Iran: A Parallel Universe

For Educational Use Only

 

Tehran Skyline

Iran is frequently portrayed as a backward and fanatically fundamentalist tyrannical outpost. As a result of constant repetition, most of us believe that we have a fairly accurate image of Iran. But, do we really?

 

Frequently updated
Commentary, links, etc.
always worth rereading.

 

   

Who would have guessed that:

  • Women constitute well over half of university students in Iran? (BBC)

  • Iran's scientific growth is ranked as the fastest of any country? (NewScientist)

  • Iran's 25,000 Jews, the largest community in the Middle East outside Israel, face no restriction on their religious practice? (Haaretz)

  • 9 out of 10 Iranians say that men and women should have equal legal rights? (Gallup)

  • Iranians held spontaneous candlelight vigils in sympathy with Americans after 9/11? (NY Times)

  • Iran spends 110 times less than the U.S. on its military, and has not invaded another country for over 250 years? (Newsweek)

  • Analysis of multiple polls finds little evidence Iranian public sees government as illegitimate? (WorldPublicOpinion)

 

Index:

Iranians' pro-American Stance

The Axis of Vacation?

Women In Iran

Minority Rights

Dissent & Accountability

Iran's System of Government

Presidential kleptomania?

"Wipe Israel Off The Map"?

Nuclear Issue

Fueling Iraqi Insurgency

Islam, Iran, & Phobia

Tarred by Terrorism
Every Wall is a Door

 

For establishment media's treatment of Iran, see here
 

For analysis of 2009 elections see here

Buried under a deluge of unflattering reports, there are some articles in the mainstream media  that contradict the common view of Iran. The aim of this webpage is to highlight a collection of stories published in The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, BBC, the New York Times, Reuters, etc. which focus on the eclipsed aspects of this much maligned nation.

 

Iranians' pro-American Stance

Middle East is dotted with anti-American populations led by unstable but friendly governments. The exception is Iran, with a pro-American population governed by a stable regime openly critical of American self-defeating policies in the region. Although, on cooperating with U.S. efforts against al-Qaida, there was little daylight between Iranians and their government.

As per a 2010 IPI/Charney Research poll on Iran over two thirds consider "the best way to solve the country’s problems is to form closer connections with the developed Western countries."
 

According to surveys taken in Iran in early 2008 by WorldPublicOpinion.org and Terror Free Tomorrow:

While Iranians, like many other Muslim populations, have negative opinions of the U.S. government and U.S. foreign policy, they have a mildly positive image of the American people, and believe "common ground" can be found between the two societies. Most Iranians desire closer ties with the U.S., including more trade, investment and tourism.

The jaundiced opinion of U.S. policies, however, is not an affliction exclusive to 'Muslim populations'. For example, as Cathy Young, the contributing editor of the Reason magazine, puts it: A staggering 43 percent of Russians agreed in a poll last year that “one of the goals of the foreign policy of the United States is the total destruction of Russia.”Also, according to Pew Global Attitude Project, significant numbers of  British, German, French and Spanish populations have switched from holding a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 1999/2000 to unfavorable in 2005.

Encouragingly, a plurality of Americans support engagement with Iran.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' September 2008 polling data showed 65% of Americans on both sides of the aisle endorse talking to leaders of Iran. In an April 2009  poll by NY Times and CBS News, 59% of those who gave a yes/no response said yes to the deliberately yes-depressing question:

Do you think the United States should or should not establish diplomatic relations with Iran while Iran has a nuclear program? (Robert Naiman)

Again, in 2010, the Chicago Council reports 62 percent [of 2,500 Americans polled] favor U.S. leaders meeting and talking with Iran’s leaders.

And, last but not least, the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair telephone Poll of 906 Americans in September of 2010 showed the vast majority abhors conflict even in the direst hypothetical situations. Unlike the practice of other such opinion surveys, Vanity Fair did not offer a condemnation of Iran in the guise of a question. Rather, the pollster asked about legitimate circumstances under international law for war and offered a choice of two Casus belli, one treaty abrogation, and one casus foederis.

 
 
Which one of the following would be most likely to CAUSE YOU TO SUPPORT a U.S. war with Iran?
    TOTAL REP. DEM. IND.
  Only if Iran attacks U.S. soil 25% 19% 31% 23%
  If Iran attacks the U.S. fleet 25 33 19 24
  If Iran tests a nuclear bomb 11 15 6 12
  If Iran attacks Israel 10 14 9 7
 
 

If not war, then ... peace? Based on these poll results, do authorities in both Iran and US have a mandate/duty to respect the wishes of the majority of their respective populations to desists lumbering along a path of conflict while pointing an accusative finger at the other?

 

CBS News: Former officials say Iranians helped U.S. on al-Qaida  The Associated Press, Oct 8, 2008

Iran rounded up hundreds of Arabs to help the United States counter al-Qaida after the Sept. 11 attack after they crossed the border from Afghanistan, a former Bush administration official said Tuesday. Many were expelled, Hillary Mann Leverett said, and the Iranians made copies of almost 300 of their passports.

The copies were sent to Kofi Annan, then the secretary-general of the United Nations, who passed them to the United States, and U.S. interrogators were given a chance by Iran to question some of the detainees, Leverett said in an Associated Press interview.

James F. Dobbins, the Bush administration's chief negotiator on Afghanistan in late 2001, said Iran was "comprehensively helpful" in the aftermath of the 9-11 attack in 2001 in working to overthrow the Taliban militias' rule and collaborating with the United States to install the Karzai government in Kabul.

 

Iranians held spontaneous candlelight vigils in sympathy with Americans after Sept. 11

The New York Times: The Best of Enemies? By Thomas L. Friedman, Jun 12, 2002

Quick quiz: Which Muslim Middle East country held spontaneous candlelight vigils in sympathy with Americans after Sept. 11? Kuwait? No. Saudi Arabia? No. Iran? Yes. You got it! You win a free trip to Iran. And if you come you'll discover not only a Muslim country where many people were sincerely sympathetic to America after Sept. 11, but a country where so many people on the street are now talking about -- and hoping for -- a reopening of relations with America that the ruling hard-liners had to take the unprecedented step two weeks ago of making it illegal for anyone to speak about it in public.

The New York Times: Warmth for Americans in Once Hostile Tehran by Michael Slackman, Feb 13, 2008

America’s image in the Middle East is arguably as low as it has ever been. From the occupation of Iraq to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon to the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the United States has been cited in polls as the gravest threat to peace in the region. But Iran is different, even the Iran of bearded fundamentalists … 

Generally speaking, Iranians like Americans, not just American products, which remain very popular, but Americans. While that is not entirely new - Iranians on an individual level have long expressed desires to restore relations between the two countries - the sentiment seems much more out in the open now.

CBS News: Interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, Vice President & Chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization by Elizabeth Palmer Apr 13, 2010

Yes, I have a lot of respect for the US. For the people of the US. And I’ve always said this…I do not consider US as a country. I think US belongs to the entire human kind. It’s a human heritage. It’s - ah - I don’t think history will be able to produce another country like the US. Because it’s a country that has served humanity so much, in terms of technology. In terms of science. And there are very respectful people. Most of my professors were from the US. Even my Bachelor’s degree was from the American University of Beirut. Again I had a lot of US professors there. I feel indebted to them. This is part of my religion. You know, whoever teaches you something, you are indebted to them for your life. So my respect goes for the entire US people. But you see this is different when it comes to the actions of their government. Unfortunately some of governments in the US on some occasions, they have really done things that are not rational. Look in Vietnam for example. Look in Chile…when I was a student. Look at what happened in Iraq.

 

The Axis of Evil Vacation?

Upgraded to confederacy of "clenched fists"

The media travel pages encourage the well-heeled among us to go and enjoy Iranian hospitality in stark contrast to the news and op-ed sections of the same media. An important European newspaper, without a hint of irony, recommends Iran as a destination for a ski vacation. And the New York Times Travel section reports on $3000 luxury cruises to Bandar Abbas, and regards Esfahan as a great place for an American tourist to lose his way.

Iran is one of the friendliest places I have been to.

(Francis McAuley, the international director of Debenhams, one of the leading British department store chains.)

I would love to know what was really going on there, after reading about all the Iranian bad people, you know, and all the politics ... And I really discovered a completely different country than I imagined, than I was reading about in the media -- The joy inside the houses! They're very much like Italians. They love life, they enjoy life, they're full of culture. They have a great sense of themselves. And, you know, that area is the cradle of civilization?

