Culture and Security Roundtable

Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado

The New Security Programme’s Roundtable

on Culture and Security[1]

The Travellers’ Club, Pall Mall, London

June 1st, 2006

 My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered together here today to discuss culture, defence and security. We do so not just in theory, but in practice, for we have a task in hand. Our agenda asks us to find ways to defend cultural artefacts, events, and performances from terrorist attack.

The lawyers, soldiers and policemen here may share some opinions on this subject, but differ on others. These in turn may coincide or not with those of politicians and diplomats, who may also differ among themselves. And the curators, collectors, art historians and philanthropists among us may have views different from others as to the order of priorities involved.

Since they will be speaking in this Roundtable, I look forward to hearing their opinions, informed by their particular expertise. Basing myself on the subjects of my current studies, I shall address our agenda from the point of view of logic, history and culture.

From the point of view of logic, my first task is to draw out certain implications in our agenda, in order to render them explicit. I bring these assumptions, arguments, and implications of our agenda out into the open, not in order to contest them, for, with some provisos, I agree with them: else I were not here. I do so, rather, that we may discover exactly where we stand, with respect to culture, defence and security, and, so, to the task in hand. This will help clarify discussion of that task by all concerned.

As stated, our agenda asks us to find ways to defend cultural artefacts, events, and performances from terrorist attack This assumes two things: that they are so threatened; and that we wish and are willing to defend them, and ourselves, as possible victims.

The first assumption is correct. We are all aware of recent attacks on cultural artefacts. There have also been assaults on archaeological sites, museums and theatres, with visitors as victims. So such a threat is real, and it could threaten any one of us.

The second assumption is also correct, but differences among us may arise as to how best to do the job. These, as just mentioned, will be discussed and perhaps debated in the course of this Roundtable.

Another assumption, current in public discourse, and reflected by our agenda, is that this threat derives from a clash of cultures. This clash is generally supposed to occur between Islam, on the one hand, and, on the other, the West. We are thus implicitly invited, in undertaking the task of protection and defence proposed in our agenda, to adopt the point of view of the West, as distinct from, and possibly opposed to Islam.

Of course, our agenda takes care to be diplomatic, and to seem politically correct. It cites the loss of artefacts of cultures other than Western, such as the Buddhas of Bamian. It talks hopefully of preventing a clash of cultures.

This hope, I fear, may be vain, for reasons best stated by a major scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis. He says, in defence of Islam: “Most Muslims are not fundamentalists, and most fundamentalists are not terrorists.” But immediately he goes on to say: “Most present-day terrorists are Muslims, and proudly identify themselves as such.”[2]

Our agenda seems to agree with Lewis. So it is assumed that though we must beware other threats, the real and present danger is, for us, terrorism stemming from fundamentalist Islam.

I shall question this assumption. I shall propose, instead, that fundamentalism, or indeed obscurantism of any sort, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or other, is the enemy of Western culture; and, moreover, since the Islamic variety holds scant appeal for most of the peoples of the West, that the Christian sort is the more dangerous, at least for Western civilisation. This proposition stems from my definition of culture in general, and of Western civilisation in particular. But before I get to this, let me continue my exegesis of the assumptions implicit in our agenda.

The one here in contention is that the real and present danger is, for us, terrorism stemming from fundamentalist Islam. ‘For us’: this is the phrase that matters, because it immediately raises the most important question, even more important than: ‘Who are the enemy?’ Rather: ‘Who are We?’

For all questions of security, and indeed of culture, ultimately come down to questions of identity: of us and them. Who are We? Who are They? Who is to be defended, against whom, by whom, and how?

Today’s agenda implies answers to these questions: it implies who we are, who the enemy is, what the threat is, and who should protect what from whom. It asks us only to determine how.

I wish now to take a step back and bring those implications out into the open, so that we can see if we agree with them. Assuming this task, and wishing to ensure our success in it, my duty here today is to question our assumptions, in order to see if they are right. I have just indicated one that I think that may need some reconsideration: that Islamic fundamentalism is our enemy. I think that all forms of religious fundamentalism are our enemy.

