In last Thursday's News and Views from the Nefarium, I spoke about President Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, or, as we like to refer to it here, the (out)house of Saud. In that video, I reviewed a couple of articles from the Washington Post, one by former Speaker of the House of Misrepresentatives, Newt Gingrich - oh how I struggle to resist the temptation to refer to him as Newt Gangrene - in which he extols the President's bright shiny new foreign policy boldness, and the other article, outlining plans for a Saudi-led "Arab NATO." As I indicated there, one of my suspicions, first articulated on the late George Ann Hugh's The Byte Show some years ago, is that the Islamic world was being set up for a fall. In last Thursday's News and Views I also questioned the wisdom of dealings with one of the most blighted and barbaric regimes on the planet, to the tune of selling them billions of dollars worth of arms plus, apparently, the actual weapons manufacturing base to make them.
Put all this together, and what appears to be happening is the weaponization of the Suni-Shia split within Islam, the (out)house of Saud being the former, and Iran the latter. Add to this the fact that Syria is a secular Islamic state, one in which women actually get to do human things like think, talk, express opinions, and go to universities, and where Christians are allowed to have churches, and that it is allied with Iran, and you have all the making of a first class foreign policy debacle.
In short, unlike Speaker Gingrich/Gangrene, I see little here to celebrate, much less extol. It simply looks like more of the same Bush-Obama stew, served up with a healthy dollop of Clinton bad judgement.
Well, I must have touched a nerve, because so many people saw this article and sent it to me, that I simply have to comment on it:
Now, I don't for a moment think that Iran is a moderate paradise, and the authoress of the article, herself a Persian, doesn't think so either:
Mr. Trump, yes, in Iran women have to follow a modest dress code. Yes, Iran has not had a woman president yet. Yes, Iran has political prisoners, among them journalists, as well as those who have been dismissed from office because their views did not support the perspectives of those who occupy the halls of power.
She might of mentioned the persecution of Christians, homosexuals, and the practice of cruel and unusual punishments and so on that continues in Iran. She might have mentioned its own support and dalliances with terrorism. She might have mentioned that all the great boons that she's talking about in her article are possibly also clever propaganda.
But... she has a point. There are also no kooky social engineering experiments in Iran, no gender neutral pronoun experimentation in Farsi in its schools or universities, no transgendered bathrooms (at least, not as far as I am aware). And I rather suspect that what they're learning in Iranian universities is a healthy measure of science, mathematics, and languages and literature, leaving little time for classes in feminist and neo-Darwinian sociological critiques of quantum mechanics. They're learning culture, and this is the real driving engine of the slow change Ms. Keshavarz is referring to; propaganda or no, it is in any measure, howsoever small, real. But beyond this, compare Iran to the (out)house of Saud, and there's a world of difference, it may not be much more than a hair to our eyes, but in that region, perhaps major. The basic thrust of Ms. Keshavarz's article, if I am understanding it correctly, is that the Iranians have been trying to make the best of a bad situation, seeking slow, incremental, systemic cultural change - note, not political change - and as a result, things are improved overall, notwithstanding the manifest faults of the regime. The tactic, incidentally, is a clever and usually successful one, provided one has the patience to sustain it, for the same tactic was applied in Eastern Europe - with great effect - against the Communist mafiosi that ran it: You can have the tanks, the planes, the police, the press, and all the institutions of government, but let us have the culture. Pretty soon, after carefully chipping away, the Communist bosses were out of work.
I find this one theme in her article to be quite thought-provoking for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is precisely this cultural emphasis, which I suspect might be linked to those reform movements that grew up in Iran toward the turn of the last century and that, due to western meddling - principally from Britain and Germany prior to, and during, the First World War - were rather abruptly terminated, and channeled into the "extremist" channels we see today. Indeed, some of those Persian thinkers and reformists over a century ago were trying to work out how to modernize Islam and also to keep its unique Persian culture... all of that was abruptly terminated by western meddling. Perhaps, just perhaps, the things Ms. Keshavarz writes about in her op-ed piece stem from these movements, and perhaps the same long-term cultural strategy is being pursued.
In any case, if one puts oneself into the sandals of the (out)House of Saud and looks across the Persian Gulf, one cannot be encouraged about the future of the regime (and perhaps this was what President Trump was alluding to in his remarks). In any case, with the bid for American arms, and a manufacturing base for weapons manufacture, it is apparent that the Saudis (and the USSA) have chosen to double down on the same course they have been on for the last few decades, if not the last century. Similarly, if Ms. Keshavarz is correct, then the Iranians need to stay the course and keep chipping slowly away, for imagine, if the trends she outlines continue and expand and deepen, perhaps even to the point that Suni Mulsims and Shia Muslims are living happily together in one society and culture, then the (out)house will be left in the dust in every conceivable way, unless it, too, changes. That's unlikely, for change, in their repressive context, means losing power.
See you on ... Oh, incidentally, do a search for the Elahe Gallery in Tehran as Ms. Keshavarz suggested, and have a look for yourself. Some of the painting is quite stunning.
See you the flip side...