How Totalitarianism Works: ISIS and U.N. Edition

Inside the Islamist “Police State.” What’s the goal behind the Islamic State’s carnage? The group seeks what jihadists all seek: totalitarian enslavement. This perceptive story at the Daily Beast illustrates how ISIS has adopted techniques honed by past totalitarian regimes. A flavor:

[The tactics of ISIS] are the equivalent of the Moscow show trials mounted in Stalinist Russia or the mass killings ordered by the Khmer Rouge’s Pol Pot. . . . The Islamic militants have established multiple layers of repression, from Sharia judges to a police force and an intelligence apparatus that relies on an army of informers. That this is hardly unique to ISIS is, precisely, the point. It has learned all the lessons of totalitarianism.

Inside the “Dictators’ Mutual Praise Club.” What’s it like when members of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council meet in Geneva over tea and biscuits? On the agenda, you might be surprised to hear, was the Islamic totalitarian regime in Iran. It was Tehran’s turn to be subjected to a “Universal Periodic Review, or UPR, a process that invites all member states to judge each other’s rights records,” reports Sohrab Ahmari in the Wall Street Journal. How did it go? True to custom, the delegate from the Stalin-esque dictatorship of North Korea spoke up (that regime has literally starved its own people in order to build a vast military and nuclear capability). North Korea “praised Iran for its ‘commendable achievements’ in human rights.” The Syrian regime — yes, it remains a member of the U.N.’s rights-protection council — put forward some thoughts on Tehran.

The Syrians commended Tehran for “the adoption of new law and regulations” that allegedly promote human rights. Sudan “warmly welcomed” Iran’s human-rights progress in the face of international sanctions. Zimbabwe hailed Iran’s adoption of human-rights-friendly textbooks.

No organization committed to rights could properly include among its members Syria, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, just a handful of the dictatorships and totalitarian regimes at the United Nations. Ahmari pointedly asks “how the cause of human rights is served by America’s legitimating presence as the world’s despots rub shoulders and sip tea together.” The U.N.’s Human Right Council is a monstrous fraud.


The toasts to Iran provide a glimpse at another feature of how dictatorships (including the totalitarian ones) operate. Such regimes fear moral scrutiny and seek to escape it. They have every reason to obscure their violations of rights and deflect. And with much strain, they grasp for any fleck of a veneer of legitimacy. They want to be known as decent, even as they enslave and exploit their subjects. That sort of cover is amply supplied at the United Nations, not only at the “dictators’ mutual praise club” (in Ahmari’s apt phrase) but also by the fact of membership in the organization itself.