Home/Daniel Larison/Why the “Martyr-State” Myth Survives

Why the “Martyr-State” Myth Survives

Greg Scoblete comments on Cantor’s use of the “martyr-state” myth that Iran will invite its own destruction with a nuclear first-strike:

This is an extraordinary claim, given that no nuclear state has launched an unprovoked nuclear strike against another country no matter how bitter the rivalry. Of course, it’s possible that Iran’s leaders may decide to do something that’s clearly insane, but the weight of historical evidence against this claim is enormous and self-evident. Pakistan has not nuked India (or vice-versa). The U.S. and Soviet Union avoided nuclear war, despite some harrowingly close calls. States that obtain nuclear weapons, with the single exception of the United States during World War II, do not use them.

If Cantor believes Iran will break this pattern, he needs to back it up with serious evidence, not a wave of the hand.

That will be difficult, since the evidence for this claim doesn’t exist. Cantor’s assumption that “Iran’s leaders would make good on their call to wipe Israel off the map” is based on little more than a badly distorted understanding of Shi’ism and a generic belief that “those people over there” are crazy and unpredictable. More than a few Iran hawks find the idea that Iran’s government would intentionally commit suicide more plausible than the idea that Iran’s leadership is capable of rational decision-making. Add in a major misinterpretation of the regime’s ideology, and you get the “martyr-state” myth that Cantor and many other hawks take for granted. This is how Iran hawks can imagine that a regime that is concerned above all with its own self-preservation would commit an unprecedented act of self-destruction: they ignore the overwhelming amount of evidence that undermines the myth, and then simply assert falsehoods as fact because there is no real political penalty to be paid for making things up about an unfriendly government. Thus the “martyr-state” myth survives and keeps being recycled among Iran hawks despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense.

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.

leave a comment

Latest Articles