I was doing some research on the Iranian Revolution last night, and came across this terrible incident, which I’d never heard of before:
On August 19, 1978, in the Cinema Rex fire, the Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, was set ablaze, killing over 400 individuals.
The ruling [Shah's] government of Iran reported that Islamic militants set the fire, while the anti-Shah protesters blamed the intelligence service of the nation, SAVAK for setting the fire. Later it was disclosed that Islamic militants set the Cinema Rex fire.
The Islamists’ motivation seems to have been two-fold: to strike a blow against such modern abominations as the cinema, and to blame the Shah’s forces for the deaths. And it turns out that, although I’d never heard of the event (and my guess would be that most of you have never heard of it either), it was a potent and important motivator in helping to spark the Iranian Revolution of 1979:
The Islamists alleged that SAVAK agents were in pursuit of individuals who ran into the movie theatre locked the doors of the cinema, and a fire was started in the theatre presumably by the fugitives. Unable to escape from the building, everyone inside the cinema died as a result of the conflagration.
However, the truth seems to have been that it was four Islamists who locked the doors and started the fire.
I mention the incident because it illustrates a few things I’ve known for a while but that have become even more apparent lately. One is the depth of misinformation and/or ignorance that we have about so many events, although they could teach us valuable lessons about revolutions and history in general. The details are important, but they are the first to get lost or twisted, if they ever were known at all. Another is the duplicitous extremes to which fanatics will go, and the enormous difficulty of finding the truth.
In the title of this post, I referred to the Reichstag fire of 1933, a seminal event in the history of the Nazi takeover of Germany, exploited by Hitler in order to declare a state of emergency which gave him extraordinary powers. For the almost eighty years since the event, its provenance has been argued almost incessantly:
Historians disagree as to whether Van der Lubbe [a Dutch Communist who was executed for the crime] acted alone or whether the arson was planned and ordered by the Communists or by the Nazis, then dominant in the government themselves, as a false flag operation. The responsibility for the Reichstag fire remains an ongoing topic of debate and research.
It’s doubtful that we’ll ever know the truth. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Whatever the truth may be, it is undoubtedly correct that the Nazis were poised to take full advantage of the turmoil that ensued in Germany in the wake of the Reichstag fire, and that they wasted no time in doing so. Unfortunately, tyrannical fanatics are often well-organized, much more so than their righteous opponents, and far more willing to do whatever it takes to ascend to power and make sure they stay there.
[NOTE: Here's more about SAVAK and truth.]