Since the basic questions of security, defence and culture, are those cited. I shall proceed by asking:: Who are We? Who are They? What is the Threat? and What is to be Done?

But first, since the present context is security, defence and culture, let me define what we mean by these terms. This, in any case, will bring us answers to these questions.

Security may be defined as invulnerability to danger or attack. No security is perfect, least of all that of human life. ‘In the end we’re all dead.’[3] So all security is temporary, and relative. That of the species is longer lasting than that of the individual. It may be achieved by defence.

Defence may be inherent in the nature and structure of the thing to be defended, or it may consist in building protection around it. The former is by far the stronger. Defence, either way, begs the question of defining the thing to be defended. We have said that in this case it is culture, and implied that it is the culture of the West.

While I do not disagree with either statement or implication, I would like further to develop what is meant by ‘culture’. By culture, I do not merely mean high culture, scholarship, literature, and the arts, though that is where my personal interests and sympathies lie. I mean culture in the anthropological sense: an activity pervading and shaping all human life.

Culture is the use of materials and ideas as tools or weapons, to preserve, increase, and enhance human life. Thus, security is both a goal and a condition of culture. In this sense, culture may be studied from the viewpoint of the human sciences; in particular, from that of biology, and so, of evolution.

From that perspective, individual cultures may be seen as strategies in an ongoing struggle, involving the tactical use of materials and ideas, for the preservation, perpetuation, and enhancement of the lives of the particular peoples who belong to or espouse those cultures. The struggle is waged on two fronts at once: with nature, and with other people.

Thus, by analogy with study, through evolution, of competition among species, one may compare different cultures according to their relative success or failure in preserving, perpetuating, and enhancing the lives of peoples and individuals inhabiting, developing and implementing them. (Inhabiting, developing and implementing them, because cultures are simultaneously environments, tool-kits, material and ideological, and protocols or algorithms to be performed or set in motion.)

Some cultures do better than others. The criterion for success or failure differs according to time, place, and observer. It is also affected by changes in material and ideal culture. The discovery or invention of new tools, weapons, and techniques, or the rise of new ways of thinking, paradigm shifts, may confer a competitive advantage on their possessors.

In modern times, the rise in one culture of a new way of thinking has conferred just such an advantage. It has also changed the nature of the struggle. It has opened a third front. Before, the peoples of different cultures had only to struggle with nature and each other. Now they must also struggle with a new phenomenon: the challenge of modernity.

The rise of rationalism in the West, together with the Scientific Revolution, led to a highly creative material culture, giving the West a material and conceptual advantage. This led to modernity.

Modernity is an attitude of mind, by nature universal. As such, it tends to spread. Its spread challenges existing cultures. They must adapt or perish. Thus, the criterion for success or failure among cultures is now their relative capacity for creative response to the challenge of modernity.

The challenge of modernity is that it leads one to question the assumptions of one’s own culture, as well as those of others’. By way of such questioning, it leads to individualism: to the notion that each of us may choose what to think, how to live and who to be.

This was first proposed long ago, by Socrates and Buddha, among others. The Socratic method of free enquiry lies at the root of modernity, as it developed in the West. Buddhist notions of relative values and individual metamorphosis over successive lifetimes inform its spread in the East. Thus modernity transcends bounds of time, race and nation.

Anyone, anywhere, granted the freedom to do so, may choose to be modern, or not. The freedom to do so is granted by the relative ascendancy of reason in a given society. This, for most of history, has been uneven, sporadic, and unstable. Socrates’ fate, as well as Galileo’s, shows how precarious it was in the West, until the rise of rationalism and secularism led to modernity. Now, for the first time in world history, thanks to modernity, much of humanity is free to choose what to think, how to live, and who to be.

That is the practical meaning of modernity. And here, in my view, lies the real clash of cultures: that between modernity and all that goes before it.

In view of this, we may, indeed must now address the questions: Who are we? and Who are they? We, in this room, whoever else we may be, and wherever we may come from, by virtue of conducting this discussion in this way – rationally – are modern. We belong, or at least adhere, to the culture of modernity.

