Foreign Affairs

The Brigands of Tehran

Isolating, deceiving and abusing Leading Seaman Faye Turney to speak on television and to write in a letter to her parents in support of the falsehoods of Tehran is a recognizable pattern for gangsters.

The Islamic Republic of Iran now demonstrates that it in the hands of brittle, criminal minds who use no better than the methods of Raisuli, the brigand of Morocco, a century ago.

Recall that John Milius made a thrilling Hollywood movie 30 years ago, "The Wind and the Lion," 1975, based upon his screenplay of the famous 1904 incident at Tangier. What was wrong with the Milius version is now apparent in the crisis of the 15 abducted British military personnel. Milius chose to substitute Candace Bergen and two children for the historically accurate victims of Ion Pedicaris and his step-son Cromwell Varley. This permitted Hollywood’s version to feature a flirtation between Sean Connery’s Scot’s brogue Raisuli and Bergen’s blue-stocking Eden Pedicaris. It was witty and historically impossible.

The historical Raisuli was a knavish warlord who routinely abducted Europeans in order to gain concessions. In the Pedicaris affair of May and June, 1904, Raisuli grabbed the elderly and wealthy Pedicaris and his heir Varley in order to force the flimsy Sultan of Tangier to stop harassing Raisuli’s depredations in the district.

Raisuli would no more have abducted a female than he would have violated any of the superstitions of a Moslem warlord. In Morocco in 1904, females were not recognized as adversaries; females were treated as property, as if they were prized slaves.

Fresh-faced and brave Turney is a problem for the Mahdists of Tehran. In their haunted, corrupt minds, they must not make war on a female, because defeating her does not aggrandize them. In this they are exactly the same as Raisuli. However there is a turn here, for the Mahdists have found a way to manipulate Turney to their advantage. After British Prime Minister Tony Blair directed a logical, fact-filled response to the falsehoods of Tehran about the location of the boarding party when they were abducted on March 23, demonstrating with graphics and candor that the IRGC behaved illegally in its attack, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran communicated that Turney was to be released presently.

Mottaki did not speak as a rational fellow admitting to a mistake, nor did he speak out of compassion for Turney, a 26 year-old mother of an infant. Mottaki spoke in a sinister fashion, because he knew that keeping Turney was spooking his IRGC maestros, and because he also knew that the Mahdists had manufactured Turney’s televised and written confessions of falsehoods. Mottaki also knew that Turney had been abused for several days, isolated, deprived of her uniform, forced to war the garb of a disenfranchised human being, and then tricked into writing her parents with bad information.

In sum, Mottaki knew, as did the IRGC, and the mullahs of Qom on the Council of Elders, that Tehran was planning a propaganda campaign against the coalition by using a completely helpless human being as a tool for taunting the British government and people.

Raisuli used exactly the same course of actions. On May 25,1904, seven days after Pedicaris and Varley were abducted, Raisuli permitted Pedicaris to write to the London Times correspondent at Tangier, a letter that Raisuli had delivered by rider. "We are both in good health. Raisuli does his best for us. It is very encouraging to know that you and other friends are acting on our behalf."

Compare this exactly to the remarks Turney voiced in her televised confession: "They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, good people. They explained to us why we had been arrested. There was no aggression, no hurt, no harm. They were very, very compassionate."

Also consider that in another letter, Pedicaris managed to convey that he and Varley were kept in a single room all day, allowed little exercise, and were eating poorly, losing weight.

The facts are that Turney has been isolated, stripped of her uniform, deprived of her comrades and kept from meeting with representatives of her government, all of which are the actions of torturers. The facts are that Turney, forced into the costume of a slave, is also forced into appearing in civilian clothing, which means that she can be treated as an espionage agent and not as a soldier of a sovereign state. The facts are that Turney has been tormented by bullies and pranksters who make war on defenseless human beings in order to satisfy their passion for supremacy.

In 1904, the European powers did not hesitate to respond to Raisuli. America at the command of TR and John Hay, acted with haste. The New York Times page one, column one headline, on May 26 tells the tale, "American Marines, May Invade Morocco, Two Squadrons of Seven Warships to Tangiers, Full Powers to Admirals, Authorized to Send Expedition to Effect Release of Captives of Bandit Raisuli."

In the end, after the famous telegram from Hay to Tangier: "We want either Pedicaris alive or Rais Uli dead," a pay off and compromise was reached on June 25. Raisuli returned Pedicaris and Varley to Tangier, in poor condition but alive.

None of this happened without considerable threat of armed conflict in Morocco; and also none of this happened isolated from a world of ominous, forewarning headlines, such as the Japanese closing on the surrounded Russians at Port Arthur, such as the bandit White Wolf preying on the Chinese people. Those who fret over war-making in the world now are no different from those who fretted over war-making in the world a century ago; and perhaps what comes of worry now will be the same as then, a reluctant irony. The villains show themselves boldly and purposefully — witness Tehran — and pretending otherwise does not make the world safer, just as, once upon a time, it did not make the Japanese Empire peaceful, or the Tsarist Empire stable, or the East Asian anarchy sufferable.

Tehran’s treatment of Turney is depraved. What begins so badly is not going to get better without action. Tehran still holds 15 soldiers of Britain, 15 allies of the United States of America, and we can presume the worst until we have better facts. Isolated, tricked, unclothed, abused, threatened, all to advance the irrational vision of the Mahdists that chaos must reign before the Invisible Mahdi will return to rejedward the faithful with Paradise.

America of 1904 sent two squadrons of seven warships each to Tangiers and gave full powers to the commanders on the scene. There are two carrier battle groups, Stennis and Eisenhower, off the shores of Iran right now. There are several Marine regiments in Iraq. What are the orders that TR and Hay would give?


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