Occasionally individuals complain that I fail to address one subject or
another. One Berkeley denizen got in my face and announced: “You
leftists ought to become aware of the ecological crisis.” In fact, I had
written a number of things about the ecological crisis, including one
called “Eco-Apocalypse.” His lack of familiarity with my work did not
get in the way of his presumption.
Years ago when I spoke
before the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in New
York , the moderator announced that she could not understand why I had
“remained silent” about the attempt to defund UNESCO. Whatever else I
might have been struggling with, she was convinced I should have joined
with her in trying to save UNESCO (which itself really was a worthy
People give me marching orders all the time. Among the
most furiously insistent are those fixed on 9/11. Why haven’t I said
anything about 9/11? Why am I “a 9/11 denier.” In fact, I have written
about 9/11 and even spoke at two 9/11 conferences (Santa Cruz and New
York), raising questions of my own.
Other people have been
“disappointed” or “astonished” or “puzzled” that I have failed to
pronounce on whatever is the issue du jour. No attention is given by
such complainers to my many books, articles, talks, and interviews that
treat hundreds of subjects pertaining to political economy, culture,
ideology, media, fascism, communism, capitalism, imperialism, media,
ecology, political protest, history, religion, race, gender, homophobia,
and other topics far too numerous to list. (For starters, visit my
But one’s own energy, no matter how substantial, is always finite. One
must allow for a division of labor and cannot hope to fight every fight.
Recently someone asked when was I going to “pay some
attention” to Iran. Actually I have spoken about Iran in a number of
interviews and talks---not to satisfy demands made by others but because
I myself was moved to do so. In the last decade, over a five year
period, I was repeatedly interviewed by English Radio Tehran. My concern
about Iran goes back many years. Just the other day, while clearing out
some old files, I came across a letter I had published over 33 years
ago in the New York Times (10 May 1979), reproduced here exactly as it
appeared in the Times:
To the Editor of the New York Times:
For 25 years the Shah of Iran tortured and murdered many thousands of
dissident workers, students, peasants and intellectuals. For the most
part, the U.S. press ignored these dreadful happenings and portrayed the
Shah as a citadel of stability and an enlightened modernizer.
Thousands more were killed by the Shah’s police and military during the
popular uprisings of this past year. Yet these casualties received only
passing mention even though Iran was front-page news for several
months. And from 1953 to 1978 millions of other Iranians suffered the
silent oppression of poverty and malnutrition while the Shah, his
family, and his generals grew ever richer.
Now the furies of
revolution have lashed back, thus far executing about 200 of the Shah’s
henchmen—less than what the Savak would arrest and torture on a slow
weekend. And now the U.S. press has suddenly become acutely concerned,
keeping a careful account of the “victims,” printing photos of firing
squads and making repeated references to the “repulsion” and “outrage”
felt by anonymous “middle-class” Iranians who apparently are endowed
with finer sensibilities than the mass of ordinary people will bore the
brunt of the Shah’s repression. At the same time, American commentators
are quick to observe that the new regime is merely replacing one
repression with another.
So it has always been with the
recording of revolutions: the mass of nameless innocents victimized
by the ancien régime go uncounted and unnoticed, but when the
not-so-innocent murderers are brought to revolutionary justice, the
business-owned press is suddenly filled with references to “brutality”
That anyone could equate the horrors of the
Shah’s regime with the ferment, change and struggle that is going on in
Iran today is a tribute to the biases of the U.S. press, a press that
has learned to treat the atrocities of the U.S.-supported right-wing
regimes with benign neglect while casting a stern self-righteous eye on
the popular revolutions that challenge such regimes. Michael Parenti Washington, D.C.
There is one glaring omission in this missive: I focused only on the
press without mentioning how the White House and leading members of
Congress repeatedly had hailed the Shah as America’s sturdy
ally---while U.S. oil companies merrily plundered Iran’s oil (with a
good slice of the spoils going to the Shah and his henchmen).
few years before the 1979 upheaval, I was teaching a graduate course at
Cornell University. There I met several Iranian graduate students who
spoke with utter rage about the Shah and his U.S.-supported Savak secret
police. They told of friends being tortured and disappeared. They could
not find enough damning words to vent their fury. These students came
from the kind of well-off Persian families one would have expected to
support the Shah. (You don’t make it from Tehran to Cornell graduate
school without some money in the family.)
All I knew about the
Shah at that time came from the U.S. mainstream media. But after
listening to these students I began to think that this Shah fellow was
not the admirably benign leader and modernizer everyone was portraying
in the news.
The Shah’s subsequent overthrow in the 1979
revolution was something to celebrate. Unfortunately the revolution
soon was betrayed by the theocratic militants who took hold of events
and created their Islamic Republic of Iran. These religious
reactionaries set about to torture and eradicate thousands of young
Iranian radicals. They made war upon secular leftists and “decadent”
Western lifestyles, as they set about establishing a grim and corrupt
U.S. leaders and media had no critical words about
the slaughter of leftist revolutionaries in Iran. If anything, they were
quietly pleased. However, they remained hostile toward the Islamic
regime. Why so? Regimes that kill revolutionaries and egalitarian
reformists do not usually incite displeasure from the White House. If
anything, the CIA and the Pentagon and the other imperial operatives who
make the world safe for the Fortune 500 look most approvingly upon
those who torture and murder Marxists and other leftists. Indeed, such
counterrevolutionaries swiftly become the recipients of generous amounts
of U.S. aid.
