Lesson from the Laughing Cossacks
The Cossacks had recently defeated the Ottoman army of Sultan Mehmet IV. Yet the Sultan wrote them a pompous letter demanding the surrender of the Christian Cossacks. The letter read:
As the Sultan; son of Mohammed; brother of the Sun and Moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God himself; the hope and comfort of Moslems; confounder and great defender of Christians-I command you, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
(signed) Sultan Mehmet IV
The painting by Russian artist, Ilya Repin, depicts the Cossacks in a hilarious mood as they composed a reply to the Turkish Sultan, head of the last great Muslim empire. What lesson about democracy and dictatorship can be drawn from this painting?
A major defect of authoritarian and totalitarian governments is that the ruler at the top is often in the dark. Information flow to the top is filtered through many layers of officials who are often afraid to tell their boss the truth. Obviously, Sultan Mehmet's generals dared not tell his boss that his army had suffered a severe defeat. They may have told him that he had won a great victory albeit at a heavy cost. That would explain why Mehmet IV sent such a pompous letter to the Cossacks who received it with such merriment.
This reminds me of the Iraqi Information Minister, also known affectionately as Baghdad Bob.
The Iraqi Disinformation Minister:
Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf
The whole world was laughing at him when his reports of the Iraqi war were so far from reality. This sort of thing happens in nearly all dictatorships because the people below are afraid to tell the Big Boss the truth.
Thus Chairman Mao did not know his Great Leap Forward was a failure till he saw starving people dropping dead on the streets. Mussolini believed he had a powerful air force when his generals showed him acres of warplanes but did not tell him that most could not fly.
The results of this ignorance at that top often leads to disaster. For Mehmet IV, had he known that his armies suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Cossacks, he might have tried to improve the Turkish army before sending them to attack Vienna in 1683. The result was defeat at the hands of Johan Sobieski III, King of Poland.
In the case of Saddam Hussein, he probably genuinely believed that he had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Otherwise, I can think of no reason for him to expel UN inspectors in 1998. My guess is that his people were afraid to tell him the truth that he had no nuclear program worth talking about. Unfortunately for him, the expulsion led the US to believe that he genuinely was hiding something. This may have cost him his life.
The good thing about democracy is that people are not afraid to tell their leaders the truth. But freedom of speech is under attack in many western democracies. To win votes from Muslim immigrants, votrepreneurs (politicians)in some western democracies tried to pass laws that stifle free speech such as Britain's Religious Hatred Act, which fortunately was watered down from the original.
Thus for me, the famous painting of the Zaporozhian Cossacks represents the value of free speech. But some votrepreneurs seem to forget this. During the Danish cartoon affair, they apologized instead of defending free speech.
Finally, I have saved the best for last. I am sure that you, gentle reader, are interested to know what the Cossacks said in reply to the Sultan. Here it is:
Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil's kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you, that can't slay a hedgehog with his naked arse? The devil sh*ts, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we've no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, you mother-f***er.
You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-f***er of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, Armenian pig, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our d*ck. Pig's snout, mare's arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, go f*** your own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won't even be herding Christian pigs. Now we'll conclude, for we don't know the date and don't own a calendar; the moon's in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day's the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
(signed) Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.
I wish the votrepreneurs were as eloquent as the Cossacks when it comes to defending free speech.