Editor’s Note: As a popular uprising challenges the pro-U.S. dictatorship in Egypt, Washington’s cynical strategy of talking about democracy while relying on repressive Arab regimes to maintain order is entering a dangerous moment.
The course of this history could have been quite different, as Jeff Cohen notes in this guest essay:
In the last year of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. questioned U.S. military interventions against progressive movements in the Third World by invoking a JFK quote: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
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For decades beginning during the Cold War, U.S. policy in the Islamic world has been aimed at suppressing secular reformist and leftist movements.
Beginning with the CIA-engineered coup against a secular democratic reform government in Iran in 1953 (it was about oil), Washington has propped up dictators, coaching these regimes in the black arts of torture and mayhem against secular liberals and the Left.
In these dictatorships, often the only places where people had freedom to meet and organize were mosques — and out of these mosques sometimes grew extreme Islamist movements. The Shah’s torture state in Iran was brilliant at cleansing and murdering the Left – a process that helped the rise of the Khomeini movement and ultimately Iran’s Islamic Republic.
Growing out of what M.L. King called Washington’s “irrational, obsessive anti-communism,” U.S. foreign policy also backed extreme Islamists over secular movements or government that were either Soviet-allied or feared to be.