(Juliette Binoche on her new
Tuscan-seductress role
in "Certified Copy"
)
 

Having visited the country for the premier conservative British daily, Telegraph, Nigel Richardson writes:

There are countries in the world that we know only through the prejudice of others; countries that we are encouraged to avoid. ...  we think we know about Iran: hotbed of religious zealotry, hater of the West, sponsor of terrorism, and so on. This précis bears little relation to the reality.

 

The Times of London: Iran and Chile take on the Alps

Skiers are suffering from Three Valleys fatigue and now want new cultural experiences along with the snow. ..... The resorts of the Alborz mountains in Iran have a reputation for “powder snow and off-piste skiing”, said Magic Carpet Travel.

Cooler Magazine: Eva Walkner Skiing Iran

I would not recommend Iran JUST for skiing but I can recommend it for anyone who is ready for a great experience. You need to be open and willing to form your own opinion about Iran and the people there. Not everything is bad in Iran; it’s a very interesting country with wonderful people. A trip to Iran is an amazing adventure. So I can definitely recommend it to anybody!

 

The New York Times: Trend Spotting | Liner Notes

And come spring, Silversea, the company that stocks its ships with goods from Loro Piana and Acqua di Parma, will make stops in Iran; the Silver Cloud is set to dock in Bandar Abbas on its Dubai to Dubai cruise (800-722-9955; www.silversea.com; from $2,937 per person)

 

 

The New York Times: The Other Iran

If you’re going to get lost, Esfahan (also spelled Isfahan), a city of 1.3 million about 200 miles south of Tehran in central Iran, is an extraordinary place to do it. There’s a centuries-old saying that Esfahan is “half the world,” meaning it contains fully half of the earth’s wonders.

Smithsonian

Isfahan: Iran's Hidden Jewel

Four hundred years ago, Isfahan was larger than
London and more cosmopolitan than Paris.

 

 

Women In Iran

Many authors, some in bestselling books,  have depicted Iranian women as conquered, underfoot and pathetic. But, the 3000 year civilization's ubiquitous matriarchs, from Navy Admiral Artemisia to Queen Esther, from Bibi Khanoom Astarabadi, to Shirin Ebadi are as likely to be exceptions as it is likely to find a solitary peak without a surrounding mountain range.  In a culture where every child learns to delight grownups by quoting "Paradise is beneath mothers' feet", it is the women of Iran who have played as important a role as any in mobilizing for national defense, and social change on a path of progress.

If you have read Reading Lolita in Tehran, you might be amazed at the bleakness of the picture that you have seen and crave a balancing perspective.  But you don't have to have read Nafisi's book to appreciate this one.  Jasmine and Stars is an independent book.  Its main purpose is to search for a meaningful way to approach an unfamiliar culture, a way in which the humanity and depth of that culture is felt and enjoyed rather than masked from view.  At the same time, it critiques the lopsided and exaggerated presentation of the eastern cultures in current western writings, a trend that I call the New Orientalist narrative.  Reading Lolita in Tehran is only one example of this kind of writing.  However, since I do criticize that book rather sharply, I devote a full chapter to it so I can explain to readers the specifics of my criticism”   (Fatemeh Keshavarz)

 

Massumeh Ebtekar, Vice President 1997 - 2005

 

While inexcusable discriminatory laws continue to be on the books, the fact that female university graduates outnumber men in every professional field, points to a social dynamic which will build upon the current gains by women in Iran. Women today are lawyers, university professors, authors, film directors, members of parliament and cabinet ministers. Indeed, Iran has had female Vice Presidents since 1997.

 

Fatemeh Javadi,  Vice President 2005 - present

Even though, rare is a creature who would not wish God speed for his daughters, women's rights are fought for, and taken. Rights are not bestowed.

According to  WPO's 2008 polling data:

Large majorities of Iranians (89% according to Gallup) endorse the principle that women should have equal rights with men and that over the course of their own lifetimes, women have gained greater rights. A large majority says that the government should act to prevent discrimination against women. A modest majority also supports the United Nations working to further women’s rights. (Page 24)

 

As per a BBC report “Well over half of university students in Iran are now women.”

In the applied physics department of Azad University 70% of the graduates are women - a statistic which would make many universities in the West proud.

It is a huge social shift since the 1979 Revolution: Iran's Islamic government has managed to convince even traditional rural families that it is safe to send their daughters away from home to study.

The New York Times reports that Iran’s passion for motorcar racing is well served by its ace driver,  Laleh Seddigh, a woman.

 

Ms. Seddigh loves speed. She also loves a challenge. Last fall, she petitioned the national auto racing federation in this male-dominated society for permission to compete against men. When it was granted, she became not only the first woman in Iran to race cars against the opposite sex, but also the first woman since the Islamic Revolution here to compete against men in any sport.

What's more, she beat them.

“Ms. Seddigh is a lively, energetic symbol of a whole generation of young Iranians who are increasingly testing social boundaries. Seventy percent of Iranians are under 35, and they have gently pushed for, and received, freedoms unimaginable even a few years ago. For women in Tehran, at least, head scarves are often brightly colored and worn loosely over the hair. The obligatory women's overcoats are now often tight and short.

 

Le Monde Diplomatique : Infertile in Iran, by Elizabeth O’Donnell, April 2008

Iran has unexpectedly liberal ideas about contraception and assisted reproduction techniques, the result of pragmatic decisions, and consequent laws, arrived at by Shia interpretations of religious tenets.

 

BBC: High hopes of Iran's women rowers

Every Friday, on their day of rest, Iranians of all ages clamber up the Alborz mountains in their thousands. It is a tough climb but women are up there in equal numbers with the men.

Iran has a very different ethos [to other Muslim Middle Eastern nations], a dynamic attitude to sport and perhaps to life. Iranians love getting out there and proving the rest of the world wrong.

So, sporting world, watch out. The Iranians are coming.

 

Homa Hosseini
Iranian rower
was her nation's flag bearer
for  2008 Olympic team

 

Najmeh Abtin
Iranian Archer

Sara Khoshjamal Fekri
the first Iranian female
taekwondo Olympic qualifier

 

United Nations Population Fund reports "Iran is meeting International Goals"

The literacy rate of women and girls has increased from 25.5 per cent in 1976 [pre-Islamic revolution] to 76.2 per cent in 2002. Their access to jobs and careers, especially in the public sector, has improved and most women have greater control over their fertility than in the past.

According to UNESCO, by 2006, female youth literacy was 96.1% compared to a regional average of 73.3%.

MSNBC reports on the Middle East's only company of female firefighters

In Tehran, there is a professional fire company composed entirely of women, who wear hijabs under helmets while responding to fire calls. It is the only company of female firefighters in the Middle East.

 

 

What Do Neocons Have Against Iranian Women Filmmakers?

... the Iranian film industry is something to celebrate. If either pundit had taken the time, before lashing out at HSBC (fueled by hubristic outrage that one would dare compare the Islamic Republic to the U.S.), to watch a few Iranian films, they’d realize Iran has a thriving and internationally-regarded film industry. Among the three quarters of Iranian movies made by men, some do address the plight of women in Iran. Iran’s women filmmakers have themselves, for more than a decade, made films which vividly portray the inequality and injustices they face. (Utter lack of empathy.)

One would think these apparently prolific women filmmakers would actually make ideal objects of support for the neoconservatives, who claim to be bothered at every turn by human and women’s rights abuses in Iran. (Short-sighted.) But any such support must take a back seat to demonizing Iran. (Hypocrisy.)

 

 

Minority Rights

How Iran treats its religious and ethnic minority populations is an important indicator of the government’s treatment of the population at large. While not a shining example of enlightened liberalism, the oppressive and tyrannical image appears to be wildly exaggerated.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran lavishly spends money to reinforce Iranians’ millennia-old spirit of tolerance and empathy for others.

Every Monday night at 10 o'clock, Iranians by the millions tune into Channel One to watch the most expensive show ever aired on the Islamic republic's state-owned television. Its elaborate 1940s costumes and European locations are a far cry from the typical Iranian TV fare of scarf-clad women and gray-suited men.

But the most surprising thing about the wildly popular show is that it is a heart-wrenching tale of European Jews during World War II.

 

According to the BBC:

Although Iran and Israel are bitter enemies, few know that Iran is home to the largest number of Jews anywhere in the Middle East outside Israel.

Formaer President Khatami visiting Yusufabad synagogueAbout 25,000 Jews live in Iran and most are determined to remain no matter what the pressures - as proud of their Iranian culture as of their Jewish roots.

It is dawn in the Yusufabad synagogue in Tehran and Iranian Jews bring out the Torah and read the ancient text before making their way to work.

In one of Tehran’s six remaining kosher butcher’s shops, everyone has relatives in Israel.

In between chopping up meat, butcher Hersel Gabriel tells me how he expected problems when he came back from Israel, but in fact the immigration officer didn’t say anything to him.

