One of the things that I find most interesting about public life in America is the way that people just fall in line when it comes to who we love and who we hate. During the lead up to the Iraq War, the American people got a great big hate on about France because it wouldn’t allow us to use its airspace for a war that Americans now agree was at best really, really stupid. But that doesn’t stop Americans from widely disliking France to this day. In fact, there is the totally unreasonable belief that France is some kind of weak peacenik country. (I wish!)
It’s reminiscent of the Two Minute Hate in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The people hate and fear Emmanuel Goldstein because they are told to. As far as we can tell in the novel, if Goldstein is a real person, he’s a high ranking party official, glad to be used as a tool for oppressing the bourgeoisie. But the main thing about it is that for the vast majority of people, it is all so real. People don’t watch Fox News because they like being misinformed; they watch it because they know they are getting the truth. We can laugh at them, but a far more pernicious kind of propaganda is the way all of the mainstream media just treat some countries as bad and others as good.
It’s not hard to see how this works. No country is all good or all bad. So for official government enemies, our media reports almost exclusively the bad things. For official government friends, our media reports almost exclusively the good things. I’ve discussed this before with respect to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, American Double Standard Regarding Democracy. That’s a case where it isn’t even close. Venezuela has lots of problems, but it is a bastion of goodness and light compared to Saudi Arabia. But few Americans are aware of this. They just know that Saudi Arabia is “good” and Venezuela is “bad” — because they’ve been manipulated to believe that.
A better comparison is between Saudi Arabia and Iran. They are both Muslim theocracies. And yet we hate Iran and if we don’t love Saudi Arabia, we tend to apologize for it and say that it is moving in the right direction. What exactly that means for a country that officially kills its own citizens via beheading with sword and stoning, I can’t say. But Martin Longman brought up a very interesting fact the other day: Iran is a far better place to be Jewish than Saudi Arabia.
Actually, that kind of under-states it. The truth is that in Saudi Arabia, “Jewish (as well as Christian and other non-Muslim) religious services are prohibited from being held on Saudi Arabian soil.” What’s more, “Persons with an Israeli government stamp in their passport or who are openly Jewish are generally not permitted into the Kingdom.”
Meanwhile, in Iran, things are not so bad for Jews. “Iran’s Jewish community is officially recognized as a religious minority group by the government, and, like the Zoroastrians and Christians, they are allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament.” There appear to be about 25,000 Jews in Iran. I’m sure that doesn’t make Iran a great place to be Jewish — or anything else, for that matter. But why is it that a government like Iran’s that has at least a modicum of respect for Judaism is the one that we assume can’t possibly get along with Israel. But the government that won’t allow Jews (Or Israelis!) into its country is a great ally of Israel?
What’s really going on is that it is all about power politics. The US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are all bound together by similar strategic interests. Yet right now, our supposed greatest threat in the region is the Islamic State. And it is Sunni — like Saudi Arabia. In fact, wealthy donors in Saudi Arabia (Of course!) were funding the Islamic State for years. Meanwhile, Iran has at war with the Islamic State for years.
None of this is to say that Iran is some great country. But it is just to highlight that our attitudes toward Iran and Saudi Arabia have nothing whatsoever to do with the common American propaganda about freedom and democracy. Saudi Arabia is a terrible country, but if we just made a nuclear deal with it, there would be no complaining.