The Corner

Books

The Left and the Theocrats

An Iranian flag flutters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

Kim Ghattas, a correspondent for the BBC, gave a remarkably frank interview to her home network about her new book, Black Wave, an account of the Saudi–Iranian rivalry that has warped life and politics in much of the Islamic world.

What struck me about the interview is that the Beirut-born Ghattas is much more plain and direct about the disastrous role played by leftist Western intellectuals — particularly French thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir—in encouraging and enabling the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and his repressive model of Islamic government.

It is worth remembering that the Iranian theocracy was a great project of the secular Western Left.

Foucault welcomed Khomeini’s revolution as “the first of the grand insurrections against global systems.” Sartre traveled to Tehran to flack for Khomeini. The French Left celebrated Khomeini as “the Islamic Lenin.” (American conservatives might have said much the same thing, but the French Left meant that as praise.) Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, hailed Khomeini as a “saint.” Many of those intellectuals stood by their judgment, though some of them, such as Simone de Beauvoir, recoiled from Tehran’s treatment of women and minorities.

Ghattas says that the disappointed hopes of 1968 were renewed and channeled into the Iranian Revolution. That has the ring of truth to it.

But Khomeini is hardly alone in the rogues’ gallery of heroes to the Left. American college students in the 1960s paraded around with Mao’s “Little Red Book” and cheered Ho Chi Minh; until quite recently, Bernie Sanders — who may very well be the Democratic presidential nominee — doted on Hugo Chávez, as did any number of Democratic grandees in Washington and celebrities in Hollywood, who play roughly the same role in American public life that intellectuals play in France. (It is very difficult to imagine BernardHenri Lévy’s having a similar career in the United States.) Noam Chomsky tried to dismiss the Cambodian genocide as a right-wing hoax and a CIA dirty trick. The list goes on, and the lesson to be learned from it is obvious.

I have read only a small excerpt from Kim Ghattas’s Black Wave, but it looks to be a very interesting read.

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