“Whatever they say abroad is lies - we are comfortable in Iran - if you’re not political and don’t bother them then they won’t bother you,” he explains.

His customer, middle-aged housewife Giti agrees, saying she can easily talk to her two sons in Tel Aviv on the telephone and visit them.

“It’s not a problem coming and going; I went to Israel once through Turkey and once through Cyprus and it was not problem at all,” she says.

 

Reuters' Fredrick Dahl interviewed the Armenian archbishop of Tehran and reports he is "happy" with how the government takes care of Armenian Christian heritage.

 

Sebouh Sarkissian, Armenian archbishop in Tehran for the past eight years, spoke to Reuters at his office next to the Armenian cathedral in the Iranian capital about the situation for his community in the Islamic Republic.

“We have the feeling that the government is taking care of our religious heritage, historical churches and sacred sites … This of course makes us happy.”

Dahl asks: “Does your community experience discrimination in Iran?”

The Archbishop answers: “Not as such … I think it is an innovation from the West, that people are coming and always asking: is there discrimination in this country? I can tell you that I’ve felt discrimination even in the United states, even in Europe.”

Dahl asks:  "Do you see a future for the Armenian community in Iran?"

The Archbishop answers: “Yes, definitely, our existence is rooted in this soil, in this country … I don’t think we are in danger. If we are in danger it means the whole society is in danger."

 

Reuters reports that Iran holds its Black Church as symbol of tolerance

Iran says this medieval Armenian Christian retreat in a mountainous region close to Turkey and Armenia shows it is observing the rights of other faiths.

It denies charges from Iran's old foe the United States that it discrimates against Christian and other religious minorities. The Armenian bishop in Tehran tells Reuters such talk is a Western "innovation".

The Shi'ite Muslim country has applied for Qara Kelisa, or the Black Church, to be recognised as a United Nations World Heritage site, to join the Persepolis and other archaeological treasures.

Fortified Armenian monasteries in Iran were added to the new sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List on July 6, 2008.

ArmeniaNow: Expert says Armenian monuments in Iran ‘well conserved’

More than 5,000 historical monuments in Iran’s historical Armenian provinces are well conserved and are under the state’s care, said a leading Armenian specialist in monument studies on Monday [7/25/2011].

Samvel Karapetyan came to the kind of conclusion after spending a month examining historical Armenian monuments in five provinces of Iran - Gharadagh, Maku, Khoy, Salmast and Urmia.

“The monumental density and diversity there is the same as that in the territories of Armenia, Western Armenia and Karabakh. It is a vital part of our homeland, the cradle of an Armenian man,” said Karapetyan. “There are practically no Armenians left in those territories. Only in the Salmast province we met 15 Armenians.”

Haaretz reports that more than 200 Iranian Jews embarked on the long journey to Susa from cities across Iran to celebrate their Jewishness in an event organized by a local Jewish youth group to support the community.

'This gathering helps promote unity, affection and friendship among Iranian Jews. We are determined to pay homage to Daniel once a year," said Bahador Michael, 26, of the Yaran organization that began organizing the trips five years ago. "It has been a great success and local authorities have been very cooperative."

Iran's 25,000 Jews, the largest community in the Middle East outside Israel, face no restriction on their religious practice, though they must follow Islamic dress codes such as head scarves for women.

 

     

Dissent & Accountability

A nation's journey is marked by episodes which simultaneously manifest disgrace and grace.

None of the prominent government critics cited below are in jail.

Despite the harassment meted out by petty officials, Iranians are not servile, cowed, and afraid to loudly voice their opinions. There is a profound conversation raging within Iran which regards all aspects of theocracy, government, and culture as fair game for harsh criticism. Notwithstanding "a clear majority" does support the system of government (see below).

The Iranian authorities acknowledged Saturday for the first time that at least three protesters had been beaten to death in prison after the disputed presidential election in June, as a military court announced that 12 prison officials had been charged with murder and other crimes.

(NY Times, By Robert F. Worth  December 19, 2009)

 

An Interview by Salon's Michelle Goldberg

Nobel laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi discusses the plight of women in Iran, Bush's similarity to Ahmadinejad and why direct negotiations are the only solution

In the fall of 2000, Ebadi, one of Iran's leading reformist lawyers, represented Parastou Forouhar, whose parents, dissident intellectuals, were butchered by government assassins. Their killings, part of a string of murders of regime critics carried out by the Ministry of Intelligence in the late '90s, were perpetrated with particular sadism -- the aging couple were stabbed repeatedly and then hacked to pieces.

In 2000, some of those involved in the murders were finally brought to trial. "The stakes could not be higher," writes Ebadi. "It was the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that the state had acknowledged that it had murdered its critics, and the first time a trial would be convened to hold the perpetrators accountable."

 

Jerusalem Post Senior dissident cleric lashes out at country's Islamic establishment

Iran's most senior dissident cleric has lashed out at the country's ruling Islamic establishment, accusing it of imposing dictatorship and violating the rights of its people in the name of Islam.

The 1979 Islamic revolution toppled Iran's former monarchy to bring freedom and end despotism, but that supposed liberation never happened, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said in comments released by his office. "People are insulted in the name of Islam. Individuals are accused of disloyalty to Islam in the name of Islam," Montazeri said. He added that "committed and serving individuals are barred" from running in elections "in the name of Islam" - comments referring to the barring of thousands of reformers from running in parliamentary elections last month. This was "neither free nor fair, Montazeri said.

 

BBC: Iran Jews Express Holocaust Shock

The chairman of Iran's Jewish Council has strongly criticised the country's hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying the Holocaust was a myth. In his strongly-worded letter, Mr Yashayaei asked the president how he could justify what he termed the crimes of Hitler.

Mr Mohtamed, the Jewish member of Iranian Parliament who has strongly condemned the exhibition of cartoons about the Holocaust organised by an Iranian newspaper owned by the Tehran municipality.

Despite the offence Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has caused to Jews around the world, his office recently donated money for Tehran’s Jewish hospital.

The Jewish hospital’s director, Ciamak Morsathegh says: “Anti-Semitism is not an eastern phenomenon, it’s not an Islamic or Iranian phenomenon - anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon”

 

The New York Times Iran: What Does ‘Exporting the Revolution’ Mean? by Nazila Fathi, May 7th 2008

[Iran's ex-president,] Mr. Khatami said in a speech on Friday that when the founder of the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, talked about “exporting the revolution,” he meant making Iran a role model for other countries, not supporting sabotage operations in other countries."

 

Iran's System of Government

A “Tyrannical Outpost” with some bright spots, or a form of participatory system of government with notable shortcomings?

Francis Fukuyama: Iran, Islam and the Rule of Law

Iran is not quite a tyranny

A real tyranny would never permit elections in the first place—North Korea never does—nor would it allow demonstrations contesting the election results to spiral out of control. Yet Iran is no liberal democracy...

The Iranian Constitution is a curious hybrid of authoritarian, theocratic and democratic elements. Articles One and Two do vest sovereignty in God, but Article Six mandates popular elections for the presidency and the Majlis, or parliament. Articles 19-42 are a bill of rights, guaranteeing, among other things, freedom of expression, public gatherings and marches, women’s equality, protection of ethnic minorities, due process and private property, as well as some “second generation” social rights like social security and health care.

[T]he references in the Iranian Constitution to God and religion as the sources of law are much less problematic. They could, under the right circumstances, be the basis for Iran’s eventual evolution into a moderate, law-governed country.

The rule of law was originally rooted in religion in all societies where it came to prevail, including the West. The great economist Friedrich Hayek noted that law should be prior to legislation. That is, the law should reflect a broad social consensus on the rules of justice. In Europe, it was the church that originally defined the law and acted as its custodian. European monarchs respected the rule of law because it was written by an authority higher and more legitimate than themselves.

 

According to surveys taken in Iran in early 2008 by WorldPublicOpinion.org and Terror Free Tomorrow:

Most Iranians support a number of democratic principles, including the long-run goals of "ensuring free elections" (82% important, including 55% very important) and "ensuring a free press" (78% important, including 50% very important). Iranians express much greater support for a government in which "the Supreme Leader, along with all leaders, can be chosen and replaced by a free and direct vote of the people" (86% support, including 71% strongly support) than for a government in which "the Supreme Leader rules according to religious principles and cannot be chosen or replaced by a direct vote of the people" (38% support, including 19% strongly support).