The rule of reason, in my view, defines modernity, even more so than the rule of law. Thus, those who espouse modernity are Socrates’ descendants: heirs of his method of rational enquiry, transmitted through the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment.

We are beneficiaries of the rule of reason. We are children of modernity, and within it, of liberal rather than authoritarian modernity.

Whatever our personal theories and practices, cosmological, theological, social, political, moral or aesthetic, reason, codified into law, gives us the freedom to think and behave, each in his or her own way, so long as we do not try to force our beliefs and practices on others.

This last proviso leads us straight to the next question: Who are they, the enemy? The enemy is whoever seeks to overthrow the rule of reason, or of law, and to force his or her beliefs and practices on others; whoever opposes modernity with violence, and seeks to destroy those who espouse it, and their culture.

This formulation, in turn, invites us to distinguish the enemy within from the enemy without. By within, here, I mean inside the West; by without, in other cultures. For, although modernity is a product of the West, it has its enemies inside the West, as well as outside.

It follows from this that modernity is not identical with Western culture. This creates opportunities for its spread to other cultures. If properly exploited, they may help us with our task. This we shall consider later. For now, let us focus on the enemy, both within and without.

At a theoretical level, they are basically the same. The enemy within is whoever, from inside the West, seeks to overthrow the rule of reason, and force his or her beliefs and practices on others; whoever opposes modernity with violence, and seeks to destroy those who espouse it, and their culture. The enemy without is whoever does this from outside.

Thus the theoretical distinction is circular and trivial. At a practical level, however, it is very real. For the enemy within can be fought with reason, codified into law. The enemy without is beyond the reach of our law. So must we fight him or her with reason alone? Is he or she not also beyond its reach? More of this later.

It should not surprise us that there is an enemy within. For, as mentioned, in the West modernity was forged by what was once a dissident minority: rationalists. Reason’s principal enemy was, and is, religion.

Socrates was condemned for disrespecting the gods. Galileo was forced to recant by a Catholic Church insisting on an erroneous cosmology. Religion long exercised or aided political tyranny. It still presumes to dictate our most intimate behaviour. Thus it is clear that we must keep our native fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise, in check.

In the West, the struggle of reason with religion resulted in the triumph of reason. Religion was tamed, reduced to the private sphere, or at most to the public role assigned it by Marx, as the opium of the people, where it may do less harm than the real thing. Indeed, like opiates, it may even do some good, so long as it is kept within bounds.

In any case, the struggle of reason with religion continues, both in the West, and between the West and other cultures, including Islam, where reason has not yet triumphed, and may never do so. This, therefore, is the deepest level and broadest dimension of the clash of cultures: not East versus West, nor South versus North, but rationalism versus unrestrained religion, of any sort. It is universal and inevitable. It cannot be prevented. It can only be won, or lost. It must be won.

So far, in the West, with regard to the enemy within, reason has the upper hand, despite occasional barking from the Oval Office, and squeals from Number Ten.[4] A Federal Court has blocked the attempt of Creationists, encouraged by the President, to infiltrate the public schools. The House of Lords is constantly resisting government assaults on civil liberties.

The external dimension of the threat from within is another matter, to which I shall presently come. It must, however, be said that its atmosphere has been befouled by unleashing the current denizens of the Oval Office, and of Number Ten, to leave their marks on foreign policy.

One wonders, remembering Kissinger’s account of being asked by Nixon to kneel on the carpet and pray with him, do Dubya and Tony pray together, or separately, perhaps by video link?

However that may be, the worst effects of their shared divine inspirations have not yet been visited on us, but on others: on the people of Iraq. It remains to be seen what final price we shall pay for the hubris of our leaders, in their pursuit of personal agendas at public expense. How much will it cost the American taxpayer and soldier to prove that Dubya can do better than Daddy? The British equivalent that Tony is not a lefty softie?

With regard, however, to the enemy without, the situation is more complex. One must distinguish one form of cultural clash, that between reason and religion, from another, that between peoples, based on race and land, or on other economic and political interests. One kind of clash may interact with another.

