Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cynics and Fanatics

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, you’ll recall, is the guy who presided over the brutal suppression of protests in the streets of Tehran in 2009. Take a look at what he has to say about what’s going on in Libya and try not to laugh:




How are we to understand Ahmadinejad’s shameless hypocrisy? We’re inclined toward laughter because our first impulse (see e.g., Allahpundit here) is to apply an Orwellian template and write him off as an inept propagandist. On this view, Ahmadinejad is cynically applying a different standard to Sunni dictators than he applies to himself and his colleagues running Iran in the expectation that the people he’s addressing will take his words to heart because they won’t notice what he’s doing.

When you think about it, however, the idea that Ahmadinejad is trying to deceive his audience is spectacularly implausible. I know he has some strange convictions about the reality of the holocaust and the imminent return of the Hidden Imam. But do you really think Ahmadinejad is deluded enough to believe that he can persuade anyone not to see the vivid similarities between what happened in the streets of Tehran the summer before last and what’s happening in the streets of Tripoli today?

People like Ahmadinejad are scarier than that. He's not in the business of winning hearts and minds by engaging people’s moral sense and understanding. He’s waging a war of wills. And the message he’s sending through his intellectual and moral shamelessness is that his will is stronger than yours because he’s less constrained by norms that get in the way of political objectives than you are. We like to think that people like Ahmadinejad are cynics trying ineptly to play our game when they're really fanatics playing an altogether different game.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does Obama's policy of "engagement" toward Iran make sense if Ahmadinegad and the mullahs are fanatics rather than cynics?

Anonymouser than Thou said...

I agree. It's much more likely that we can moderate Iran's behavior if we cover our eyes and say "nyeah nyeah."