Why then did U.S. leaders denounce and threaten
Iran and continue to do so to this day? The answer is: Iran’s Islamic
Republic has other features that did not sit well with the western
imperialists. Iran was-—and still is---a “dangerously” independent
nation, unwilling to become a satellite to the U.S. global empire,
unlike more compliant countries. Like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran,
with boundless audacity, gave every impression of wanting to use its
land, labor, markets, and capital as it saw fit. Like Iraq---and Libya
and Syria---Iran was committing the sin of economic nationalism. And
like Iraq, Iran remained unwilling to establish cozy relations with
But this isn’t what we ordinary Americans are told.
When talking to us, a different tact is taken by U.S. opinion-makers and
policymakers. To strike enough fear into the public, our leaders tell
us that, like Iraq, Iran “might” develop weapons of mass destruction.
And like Iraq, Iran is lead by people who hate America and want to
destroy us and Israel. And like Iraq, Iran “might” develop into a
regional power leading other nations in the Middle East down the “Hate
America” path. So our leaders conclude for us: it might be necessary to
destroy Iran in an all-out aerial war.
It was President George
W. Bush who in January 2002 cited Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an
“axis of evil.” Iran exports terrorism and “pursues” weapons of mass
destruction. Sooner or later this axis would have to be dealt with in
the severest way, Bush insisted.
These official threats and
jeremiads are intended to leave us with the impression that Iran is not
ruled by “good Muslims.” The “good Muslims”---as defined by the White
House and the State Department---are the reactionary extremists and
feudal tyrants who ride high in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab
Emirate, Bahrain, and other countries that provide the United States
with military bases, buy large shipments of U.S. arms, vote as
Washington wants in the United Nations, enter free trade agreements with
the Western capitalist nations, and propagate a wide-open deregulated
The “good Muslims” invite the IMF and the
western corporations to come in and help themselves to the country’s
land, labor, markets, industry, natural resources and anything else the
international plutocracy might desire.
Unlike the “good
Muslims,” the “bad Muslims” of Iran take an anti-imperialist stance.
They try to get out from under the clutches of the U.S. global imperium.
For this, Iran may yet pay a heavy price. Think of what has been
happening to Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. For its unwillingness to throw
itself open to Western corporate pillage, Iran is already being
subjected to heavy sanctions imposed by the United States and its
allies. Sanctions hurt the ordinary population most of all. Unemployment
and poverty increase. The government is unable to maintain human
services. The public infrastructure begins to deteriorate and evaporate:
privatization by attrition.
Iran has pursued an enriched
uranium program, same as any nation has the right to do. The enrichment
has been low-level for peaceful use, not the kind necessary for nuclear
bombs. Iranian leaders, both secular and theocratic have been explicit
about the useless horrors of nuclear weaponry and nuclear war.
Appearing on the Charlie Rose show when he was visiting the USA,
Iranian president Ahmadinejad pointed out that nuclear weapons have
never saved anyone. The Soviet Union had nuclear weapons; was it saved?
he asked. India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons; have they found peace
and security? Israel has nuclear weapons: has it found peace and
security? And the United States itself has nuclear weapons and nuclear
fleets patrolling the world and it seems obsessively preoccupied with
being targeted by real or imagined enemies. Ahmadinejad, the wicked one,
sounded so much more rational and humane than Hillary Clinton snarling
her tough-guy threats at this or that noncompliant nation.
(Parenthetically, we should note that the Iranians possibly might try to
develop a nuclear strike force---not to engage in a nuclear war that
would destroy Iran but to develop a deterrent against aerial destruction
from the west. The Iranians, like the North Koreans, know that the
western nuclear powers have never attacked any country that is armed
with nuclear weapons.)
I once heard some Russian commentators
say that Iran is twice as large as Iraq, both in geography and in
population; it would take hundreds of thousands of NATO troops and great
cost in casualties and enormous sums of money to invade and try to
subdue such a large country, an impossible task and certain disaster for
the United States.
But the plan is not to invade, just to
destroy the country and its infrastructure through aerial warfare. The
U.S. Air Force eagerly announced that it has 10,000 targets in Iran
pinpointed for attack and destruction. Yugoslavia is cited as an example
of a nation that was destroyed by unanswerable aerial attacks, without
the loss of a single U.S. soldier. I saw the destruction in Serbia
shortly after the NATO bombings stopped: bridges, utilities, rail
depots, factories, schools, television and radio stations,
government-built hotels, hospitals, and housing projects---a destruction
carried out with utter impunity, all this against a social democracy
that refused to submit to a free-market capitalist takeover.
The message is clear. It has already been delivered to Yugoslavia,
Libya, Syria, and many other countries around the world: overthrow your
reform-minded, independent, communitarian government; become a satellite
to the global corporate free-market system, or we will pound you to
death and reduce you to a severe level of privatization and poverty.
Not all the U.S. military is of one mind regarding war with Iran. While
the Air Force can hardly contain itself, the Army and Navy seem
lukewarm. Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike
Mullen, actually denounced the idea of waging destruction upon “80
million Iranians, all different individuals.”
The future does
not look good for Iran. That country is slated for an attack of serious
dimensions, supposedly in the name of democracy, “humanitarian war,” the
struggle against terrorism, and the need to protect America and Israel
from some future nuclear threat.
Sometimes it seems as if U.S.
ruling interests perpetrate crimes and deceptions of all sorts with a
frequency greater than we can document and expose. So if I don’t write
or speak about one or another issue, keep in mind, it may be because I
am occupied with other things, or I simply have neither the energy nor
the resources. Sometimes too, I think, it is because I get too heavy of