In modern times, clashes between peoples, rather than ideas, have involved competition, conflict, or war between nation states. Yet clashes of this kind need not lead to Armageddon, or even to war, if rationalism gains the upper hand in cultures with conflicting interests.

Rational cultures are unlikely to clash at the most devastating levels of Mutual Assured Destruction, aptly acronymed MAD, because rationalism involves a cool calculation of one’s enlightened self-interest. This may lead to negotiation and compromise, or even to cooperation, rather than to devastation.

The birth of the European Union, out of the immemorial conflict between Latins and Teutons, is a case in point. That the cold war remained cold is another. Whether this is possible with Islam is doubtful. I am not optimistic, because of the basic nature of Islam, to which I shall return.

Before I do so, however, let me identify those opportunities I mentioned for the spread of modernity. They involve two distinctions. We must distinguish the West from Christianity; and the West from modernity.

The West is no longer defined by Christianity, if, indeed, it ever was. The West has major elements of Judaism in its culture, and, at deeper levels, even more important pagan elements. Christianity has always extended well beyond the West. It originated in Palestine, Syria and Anatolia. It reached Ethiopia and Armenia before Western Europe. Byzantium spread it to Russia; Western Europe to Africa, Asia, Oceania, and America.

Conversely, though modernity originated in the West, it has long since outgrown its birthplace. It is fast becoming global. Those traditional cultures which respond creatively to its challenge survive, transformed, yet preserving their identity. One which has already done so is Japan. It may soon be followed by other non-Western, non-Christian cultures, including China and India.

Modernity is an idea whose time has come, and which still has a long time to run. If it must have a charismatic individual as its icon, a patron saint and martyr, as it were, that individual is not Christ, but Socrates.

So now we know who we are. We also know, in general, who the enemy is. Now let us consider the nature of the threat. This involves considering the enemy more in particular.

I have so far spoken of the enemy mainly in terms of ideas: the clash between reason and religion. But what about clashes over race, land, wealth, and power? Let us now consider the enemy’s threat to us in terms of ethnicity, geography, and history.

The earliest history in a Western language, by Herodotus, tells of conflict between Greeks and Persians.[5] Greek civilisation, with contributions from Romans and Jews, among others, has developed into that of the West. And the West still has trouble with Persians, now called Iranians.

It is interesting to note that both Greeks and Persians are Aryans, or Indo-Europeans, as are Romans. The Jews, however, are not. They are Semites, as are Arabs and Phoenicians.

Now, just as in Herodotus’ time, Semites are being blamed for the confrontation between Iranians and the West. In Herodotus’ Histories, written from a Greek point of view, Phoenicians are blamed for starting the series of abductions of princesses that leads, eventually, to war between Greeks and Persians. Now Jews are blamed by Iranians, and by some Westerners, for all the trouble between them. One might be excused for thinking that little has changed.

But much has changed, though plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.[6] First, and most obviously, the military balance of forces has shifted. Tiny, poor, fractious Greece once faced the monolithic Persian empire. The modern West, still fractious, but rich and powerful, faces a motley assortment of zealots and tyrants.

Some of them control nation states, such as Iran and North Korea. Most of them only control or inspire bands of terrorists.[7] This does not mean that they are not dangerous. They are, not least because some are megalomaniac. Megalomaniacs who fear their cause is lost may attempt global suicide.

In this respect I do not most fear the Dear Leader.[8] He, though weird, is sane, and more concerned with personal comfort, pleasure and survival, than with ideology. The hothead Iranian President[9] is likelier to try suicidal global extinction. If you doubt me, look into his eyes, and listen to his words. Not, by the way, with nuclear weapons. These will be few, if he gets them, and used on Israel. For the whole world, biological agents are cheaper, more plentiful, and self-distributing.

One might be tempted, in view of this threat, to consider assassination, a word that comes to us from Persia. But that would do no good, for the specific form of megalomania which animates this particular Persian is not personal, but cultural. It follows the basic tenets of Islam; not of fundamentalist Islam, but of Islam as such. For Islam explicitly espouses, in its sacred texts, the goal of global domination.[10] Moslems would call it global enlightenment, but it comes down to much the same thing.

