The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs"
by William O. Beeman
Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005. 298 pp. $49.95.
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
In The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs," Brown University anthropologist Beeman laments that the "cultural dynamics" of the U.S.-Iranian relationship have for almost thirty years been beset by "mutual demonization." He seeks to prove this assertion, not with careful factual analysis, but rather with reliance on the post-modern theoretical constructs so popular in universities today.
However, his research is careless. He constructs his thesis with sweeping statements unsupported by evidence. In explaining Middle Eastern mythological figures, he argues that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein modeled himself on ‘Umar, the third Muslim caliph (644-656 A.D.). But a study of Saddam's monumental art shows Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, an early Arab warrior who brought Islam to Iran, to be his model.
Beeman stumbles over the most basic facts. Jerusalem is not "the second most sacred Muslim site"; Medina is. Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Qur'an. He confuses recent history as well. He dismisses the accusation that Iran played a hand in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing as a result of "the desire of the George W. Bush administration to link all attacks on U.S. facilities to a global terrorist network." But it was the Clinton administration that tied an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander to those who carried out the attacks.
Beeman dismisses the possibility that the Islamic Republic might sponsor terrorism. He accuses U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld of fabricating the charge that Al-Qaeda operated in Iran. But the 9-11 Commission documented significant Iranian complicity. Likewise, to dismiss Iranian complicity in the Karine-A affair, he ignores the fact that the ship was loaded at an Iranian port, carried fifty tons of Iranian weaponry, and that both the captain of the ship and Palestinian Authority figures confessed to their part in the operation.
His footnotes are full of conspiratorial and faulty analysis. He wrongly suggests that "it is fairly certain" that the $3 million allocated by Congress to fund democratization in Iran was meant for the Mujahideen al-Khalq; in fact, it was earmarked for civil society groups operating inside Iran.
Beeman is even prone to fabrication: he argues that the American Enterprise Institute placed responsibility on Iran for faulty intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction but does not provide evidence to back that claim. He invents sources, citing a piece by this reviewer for the National Observer although I have never written for that publication.
He appears to have a special passion for condemning "neoconservatives" but uses the term carelessly, labeling as neoconservatives not only those policymakers and thinkers who seek to make democracy promotion a U.S. policy goal but also vocal opponents of U.S. democratization efforts. His criticism is often dishonest. He pillories "neoconservative" analysis marking ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as the frontrunner in Iran's 2005 presidential elections. But in a Council on Foreign Relations interview prior to the election, he himself called Rafsanjani the "frontrunner."
The worst aspect of The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs" is the moral equivalency underpinning the book. To Beeman, Washington's complaints about Tehran are no different than Tehran's rhetoric about Washington. But isn't it possible that U.S. concerns about Iran's terror sponsorship are real? Likewise, there is no U.S. corollary to Iran's "Death to America" rallies and threats to "wipe [Israel] off the map." Neither would many Iranians agree with Beeman's apologia of Supreme Leader Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamene'i as a moderate consensus builder; nor would Iranian women recognize his assertion that their rights have improved.
The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs" is an embarrassment of polemic masquerading as a scholarly study. That Beeman is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University is another sad testament to the state of the field.
 See, Kanan Makiya, The Monument: Art and Vulgarity in Saddam Hussein's Iraq (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004).
 "Iran's Link to Al-Qaeda: The 9-11 Commission's Evidence," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004, pp. 71-4.
 "Beeman: Rafsanjani Victory Probable, but Not Certain, in Iran's ‘Real Election,'" Council on Foreign Relations, June 16, 2005.
Related Topics: Iran, US policy | Michael Rubin | Spring 2006 MEQ
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