Nevertheless, on separate questions a clear majority of Iranians express satisfaction with the "process by which the authorities are elected in this country" (62%, including 18% very satisfied and 44% somewhat satisfied) and approved of "the way President Ahmadinejad is handling his job as president" (66%). These approval ratings lie roughly midway between Iranian support for the "ideal" of a free and direct popular vote for political leaders (86% support - see paragraph above) and support for a religious autocracy (38%). While many observers characterize the present Iranian political system as a religious autocracy, evidently many Iranians do not see it that way.

These results are further confirmed by a 2010 IPI/Charney Research poll on Iran which shows 54% "say things in Iran are headed in the right direction", and 82% rate the work of the national government as excellent, good, or fair.

 

A Race To The Bottom

The persistence with which mainstream media misdiagnoses Iran is rooted in the shallow assessment that Iran's long monarchical history, Islam, and republicanism are all mutually exclusive. Ever since 1979, the Islamic revolution has been given a poor prognosis. The uniquely Persian experiment of Iran's system of government which has combined the ancient concept of farr (fair), and Islam's emphasis on justice/charity, and the consequent vast welfare state is alone in the region in giving voice to and being accountable to the underclass majority. Western commentators continue to imagine the system is unviable except through brutal repression. However, the Islamic Republic has survived 30 years marked by invasion, sanctions, constant threats and vilification. Though, throwing the plague at Iran has not been tried yet,  President Obama was not altogether naive to base his original Iran policy on the Islamic Republic's resilience, rather than it's fragility.

BBC News Website looks at how Iran's political system works. Essentially BBC describes Iran’s government to be composed of a set of directly elected bodies (Parliament, President, Assembly of Experts) plus organs appointed by and controlled by elected bodies (e.g. Supreme Leader is appointed by the elected Assembly of Experts which also has the power to remove him from office).

Iran's complex and unusual political system combines elements of a modern Islamic theocracy with democracy. A network of unelected institutions controlled by the highly powerful conservative Supreme Leader is countered by a president and parliament elected by the people.

For much of the last decade, Iranian politics has been characterised by continued wrangling between these elected and unelected institutions as a reformist president - and, at times, parliament - struggled against the conservative establishment.

But with hardliners' regaining control of the parliament in 2004 and the presidency in 2005, all the organs of government are now dominated by conservatives.

 
If the President stole the election ...  

Survey by
WorldPublicOpinion.org
&
Terror Free Tomorrow

early
2008

66% approved of

"the way President Ahmadinejad is handling his job as president".

Survey by
Terror Free Tomorrow
&
New America Foundation

May 11th-20th
2009

At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 percent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s closest rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was the choice of 14 percent, with 27 percent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for.

President Ahmadinejad’s other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

89 percent of Iranians say that they will cast a vote in the upcoming Presidential elections.

June 12th 2009 was
Iran's presidential elections

Official results:
39 million votes, 85% turnout
Ahmadinejad(62%)
Mousavi(34%)
others(2%)

 

Barbara Tuchman tells this story in The Proud Tower, her impressive history of the lead-up to World War I. Philipp Ernst, the father of surrealist painter Max Ernst, once painted a scene of his backyard garden, but left out a tree because he believed it would ruin his composition. Later, overcome with remorse at his “offense against realism,” he chopped down the tree.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory spoiled many pre-painted pictures of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, and critics have since insisted he does not belong in the scene. Most seek to prove their point by contending that post-election protesters were brutally mistreated – a proper subject to raise, but unconvincing when offered as evidence that the election was fraudulent. (Eric Brill)

www.Stratfor.com:

The Iranian Election
& the Revolution Test

June 22,
2009

... But critically, the protesters were not joined by any of the millions whose votes the protesters alleged were stolen. In a complete hijacking of the election by some 13 million votes by an extremely unpopular candidate, we would have expected to see the core of Mousavi’s supporters joined by others who had been disenfranchised. On last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the demonstrations were at their height, the millions of Mousavi voters should have made their appearance. They didn’t. We might assume that the security apparatus intimidated some, but surely more than just the Tehran professional and student classes possess civic courage. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

University of Maryland's WorldPublicOpinion.org

Aug / Sep
2009

Most Iranians express acceptance of the outcome of the Presidential election. Eighty-one percent say they consider Ahmadinejad to be Iran's legitimate president, and 62 percent say they have a lot of confidence in the declared election results, while 21 percent say they have some confidence. Just 13 percent say they do not have much confidence or no confidence in the results. In general, eight in 10 (81%) say they are satisfied with the process by which authorities are elected, but only half that number (40%) say they are very satisfied.

 

... apparently he didn't need to.

 

 

Determined to "Wipe Israel Off The Map"?

Google the infamous phrase, and likely there will be over 500,000 hits --  web pages that quote  the president of Iran in a tone that suggests annihilationist goals. Until 2005, the tired-and-old phrase's usual usage was figurative. E.g. the BBC reports, England 'not being wiped off map', and 'What if Wales was wiped off the map?' did not entail duck and cover drills.

However, if  the intelligence and facts could be fixed around the preordained policy of invading Iraq, then why should the English language be immune from molestation by today's political/media culture?

Not surprisingly, the "wipe off" metaphor has assumed a whole new dimension even though the man being quoted (in loose translation) does not command the military, nor foreign policy, certainly is not the decider of war or peace, nor does Iran have the means to literally wipe any place off the map. Notwithstanding his unimposing stature as a layman in the Islamic Republic,  only in Ahmadinejad's singular case "wipe off the map" is understood  to denote aggressive messianic militaristic genocidal intent.

 

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall ...

Considering Bush's terminology such as "axis of evil", "Crusade", and "inspirational Bible quotes" on the cover of Pentagon intelligence briefings, was Ahmadinejad's religiously-laced letter to Bush quite so out of place?

Considering President Shimon Peres' "we'll strike him", or Beniamin Netanyahu's advisor suggesting the prime minister's attitude towards Iran is "Think Amalek", i.e.: devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey  -- considering all this, are folks projecting their own character voids onto Ahmadinejad?

Is Ahmadinejad seriously accused to be the first ever nitwit, in 2005, to publicly forewarn  his nuclear-armed adversary that he intends to annihilate  them in 2014, when he will be out of  office? Well, Lee C. Bollinger seems curiously adamant.

Loose Translation

Amusingly, Farsi translations are not always loose. For example, BBC uses a word-for-word translation: "cut off the hand of the aggressor", for an idiom which means "we will defend ourselves vigorously". But, when it comes to "this occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time", BBC insists upon "wipe off the face of the map" as the preferred translation to "regime change".

As the BBC Governors' Complaint Committee relied in part on MEMRI to justify the translation "rendering", it would be remise to ignore the Mid East editor of a national British newspaper who has "been receiving small gifts from [the] generous institute in the United States."

Selective Memri

The gifts are high-quality translations of articles from Arabic newspapers which the institute sends to me by email every few days, entirely free-of-charge. The emails also go to politicians and academics, as well as to lots of other journalists. The stories they contain are usually interesting.

... Evidence from Memri's website also casts doubt on its non-partisan status. Besides supporting liberal democracy, civil society, and the free market, the institute also emphasises "the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel".  That is what its website used to say, but the words about Zionism have now been deleted. The original page, however, can still be found in internet archives.

Retrieving another now-deleted page from the archives of Memri's website also throws up a list of its staff. Of the six people named, three - including Col Carmon [the co-founder] - are described as having worked for Israeli intelligence.

Among the other three, one served in the Israeli army's Northern Command Ordnance Corps, one has an academic background, and the sixth is a former stand-up comedian.

Ahmadinejad has made a habit of biting rhetoric,  questioning the validity of  the Holocaust as a "myth", and predicting the eminent collapse of the government of Israel. Worsening the situation, unaware of  new literal connotation of "wipe off", a state owned Iranian news agency, reused a stock translation from Khomeini era. These statements have caused great pain to Jewish Iranians, who spurn $10,000 cash lure to emigrate to Israel and choose instead to grace their homeland with their continued presence. U.S. officials' comments such as 'axis of evil', 'military option on the table', etc. unfortunately predate Ahmadinejad's unhelpfully sharp utterances.

Corey Flintoff of National Public Radio points out Ahmadinejad may deserve many labels, but unique is not among them:

The view that the Holocaust either did not happen — or that it has been blown out of proportion — is not uncommon in Islamic countries. Many Islamic countries, including U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, do not recognize Israel.

However, Flintoff, like countless others, confuses validity of a myth, for the historical basis of that myth. To protest that levying a regressive gasoline tax does not befit the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, is not to deny the historical record of the rebellion against King George III. The word myth can be taken to denote the ascendance of easy symbolism over abstruse facts. It is hardly a controversial scholarship to attest that despite the labor camp's notoriety "by the time Auschwitz was operational, about 70 percent of the Jews who were going to be killed in the Holocaust were already dead".

