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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Rationale of Tyranny
Survival is why tyrannies do what they do and propaganda is how. This adds to, not diminish, the dangers of their propaganda.
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There is a great confusion in the way people think about a tyrannical regime like the Islamic Republic of Iran. Does the regime really mean all the hateful propoganda they spread about the West? Do they mean it when they express a desire to "wipe Israel off the map" or "crush America under their feet"? Or when they write them on the missiles paraded in the streets? Aren't they just trying to survive? Wouldn't everyone else in their shoes do the same? Shouldn't we separate the "intent" (survival) from propaganda? Isn't the Islamic regime just another rational player? (See this comment, for instance.)

Some of the answers are "yes", and some "no". But the point is these questions miss the actual rationale of tyranny.

I don't have a problem with accepting the Islamic regime, as a whole, as a rational player. But so what? Even rational players have assumptions that go into their decision making. And there is always room for questioning the moral justifications of those assumptions. Yes, even a tyrant could be rational. But does that somehow make his tyranny okay?

Would anyone in a tyrant's shoes do the same under external pressure? No! Why should they? If the outsiders have reasonable demands, one could adequately assure them that their demands are met. One doesn't need to be a violent and abrasive dictator even in an authoritarian system. Even a tyrant really does have options. In particular there is always the option of accepting to dismantle the dictatorship altogether. This has been demonstrated many times in recent history of non-violent revolutions, be it in Eastern Europe or in Chile.

But what about the intent and the propaganda? It is a major (and sometimes deliberate) confusion of logic to claim that the fact that a tyranny's intent is to survive would somehow make the propaganda it spreads less lethal and dangerous. It is the complete opposite. Tyrannies spread hateful and false propaganda because they want to survive. Survival is why they do what they do and propaganda (and repression) is how. And when the why demands that they actualy act on the how they won't cringe. There is ample historical evidence for this. Here's one relevant to Iran:

In the second half of the Iran-Iraq war (more or less after Khorramshahr was liberated by the Iranian forces) when Iraq was in a defensive position and was seeking a ceasefire, the Islamic Republic continued the war and said it would not accept the UN resolution No. 598 for a ceasefire. So the war continued for another 4-5 years during which hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed and the economy was shattered even more.

How did they convince the people to do this? Propaganda, of course, besides a cycle of repression and fear. The walls of Tehran were covered with slogans such as: "War, War, Till Victory!" or "The Path to Quds Goes Through Karbala" or "War, War, Till Mahdi's Revolution!". The only two TV stations were filled with stories of martyrdom, etc. Saddam was kafir (nonbeliever) and the war was one against kufr (nonbelief). Classic tyrannical propaganda methods were practiced. Moreover, almost any voice of dissent was brutally silenced. Those who had differing ideas from the head of the power pyramide, from all stripes and colors even many early supporters, were silenced, jailed and/or executed.

Why did they do this? To survive. Did they believe in all they said? Probably not. In fact, after the intent for survival forced the weakening regime to finally accept the ceasefire in 1988 (or "drink the potion of death" in the words of Khomeini), it was suddenly as if Saddam was no longer kafir or the path to Quds did not go through Karbala.

In short, the strategy of tyranny is set by the intent for surival and its tactics by the propaganda. They go hand in hand. So the question of whether they believe in their own propaganda becomes irrelevent to what they would actually do. They'd do as they see fit for their survival and this could include acting on existing propaganda, or creating new ones. But what is for certain is that we on the outside should never dismiss or devalue the dangers of their propaganda.

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