Mahmoud's Magic Theater

James Lewis
Some media worriers are asking why the mullahs kidnapped 15 British Soldiers and Royal Marines just at this time. Well, duh. It's because they were there, easy to grab, and the British have shown their mettle as far as Tehran's thugocracy is concerned: Always pick on the safest target.

Notice how stage magicians of Tehran have now cleverly managed to change the subject after a humiliating loss of face before the Security Council only last week. It's easy as pie to diddle the Western media: Just kidnap a bunch of Brits and parade the only woman in front of the cameras, in suitably humble Islamist body covering. Message to the West: Unprintable, you sleazy sex-obsessed infidels! Message to Islamists: Look how we humiliate the satanic enemy! And look how we show submission to Islam: Their English woman is now following our orders! Hooray us! Let all the infidels "'bow down to the greatness of the Iranian nation" as Mahmoud put it so plainly a few months ago.

And of course our attention-deficit media have totally forgotten about the UN sanctions vote against Tehran. The sanctions were carefully drawn to embarrass only the top Mullahs, and spare any serious economic dislocation for the regime --- or for its major oil trading partners in Europe, Russia and China.

So rather than facing humiliation at the UN, Mahmoud is now directing the morality play people see all around the world. Score one for the mullahs.

One of the best books on the Muslim mindset, by Raphael Patai, points out that in traditional Arabic rhetoric, fantasy is treated as reality. Iran has been Muslim now for a thousand years, and this way of thinking permeates the Tehran regime. In the Muslim fantasy play, the appearance of victory equals victory. That is why Khomeini drew out the US Embassy hostage drama as long as possible during the Carter years, and that is why his faithful clone Mahmoud does the same thing today.  It's the old, old script.

But there's a "but." Tehran has won a short-term victory by taking a dangerous long-term risk. We've seen this before --- in the case of Muamar Kaddafi, the theatrical autocrat of Libya. Kaddafi also loved to humiliate the West, sponsored terror attacks abroad, and tried to unite the Muslim world under his banner. The big slogan then was "Pan-Arabism." Today it's Khomeini-style Islamism in Tehran, and Wahhabi Islamism in Riyadh. But underneath, it's the same world-conquering, self-glorifying, otherworldly, primitive fantasy:

"Reagan himself dubbed Gaddafi the 'mad dog of the Middle East.' In March 1982 the U.S. declared a ban on the import of Libyan oil and the export to Libya of US oil industry technology; European nations did not follow suit."
Sounds familiar? But after hubris came nemesis:
"In 1984 British police constable Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London while policing an anti-Gaddafi demonstration. A burst of machine-gun fire from within the building was suspected of killing her, but Libyan diplomats asserted their diplomatic immunity and were repatriated. The incident led to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya for over a decade."
It was a turning point that finally exhausted Western patience.

And there's the kicker for the mullahs. While Britain is playing this cool, its patience is beginning to fray at the edges. Mahmoud's Magic Theater is bringing in cheering crowds in the Middle East, all right. But even the risk-averse Labour government may be starting to feel a slow boil. With the Blair years running out, Labour does not want a major foreign policy embarrassment. They have the awful example of Jimmy Carter to remind them of the dangers of public weakness.

Rich democracies are self-indulgent, lazy and slow to see danger. They avoid conflict as long as possible.

Until they've had enough.

James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/
Some media worriers are asking why the mullahs kidnapped 15 British Soldiers and Royal Marines just at this time. Well, duh. It's because they were there, easy to grab, and the British have shown their mettle as far as Tehran's thugocracy is concerned: Always pick on the safest target.

Notice how stage magicians of Tehran have now cleverly managed to change the subject after a humiliating loss of face before the Security Council only last week. It's easy as pie to diddle the Western media: Just kidnap a bunch of Brits and parade the only woman in front of the cameras, in suitably humble Islamist body covering. Message to the West: Unprintable, you sleazy sex-obsessed infidels! Message to Islamists: Look how we humiliate the satanic enemy! And look how we show submission to Islam: Their English woman is now following our orders! Hooray us! Let all the infidels "'bow down to the greatness of the Iranian nation" as Mahmoud put it so plainly a few months ago.

And of course our attention-deficit media have totally forgotten about the UN sanctions vote against Tehran. The sanctions were carefully drawn to embarrass only the top Mullahs, and spare any serious economic dislocation for the regime --- or for its major oil trading partners in Europe, Russia and China.

So rather than facing humiliation at the UN, Mahmoud is now directing the morality play people see all around the world. Score one for the mullahs.

One of the best books on the Muslim mindset, by Raphael Patai, points out that in traditional Arabic rhetoric, fantasy is treated as reality. Iran has been Muslim now for a thousand years, and this way of thinking permeates the Tehran regime. In the Muslim fantasy play, the appearance of victory equals victory. That is why Khomeini drew out the US Embassy hostage drama as long as possible during the Carter years, and that is why his faithful clone Mahmoud does the same thing today.  It's the old, old script.

But there's a "but." Tehran has won a short-term victory by taking a dangerous long-term risk. We've seen this before --- in the case of Muamar Kaddafi, the theatrical autocrat of Libya. Kaddafi also loved to humiliate the West, sponsored terror attacks abroad, and tried to unite the Muslim world under his banner. The big slogan then was "Pan-Arabism." Today it's Khomeini-style Islamism in Tehran, and Wahhabi Islamism in Riyadh. But underneath, it's the same world-conquering, self-glorifying, otherworldly, primitive fantasy:

"Reagan himself dubbed Gaddafi the 'mad dog of the Middle East.' In March 1982 the U.S. declared a ban on the import of Libyan oil and the export to Libya of US oil industry technology; European nations did not follow suit."
Sounds familiar? But after hubris came nemesis:
"In 1984 British police constable Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan Embassy in London while policing an anti-Gaddafi demonstration. A burst of machine-gun fire from within the building was suspected of killing her, but Libyan diplomats asserted their diplomatic immunity and were repatriated. The incident led to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Libya for over a decade."
It was a turning point that finally exhausted Western patience.

And there's the kicker for the mullahs. While Britain is playing this cool, its patience is beginning to fray at the edges. Mahmoud's Magic Theater is bringing in cheering crowds in the Middle East, all right. But even the risk-averse Labour government may be starting to feel a slow boil. With the Blair years running out, Labour does not want a major foreign policy embarrassment. They have the awful example of Jimmy Carter to remind them of the dangers of public weakness.

Rich democracies are self-indulgent, lazy and slow to see danger. They avoid conflict as long as possible.

Until they've had enough.

James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/