partisan presentations. One needs to be very careful with this excellent, albeit dangerously selective new dragnet, who’s overriding objective could be accused of attempting to conveniently attribute all ills in the area to Saudi Arabia & Iran only.
Not that these two regional protagonists have not exerted momentous measures in the manor (especially cursed Saudi being a particularly pernicious actor of destabilization & radicalization), but to minimize & underplay the “key” contributions & incursions of the West & their bizarre fascist satellite anomaly Israel is a criminal omission that borders on disinformation & propaganda. This troubling colourblindness could be dismissed as unilateral palimpsest with flexible amnesia & recurring redaction/truancy whenever the advantage of absence is required skewing, leading to a kind of whitewashing for the core culprits & excessive tarring of Iran & it’s remarkable & unique tale of resistance & survival against all odds.
I was already a little sceptical as the book had received massive exposure in the mainstream media, & the very premise of a western academic positing a conclusive summarization of recent Middle Eastern history is always something to be immediately wary of. This in itself (extensive coverage, broadly supported analysis with official sanction) made me curious to read the book & see what was being presented or “pushed” as an astute & authoritative judgement on the territory as well as its fidelity credentials to the authentic history of “the Middle East”. The author was unfamiliar to me prior to Black Wave, but her bio elicits further concern & cause for vigilance (Emmy awards, BBC, Financial Times & Washington Post contributions & – oh shit! – ‘a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington’). & here is the frag grenade on the undeclared illicit-arms shipment – her previous books include – The Secretary: a Journey with Hillary Clinton [gag!] from Beirut to the Heart of American Power (a-la George Nader). As apprehensive inducing & incredulous as this appears, it is not necessarily total grounds for dismissal – I had to read the book & give her a fair shot (the incredible Sarah Chayes, another Carnegie associate who’s truly brilliant books The Punishment of Virtue &Thieves of State are a stellar example of someone in the monsters machine producing exceptional, informative & critical journalism despite their position).
Enter ambivalence! – this is an excellent book. There is a lot here & a lot of quality. It is well written too & it has a highly valuable tranche of transcripts from a huge field of contacts in the region over various periods whom provide frequently amazing content & experience. That trove alone is worth absorbing even if every other analysis is ignored or rolled through a salt-barrel. Despite my unease with ulterior underlinings, I greatly enjoyed & respect a lot of Kim’s observations & writing. There are however some very significant omissions. How you can write with such a concentric lens, scope & determination on Iran’s history since 1979 & not even once mention Mojahedin-e Khalke (MEK) is a sucking body-blow of strident incompetence at best & more likely a very deliberate omission to cover a lesser known but seminal nadir of Western sanctimony & criminal sanction (we support an entity that is on our terrorist register). The MEK story/ongoing reality is very’ very rarely touched in the West as it is so awful, so crazy & so revealing of the insane double-standards & garbage posturing on playing it straight in the west’s military peace-keeping efforts. In all honesty, & considering the context of her book & the piss-poor information/coverage this deplorable subsidy is granted in western media, this was the ideal place for a determined exposure on this important element to the Iranian saga that could of warranted a full chapter even. Ghattas has completely & utterly failed this measure by choosing to not even mention them once in the entire 334 pages. This is very telling if not “convenient”.
For those not affiliated, here is a quick run-down on MEK who were initially anti-American leftists revolutionaries that participated in the ousting of the Shah & the Islamic Revolution. They fell-out with Khomeini early, as did many, after his installment & the reality of his authoritarian theocracy dawned. The MEK ended-up setting up a military base in Iraq with the support of Saddam Hussein & launching terrorist attacks against Iran, even during the horrendous Iran/Iraq war (as in attacking Iran from Iraq). This of course gave them a uniquely treasonous status back in the country they claimed to be fighting to “liberate” (that’s Iran). It gets crazier – the MEK degenerated into a kind of “cult” with extremely peculiar protocol & requirements from its surviving members who were essentially isolated in a collective hermit existence within the military installation under the control of the increasingly mad & supercilious Massoud Rajavi & his wife Maryam Rajavi. Total obedience with the rejection of family & bodily abstinence (no sex whatsoever! literally!) is compulsory. Punishments & North Korean style “self criticism sessions” are taken to ridiculous levels, with members apparently having to atone for involuntary sexual thoughts/erections. They were labelled as a “terrorist organization” by the US & Europe, but were also being specifically protected by them & allowed to run charities on US & European soil along with official advocacy from US/UK politicians (particularly those from the rightwing/Conservative/Republican quarter). War-monger & mass murdering shit-bag John Bolton along with ultra corruptocrat Rudi Giuliani are some of the most enduring & regular representatives of MEK, which explains a lot. Some of these extraordinary “irregularities” with the US hosting, openly supporting & facilitating a para-military organization that it defined as an official terrorist entity eventually led to even further abnormality – the US secured & oversaw the transfer of the MEK from Iraq to… Albania! You what? Yeah…that’s how they do. They are their now, walled-off, unregulated, un-policed & “extracurricular”. Madder still, it looks like Massoud has died or been killed by the group? He has not been publicly seen for almost twenty years, though Maryam, who has assumed leadership, insists he is fine & that allegations of his demise are false. More alarming perhaps is the potential for serious sexual exploitation. The Rudi Giuliani, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, John Kerry & Tory weirdos that “drop by” on the sexually starved & confined members at the unmonitored MEK compounds receive special treatment. Staunch sycophancy towards the “guest” representatives is explicit & mandatory. Considering John Bolton rolls with the Zionist Organization of America (he was just bestowed with the “Defender of Israel” award by the ZOA & is already the proud owner of the “Guardian of Zion” award from 2017), aka Alan Dershowitz, who frolicked with Jeffrey Epstein, taught at the same university, represented Epstein in court (as well as Harvey Weinstein) & is accused of having sex with one of Epstein’s boldest victims – Virginia Roberts – on Epstein’s private island whilst she was a young teenager (therefore considered a minor), we all need to be seriously’ seriously concerned & proactive about this egregious anomaly & the vulnerability that the members of this “cult-like terrorist organization” are free-floating in thanks to the perverse commitment of the West. The MEK are the closest existing example I can compare to the Manson Family experiment. I attach a link to a rare & brilliant piece of journalism by Arron Merat in the Guardian’s long read as well as another staggering report by Shaun Walker on this true life surrealism.
