A leading Iranian cleric, reports Reuters, is blaming earthquakes on female promiscuity. "Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told worshippers in Tehran.
This may sound wacky, but it can teach us a serious lesson. The question it poses is: How well do we understand the thinking of the Iranian leadership on questions small and large? Here are some words of a caution from a CIA study:
Our failure to anticipate or even interpret . . . developments better should come as no surprise. It derives in no small way from the difficulty inherent in trying to predict how political leaders perceive situations, and how they will react in given set of circumstances. It is a very difficult task in a free society; it is that much harder in a closed one, where little if anything is known of the personal lives and psyches of individual leaders, or of internal battles at the top.
The excerpt is from a remarkable article, formerly classified secret and now declassified, about the CIA’s own difficulties in interpreting the motives of the USSR leadership. It was written by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates back in 1973, when he was in the employ of the CIA as a Soviet expert.
Unlike the Soviet Union, Iran is a not a thorough-going totalitarian society. But it does remain a mighty challenge for our intelligence agencies to understand. Change the word Soviet to Iran in the following passage from Gates’s essay, and the difficulty we face becomes readily apparent.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge is analyzing correctly the
Soviets'[Iranians'] perception of problems and opportunities, both foreign and domestic. There is a wide cultural gap between a college-educated analyst in the West and the Soviet[Iranian] leadership. As Robert Conquest has stated, "the Soviet[Iranian] leaders are not to be treated as though their motives and conceptions were in our sense natural and rational. The particular leadership now in control in Russia[Iran] derives from a tradition which is alien in both aim and method to our own." … The Soviet Union[Iran] is a strange and idiosyncratic polity, not to be understood or dealt with without considerable conscious effort. And often even that is not enough.
The assumption that the Iranians are “rational” in the way we normally understand that term is open to doubt. If promiscuous women can cause earthquakes, what kinds of human behavior, one wonders, might cause a nuclear bomb to detonate or be detonated?