By Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent
What dictators like Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Ayatollah Khomeini had in common was their grasp of the blunt truth that whoever controls the streets controls the government and the country. As students of mob dynamics the late Mr. Milosevic and the Ayatollah Khomeini had few equals.
Khomeini knew the power of crowds from the 1979 revolution. As French sociologist Gustav LeBon noted, a member of a crowd descends to a very low degree of civilization. Like Milosevic, Khomeini was aware that crowds were inflammable, mindless, imbued with violent feeling but incapable of thought, acting with the elation and excitement of “blind men who are blindest when they suddenly think they can see,” as Adam LeBor, a Milosevic biographer so neatly said.
Like Milosevic, the mullahs of Iran have always been expert at fashioning noble pretexts for their ruthless methods. The factuality of such pretexts doesn’t matter. The facts are what the clerics say they are. Adolph Hitler took over the Sudetenland to prevent “further outrages against the German people,” and to “protect German people who are not in a position to secure their political and spiritual freedom by their own efforts.” It didn’t matter that such statements were flagrantly false. What was important was their effectiveness in instilling in their people of sense of victim-hood.
Magnifying a sense of persecution is key. In the case of Belgrade, Yugoslavia until 1990 had been a federation of ethnic groups yet Milosevic portrayed his own group, the Serbs, as the hapless victim of 50 years of emasculation by Yugoslavia communists and non-Serbs. This fake picture of history was quickly expanded and incessantly repeated. A memo drafted in the mid-1980s by Serb nationalists said that Serbs were not simply the victim of communists but were the object of an “anti-Serb coalition” that included the Vatican, the United Nations, the United States and Western Europe.
Milosevic tirelessly used the Serb state media to sustain the sense among the Serbs as having been humiliated, isolated, belittled and ignored – innocent victims poisoned by racial prejudice. On more than one occasion, Milosevic likened the Serbs to Hitler’s Jews and portrayed them as helpless victims of the Turks as a pretext for furthering their lust for domination.
In other words, resentment was utilized to create political values. The philosopher Nietzsche described it as the revenge and vindictiveness of the weak upon their stronger enemies. The avid and brutal use of phony persecution as a way of gaining political ground meant seeing everything through the venomous eye of resentfulness, reveling in tales of murder, rape, arson, and torture.
Iran’s ayatollahs use the same tactic, endlessly repeating tales of being oppressed, robbed, ill-treated, enslaved, degraded, except in Iran’s version the chief evil was foreigners. To Iran’s clerics like Khomeini, Islam, the revealed faith of the one true God, had been victimized by vile foreigners, and Iran, in Khomeini’s words, had been “afflicted with division, weakness, and degeneration.” He also said: “The colonialists brought foreign laws to which God had given no power, spread their poisoned culture and thought…and we have lost the formations of the proper government.”
Milosevic was expert at staging “spontaneous demonstrations” that were nothing of the sort but carefully organized attacks by his security forces, which were used to sweep away rivals. But where Milosevic used street mobs to gain power the ruling clerics of Iran have always used force against street mobs to retain power and preserve and strengthen the status quo. Both Milosevic and Khomeini were skilled at using internal treason as the most effective way to bolster their positions and provide complete license for violent and brutal coercion of opponents. For both, dissent was corrosive and worked to undermine the state, and any method, however brutal, was authorized to come to its defense.
The mullahs basically allege that no authentic criticism of an Islamic republic can exist since only the Islamic state is valid. Therefore any popular discontent with the existing rulers is merely an assault by foreign powers who have always been hostile to Iran and who have worked incessantly for its downfall. Protestors are not honest Iranians, but always foreign tools or terrorists.
Since popular criticism places the survival of the Revolution in peril, the mullahs have never hesitated to use the most brutal and vicious force to strengthen their exclusive despotism. Iran in its early revolutionary stages never shrank from the use of terror to establish its authority. Tribunals charged people with “un-Islamic behavior” or “offending the revolution.” Khomeini said that “Criminals should not be tried. The trial of a criminal is against human rights. Human rights demand we should have killed them in the first place when it became known they were criminals.”
Thus, in today’s Iran, the moderate protestors and the hardline extremists represent two distinct and hostile political and government machines, but the moderates are vastly handicapped by their decency. They have joined the revolution in the name of human freedom and believe that the people have “rights” — freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly. Where the moderates shrink instinctively from dictatorship and aim to expand democracy and popular participation, the extremists claim they alone and by right represent the will of the people, and they claim the undisputed authority to decide what is best for the nation. They claim to have the final authoritative voice in crucial decisions. They do not care how they come to prevail.
That is why the growth in power of the basij militia is such an ominous sign. Hitler once said that the leadership of any political movement was dependent on the “most disciplined, blindly obedient, best drilled” troops who were “not initiated” into the leadership’s “thought processes or higher strategy.” In brief, the foot soldier is to be part of an indoctrinated mob which does what it is told without question.
In addition, the Marxism inherent in much of Khomeini’s teachings can be clearly seen in the clerics ability to stand the truth on its head, to state as true what is false, to depict the casualty as the provocateur – turning the innocent victim of violence into a enemy of state as when Ayatollah Khatami recently alleged that Neda Soltani, a 26-year-old woman shot on the street, had been killed, not by armed militia but by her own associates. Elias Cannetti observed in Crowds and Power that “Rulers who want to unleash a war must first invent or procure a victim.” He added: “nothing matters but (their) death and it must be believed the enemy is responsible for this.”
Khatami’s allegation about Soltani was a perverted first step towards inventing a villain as a pretext for unleashing force as just as the arrest of the opposition and the coerced confessions. The fake charges of treason are an exact copy of the Stalin show trials of the 1930s, the difference being that Stalin’s confessors were shot afterwards.
That is “The Republic is the destruction of everything opposed to it,” Robespierre had once said, but Khomeini might just as well have. To Khomeini, political dissent was not honest disagreement but a product of willed perversity, a haughty, un-humbled will, a premeditated turning away from the established truth of the faith. Thus the terror Khomeini unleashed against opponents or rivals in Iran was truly horrific.
According to historian Paul Johnson, during the first two years of its existence, the Khomeini onslaught killed 1,000 Kurds, 200 Turcomans, twenty-three generals, 400 Iranian army and police officers along with 800 civilian former government officials. Then it turned and murdered 500 former liberal-secular allies and 100 on the Far Left. Khomeini shot 4,000 of his communists. His ferocity in persecuting Bahais was without parallel, but they were not alone: Jews, Christians, Shaikhis, Sabeans, orthodox Sunnis, and dissident Shia sects were also the terror’s victims. Graveyards were torn up, churches and synagogues demolished or wrecked or vandalized. The Islamic Judiciary murdered a Kurdish poet, Allameh Vahidi, aged 102, and killed a nine-year old girl, convicted of attacking “Revolutionary Guards.” It was now clear that the absolute power wielded by the victors had led them inevitably to the most extreme and criminal measures. “Do you really think we can emerge victoriously from the Revolution without rabid terrorism?” Lenin had asked.
So far it appears not.