield bomb, and spare Iran immediate relegation to the status of an international pariah for having once again unleashed the nuclear genie, committing mass murder in the process.

In a word, once Iran has sufficient special nuclear material to make a bomb, it will no longer be necessary to speculate about how long it will take her to build one. She will have the “bomb” the moment she has enough material to assemble a critical mass.

Places where the Enlightenment Never Happened…

That would include Iran. And who can blame them, after all. According to the Holy Qu’ran,

How shall God guide a people who, after they had believed and bore witness that the Apostle was true, and after that clear proofs of his mission had reached them, disbelieved? God guideth not the people who transgress.
These! their recompense, that the curse of God, and of angels, and of all men, is on them!
Under it shall they abide forever; their torment shall not be assuaged! nor shall God even look upon them!…

The rulers of Iran are but acting according to what they honestly believe. They cannot be “evil” for having such beliefs, because no one can voluntarily disbelieve that which they honestly believe to be true. If, then, we would not have similar laws, it would behoove us to maintain the wall of separation between religion and the state.

Update: Iran and Twitter

Here’s something from Debka that adds point to my earlier reservations about Twittered revolutions. Some excerpts:

Part of the reason (the Iranian demonstrations petered out) was their organizers’ heavy reliance on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other social sites to orchestrate their protest movement. They did not at first appreciate that Iranian intelligence Internet experts, operating from secret headquarters established months ago, were using their communications to shoot them down…

The high-end apparatus, installed in late 2008 by the German Siemens AG and Finnish Nokia Corp. cell phone giant, gave Iranian intelligence the most advanced tools anywhere for controlling, inspecting, censoring and altering Internet and cell phone messaging. Those tools were being used weeks before the poll to identify penetrations by alien spy services, their local agents and dissident activists…

Within a few days of their protest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and the bulk of his supporters, realizing their electronic campaign had been taken over by the regime to hunt them down, disappeared from the streets of Tehran.

Debka is occasionally too quick to credit rumors in its zeal to scoop the mainstream news organizations. I suspect they’re right on the money this time, though. The Internet was never designed to be secure. It can be a great mobilizer in a democracy. In a dictatorship, it’s more likely to be a trap.