Demonizing Iran During the Coronavirus

Coronavirus - Covid-19

Sergio Santos

Coronavirus - Covid-19

Yesterday Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions against Iran as that country faces a massive coronavirus outbreak that could lead to the death of 3.5 million Iranians. This action, which will significantly impair Iran’s ability to respond to the crisis, is immoral and must be immediately rescinded. Our duty not as “Americans” but as human beings calls for us to relate to every fellow human as a Thou and to reach out to every suffering Iranian with compassion and assistance.

How can Pompeo sever his inherent link as a fellow human to those who are suffering and dying in Iran? Here is my understanding: Drawn into himself and cut off from his own humanity by the performative roles in which he has been entrapped by his own conditioning, Pompeo feels compelled to be a “hard male” who must inflate his own toughness, lest his true vulnerability be revealed, and his own unrealized longing for love and tenderness come bursting to the surface of his being, subjecting him to what he imagines to be the threat of utter humiliation. Unconscious of the withdrawal of his true, vulnerable human presence, he identifies with the floating actor—the hard male—on the outside of himself through which he denies who he really is. To keep up the pretense of this false self, he must keep inflating his own toughness, re-enacting it repeatedly under the unconscious pressure of the true longing within him.

That is what might be called the personal level of his flight from authentic Being, imposed on him by his own childhood and the wider culture, like a stamp. And that same deflection of presence then takes place in his grasp of the world of others, his mental picture of the false-we that he imagines himself to be among and one of. When Pompeo identifies with the Trump slogan and wants to make America great again, he is displacing his true relation to other human beings, to the actual human beings around him, into an imaginary community of “Americans” which exists in a picture-land in his mind. This picture-land, because it is merely a mental picture that masks his own actual sense of isolation, must—like his own hard-male personal identification—be constantly puffed up to prevent it from deflating into nothing and revealing his vulnerability to the real others he actually exists in relation to. That is why he feels he must make the picture-land great again, or keep it great: this America is an inflated balloon with a small hole in it that requires perpetual inflation, lest Pompeo fall back into and have to reveal the vulnerable soul that he actually is, anticipating humiliation by the actual others around him. 

It is from within this fusion of the false self and the false-we, the compensatory personal self and collective self, that Pompeo perceives “Iran,” as an imaginary vehicle of demonization that can support both his hard-male shell and its great American collective counterpart. For the false-we that suppresses and substitutes for real, supple, vulnerable relations with the other human beings here with us must always demonize some other in order to inflate itself. And Iran—as opposed to actual living breathing Iranian human beings whom Pompeo does not actually experience in their human reality—is at the moment the carrier in the imaginary of the other who must be demonized and dominated. 

Thus when Pompeo imposes sanctions on Iran in the midst of the immense fear and suffering being endured by the actual Iranian people, he is not experiencing their true humanity as fellow embodiments of human presence, as actual persons longing for assistance and calling upon us for recognition. He rather hardens himself in his outer performance and turns the Iranian into a mere “imago”—a figure in the mind against whom he can leverage up both his own false personal self and the false collective we that he imagines he is acting for in his official capacity.  

Only an encounter with true humans, perhaps rising up in a social movement of love and resistance, or perhaps reaching out to him with an open heart in a moment of loss of a child or other loved one, or other comparable essential alteration of his social field can begin to provide Pompeo with the true human recognition that might elicit Pompeo’s true human presence and bring it into the light where it can actually dare to be seen, releasing the compassion within him. But in the current situation of the coronavirus, and in the absence of such an opportunity for healing grace, we must call upon our own moral presence to exert collective moral pressure on him to reverse his decision whether he wants to or not. These immoral sanctions will be more difficult to sustain in the face of our public insistence on this simple moral truth: that the Iranians suffering and dying are actual human beings exactly like we are, not the demons or potential vanquishers that they appear as in the world of Pompeo’s fear-saturated imagination.

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