Iran’s Conspiracy Industry
8:10 AM, Feb 11, 2011 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
In times of economic and social dislocation, conspiracy theories abound. The sudden uncertainty of events drives ordinary people as well as pseudo-intellectuals, in countries all over the world, to seek explanations for newly revealed political and financial problems in “magical thinking,” blaming the unexpected anxieties of their lives on hidden, dark powers. While convoluted “explanations” for national and world events have proliferated lately in the West, conspiracy theories have long flourished in the lands of Islam.
The clerical misrulers of Iran have particular incentives to indulge in conspiracy thinking. Their own people have clearly repudiated them, and the news from Tunisia and Egypt indicates that Sunni as well as Shia Muslims are overcome by yearning for freedom. Iran’s ruling caste is anxious to project before the global public its particular “interpretation” of the Egyptian turmoil, to its own advantage. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared in his Friday sermon on February 4 that Tunisian dictator Zine Al-Abedine Ben Ali was overthrown because of his secularism. Hardline Tehran propagandist Hossein Shariatmadari, of the daily newspaper Keyhan, has joined those who see the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions as purely Islamist, and has proclaimed that the motive of the Egyptian protesters is to attack Israel.
But Iranian opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi has noted the parallel confrontations between the state power and social media in the Iranian post-election protests of 2009 and the Egyptian upheaval. In both countries, the dictatorship tried to suppress popular anger by arresting dissenters and shutting down cyberspace networks. Moussavi called on Iranians to pray for the success of the Egyptian and other protesters in Arab countries.
Still, the Iranian government has recourse to video propaganda no less than to preaching and editorials. As 2010 drew to a close, Iranian national television began broadcasting a new “docu-drama” series, titled Secrets of Armageddon 4: Project Ghosts, which I will abbreviate, for the reader’s sake, as Secrets 4. Produced for the “news desk” of Iran’s Sima TV network, the program is a compendium of conspiracy theories arguing that Jews and Freemasons control the West (old, old nonsense). Allegedly, these plotters have penetrated the the Iranian Islamic Republic and other Muslim countries, through books, radio and television, movies, universities, and social as well as spiritual movements. Each of the 26 segments of Secrets 4 is broadcast and rebroadcast throughout each week to Iranian viewers.
In Secrets 4, Iranian state paranoia ranges wide. According to the series producers, the Jewish mystical schools of Kabbalah conceal a plot for world domination—an idea first put abroad in tsarist Russia, and used then and since to incite murderous anti-Jewish violence. Kabbalists, who traditionally lived a quiet, spiritual life apart from the concerns of the world, are credited in the Iranian TV series with the foundation of Freemasonry, Zionism, and mass secularism in the West. Above all, “New Age” movements imported from the West are accused of scheming to destroy Islam.
As indicated by its numerical order, Secrets 4 is the latest in an elaborate and ambitious catalogue produced by Iranian television and aimed at stirring hatred of those the Tehran regime labels its enemies. The first Secrets of Armageddon appeared in 2008, and Said Mostaghasi, who has directed the production of each series, was then interviewed by Iranian news channel IRINN. As translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Mostaghasi’s comments were so bizarre they would have been funny had the malevolent power of the Islamic Republic not stood behind him.
Mostaghasi’s 2008 “revelations” were mainly aimed at Jews and members of the Baha’i faith. The program asserted the authenticity of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the 19th-century text in which a polemic against modern journalism and politics, which had nothing to do with Jews, was edited and published by a Russian tsarist agent supposedly as the product of a hidden Hebrew conclave planning a world dictatorship. But the first installment of Secrets of Armageddon also included the claim that the explorations of Christopher Columbus were sponsored by Jewish “aristocrats” seeking “the Promised Land.” The large Jewish population of New York, according to Mostaghasi, was planned centuries ago.
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