What causes Western intellectuals and journalists to suspend their critical faculties and euphorically embrace genocidal anti-Western regimes and tyrants like the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? John Sweeney, from the BBC World Service, explores this question in a two part BBC documentary series entitled “Useful Idiots,” which can be heard online for only two more days.
There has been no shortage of useful idiots who served as cheerleaders for Khomeini's Islamic Revolution in the pre- and post-revolutionary period of 1979. The French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who goes unmentioned in part 2 of the BBC documentary addressing Iran, waxed lyrical in a series of articles, between1978-1979, about the global significance of Khomeinism: “As an Islamic movement it can set the entire region afire, overturn the most unstable regimes, and disturb the most solid ones. Islam — which is not simply a religion, but an entire way of life, an adherence to a history and a civilization — has a good chance to become a gigantic powder keg, at the level of hundreds of millions of men.”
The BBC piece considers the Brits who served and continue to agitate as sycophants of despotic regimes. Part 2 devotes roughly 5 and half minutes to Iran's state controlled Press TV's perverse form of journalism (for instance, working to “cooperate with the interrogator to come up with questions” when interviewing a tortured Iranian journalist in prison, as the BBC program explains). Press TV's Pravda-style support for Ahmadinejad's regime and its airbrushing of the pro-democracy movement from history did not dissuade the British journalist Yvonne Ridley from continuing to work for Press TV. (While working for the Sunday Express in 2001, she was taken captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan and eventually converted to Islam.) Former United Kingdom politician George Galloway, and admirer of Saddam Hussein (“I salute your courage,” he told the tyrant), feels, like Ridley, not a semblance of discomfort about working for Press TV.
It would be a case of excessive of optimism to wait for an NPR or PBS broadcast on America’s own “Useful Idiots.” A good departure point would be Oliver Stone's lover's discourse with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sweeney neatly captured the Zeitgeist: “The age of useful idiots is not quite dead yet.”
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.