The story is told of Ayatollah Khamenei getting a phone call in the middle of the night. When he answered it an urgent voice said, “You must come and fix my TV!”
“But I am not a TV repair man, I am Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader” he replied.
I know” said the man, “You are the only one who can fix my TV.”
“But I am Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. How on earth do you expect me to fix your TV?”
“You are the only one who can do it” came the reply, “You are the only one who can get these Imam’s off my television!”
Such is the power of cultic leaders.
The Supreme Leader’s speech at Friday prayers illustrates very well how absolute power is wielded in a cult.
Step one: Assert that while people inevitably have different opinions nevertheless there is a power that stands above all the controversy and remains untainted by questions of authority. This power paternal and absolute always knows and does what is best and if you know what is good for you you will recognise this one fact. To do otherwise is to defy reason and risk disaster.
Step two: Create a ‘them’ to put fear into people and distract their attention from the issues at hand; in this case the ‘great evil’ of the United Kingdom. This is an old and trusted ploy and has been used by leaders all over the world based as it is on the sound reasoning that people vote with their fears and not with their hopes. For Mugabe the ‘them’ is ‘British Imperialism’. Reagan used it in the 1980’s when he spoke gravely of the ‘axis of evil’. Bush used it in recent times when he concocted his ‘war on terror’.
Step three: Challenge your listeners about where, in light of the above, their loyalties lie. Fawn over the people by congratulating them on how great they have proved to be, what they have achieved by their sacrifices. Remind them of how much their leaders have sacrificed for the greater good (its all in his speech) and dare them to break that wonderful image with doubt and dissent. Threaten them with unnamed consequences if they fail and promise them great security and progress if they submit to the only authority.
It works for most people every time but of course there are those who see through the facade and insist on change. They are the ‘disappeared’, the political prisoners, the excommunicated and the examples to others of what can happen to those who dare question or doubt the wisdom of the Supreme Leader and his Revolutionary Council (or army council, or Governing Body, or quorum of apostles, etc)
Those who submit know, many of them, that as they beat their breasts, shed tears, chant slogans and swear loyalty they are playing parts in a fiction and that issues are not truly resolved. But what can one man do? But to do nothing is itself a choice and an activity and for evil to triumph requires only that good men do nothing. There are good men and women in Iran today who are determined to do something and maybe we should stop demonising Islam and start praying for those courageous Muslims in Iran who are pressing for change.