Conversations at the Hollywoodism Conference

Here’s a report I wrote on the ‘Conversations’ which were held at the Third International Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran. I am editing the videos with my friend and documentary film-maker, Saber, and hope to have the actual videos posted before too long, inshallah.

The Conversations

The idea behind the Conversations was to try to get more out of the conference than just the usual fair, where one person speaks and everyone else listens, with perhaps a few minutes of Q&A at the end. There were so many people of a high caliber invited, so many with whom I would love to have a conversation with about their areas of expertise, that I thought, why not make an allowance for this during the conference itself (rather than on the sidelines or in the evening hours, where time is limited and people are tired anyway). So we rented a few extra suites, arranged furniture and lighting and microphones and cameras and cameramen in them, and before we knew it we had a few well-equipped improvised studios in the Azadi Hotel, right where the conference was being held. I have transcribed all of the conversations which I lead, some of it being exact word for word transcriptions, other passages being fairly loose paraphrases, and other passages still being extrapolations and elaborations of the ideas talked about by the participants. You will find the common thread in all of these conversations to be radical or deep critiques of the current paradigm, together with possible approaches to forging new ones. The conversations which I led and for which I have written synopses (see below) were the following:

The Decline of the West
Judaism and the Jewish Question
Tradition and Modernity

Other Conversation topics included:

Traditional Ethical Values versus those of the Dominant Hollywood Paradigm
Activism and Alternative Media as Catalysts for Change
9-11 Ten Years On
Comparative Shi’a and Catholic Dogmatic Theology

Full biographies of the participants are given at the end of the Conversation overviews.  


I was really looking forward to this Conversation, because here I was in the presence of two giants of geopolitical analysis, William Engdahl and Mateus Piskorski, as well as the world’s leading authority on Binary Economics and new paradigm thinking, Professor Rodney Shakespeare. The Conversation naturally lends itself to a tripartite division: Part 1: Overview; Part 2: Color Revolutions (Mateus’s expertise); and Part 3: Geography and the Political Economy.

Part 1: Overview
William starts out by giving a brief history of geopolitics. In 1904 Halford Mackinder gave a paper on “‘The Geographical Pivot of History” at the Royal Geographical Society, where he asserted that there was a relationship between a nation’s geography and its ability to project political power. And this, William says, was the beginning of the science of geopolitics. His next major work, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction, appeared in 1919. It presented his theory of the Heartland and made a case for fully taking into account geopolitical factors at the Paris Peace conference and contrasted (geographical) reality with Woodrow Wilson’s idealism. The book’s most famous quote was: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” The inverse of this thesis is that sea-power, or the British, must prevent the Heartland, or Russia, from controlling Eastern Europe and the World Island.

Mateus took up the story of geopolitics, talking about the Swedish geoanalyst, Rudolf Kjellen, and his notion of the state as a living organism, which needs, among other things, lebensraum. He also talked about the Russian expatriate Eurasianists and their doctrine about Russia’s unique position, adding cultural, spiritual and civilizational dimensions into the geopolitical mix. Mateus also mentioned the Marxists who, although rejecting geopolitics on ideological ground, nevertheless did not fail to take it into account, as in the case where Stalin decided he could not have Greece despite the strong presence of the Communists there, because he knew that Britain as the predominant Sea Power could not afford to abandon Greece, which naturally falls in the ambit of the Periphery rather than the Heartland, to Russia. Mateus finished his opening by ridiculing the Neocon Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of the end of history, stating that everyone knew that the fall of the Berlin Wall was actually the beginning of history, and the beginning of a renaissance of geopolitical thinking.

Having heard this Heartland theory and the distinction it draws between the Heartland and the Periphery, the “carving up” of what was then known as “Persia” into a Russian and British spheres of influence modus vivendi became clear to me. Another point that Mateus made which I found to be fascinating is that Novosibirsk, the third most populous city in Russia, is located in the center of gravity of the geographical landmass which Mackinder called the World Island, and that a proposal had been made at one time to move the capital there for this very reason. Furthermore, according to Mateus, the missile batteries of the main Russian missile defense system are arrayed around this very center.