When he “denies” the “myth” of the Holocaust, he is not denying the Holocaust, he’s not even discussing the Holocaust as an historical event at all. He is denying the validity of the use to which the story of the Holocaust is being put.

Everything You Know About Iran Is A Myth

While the establishment media portrays Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about Israel as crass anti-Semitic rants, there are alternative ways of deciphering his comments.

At one level, it is the clash of the hypocrites, Persian vs. pharisee. By extending the t'aarof, you're too nice to be brutes, Ahmadinejad has managed to get human-rights-lecturing Westerners to asseverate their guilt of perpetrating, financing, or not prioritizing the effort to stop, the Nazi genocide. And, he has outmaneuvered advocates of unlimited freedom of speech in defense of Danish Muhammad Cartoons to importune limits on freedom of speech only on subjects that offend their sensibilities.

Viewed from a more pragmatic level, Ahmadinejad calculatedly balances risks and benefits by scoring points with the malcontents of the Middle East, at the expense of antagonizing western sensitivities. Crucial to survival in a sea of ill wishers, he sets himself apart from the unloved supplicant officials of the region, and hopes to be perceived as a Gandhi-like figure speaking truth to power.

The U.S. Jew whose Iran views rile Israel intelligence officials
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

Mann Leverett notes that in Ahmadinejad's view, the only reward that his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, received for his support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was membership in the "axis of evil." Therefore, she says, Ahmadinejad has concluded that "he will get no significant strategic benefits from talking politely about Israel."

"Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust serves instrumental purposes for him and is very calculated. His rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust is very popular not only at home inside Iran, but on the Arab street. Since Ahmadinejad became president of the Islamic Republic, public opinion polls show that he is routinely one of the two or three most popular political figures in the Arab world. This makes it very difficult for Sunni Arab regimes concerned about Iran's nuclear program or its rising regional influence to support military action against the Islamic Republic."

Similarly, Ahmadinejad's 9/11 remarks are likely calculated to benefit Iran's security interests despite the vilification his General Assembly speech is guaranteed to receive in establishment media. Talking about a viewpoint which has currency even among a non-trivial segment of Americans,  is a 3rd-world-crowd-pleasing, boldfaced insult to US government's legitimacy which Ahmadinejad probably hopes increases the costs for US government's continued demonization of his government.

Islamophobes' cause célèbre is unquestionably the 9/11 tragedy. Having given up on education as a short-term remedy, Ahmadinejad is answering the likes of Tony Blair who knit Iran, "9/11 changed everything", Iraq fiasco, and al-Qaeda into a seamless call for a war of aggression. He is directly confronting the emotional hot button  that Tony Blair and others manipulate to whip up American rage against Muslims, hoping to avert the bombing of Iran until at least his next UN speech.

Regardless of his true motives, it is difficult to dissuade Mahmoud from striking a piñata which keeps on giving though some have pointed out the party game actually is pin the tail on the donkey. Stop sticking that pin in the eye of Iran's dignity, prosperity and security. However, one has to ask who created the political space for the Turkish premier, Erdogan, to have "stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos after a heated debate on Gaza with Israel's president?"

 

Iranians vis-à-vis Israel and the Jewish people

Background

 

Recent Observations

An article in the Harvard International review explores some of the historical facts of Iran/Israel and Iranians/Jews relationships.

Whilst tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified over the latter’s nuclear program, we know and are told nothing about the historical relationship between these two nations. On the question of Iranian attitudes towards the Jewish people the same is true. Instead, we fixate on comments made by an individual, the current President of Iran, who is merely one actor in the highly complex domestic politics of Iran and who coincidentally has neither control over foreign (and nuclear) policy nor the armed forces under the Iranian Constitution. Surely, history matters and there is great value in exploring these questions.

Curiously, it was not long ago that Iran and Israel were strategic allies in the Middle East. At its inception, Israel, as a virtual island-state in a sea of ill-wishers, looked to Iran as an important ally. This alliance is part of the historical record. In fact, the two countries enjoyed close ties up to 1979 when the Islamic Republic of Iran was instituted. Paradoxically, it was during the same period — pre-Revolution— that Iran first acquired nuclear technology with the blessing and consent of the United States without any controversy. Henry Kissinger himself, under President Gerald Ford, approved of the deal. Interestingly, at a time when Iran was being offered to buy US-made reprocessing facilities capable of delivering a complete 'nuclear fuel cycle', Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were serving as White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense respectively.

On Iranian attitudes towards Jewish people, an objective assessment of the historical record speaks for itself. Iranians over millennia and with few exceptions have been friends and allies of the Jewish people. As the Book of Ezra informs us, it was none other than an Iranian emperor - Cyrus the Great - who championed the struggle of the Jewish people, freed them, and facilitated their return to the Promised Land. Countless examples of Iranian contributions to Jewish history or amicable partnerships are imprinted in the annals of time: i.e. the Second Temple’s construction was financed by the Iranian treasury, the Babylonian Talmud was finally written under Iranian rule, and Jews fought victoriously as brothers-in-arms with Persian-Parthian soldiers against invading Romans. More importantly, in more recent history, during World War II, the Iranian government of a predominantly Shia’ Muslim country saved the lives of the 150,000 Iranian-Jews by convincing Nazi ‘race experts’ that they were fully assimilated and Iranian diplomats throughout Europe readily issued visas to European-Jews, facilitating their escape from the Nazi killing machine. Iran today houses the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel. The Iranian Jewish community benefits from constitutional protection and is allocated a seat in Parliament. There is little interference with Jewish religious practice, yet the legal system does discriminate against religious minorities -- this is an ‘institutional’ issue to be differentiated from the discourse of the Iranian people. The average Iranian, irrespective of religion, is also a victim of the limitations of Iran’s legal system.

 

Still a mystery hovers over Iran’s Jews. It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquility.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

(Roger Cohen)

The Jewish community of Iran has been present in their society for nearly 3000 years. They object to the attitude by non Iranian western Jews that we want to save them, or educate them, or in any way interfere with their cultural and religious  life. Before we make assumptions about what they need or who they are, it would be well to acknowledge that they are the oldest ongoing community of Jews in the world continuously associated with one place. They are not Jews of exile. They are deeply rooted in the land of Cyrus. They can visit the graves of Esther and Mordecai, Daniel and Habbakuk. They possess a Torah that is over 1200 years old. The Jews of Esfahan have their own language! The Jews of Iran are deeply proud of their own heritage, even though they, like other Iranians, may struggle with the limitations imposed by the Islamic Republic on freedom of expression.

(Rabbi Gottlieb)

We spent considerable time with the Jewish community - and among the many surprising impressions we received was their obvious sense of comfort and safety living as Jews under an Islamic regime.

American Jews are invariably astounded when I tell them that I myself wore a kippah publicly throughout Iran without a moment’s nervousness. (Once we were approached and asked by an Iranian man if we were Jewish - he turned out to be a Jew himself and he promptly invited us to his shul for Shabbat). I’m not being facetious when I say that in retrospect, I realize I actually felt safer as a Jew walking the streets Tehran than I often do in Israel.

(Rabbi Brant Rosen)

 

Has Ahmadinejad, intelligentsia's persona non grata,  ever proposed physically hurting Israelis?

Lost in translation by Jonathan Steele, June 14, 2006 (Guardian Unlimited)

The fact that he compared his desired option - the elimination of "the regime occupying Jerusalem" - with the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran makes it crystal clear that he is talking about regime change, not the end of Israel.

According to Juan Cole, a University of Michigan Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History, the words "wipe", "Israel",  and "map" were never uttered.

Ahmadinejad did not use that phrase in Persian. He quoted an old saying of Ayatollah Khomeini calling for 'this occupation regime over Jerusalem" to "vanish from the page of time.'

 

The mainstream media can play a significant role in perpetuating a false story.

For example, consider the footage edited out of a Mike Wallace interview with Ahmadinejad aired on the CBS 60 Minutes TV news magazine. The uncut version was shown on C-SPAN. Watch both versions aired on C-SPAN

Wallace asked Ahmadinejad why Israel must be wiped off the map?

CBS' version portrayed Ahmadinejad as confirming, and justifying the outrageous remark by trimming his three paragraph long answer to just one sentence fragment.

 

In C-SPAN's uncut version, Ahmadinejad is suggesting "wipe off the map" is Wallace's phrase, not his. He explains that he has in mind a democratic referendum as the solution to the unrepresentative nature of the Israeli government.

 CBS' discarded material is the text in red.

MR. WALLACE: You are very good at filibustering. You still have not answered the question. You still have not answered the question.  Why?

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Well, don't be hasty, sir. I'm going to get to that.

