US diplomatic cable on Iranian “egoists”

(Photo via sanfranciscosentinel.com)

(Photo via sanfranciscosentinel.com)

Here is an interesting discovery from the 250,000 documents released to the media by Wikileaks on Sunday: a message from a soon-to-be diplomatic hostage seized when Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

Bruce Laingen was a top US diplomat in Iran. In a cable written in August 1979, he points out what he believes are the “underlying cultural and psychological qualities of Iranians.”

His writing reeks of Orientalism. He says Iranians are irrational egoists who live in a state of pervasive unease.

Take a look at some of the highlights:

PERHAPS THE SINGLE DOMINANT ASPECT OF THE PERSIAN
PSYCHE IS AN OVERRIDING EGOISM. ITS ANTECEDENTS LIE
IN THE LONG IRANIAN HISTORY OF INSTABILITY AND INSECURITY
WHICH PUT A PREMIUM ON SELF-PRESERVATION. THE PRACTICAL
EFFECT OF IT IS AN ALMOST TOTAL PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION
WITH SELF AND LEAVES LITTLE ROOM FOR UNDERSTANDING POINTS OF VIEW OTHER THAN ONE’S OWN.

THE REVERSE OF THIS PARTICULAR PSYCHOLOGICAL COIN,
AND HAVING THE SAME HISTORICAL ROOTS AS PERSIAN EGOISM,
IS A PERVASIVE UNEASE ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE WORLD IN
WHICH ONE LIVES.

COUPLED WITH THESE PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS IS A GENERAL INCOMPREHENSION OF CASUALITY. ISLAM, WITH ITS EMPHASIS ON THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD, APPEARS TO ACCOUNT
AT LEAST IN MAJOR PART FOR THIS PHENOMENON.

THIS SAME QUALITY ALSO HELPS EXPLAIN PERSIAN
AVERSION TO ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY FOR ONE’S OWN
ACTIONS.

FINALLY, ONE SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR THE THREAT
OF BREAKDOWN IN NEGOTIATIONS AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT AND NOT BE COWED BY THE POSSIBLITY. GIVEN THE PERSIAN
NEGOTIATOR’S CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS, HE
IS GOING TO RESIST THE VERY CONCEPT OF A RATIONAL
(FROM THE WESTERN POINT OF VIEW) NEGOTIATING PROCESS.

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