Iran and the Culture of Fear

As we might expect, the revolutionary protests consummated and under way in the Middle East have reinvigorated the fear-mongering of America’s political class regarding Iran. As CNN’s Elise Labott notices, the fact that the popular protests have grown out of “entire[ly] indigenous” grievances “hasn’t stopped top U.S. officials from suggesting Iran has a part” and “[ringing] the alarm bell” in warning of an Iranian threat.

Forever in search of new and foreboding ghosts against which to leverage the permanent war economy, the ruling class must constantly defend — in the perfidious wording of Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — “the security commitments we have made.” In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell masterfully depicted the “pyramidal structure” of the totalitarian state, a living hell created by elites through an “economy existing by and for continuous warfare.”

The words of the novel closely parallel the paranoid, obsessive culture of fear that America’s power elites have cultivated and indeed perfected; rather than merely accomplishing the more obvious goals of acquiring new territory and resources, the total state’s sustenance of interminable war is designed “to keep the structure of society intact.” If the state can convince us that the ghosts it conjures up are real, that they actually pose the prospect of some vaguely-defined doom, then the most draconian measures can be rationalized by the need for protection.

“[A]nd if the mind itself is controllable –,” asks Orwell, “what then?” Noting that Iran’s “real potential” to influence events in surrounding countries — even if it had a verifiable desire to do so — is limited, Labott correctly submits that the United States’ official comments on Iran are more in the nature of threats than defensively-minded misgivings. And keeping in mind the gelid nature of U.S.-Iran relations and the American nobility’s fixation with Iran’s purported quest for nuclear weapons, recent saber rattling is no surprise.

The truth, contrary to U.S. propaganda regarding the popular uprisings in the region, is that Iran doesn’t have to hover around the peripheries of the demonstrations in order for anti-American governments to take root; that result will materialize independently. The United States’ neo-colonial occupation and devastation of the region is altogether enough on its own to ensure that any truly popular movement in the Middle East will be thoroughly anti-American. This is not, however, to admit the truth of neoconservatives’ delusional shrieks about a global caliphate or the precipitous rise of Islamic terrorism against the American people.

The people of the Arab world can (and ought) to be utterly repulsed by the American state without necessarily harboring any violent hostility toward ordinary people living in the United States. Average, working people in the Middle East and in the United States needn’t give credence to the jingoistic “us versus them” psychology that provides the basis for American politicians’ Iran-centered campaign of fear.

That the United States, the world’s most militaristic, murderous and savage death-dealer, continues to invoke the menace posed by an Iran with nuclear weapons is among the most striking and illustrative examples of statist madness. Anyone who is actually frightened more of Iran than the United States would do well to take a casual look around the Middle East and consider which of the two is spilling more blood.

The Iranian state is a noxious instrument of political violence and oppression, but it is hardly the tenebrous threat that the United States foreign policy elite paints it as. More importantly, though, it can’t even begin to approach the global menace that the United States constitutes.

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