Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A CIA Spy Talks About "The Great Satan" In The Mideast

Last week I wrote about the role of the devil in American politics during the Civil War. We will be heading to other periods in US history soon, but first I wanted to explore a more modern topic -- the use of the devil in Middle Eastern rhetoric. Specifically, America's designation as "Great Satan." Who uses this language, and why? I contacted Bob Baer, retired CIA case officer and author of The Devil We Know: Dealing With the New Iranian Superpower. Here's what I learned from him:

Sunni militants are much more likely to view us as a tool of the Evil One than the people who first tagged us as the "Great Satan."
Iranian revolutionaries came up with this label, and their Shiite proxies in Hezbollah continue to oppose us. But "the Shia are less likely to believe the rhetoric," according to Baer. "They think it's
a political power play." The Shiite groups we fight are more pragmatic, more accepting. It's the Sunni groups who look at us as "pure evil." They see themselves in a Manichean struggle against the forces of darkness. It's why you see them using tactics like suicide bombing to slaughter people indiscriminately.

The rhetoric came out of the needs of the 1979 Revolution.
"To really mobilize the street you've got to have a simple message," says Baer. We made the perfect enemy for them -- because of our support for the Shah, and because of our decadent Western morality.

Muslims believe in Satan, but he's not much of a player.
"I don’t see the Muslims I've known invoking the name of the devil like Christians
do," he says. "If Allah is truly all-seeing and all-knowing, there's much less competition."

Iranian President Ahmajinedad gets more press for demonizing us, but Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the one who really hates us.
"He truly believes we're evil," Baer says. "He thinks we're responsible for blowing his hand off." (The New York Times has more information on the 1981 incident, in which a bomb hidden in a tape recorder wounded Khamenei). Khamenei is quieter because "Ahmajinedad has got to say crazy things to get attention," according to Baer. "Like Rick Perry." And the irony of course, is that we've turned him into the devil.

Photo by Bertil Videt of anti-American artwork in Tehran; License information

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