MR. WALLACE: I'm not hasty.

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: I think that the Israeli government is a fabricated government and I have talked about the solution. The solution is democracy. We have said allow Palestinian people to participate in a free and fair referendum to express their views. What we are saying only serves the cause of durable peace. We want durable peace in that part of the world. A durable peace will only come about with once the views of the people are met.

So we said that allow the people of Palestine to participate in a referendum to choose their desired government, and of course, for the war to come an end as well. Why are they refusing to allow this to go ahead? Even the Palestinian administration and government which has been elected by the people is being attacked on a daily basis, and its high-ranking officials are assassinated and arrested. Yesterday, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament was arrested, elected by the people, mind you. So how long can this go on?

We believe that this problem has to be dealt with fundamentally. I believe that the American government is blindly supporting this government of occupation. It should lift its support, allow the people to participate in free and fair elections. Whatever happens let it be. We will accept and go along. The result will be as you said earlier, sir.
 

Some argue Ahmadinejad meant genocide regardless what he said. An example can be found in the Times of London article: You don't have to be paranoid to want to take these lunatics at their word.

Others dismiss such mind-reading. See New York Times article, Fathers and Sons.

 

Nuclear Issue, Real or Exaggerated?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in an April 21, 2008 lecture at West Point, said "Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons". Often, such a statement is accepted as an aphorism. It could easily be the caption under the caricature of a  mad mullah salivating over a nuclear tipped missile.  Cartoons aside, what are the  likely calculations of flesh-and-blood patriots who happen to be mullahs?

 

Article IV of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) states:

”Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.

A nuclear weaponized Iran destabilizes the region, prompts a regional arms race, and wastes the scarce resources in the region. And taking account of U.S. nuclear arsenal and its policy of ensuring a strategic edge for Israel, an Iranian bomb will accord Iran no security dividends. There are also some Islamic and developmental reasons why Iran as an Islamic and developing state must not develop and use weapons of mass destruction.”  (Hassan Rohani)

Iran consistently claims nuclear weapons have no place in its defense doctrine. Presumably because every possible scenario involving mere possession of nukes (let alone threats to use or actually using nukes) would spawn a spectrum of calamities ranging from Iran's total isolation as a pariah to its preemptive "obliteration".

Even in a fight for her very survival, it is impossible to imagine a rational defensive scenario where Iran would escalate a losing military conflict to a nuclear war when the likely adversaries and/or their allies are able (and eagerly willing) to "[sic] totally obliterate them"  and then some.

 

In a September 17, 2009 press statement, IAEA stated:

With respect to a recent media report, the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.

In a January 11, 2011 SPIEGEL Interview IAEA Head, Yukiya Amano stated:

Despite all unanswered questions, we cannot say that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Similarly, it is unimaginable that a proud nation would welcome a pariah status by testing a weapon after 118 member country Non-aligned movement (NAM), China, Brazil and Turkey have all gone out on a limb defending Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear energy programme.

Iran must be well aware that nuclear weapons did not forestall the Soviet collapse from internal discord. In the absence of economic progress, the USSR's arsenal did not accord it meaningful prestige in world fora. Indeed, at the zenith of  Soviet nuclear stockpile (~45,000 warheads), other than Gdańsk's Solidarity movementonly the British, and the American 'workers of the world united' to crown Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan in landslide elections. Plainly, U.S.A's  extravagant  nuclear arsenal  has not enabled it to control the price of oil, nor has it hurried Syria, or Lebanon into signing peace treaties. There does not appear to be any benefits to be stacked against the prohibitive costs of nuclear weapons development, let alone the deployment costs of a credible nuclear arsenal. It is not just in the Iranian context that the bombs are substantially valueless, a very considerable waste of money and effort, and "absolute" primarily in their irrelevance. John Mueller contends nuclear weapons are not and have never been of any utility to anyone.

Iranian leaders' strident disavowal of nuclear weapons squares with Iran's nearly 300 year unbroken record of non-aggression. As per Daniel Larison:

... why would Iranian authorities repeatedly insist in public not only that they are not pursuing such weapons, but also state that they are absolutely prohibited from doing so according to the religion on which the regime claims to base so much of its legitimacy? If most Iranians accept these statements, and the government then develops and tests a nuclear weapon, would they not be directly attacking the foundations of the legitimacy and credibility of their entire system?

Absent any rational justification for Iran wanting/needing nuclear weapons,  most commentary on Iran's nuclear energy programme is peppered with allegations of evil intent, duplicitous conduct, irrational religious zealotry, or the "prestige" an infantile Iran attaches to manufacturing the very weapons Ahmadinejad publicly labels "disgusting and shameful". Though presented as facts to an uninformed public, the allegations are no more than suspicions -- prejudice masquerading as prudence.  Aprioristic conjectures about Iran prey upon uninquisitive minds with the persuasive whisper of a jack hammer. Through repetition, some of the evidentially-challenged charges against Iran have become memes though they defied commonsense to begin with, and remain unproven after years of scrutiny.

At best, the alleged Iranian desire for the bomb has been construed as an  insurance policy in case of regime change. With premiums far in excess of the contingent loss,  and an effective date perpetually 2 to 5 years into the future, the supposition is absurd and unlikely. Squirreling money in Abu Dhabi bank accounts beats all other insurance schemes for ease, reliability, discreteness, and it earns interest.

Feigning sympathy, some commentators point to the existential threats facing Iran. Given the neighborhood, they argue that it would be insanity for the mullahs not to develop the bomb -- mad if you do, mad if you don't. This begs the question: why is anybody threatening anybody else's existence in the 21st century? If it is loose rhetoric that 'understandably' lead to proliferation, then are the threat mongers aware that by threatening one, they are perceived as a threat to all, and are taken seriously by a vanishing few?

 
Fiscal Warning!

Who hasn't day-dreamt being a solitary power to whom a long line of nations take turns to surrender preemptively?

Those who bet $711 billion on the desirability & practicality of such a world order, historically have doubled down when losing the bet seems all but certain.

To advocate that Iran 'should' develop nuclear deterrence requires leaping over the security doughnut hole -- a non-nuclear state enjoys a significant degree of immunity from a 'first strike', because the specter of a mushroom cloud over a non-nuclear state would gut NPT, and lead to global proliferation and negate whatever security justification was used to attack a non-nuclear state. If Iran squanders that immunity,  she cannot recoup it by building only one, two, or a dozen bombs, when faced with adversaries' thousands. The high threshold for a minimal deterrence therefore, makes staying non-nuclear the only rational course for Iran, unless she fanaticizes going from zero to hundreds in an (undetected) instant. Iran's geography and nationalistic cohesion is sufficient deterrence against a conventional attack.

Hoping that less alarming predictions would appear more plausible, some have taken to advancing the screw-loose theory:  -- "that Iran was in pursuit of the Japan model; it wanted to be a screwdriver-turn away from weaponizing its program." One is left wondering how fast Iran (or Japan) envisage turning that 'screwdriver' in an existential emergency knowing that American, Russian, and Chinese ICBMs  can attack targets anywhere in the world in less than 30 minutes.

The much touted danger of Iran sharing nuclear technology and/or actual weapons with a terrorist group does not pass even a cursory test of objectivity. "Would any regime just hand weapons-grade uranium over to extremists over whom it had no control?" There can always be the first time in recorded history that a state actor gives the means for its own extinction to a foreign 'group'. But, are we to accept as a given that the millennially-minded  3000+ year surviving civilization not only aspires to national suicide, but wishes the timing of its guaranteed obliteration to be at the whim of a foreign terrorist group? Is there no likelier candidate other than Iran for setting a new record in staggering shortsightedness?

A fallback position to the terrorism-WMD nexus is that Iran's allegedly "terrorist" proxies will feel shielded and become emboldened whether or not Iran actually gives them the weapons. Larry Berfner points out the argument is ahistorical:

[This argument is] vastly underestimating the intelligence, knowledge of history and survival instincts of Hizbullah, Hamas and other radical Islamist groups. The US, USSR and China fought each other’s proxies all over the world for decades without being deterred by the other side’s nuclear weapons. Fear of Soviet nukes didn’t stop JFK from trying to knock over Castro in Cuba, just as fear of US nukes didn’t stop Soviet-backed Castro from fighting back. Likewise, the threat of Soviet nuclear power didn’t stop the US from arming the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan, just as fear of US nukes didn’t stop the Soviets from fighting them. THE LIST goes on and on. Nuclear weapons have never been a defensive umbrella for aggression by anyone. It’s fair to assume Hizbullah and Hamas understand this.