Whether by the sword, or by force of example, or even by economic incentive, Islam aims to conquer the world. No part, once conquered, may ever be relinquished. That is why I, as a Spaniard, must take its pretensions more seriously than most.

Fortunately, most of its own adherents do not. But those who do, Al Qaida, Hizbollah, Hamas, Djamaa Islamiya, Taliban, and the Iranian mullahs, together with their President, can cause us all a lot of trouble.[11] Therefore, eliminating one individual will do no good. Nothing less than regime change will do.

We are moving towards our final question: What is to be done to bring it about? Let me leave to others discussion of our military options. What I propose is regime change by cultural means. In order to lay a theoretical foundation for my practical proposals, let me return now to considering how everything has changed, yet somehow remains the same.

When Greece faced Persia, the material culture of Persia, like Egypt’s, vastly outshone that of Greece. Herodotus himself was amazed that the Greeks had been able to defeat the Persians, given the Greeks’ inferiority, not only in almost every aspect of material culture, but in the technologies underlying the fashioning and use of tools and weapons. He attributed the victory of the Greeks to their spirit: their love of independence. Other, more recent historians attribute it to much the same thing: to citizen armies defending their own turf.[12]

Essentially, all attribute it to a Greek cultural ideal: the wish for freedom from tyranny. This was an ideal shared by democracies and oligarchies, Athens and Sparta, alike. At its root lies the notion of the individual citizen’s responsibility for the fate of the polis. Thus, it carries in it the seeds of individualism.

Today, the material culture of modernity is richer, more advanced, and more powerful than any other. This, however, is not, in my view, our greatest advantage. Rather, it is that same ideal, enshrined in our ideological culture: not only the rule of reason, but also freedom from tyranny, toleration of diversity, and promotion of individuality. No other culture in the world grants the individual the same rights, respect, and even honour, as does that of modernity. This, I believe, is our secret weapon. It is of course an open secret.

However politically incorrect it may be to say so, the culture of modernity is by far the most attractive of any on Earth. I mean that literally. It attracts huge numbers of people from other cultures. They vote with their feet. This is not merely because of its material comforts, which can be, and sometimes are, equalled or surpassed in traditional cultures, at least for the élite. Rather, its attraction lies in its offer to the individual. It offers a chance to discover, explore, and realise himself, or, importantly, herself. Modernity is the only culture which begins to offer gender equality, though it still has a long way to go.

Neither Nipponic, nor Sinitic, nor Indic, nor any of the other traditional cultures of the world, offers anything comparable, whether in terms of gender or individualism. For this reason, there is little chance of any voluntary global mass conversion to Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism, or Hinduism. Buddhism, not, in its pure form, a religion, but a philosophy, may be a worthier contender. But it is not, by nature, adversarial. Islam is.

Yet while Islam may, perhaps for that very reason, appeal to the wretched of the Earth, it is unlikely to attract young, talented, upwardly mobile professionals or adolescents, unless they are already in its grip.

Studies of Western recruits to Islamism show that they are mainly losers within their own milieu.[13] They are unable to cope with the challenge of modernity; in particular with the freedom, self-reliance and competition that it involves. Seeking to take revenge on parents and peers for their own failure, they try to turn into winners by swapping their original identity for membership of an antisocial, adversarial group, some form of Islamism, that apparently accepts them as they are, just as do members of traditional gangs. Thus they become its cannon fodder.

So in terms of attraction or conversion of our talented upwardly mobile youth, we have little or nothing to fear from Nipponic, Sinitic, Indic, or Islamic culture. In terms of the natural losers within our societies we may.

Our natural winners make a practice of incorporating elements of other cultures into the culture of modernity, enriching it, rather than undermining it: yoga, sushi, salsa. African culture, in particular its music, has deeply pervaded the popular culture of modernity, but poses no threat to our core values. I shall leave to others here discussion of whether we have anything militarily to fear from China or India; but my suspicion is that both these nations are amenable to reason.

The principal threat to the artefacts of our material culture, to our temples, cathedrals, museums, theatres, concert halls, and libraries, and to the limbs and lives of participants in cultural events and performances, including those of popular culture, such as bars and discothèques, now comes from fundamentalist Islam, which sees them all as works of Satan.