back to Black Wave. Somehow Kim Ghattas came to the conclusion that MEK & its exceedingly disturbing surrogacy with the West was not worth a single mention in her historical overview.
Hillary Clinton & the catastrophe of Libya/death of Gaddafi feature very little also.
Another of the “more recent” mega calamities due to direct & decisive US intervention was that of Somalia & the US’s decision to destroy/oust the Islamic Council Union in 2006 when they had repelled the warlords in Somalia that had been presiding over the “failed state” for years & assumed partial control of the country. The ICU restored “order”, had massive public support & effected a form of moderate Sharia law (no amputations, no beheadings unlike our friends in Saudi Arabia who of course run an absolutist monarchy sharia dictatorship with a decapitation fetish). The Bush administration decided it did not like them & bombed them to shit (“back to the stone age”)! In their place? The atrocious Al Shabaab, a brutal salafist group of violent sharia hardliners that still plague the region today causing momentous damage. America was clearly happy with this eradication of progress & the extermination of the ICU is barely ever acknowledged or written about despite the stupendous bloodshed, ruin & misery that continues to this moment (lets just keep it at Black Hawk Down). Ghattas examines, often very well, many of the proxy conflicts of Iran & the House of Saud – Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria & a little on Yemen. Even as a foot note, there was a great opportunity here to shed some light on the infernal folly of US/Saudi intervention in Somalia, but no such effort was made in Black Wave (one mention on a single page towards the country attending a summit in Egypt is all we get). Likewise, Sudan, including the more recent bloody & vicious counter-revolutionary meddling from Saudi Arabia was unexplored.
Alas, we have a considerable & serious predicament with this book. It reads very well indeed & contains excellent journalism, – but selectively. When too embarrassing? Too risky? Or too controversial to Western public relations interests, it shies away & the ardour vanishes, reappearing on a more comfortable footing – (its all the Arabs or Persians). True, it is critical of Israel & the US, sometimes sharply so, but again, it is ultra selective, seldom & fleeting & always seemingly an after thought. The predominant picture & the larger panopticon/conclusion is essentially heaping the blame for the regions woes on Saudi & Iran singularly whilst washing much of the blood, betrayal, deceit & hypocrisy from the wests gory tank-treads (who props up Saudi I ask you?). Total fucking bullshit basically. & indeed, Saudi Arabia is a scourge in the region along with Israel. Iran after the Islamic Revolution has a lot to answer for, which this book covers very well, but considering the crimes of its assailant (particularly the USA & Israel), & the fact that really, like them or loath them, the Iranians are really constantly on the defensive against foreign attackers with persecutory or imperialist motives, what do you expect them to do? Are they allowed to do/be anything else? & in a theatre of battle/opinion where the rules they are judged by are routinely trashed to extremes by that of their opponents & persecutors who pose as the civilized mediator? Action & response, but only the “response” gets any airplay & the aggressor edits the airwaves.
So how to conclude on Black Wave? Overall, as a whole, the book is essentially dodgy, taking a quietly but sternly partial view that ignores “unwanted” areas whilst giving too much preferential slack to some of the worst actors (the US, Israel). It is debatable whether the better & more sincere research of this book (of which there is a lot) being mixed with such bias or negligent scribe is admirable, or, an act of calculated sophistry. Again, somewhat ambiguously, Black Wave contains a lot of quality writing. If you are already familiar with the true history of the region, this has a lot to offer as you will understand & identify that of which it doesn’t. Knowing that this book is very light on information in places is important (you can treat it like a compendium almost), as well as being acquainted with voices/script from non-partisan actors giving their own accounts in full. In the hands of a novice though, this shit can be dangerous, & lead to inclination & insular, inaccurate perceptions of the area’s history & the agents that bare responsibility.
Kim Ghattas, 2020, Wildfire, 334 pages
second MEK article by Shaun Walker is here – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/15/trump-allies-visit-throws-light-on-secretive-iranian-opposition-group-mek