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Santorum’s Deeply Embedded Ignorance

Eli Clifton draws attention to Santorum’s repetition of the “martyr state myth” regarding Iran. Santorum said this on Sunday:

They’re a — they’re a theocracy. They’re a theocracy that has deeply embedded beliefs that — that the afterlife is better than this life. President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said the principal virtue of the Islamic Republic of Iran is martyrdom.

So when your principal virtue is to die for your — for Allah, then it’s not a deterrent to have a nuclear threat, if they would use a nuclear weapon. It is, in fact, an encouragement for them to use their nuclear weapon. And that’s why there’s a difference between the Soviet Union and China and others and Iran.

There are several things wrong with Santorum’s answer. There is a significant difference between valuing martyrdom and actively courting destruction. Anyone even passingly familiar with the emphasis that Shi’ites place on martyrdom because of the fate of Husayn at Karbala can understand that official Iranian affirmations of the importance of martyrdom is not an endorsement of mass suicide through first-strike use of nuclear weapons. There is the additional problem that any state, even a self-proclaimed revolutionary one, is interested above everything else in its own survival. No regime deliberately embarks on a course that it knows for certain will lead to its annihilation. Whatever the official doctrine or ideology of the state may be, even a revolutionary state is not going to take action that it knows will trigger an overwhelming, devastating response. Finally, there is the small problem that Iranian leaders have repeatedly stated that it is forbidden to use nuclear weapons. Santorum wants us to take very seriously the “deeply embedded beliefs” of Iran’s clerics, but he wants us to ignore their explicit statements ruling out the use of the weapons that he thinks they are eager to use.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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