Debate Magazine

Apocalyptic Bedfellows

Posted on the 19 March 2012 by Cris

Over at The Medium and the Message, Adam Curtis is doing some of the best work on the web. His multimedia stories are part history and part journalism, spliced together with narrative that doubles as commentary. In his most recent piece, Adam explores the parallel lives of religious fundamentalists in American and Iran.

It is an under-appreciated fact that American fundamentalists and Iranian fundamentalists moved into politics at about the same time, and have often used one another as foils. Despite their doctrinal differences, the two groups have much in common, including an inability to recognize the irony of their shared societal visions. It may be that each needs the other to stoke the fear that justifies theocracies.

As is true of all Adam’s pieces (which include film clips from the BBC’s archives), this one takes some time. For those who can’t immediately get to it, here is a teaser from his open and close:

When you bring God into politics very strange things happen. You can see this now in both America and Iran -  in their elections and also in the growing confrontation between them. But it wasn’t always like this – in fact for most of the 20th century fundamentalist religion in both America and Iran had turned its back on the world of politics and power.

But in the 1970s everything changed. For that was the moment when religion was deliberately brought into politics in both countries with the aim of using it as a revolutionary force. And those who did this – Khomeini in Iran, and right-wing activists in America – were inspired by the revolutionary theories and organisations of the left and their ambition to transform society in a radical way.


But the religious right in America didn’t go away, instead – just like in Khomeini’s Iran – it has mutated since the late 1980s into a rigid moral police force that has become an iron cage that possesses American politics and stops it progressing.

Forty years ago, in both America and Iran, religion was brought into politics as a revolutionary force – fueled by a vision that it could be used to transform the world. But now, in both countries, that power has mutated into a backward-looking and hysterical conservatism that is doing its best to remove both countries from the dynamic force of history.


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