Of all the things Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and de-facto leader knows, his audience is one of them. On his extended tour of the US, Muhammad bin Salman has demonstrated that he is acutely aware of the following:
1. In the US “Israel” is popular, even among people who don’t understand its violent foundation.
2. In the US Iran is feared, even though few understand anything about Iranian history or its contemporary political system.
3. Saudi Arabia is not incredibly popular among ordinary people either, but if a Saudi leader talks in the American vernacular this could change.
Bearing these general traits of his audience in mind, Muhamamd bin Salman has been masterful at giving his audience what they want to hear, all for the purpose of winning Americans over, while also helping to diversify the Saudi geopolitical and economic portfolio.
Now though, in a deeply offensive statement, he has shown his ability to do something that both ordinary Americans and US pundits have been doing almost non-stop since the 2016 US election: comparing anyone they don’t like to fascist leader Adolf Hitler.
When asked about Iran and its Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Muhammad bin Salman stated,
“I believe the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good. Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. … The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world”.
Of course, this comparison is patently absurd as Hitler invaded, annexed or occupied, the majority of Europe during the course of his time in power, while Iran under Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his predecessor have invaded, occupied and annexed exactly zero countries. Furthermore, no reasonable observer believes Iran has any ambitions of conquest in the style of Hitler.
But for Muhammad bin Salman, it does not matter whether he believes his absurd statement or not and what’s more is that he probably knows it. Instead, he appears to be keenly aware that the nature of simplistic online debates tends to degenerate into Hitler comparisons sooner or later, as anyone who has attempted to debate politics on social media knows all too well.
There’s actually a name for the phenomenon. It is called Godwin’s law, named for lawyer and author Mike Godwin who stated,
“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1”.
Because much of the public political debate on US mainstream media is hardly more sophisticated than an online debate, Muhamamd bin Salman seems to have realised that ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ and thus, since someone would inevitably compare something to Hitler, it might as well be he who does it vis-a-vis the state that Saudi Arabia hates most.
In reality, the further history moves on from the 1940s, the less and less accurate any comparisons of contemporary leaders are to Hitler. As fascism was and remains a quintessentially European supremacist movement, the places that neo-fascism is in most common are in countries striving to prove their European heritage on a far-right basis. Thus, if anyone’s regime should be compared to Hitler, one should start with post-coup Ukraine as this is a regime whose leaders and supporters actively use the insignia, language and specific philosophy associated with Hitler’s Nazi movement.
Ironically, western media pundits rarely assign the Hitler comparison to the regime that most actively drapes itself in fascist iconography. In this sense, the 21st century is a place where the ill informed see Hitler everywhere except where his ideological progeny actually are.
Muhammad bin Salman probably realises this as every indication is that he is a far more intelligent leader than most of his predecessors. If anything, he is dumbing himself down for his audience and the proof of the efficacy of this strategy is that hardly anyone in the US media is challenge his comparison of Iran’s Leader to Hitler. Truly, you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time and the Saudi Crown Prince knows it.