How do we moderns see them, in particular the relics of religion? If religion is the enemy, why should we preserve its monuments? The short answer is that our own religions are, for us, no longer a serious threat. Though we must continue to restrain them, we can afford, like America with Japan, to be generous in victory. The longer answer, which is far more interesting, involves exploring the role of religion in our history, and, so, in our consciousness and sensibility. But that is for another venue.

Thus we are left with Lenin’s famous question: што делать? What is to be done?[14] Here too, I shall leave to the experts discussion of how to protect material artefacts, events and performances. I have one practical suggestion, which would protect the cultural heritage of the whole world. It relates to scholarship. It is an amplified Gutenberg project, to digitalise the entire contents of all the world’s great libraries. This would not only have the effect of protecting their contents, if not their containers, from possible destruction, but would provide an immense boost to scholarship, since it would allow digital searching of all those contents.

Now, I would like to turn from defence to attack; for attack is often the best form of defence. Again, I do not mean here to propose any military attack, though I must admit that when the fate of the Great Buddha of Bamian, which my father had shown me from a Cessna when I was a boy, still hung in the balance, and the West did nothing, I was heard to cry out in my sleep: “Neutron bomb, neutron bomb, where are you now that we need you? Damn Jimmy Carter!” No, this is not what I mean to propose here and now. Rather, something altogether more devastating.

I propose that we attack fundamentalism at its source, inside the human mind. To some extent, we are doing so already, merely by virtue of being who we are, and doing as we do. Perhaps unintentionally, or with commercial, rather than strategic aims in view, we are already undermining fundamentalism, just by offering better, more attractive alternatives. I propose that we do so deliberately, strategically, with cultural weapons, tactics, and targets.

Our targets should be young, talented, upwardly mobile professionals and adolescents, in societies now in the grip of tyrants and zealots. The young are the future of those societies. If they can be won over to reason, or even merely to individualism, then tyranny and fundamentalism will not long rule in their lands. That is the strategy.

As for tactics, I propose an attack on two levels: above the belt, and below. Above, we should appeal to Apollonian forces in the human mind: to its thirst for truth and understanding; below, to Dionysiac impulses: the quest for instinctual satisfaction, self-fulfilment, and ecstasy: in other words, to Eros.[15]

Of these two tactics, Apollonian and Dionysiac, while both are essential, I set more store by the latter. For while it may be that “The truth shall make you free”,[16] the most powerful of all the gods I know of is Eros.

Eros, in Hesiod’s words, “unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all men and all gods within them.”[17] If he can do so with gods and wise men, he can cope with zealots and tyrants.

The key to this tactic’s success is that Hesiod’s Eros is almost identical with Islam’s Satan: “the insidious tempter who whispers in the hearts of men”.[18] We should therefore aspire to and proudly adopt America’s role as the “Great Satan”, but perform it with greater skill, conviction, and effect.

In practical terms, at an Apollonian level, I propose a publishing enterprise. I mean publishing in the widest sense of the word, including print, television, radio, the Internet and samizdat. It should be devoted to exposing the lies of zealots and tyrants, and telling the truth about how things are, in the world inside and outside the lands they control. This enterprise should undertake or sponsor research into relevant, topical subjects.

At this level, our aim should be both to awaken, and initially to quench the thirst for knowledge and understanding. For once awakened, and at least initially quenched, it will arouse an even more powerful thirst: for liberation from the zealotry and tyranny which will have been shown to deny it.

This being our aim, absolute honesty must be the hallmark of our enterprise. We, in undertaking it, must be sincerely devoted to the discovery and spread of truth, and to the pursuit of individual satisfaction, fulfilment, and ecstasy. That rules out governments.

Another consideration which also does so is that Apollo, high minded, but somewhat priggish, cannot be trusted to do the job alone.  He needs the help of Momus.[19]

The recent furore over the Danish cartoons shows just how powerful a weapon humour can be, if properly pointed and targeted. This again rules out governments. They have no sense of humour.