I move the conversation on from general definitions to the distinction between an independent power, a protectorate (which has control over its internal affairs, but falls under the suzerainty of a greater power when it comes to international relations, and a colony. I state that it seems to me that Iran is the only power “from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean” with any strategic depth and independence, to which the panel agrees. William continues the story of geopolitics using the examples of the Darcy Concession and the Berlin-Baghdad Railway as examples of geopolitical projects. Mateus picks up where I left off, stating the whole notion of statehood and independence which was defined by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) no longer obtains, and it is certainly legitimate to ask whether the United States itself is independent in the classical sense of the term, or are there those who control the decision-makers? Mateus cites the US-China relationship of co-dependence as another example of the new emerging paradigm, and closes by stating that the possession of nuclear weapons is an important factor in a nation’s independence.

I ask a rather general and long-winded question: Has Iran been playing its geopolitical cards well? Is Iran in the vanguard of the fight for justice and equity in the world, or is it merely a lightning rod, attracting static to itself? How is it that Venezuela is able to get away with thumbing her nose at Uncle Sam in his back yard and not only not have any sanctions levied against her, but is able to sell her oil directly at the retail level with its nationally-owned chain of Citgo gas stations, whereas Iran is in the terrible state that it is in? Is it because of Iran’s Pan-Islamic ideology and support for Hamas and Hezbollah? Would it make a difference if Iran gave up such support, as some seem to think? Should Iran just keep to strengthening the Shi’a Fortress of which she is in the center, and let the Sunni world alone? After all, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mash’al, left Syria when the going got tough there, and ended up in Doha, Qatar, rather than in Tehran, Iran…

William takes this first. He says that the first thing we have to realize is that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, US foreign policy has been following the policy spelled out by Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard. The foreign policy establishment, furthermore, have been pursuing a policy of Full-Spectrum Dominance since the Neocon takeover. Thus, although there are serious issues and obstacles to a full-blown cooperation between what he calls The Iron Triangle of Moscow, Peking and Tehran, there is the common interest of all in resisting a single hegemon. William concludes by stating that he does not believe that Iran is playing its cards and its role as a center of resistance as consciously as it could be.

Mateus picked up my question next and answered by pointing out firstly that Iran’s geographical location is almost exactly in the center of what Brzezinski calls the ‘Greater Middle East’, i.e. the area from Morocco to the West, to North-Western China in the East, or the Islamic World, basically. He then went on to state that Brzezinski’s policy prescription for the Greater Middle East is Balkanization and chaos. Why? He asks, and proceeds to answer his own question. Because such a policy would wreak havoc with the interests of the only three powers that are possible rivals to United States ascendancy: Europe, Russia and China. Libya and now Syria have wreaked havoc on Europe already due to the influx of illegal immigration, drugs, crime and terrorism. Georgia and the north Caucasus are cited as examples of interference in Russian affairs. And support for the Hezb ot-Tahrir in the Xian Yang region of China is the US’s attempt at destabilization of its greatest rival. Iran as a portal to the soft underbelly of Russia, and also as the main obstacle to this policy of destabilization puts her in the US’s cross-hairs.

Part 2: Color Revolutions

I start off this section asking if the panel believes that the Brzezinski Doctrine of Chaos for the Greater Middle East is actual US foreign policy? To the vigorous nods of Mateus and Rodney, William responds with the statement that the Arab Spring is this policy at work, and that the plans for it had “been sitting in a drawer in the Pentagon for nearly two decades.” What evidence do we have for that?? I ask, incredulous. “Oh, ample evidence.” William says, then goes on to list the NGO’s active in Tunisia nad Egypt such as the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House, crowd manipulation using Twitter and Facebook technologies, the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Egyptian armed forces was at the Pentagon on the first day the Egyptian demonstrations started and remained there for three days, and the involvement of Gene Sharp, George Soros and the CIA. William adds that Iran was a victim of such manipulation in its 2009 presidential election cycle.

