— Ogden Nash, from “So Does Everybody Else, Only Not So Much”
“Can’t reconcile America, Islam” (September 8, 2010) is typical of the inky stain spreading across the opinion pages of this newspaper. This submission in particular is peculiar, blotted flummery, an angry smear of the planet’s 1.57 billion Muslims based on an American teacher’s “keen” observations (fifty years ago) during a brief tenure in 1960 Iran.
The writer spent one privileged year in fabled Persia, in an Iran ruled by an American puppet-king still flush with CIA cash from Operation Ajax. One magical year with his majesty, the bejeweled and braided Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, educated in an elite Swiss boarding school, still basking in the benevolence of the last meddlesome days of Eisenhower’s presidency. One glorious year with the King of Kings, Light of the Aryans, second and last monarch of the House of Pahlavi. One short year, fifty long years ago, traveling through the halcyon countryside of Iran, with its picturesque peasants toiling on their quaint little farms, where all the dear Shah wanted (he loved them so) was nothing more than to bring them the joys of Western modernity.
In 1960, such modernity apparently included the SAVAK secret police trained by none other than Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf’s daddy Herbert. SAVAK was the Shah’s most hated and feared institution. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) found it guilty of “the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners,” in ways that make the obscenities of Abu Ghraib seem downright genteel by comparison. And yet, in the wonderful, gauzy Iran of 1960, these same SAVAK “were occasional visitors in our home when we had a public dinner or meeting.”
What a year that must have been! Somehow, that one faraway year in 1960 warrants the outrageous suggestion that in 2010 a person cannot be both American and Muslim. One year in 1960 is all that is required to incredulously connect dots all the way from a discomfited Jeddah layover fifty years ago to the current frenzy about a planned “erection” in lower Manhattan that has suddenly become a symbol of Christendom’s flaccid surrender to Muslim conquest and jihad. That remarkable year in 1960 even qualifies the writer to opine about the possibility that the President of these United States might be a secret, sinister Muslim! (Perhaps even an African. After all, who knows what other secrets lurk behind that dark countenance?)
That was some year, friends. The writer was “over there” for one year in 1960 and can now expose a nefarious twenty-year plan to install Muslim theocracy in America. One year in 1960 is all it takes to denounce Muslims for praying on New York City streets, and at the same time complain about their desire to build more mosques to keep them off those same streets. (By the way, they’re not just “mosques” but why bother with such messy distinctions when “mosques” are so much easier to hate?)
From 1960, fast-forward forty years to the recent reign of King George. It is exceedingly difficult to find anything nice to say about curious George. He promised Americans still thirsty for revenge after 9/11 a cheap Iraq war (it will eventually cost more than three trillion dollars). He also started a wee little war in Afghanistan that has become America’s longest, a quagmire (to use verboten vernacular). Like jolly old Nero, he fiddled while Wall Street burned and crumbled, taking the world’s economy with it. Jobs left America. China prospered. And on Main Streets and back streets across this nation, the chasm grew ever wider between those who earned less than they were worth and those worth far more than they earned.
But give the frat-boy prince with impeccable Christian credentials his due. He apparently did one thing right. For eight long years, he kept a lid on the bat-crap crazies dervishly whirling in the fringy shadows of America’s right wing. With Napoleon now exiled to his Dallas Elba, a madhatter’s tea party has stumbled loudly into the sunlight, like zombies in a low-budget horror movie, lured from complacency by the siren-call of Gingriches and Palins and Becks eager to exploit boundless enthusiasm for every improbable conspiracy.
Suddenly, retirees dependent on government Social Security and Medicare are alarmed at the prospect of government health care. Once-civil town hall meetings have turned into rabid screaming matches about imaginary death panels. Everywhere, there are wild, wacky theories about missing birth certificates and clandestine efforts to sneak a black African into a whites-only White House. (William of Ockham must be spinning in his grave.) A new war, this time with Persia, is demanded by the very same neocons who once peddled the romance of an American crusade in Iraq. Long-standing mosques and Muslim community centers across the country are now lightning rods for provincial fear and loathing.
Waiting in the wings (stage right), the grandiose old party stands ready to reap the whirlwind of American discontent. Once again, the inmates will be running the asylum – urged on by a burlesque of screeching faux-news castrati too beholden to their corporate masters to toss the people even a morsel of veritas. Perhaps future historians will pause and ponder the malevolent wind now breaking hard against Americans’ better instincts and highest ideals. Perhaps they will marvel at how easy it was to cultivate paranoia for political advantage, at how easy it was to surrender liberty for the illusion of security.
Long after the riots of November have subsided, this ugly season of intolerance will surely be compared with others that came before – the Salem witch trials, for example, and Tail Gunner Joe’s inquisition of imagined communists – and many will look back at this brain-snatched moment and wonder at how it was, in the fevered twilight of a fading American empire, that once again the chosen people danced with their demons and succumbed so easily, even eagerly to their worst impulses…
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Update: This piece was published in the September 29, 2010 edition of The Sentinel Record. It appeared, largely intact, as an “In My Opinion” editorial (pages 8 and 9), under the title “‘Brain-snatched’ once again.”