In the second half of the 1990s, at the onset of his first term as Brazil's president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, or FHC for short, faced a dilemma. To honor his recent conversion to the Washington Consensus, he had to get rid of State companies to make money to pay the interests on the debt he was rapidly accumulating with the banks that paid the economists who had invented his new credo. He wanted to start by giving big fat lucrative companies like oil giant Petrobras to those responsible and smart businessmen who had helped financing his presidential campaign, but he knew he could never sell this to his fellow Brazilians; and he also knew that not being good to his word to campaign financers was the best way to end his political career. He had to find a way to make the idea of privatizing Petrobras, Vale, and Banco do Brasil palatable to Brazilian voters, so he had to use one of the oldest tricks in the history of political chicanery: kick a dead dog, pick on someone the public doesn't like, establish a precedent and then go on to your real goal. Thus the sale of the inefficient, debt-ridden and hugely unpopular state-owned telecommunications companies was decided and quickly carried on. Once the precedent was established, giving the rest away should have been easy, and in fact it was until they sold mining giant Vale do Rio Doce for a tenth of its market value, but their plan was cut short by the succession of economic crises that reduced FHC's second term to a beggar government, forever busy going around the world asking for a loan.
Forget about the thousands of years of history, forget Isfahan and Tabriz monuments, forget Khwarizmi, forget the whirling dervishes, forget Tusi, Alhazen, Biruni and Al-Farisi, forget Persian cuisine and its perfumes and, above all, forget Omar Khayamm. Iran is today an easy-to-dislike country and it's even fashionable to find it highly distasteful. Remembering how much of Iran's history and culture is part of what makes our daily lives more enjoyable and rich is seen as something beneath a gentleman's or a lady's dignity. After three centuries of strict separation between religion and the State, the idea of a country ruled by religious tenets smacks of fanaticism to our good citizens, even when so many if not most of them profess to observe more or less the same religious principles in their daily lives, albeit a little less strictly. Also, the abrasive style of so many Iranian leaders and the support they give to like-minded groups in other countries does little to make them and the country they speak for more likable in the eyes of Western sophisticates and their Eastern clones. Above all, our society needs external enemies, real or fictitious, to keep people busy with something else than the real cause of their troubles, and a country ruled by a religion that is not "ours" fits the job description perfectly.
The idea of
separating religion and State was born simultaneously with the rise of powerful
and increasingly aggressive countries in the part of the world where it first
appeared, and it may arguably be considered as part of what made these
countries both powerful and aggressive. These three centuries of "lay" history saw
the power of those countries and their social
and economic principles spread to cover almost the totality of the
globe, driven by wars, invasions, and massacres of whole populations. "Progress" was
imposed on an unwilling world through the blood of money and the mud of free
trade, so it's no wonder so much of the resistance to this smothering advance,
from Brazil to Iran to China, took the form of a struggle against a "godless"
After three centuries, the accumulated might and wealth of these countries resulted in a virtual monopoly over the planet's resources. When this monopoly started to be challenged by new rising powers, it was natural that the core countries of this world order would close ranks in the defense of their privileges. Russia, China, the U.S., the UK and France, who have jointly owned the world since the end of World War II, will not share the benefits of this ownership with just any newcomer who comes to their gates. As always, and as they did in their time, it will take storming their castle to make them part with their riches. The forms that this storming will take are being decided right now, while the castle owners plot their resistance to it.
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