Though The Nuclear Dominoes Rarely Fall, the fear of a regional arms race is proffered often by Western pundits, but ironically, they are usurping Iran's own fantods. Regional proliferation would transform hostile Arab governments from an over-the-horizon security concern, into Iran's proximate security nightmare. Free-for-all proliferation would squander Iran's geographic/population advantage,  vitiate Iran's conventional defensive capacity, and render even the tiniest of its neighbors a military equal. No wonder that Iran has been pushing for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Apparently, unlike Japan, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, ... and Australia, Iran's motives for energy diversification is the source of much ponderous befuddlement.  "In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney said, `[Iran is] already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. No one can figure out why they need nuclear, as well, to generate energy'".  sorely needed credibility would accrue to Mr. Cheney if he also had puzzled over Iran's desire for hydroelectric energy. After all, it involves an Herculean effort including the   construction of some 85 damns as of late 2007. Are neoconservatives not piqued at the oil rich nation being "the fourth country in the world in terms of generating electricity from solar energy"? Consistency is not what exudes from  Messrs. Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld who endorsed Iran's quest for nuclear energy back in 1976 when her energy needs were a fraction of what they are today, and the domestically consumed oil  was worth chump change compared to current prices.

 
Peak Oil

Dr Robert Hirsch, a former US official predicts a fall of the oil production within 5 years.

The Saudis have been lying about their oil reserves for a very long time. Every year for over 15 years, they have been saying that they have 258, 262 billions barrels. That is NOT plausible.

They’re producing something like 3.5 billion barrels per year. That would mean that they’ve been finding roughly 3.5 billion barrels each year for 15 years. It’s statistically impossible.

Lastly, la meme des memes: despondent fear mongers' coup de grâce  is to question the Iranian government's rationality.  Seemingly, even  progressives promulgate the insanity argument when they promote a featherweight rebuttal to a heavyweight Bruce Riedel. Suffice to say,  according to this theory, the Iranian rationality deficit is hidden unless and until Iran allegedly develops a few nuclear weapons. Only then, armed with nukes, when acting irrationally will be tantamount to signing her own extinction warrant, will Iran reveal her insanity. Merely being reduced to rubble by superior conventional might is insufficient catalyst for Iran to betray her suicidal core. The end result must be radioactive rubble. Presumably, that is why no one has worried very much about Iran bringing mass martyrdom upon herself by marshaling her current non-nuclear military assets.

 

The martyr state view rests on bold, even radical claims about Iran’s goals and behavior that defy conventional expectations of states’ actions.

Brown University's Journal of World Affairs
Is Iran a Martyr State? By Andrew Grotto
(Well worth the free registration to read)

 

 

Governments can and have made catastrophic mistakes that have unintentionally led to their downfall, but no government in recorded history has willfully pursued policies it knows will proximately cause its own destruction. Given the novelty of the martyr state argument, its major implications for policy, and how unequivocally its proponents present it, one would expect to encounter an avalanche of credible evidence.

Yet that is not the case. References are scarce in this line of writings, and certain references are cited with striking regularity [and circularity].

All absurd myths come with an expiration date -- reason demands that after years of scrutiny  accusations are either proven or discarded.

Reality check: Iran is not a nuclear threat

Forget the neoconservative hype. The facts show Iran is not and has not been a nuclear threat to either the United States or Israel.

The bottom line is that Iran is still within its unalienable rights to peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT and the Safeguards Agreement – a point even Tehran’s fiercest critics (grudgingly) acknowledge. The only issues it is defying are the illegitimate sanctions and demands of the US and UN, which themselves defy logic and sense. (Scott Horton)

 

Rationality + Unwinnable = Unlikely to Play

National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) Key Judgments: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities - November 2007 says:

Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach

rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

DNI James Clapper’s prepared testimony on February 10, 2011 before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:

We continue to judge Iran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige and influence, as well as the international political and security environment, when making decisions about its nuclear program.

 

Center for Strategic & International Studies'  Anthony Cordesman analyses the end result of an Iran-Israel nuclear war and concludes:

 The only way to win is not to play

In clear, concise and chillingly forensic style, Cordesman spells out that the real stakes in the crisis that is building over Iran's nuclear ambitions would certainly include the end of Persian civilization, quite probably the end of Egyptian civilization, and the end of the Oil Age. This would also mean the end of globalization and the extraordinary accretions in world trade and growth and prosperity that are hauling hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians and others out of poverty.

Politics of Reporting on IAEA Reports

It is always interesting to read the actual text of reports issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran not only because of what they reveal about Iran's program, but also because of the interestingly partial way various news organizations and governments end up interpreting or representing the report to audiences they are sure will not read the reports themselves.

Partial Text of IAEA Reports to Board of Governors

Date of Report

112. All the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.

15 November 2004

51. As indicated to the Board in November 2004, all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.

2 September 2005

52. ... absent some nexus to nuclear material the Agency’s legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited ...

 
IAEA's subsequent referral of Iran to UNSC, and  ensuing  sanctions have no legal basis given continuing absence of "nexus".

 53. As indicated to the Board in November 2004, and again in September 2005, all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for ... the Agency has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

27 February 2006

 

The Washington Post reported on U.N. inspectors' protest at U.S. Congress inflammatory exaggerations about Iran’s nuclear program.

U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program angrily complained to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman yesterday about a recent House committee report on Iran's capabilities, calling parts of the document "outrageous and dishonest" and offering evidence to refute its central claims.

Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.

September 14, 2006

27. The Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.

22 February 2007

18. Although the Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, the Agency remains unable to make further progress in its efforts to verify certain aspects relevant to the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. Pursuant to its NPT Safeguards Agreement, Iran has been providing the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and facilities. Iran has, however, ceased to implement the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements with respect to the early provision of design information, and has not permitted the Agency to perform design information verification at the IR-40 reactor.

23 May 2007

22. The Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has been providing the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and facilities.

30 August 2007

39. The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.

15 November 2007

52. The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. Iran has also responded to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on the issues raised in the context of the work plan, ... 22 February 2008
26. The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. 26 May 2008
22. The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accounting reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. 15 September 2008
18. The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accounting reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. 19 November 2008

 

Washington Times reports the architect of the 2007 NIE stands by Iran nuke report:

Thomas Fingar, who stepped down Dec. 1 from the post of deputy director of national intelligence and as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said he also believed that Iran has not diverted low-enriched uranium produced at a facility at Natanz, 160 miles south of Tehran, to weapons use.

"I still stand by the judgments in that estimate," Mr. Fingar told a small group of reporters, referring to the November 2007 report. "We've had other teams look at this. Everyone who has, has affirmed the judgments we made."

December 10, 2008

18. The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. 19 February 2009

 

19. As has been reported in previous reports, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.

5 June 2009
26. The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has cooperated with the Agency in improving safeguards measures at FEP and in providing the Agency with access to the IR-40 reactor for purposes of design information verification. 28 August 2009
46. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran ... 18 February 2010

37. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran ...

For analysis see here.

31 May 2010
41. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran ...

For analysis see here ( by Peter Jenkins, a former member of the British diplomatic service who served as the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA from 2001 to 2006)

15 September 2010

 

For other IAEA reports on Iran go to this link.

 

Fueling Iraqi Insurgency, Real or Exaggerated?

 

Persia & Mesopotamia have had deeply entangled relations since 600 B.C.E. The significant bilateral religious tourism, commerce, intermarriages, and, 'meddling' which have been routine for millennia can be misconstrued easily as a vicious conspiracy to rain on the daydreaming triumphalists'  parade through the field of fallen 'dominos' -- the Middle East.

The 2003  invasion of Iraq under false pretenses has cost the U.S. dearly. Surely an honest accounting of the whole enterprise, its neoconservative intellectual underpinning, the misguided strategic aims, the serial tactical errors,  the re-election of  President Bush in 2004,  etc. leaves few national institutions unscathed. The levee of checks-and-balances was washed away by a tsunami of thumping prejudice. The independence of the co-equal branches of government, and a 2-party political system  were no match against a pounding xeno-hatred which over the decades debauched political philosophy, policy formulation, and even the American capacity for rudimentary planning. The resulting fiasco is a disaster of undeterminable dimensions. We may have lost the means to safeguard our national interests around the world consensually and cost-effectively for a very long time.

One way to avoid the pain of self examination is to concoct Iranian malign influence, believe one's own concoction, and then blame Iran, obsessively.

From day one Iran's main bet would have been to see Iraq evolve a Shi'a-dominated government that consequently would be stable and friendly.  If causing mayhem ever crossed the Iranian mind, surely it was as plan Z -- at best an hedge. Arming thugs over whose activities Iran could not hope to exercise any operational control does not constitute a strategy. While oblivious to long-term dangers, the U.S. chose to arm the Mujahedin who later morphed into Taliban and al-Qaeda, Iran cannot afford such unimaginative gung-ho 'policies' in its immediate neighborhood.

