Listen to the living, not the deatheaters

My good friend Jon, asks on Weblogsky: Who are those four guys and why are their horses glaring at me? adding:

When the Wall Street Journal starts talking Apocalypse, that’s gotta be a bad sign.

And he quotes the Journal:

A passage from the Ayatollah Khomeini, quoted in an 11th-grade Iranian schoolbook, is revealing. “I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers [i.e., the infidel powers] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another’s hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.”

In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning. At the end of time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final destination of the dead–hell for the infidels, and heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement.

This is the new get-tough line from hawks. It’s only true if you assume that religious faith is the only factor in the decision-making of a government. Unfortunately, for those in the faith-based community, reality is very different. Yes, there may be a fanatic in, say, the Iranian government—even a bunch of them—but the people of Iran aren’t anymore interested in death than the average population. They look to government not to deliver them from this world, but to make living possible and tolerable in this world.

The problem, then, is not in the Islamic governments. It’s in the clash of Islamic and Christian fanaticism as they are distributed among governments. On balance, the government of the United States is no less prone to Christian fundamentalism in its decision-making than the Iranian government is prone to deciding what to do based on extreme readings of the Koran.

So, how do you avoid Armageddon when the Wall Street Journal is giving indications it is inevitable? First, you stop listening to policymakers and pundits seeking to justify confrontation alone as the logical response to an illogical opponent. Because the governments of these countries are just that, governments that must answer to their people. Remember, Iran had its last revolution in 1979. The regime is hardly embedded in the culture.

Next, people have to connect and recognize one another as humans, so that the propaganda of all governments will be neutralized. That means folks here and in Iran need to start talking in order to create a story that competes with the messages their governments are sending—I’m confident that, with approximately the same proportion of fanatics in both nations who favor dying for their version of talking to God, people are not interested in seeing the End of the World in their lifetimes.

I’m not arguing that Iran’s government isn’t just crazy enough to want to self-immolate themselves and their people. Plenty of governments have proven themselves capable of that. But in those situations, people have had to rely on their governments for most information about the “enemy.” In this case, there is an opportunity to connect and overcome ignorance through communication. And there’s certainly plenty of time for communication before there is enough nuclear firepower in Iran to immolate the globe or parts of it.

Let’s not be dumb enough to listen to the World War III/Armageddon scenarists without recognizing—at least seeking to recognize—the humanity on the “other side” who can tell their governments to behave responsibly. Our government should recognize the futility of end-of-the-world confrontation, as well.

You know, once when I was young I met Senator Henry Jackson and asked him about the likelihood that the United States and the Soviet Union would engage in a nuclear war. He said he didn’t know whether it would go that far, but he was sure that if it did, he was willing to use nukes. Why, I asked. His answer gave me the creeps, because it was essentially that I was better off dead than red.

Thing is, I was never going to choose to be a communist or supporter of any totalitarian regime, but Jackson wasn’t willing to leave that choice to me. He’d have been happy denying the Soviets the chance to dominate me by turning me to a cinder. Our “leaders” need to recognize that our minds are free only as long as they function and that no battle is lost until there are no minds left to remain free by choice.

And the only way to overcome leaders who wish to decide our fates for us is to connect and lead ourselves.

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Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

2 thoughts on “Listen to the living, not the deatheaters”

  1. Please note that the problem starts when you have a religious government. I’m a religious man by myself, but am disagree with religious governments, and suggest secular ones.
    As my researches, the top most religious governments are Iran, Israel, Vatican and Saudi Arabia. I don’t knoe enough about Vatican, but in 3 others, you can easily touch the problem.
    The holy men say you can (or must) kill others whom we think they are enemy!
    The goverment tries to OBLIGATE the nation to go to the heavens. What the hell if they believe on heavens or not!
    They try to get ready for a man who will clean all the world, named Mahdi for Muslims and Messiah for Jews. So they may do some “currently” wrong actions which can be done because of the future, and etc!
    A man from Iran

  2. I agree that separation of church and state is essential to preventing the kind of obligatory suicide you describe. I’d argue that the problem doesn’t start when you have a religiously-based government, but that by the time you do have a church-as-state you have created a very dangerous situation.

    Do you think that the Iranian government can create the sense of obligation you describe, if you can say? My contact with Iranians has made me think that there is a very real gulf between the mullahs and the people, who live their lives as best they can.

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