Saturday, February 19, 2011

The state is a cruel monster

“The state is a cruel monster.” This is what the personal security advisor to the Shah of Iran said when the Shah, dying of cancer, was forced in early 1980s to leave the United States where he had been under treatment. For him, the American government had become a cruel monster. What lies under the surface in state institutions are systems of control that can be heartless, unforgiving, merciless.

We have been seeing it in various places in the Middle East. We see it now in Bahrain. Here is an island of escape for Saudis fleeing their own rigid Wahhabi-controlled society. An island where American sailors have long been welcome; whose King has been a loyal friend of American Presidents, a faithful ally; a “moderate” ruler, as they say, in a sea of repressive regimes. But when threatened by requests of his own people for more freedoms, more transparency, more control over the government that rules them, his government exposed its true character. Police and state-funded paramilitary organizations charged their own unarmed citizens without warning, killing and maiming without discrimination, children and women as well as men, doctors and ambulance drivers.

Ditto in Lybia. Ditto of course in Iran, where the Islamic revolutionary government has displayed its true character in the last two years as over and over again it crushed demonstrations by its own Iranian people.

Who wants the monstrous character of the government that rules them to be revealed? Who wants to be reminded that the government they live under is at base heartless, merciless? Is it not better to live blissfully without knowing what formal, cruel mechanisms await those who would challenge the system?

Some of us wonder what our own government is really like at heart, under the surface. We have begun to wonder, as it becomes ever more clear that our government gives perks to the rich, even in war time, even in the worst economic collapse since the Depression, and then demands that the poor sacrifice to balance the budget. Do we really want to know how our institutions of rulership would behave if they were challenged by open dissent in the streets? I don’t want to see its monstrous side, but I believe it is there.

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