Any contact with governments, given our strategy, tactics and targets – truth, ecstasy, laughter, the Teens of Tehran and the Yuppies of Pyongyang – spells the kiss of death.

At a Dionysiac level, I propose a similar enterprise. It should sponsor, produce, and disseminate cultural products, likely to awaken Eros, among the youth of the societies in question. I do not mean works of high art, but products of popular culture. Such products should be created, in their own idiom, by liberated members of those societies. They will understand what their oppressed brethren desire, whether the brethren know it or not.

Here our aim is to awaken desire, but not to quench it. Indeed it is to leave it unquenched. The most art can do, in any case, is to awaken, at the level of imagination, a desire, such as Eros, which can only properly be satisfied in real life.

It is in the nature of Eros that, if sufficiently widespread and deeply felt, it will sweep all before it, and overcome even the most desperate attempts to repress it. Amor vincit omnia.[20] So, once Eros is sufficiently awakened, among the teens of Tehran, if they “can’t get no satisfaction” they will not long delay in revolting against their oppressors.

There is evidence for this in recent history. The introduction of rock music into the Soviet Union was a significant factor in creating the consciousness and sensibility that led, first to glasnost’, then to perestroika, and finally to systemic collapse. It can do the same, by awakening Eros in Tehran and Pyongyang.

In closing, may I may be permitted a personal remark? Nobody who knows me can possibly accuse me, in proposing the use of rock music for this purpose, of easily approving what I like. My taste is entirely Classical. So if I propose rock, it is because I think that it will work.

The reason I think so is because the mullahs themselves have said so. They have identified their own greatest vulnerability, through their hysterical attitude to rock music, and to sex, which, in their minds, are linked, as part of the “Great Satan”.[21]

If they are linked in their minds, they will also be so in the minds of the youth whom they oppress. Thus Erato, Euterpe, and Terpsichore,[22] perhaps with bleached hair and black lipstick, will awaken Eros. Then the mullahs will tremble. For Eros is what they most fear. Here, therefore, lies our best chance for regime change by cultural means.


[1] Originally presented at the Travellers’ Club, London, June 2006.

[2] Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam, Holy War and Unholy Terror, 2003, Phoenix paperback, page 117.

[3] Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform, 1923, Ch. 3.

[4] This, and the following three paragraphs, were written and spoken in 2006. They mostly still seem valid over a decade later, albeit with different protagonists. The spectacle of Theresa May holding hands with Donald Trump, who in his own words is a serial pussy grabber, is particularly poignant.

[5] Herodotus, Histories, Loeb Classical Library 117-119, 1920, etc.

[6] Epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”). Literally “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”

[7] This was written before the rise, and, at this writing, impending fall, of territorially based ISIS.

[8] In 2006, Kim Jong Il. In 2017, Kim Jong Un is rather more to be feared.

[9] In 2006 Ahmadinejad. In 2017, Rouhani may be saner, but the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, remains unchanged.

[10] Koran, 5.51, 9.5, 9.29, 9.123. See also: Lewis, op. cit, Ch. II, The House of War, esp. p. 28-29 & p. 36-37.

[11]  By 2017, ISIS must be added to this list.

[12] Victor Davis Hansen: Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, 2002.

[13] ISIS: Islam is ‘not strongest factor’ behind foreign fighters joining extremist groups in Syria and Iraq – report:;

Who Joins ISIS and Why?:;

The personality that’s most vulnerable to Islamic State recruitment in the West:


[14] V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, Volume 1, pp. 119 – 271. First published in March 1902.

[15] This distinction is Friedrich Nietzsche’s, in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, 1872.

[16] The Gospel According to St John, 8.32.

[17] Hesiod, Theogony, 120-122.

[18] Koran, 114.4,5. See also, Lewis, op. cit, p. 69.

[19] Greek god of laughter, exiled from Olympus for mocking Zeus.

[20] Virgil, Eclogues, 10.69. The original form is “omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori”. ‘Love conquers all, so let us yield to love.’

[21] Lewis, op. cit, chap. 4, Discovering America,  esp. p. 69.

[22] Greek muses, respectively, of lyric poetry, music, and the dance.