Mateus states that Gene Sharp is the theoretician behind the color revolutions and so-called non-violent warfare. His thesis is that it is cheaper in terms economic and diplomatic terms as well as in terms of human lives, and it is a method that can be used where the projection of hard power is not possible, such as in the Warsaw Pact countries after the fall of the Soviet Union. William states that its name of non-violent warfare notwithstanding (which garners images of Gandhi and Thoreau), what it actually is, is the “weaponization of human rights NGO’s. These NGO’s are private, but at the same time, funded by the US Government, giving plausible deniability to the CIA.

Sanctions, it is noted in passing, are defined by Joseph Nye as projections of hard, not soft, power. I talk about the “revolving door” that exists for executives of these “human rights” NGO’s and positions in the State Department, White House, UN, and Pentagon, even. William agrees and adds something about the “swarming” techniques used to create “spontaneous” demonstrations using Twitter, Facebook and teletexting. Mateus talks about his being a personal eye witness to these techniques being used, the “command and control centers” being laptops in a Kiev café.

William continues his litany of evidence for the Arab Spring being a Pentagon operation by citing the comical example of the head of the “Syrian Observatory of Human Rights” being a London-based street vendor of kebabs who was not even aware that his identity was being used for this nefarious purpose. Another blatant example cited is the case of Novalni, the “hero” of the anti-Putin movement, who just happens also to be on the payroll of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Part 3: Geography and the Political Economy

Rodney starts off the discussion with a brief definition of capitalism and the origins and history of fractional-reserve banking, starting with the Bank of Amsterdam in the mid-17th century, and the Bank of England later in that same century. He then poses the questions: Who creates money? For what purpose? Is justice a consideration in the process?

One important distinction becomes clear very early: the difference between the role of nationally-owned central banks, as is the case in William’s Iron Triangle of Beijing, Moscow and Tehran, and those of privately-owned ones, as obtains in the capital of Europe and the United States. It is stated with a heavy dollop of irony that central banks must be “independent”… of the people. Rodney adds that it is the misnomers that the capitalist system is (a) efficient, and (b) just that allows the system to sustain itself.

I wonder aloud whether, with the demise of Anglo-American liberal democratic capitalism, we are transitioning from a system that is based on privately-owned (elitist) central banking and a geopolitics based on the tension between Heartland and Periphery, to one based on publicly-owned (autonomous) central banking and a geopolitics based on William’s Iron Triangle of the Heartland. Rodney says that we are not there yet, but that certainly we are transitioning from a unipolar to a multi-polar world. William says that undoubtedly the dollar-based system is bankrupt, and Mateus, in affirmation, quips that IMF and World Bank policies are not “shock therapy”, as is claimed, but “shock” without the “therapy”! and ends on a note of optimism that countries such as Iran, Belarus and Venezuela are countries searching for alternative systems wherein national political considerations and interests trump international and economic ones, and that public interests outweigh private ones.

William also ends on an optimistic note, stating that Chuck Hegel’s nomination as Defense Secretary is a harbinger of a geopolitical shift in US policy, and signals a de-escalation of US projects such as the Arab Spring, al-Qaida operations (which might even mean regime change in Saudi Arabia), and a de-emphasis of the whole jihadist-based destabilization project and a shift of emphasis or a pivot toward east Asia. I say that I certainly hope he is right, as China can take the heat and God knows we in Iran have been taking it for far too long.


2 thoughts on “Conversations at the Hollywoodism Conference

  1. If I fail to get my garden in, or to get a tenant for my house, I shall blame it all on you.

    I am even now trying to find a copy of “The Geographical Pivot of History.” I have only a keyhole-view into American universities; I suppose they study these concepts, but they are entirely new concepts to me. What’s more interesting — the hasbarats are still ruminating on Abraham-Hussein-Hitler; you have stolen a march.

    I still feel badly that I let you down on your translation, earlier. This material is related to things that I know a little bit about; I intend to master the topic.

    Now if you’ll pardon me, while you are busy at editing the Hollywoodism conference (hurry!), I have some reading to do.

    Thank you for sharing this, Arash. It looks rich. Wish I could have been there.



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