We’ve got a new Iran expert, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, whose expertise stems from a short visit that brought him in touch with a few people, and, now famously, some Iranian Jews. He kicked off a firestorm of criticism for his claim that the Iranian Jews were well treated, worship feely, and did not fear the regime, although from time to time Jews were falsely accused of things. More broadly, he denounced those who hold a “mad mullahs” view of Iran, and was particularly exercised by claims that Iran is similar to Nazi Germany.
He has now responded to his critics and reiterated some of his earlier claims.
Let’s be clear: Iran’s Islamic Republic is no Third Reich redux. Nor is it a totalitarian state.
Munich allowed Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland. Iran has not waged an expansionary war in more than two centuries.
Totalitarian regimes require the complete subservience of the individual to the state and tolerate only one party to which all institutions are subordinated. Iran is an un-free society with a keen, intermittently brutal apparatus of repression, but it’s far from meeting these criteria. Significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist. Anything but mad, the mullahs have proved malleable.
This sort of talk bespeaks several things, from an ignorance of totalitarianism, to the history of Nazi Germany, and a blindness to evil. The mullahs certainly require total subservience, and the ideology of the Islamic Republic is strikingly similar to that of the fascists in the 1930s. “Intermittently brutal”? You could have said the same thing about Hitler in the years before the war. He didn’t become Chancellor one day and start killing the Jews the next; he tried various ways of getting rid of the Jews, of which the Holocaust was the “final solution.” Before that, there was discrimination (Jews eliminated from certain professions), then ghettos, labor camps, and emigration. Only when the war was in full swing, and the rest of the world had refused to take in the Jews, did the extermination begin.
As for the regime’s attitude toward the Jews, we have two clear negative indicators: the relentless campaign of Holocaust denial by President Ahmadinejad, and the recent crackdown on critics, many of whom were accused of spying for Israel. I think the Iranian Jews are nuts to stay there, and I’m not at all sure they would be permitted to leave. It serves the interests of the regime to have 25,000 hostages on call. They love hostages.