Iranian Strategy in Iraq, the report issued by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center  in October 2008 states:

Iran’s primary strategy to influence events in Iraq since the U.S. invasion has been to support allies in the Iraqi political establishment. To do so, Iran has supported Iraq’s electoral process and supported its Iraqi allies’ political ambitions. An elected Iraqi government is the U.S.’ best hope for a stable Iraq but also Iran’s primary mode of projecting power in Iraq.

Iran has achieved its most important strategic successes in Iraq without violence. In the January 2005 General Assembly elections, SCIRI/Badr won control of nine of the eleven Shi’a dominated provinces. The Iraqi constitution approved later that year weakened the central Iraqi government in favor of Iraq’s provinces. Now, the government of Iraq is actively dismantling al-Sadr’s militia, which limits the electoral viability of Iraq’s most nationalist Shi’a political party. By doing so, Iran and its Iraqi political allies have effectively circumscribed Iraq’s central government in ways that will enable Iran to exert considerable pressure and authority over Iraq’s southern provinces.

How likely is it that Iran would sacrifice its main bet on the alter of an hedge?

Iranian Strategy in Iraq report does allege Iranian malign influence, arming/training militias, and the like. However the allegations are based on evidence that the report itself admits is subject to considerable doubt.

We recognize the inherent problems in using some of the sources cited in this report. For example, we cannot independently confirm the accuracy of information contained in the Iraqi intelligence documents. Indeed, we have serious concerns that Iraqi intelligence agents relied on information from the anti-Iranian terrorist group, the Mujahidin-e Khalq Organization. Data provided by the MKO is sometimes accurate but often considered not credible because of the MKO’s endemic interest in portraying Iran in as negative a light possible. Likewise, unclassified information from Coalition Forces’ significant activities reports can lack important context. Finally, information obtained from interrogations of detained militants must be interpreted with extreme caution. Detainees may be misinformed or lying, interrogators may misunderstand or poorly transcribe information, and the context of a detainee’s story may be missing. ... Some reports erroneously attribute munitions similar to those produced in Iran as Iranian, while other Iranian munitions found in Iraq were likely purchased on the open market.

Though the authors of the report regard the doubts as "legitimate concerns" and warn readers to be "wary of these problems, as [the authors] have tried to be", the report's footnote references include the British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, to bolster allegations of "training the trainers".

The above report's appendix C contains the database which was compiled by Multi-National Force Iraq's (MNFI) Task Force Troy, who were directed to examine all weapons caches found in Iraq beginning in early January 2008 to identify Iranian-made weapons. The database was released by MNFI in July 2008 to the Empirical Studies of Conflict project, co-sponsored by the U.S. Military Academy and Princeton University. According to Gareth Porter:

The extremely small proportion of Iranian arms in Shi'a militia weapons caches ... a fraction of one percent ... further suggests that Shi'a militia fighters in Iraq had been getting weapons from local and international arms markets rather than from an official Iranian-sponsored smuggling network.

Faced with competing truths, commonsense is the only recourse.

The notion that Iran would support operations aimed at killing 170 Americans, and do so with a supply of traceable weapons strains credulity.  We are asked to believe that Iran, as a matter of policy, would provide a casus belli to its antagonist, indeed oblige the only superpower to avenge its fallen soldiers and make a permanent enemy of its neighbor, Iraq. Apparently, given the current climate, such unlikely scenarios do not elicit a demand for proof. Nor, are the accusers taken to task to show a plausible do-or-die  imperative for Iran to risk the sever  consequences of  wounding the U.S. and to boot, jeopardize its diplomatic accomplishments in Iraq. What possible military objective would be served by adding a relatively puny irritant (0.4% of American casualties) atop the mountain of Iraqi chaos and carnage? Surely there are less convoluted ways to set one's own house on fire.

There are any number of states in the Middle East, and the Caucuses who myopically regard Iran/U.S. rapprochement as an untenable loss in a zero-sum game.  The abundant motive/opportunity of many to plant (paltry) evidence, hardly makes allegations against Iran a "slamdunk".

 

The New York Times , based on hard evidence, reported that the nationality of foreign fighters joining the Iraq insurgency responsible for the vast majority of attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi civilians breaks down as:

 

Saudi Arabia, Libya,  Yemen, Algeria, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Turkey,  France, & Egypt

100%

 
 

Iran

0%

 

USA Today: Claims about Iranian arms carry familiar lack of proof  Feb. 13th, 2007

So it's fair to wonder exactly what unnamed Pentagon officials were thinking on Sunday when they called a secretive briefing for reporters in Baghdad's Green Zone to show off an array of weapons supposedly made in Iran to assert that Iran's government is supplying weapons to Iraqi Shiite extremist groups.

The evidence they laid out, like Powell's presentation, was impressive at first glance: mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and armor-piercing explosive devices called explosively formed penetrators, bearing serial numbers that the officials claimed link them to the Iranian regime. Such weapons, the officials said, have killed more than 170 Americans in Iraq in the past three years.

But because the officials, who insisted on anonymity, could offer no direct evidence of Iranian regime involvement, their claims were met, properly, with widespread skepticism.

 

Los Angeles Times: In Iraq, anyone can make a bomb By Andrew Cockburn Feb 16, 2007
Improvised explosive devices don't require international conspiracies.

PRESIDENT BUSH HAS now definitively stated that bombs known as explosively formed penetrators — EFPs, which have proved especially deadly for U.S. troops in Iraq — are made in Iran and exported to Iraq. But in November, U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs.

 

Huffington Post reported on the discrepancies between availability of proof of Iran meddling in Iraq published by The New York Times vs McClatchy by Greg Mitchell May 05, 2008 (This article also appeared in Editors & Publishers)

Michael Gordon, the military writer for The New York Times who contributed several false stories about Iraqi WMD in the runup to the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2002, has written several articles in the past year about Iran’s alleged training of Iraqi insurgents -- or supplying them with weapons to kill Americans. He produced another major report on this subject for today’s Times – based solely on unnamed sources -- which is at odds with an account today from McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau", [and Agence France-Press, who quoting named sources report]  ... Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said there was no 'hard evidence' of involvement by the neighbouring Shiite government of Iran in backing Shiite militiamen in the embattled country. Asked about reports that weapons captured from Shiite fighters bore 2008 markings suggesting Iranian involvement, Dabbagh said: ‘We don't have that kind of evidence... If there is hard evidence we will defend the country.’

 

Los Angeles Times: IRAQ: The elusive Iranian weapons by Tina Susman May 8th, 2008

A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran.

When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.

There was something interesting missing from Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner's introductory remarks to journalists at his regular news briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday: the word "Iran," or any form of it. It was especially striking as Bergner, the U.S. military spokesman here, announced the extraordinary list of weapons and munitions that have been uncovered in recent weeks since fighting erupted between Iraqi and U.S. security forces and Shiite militiamen.

 

  Strategy Page: Smugglers Delight May 14th, 2008

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are convinced that Iran is not supplying the Taliban weapons, or any other assistance. Some Iranian weapons have been found in Afghanistan, but these were smuggled in by gunrunners for sale to whoever could pay.

 

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Delays Report on Iran Arms by YOCHI J. DREAZEN, May 21, 2008

The U.S. military, in a shift, has postponed the release of a report detailing allegations of Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, according to people familiar with the matter. ... The military had initially planned to publicize the report several weeks ago but instead turned the dossier over to the Iraqi government.

 

AFP reported that, according to Swedish Foreign Minister, Iran plays positive role in preparing Iraq conference May 28, 2008

 

Islam, Iran & Phobia

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." (Oscar Wilde)

Iran is often portrayed as a combination of pathogens -- the Orient and Islam -- in order to induce in the public's mind an allergic shock of revulsion and incomprehension.

References to the invidious writings of Herodotus about the orient in general, and 'Persians' in particular endure to buttress modern promulgators of us-and-them frame of thought.

[Persian] lands were fertile, their cities opulent. They themselves were wealthy — far wealthier than the impoverished Greeks — and they could be immensely refined. They were also fierce and savage, formidable opponents on the battlefield.

Yet for all this they were, above all else, slavish and servile. They lived in awe of their rulers, whom they looked upon not as mere men like themselves, but as gods. (Worlds at War)

One can only imagine the depths of envy that Herodotus had plumbed when he was calling disciplined & orderly Iranians 'slavish and servile'. Nonetheless, his 2500 year-old Persian-aspersions are treated as astute then and  relevant to today's world. Alexander's conduct after Iran's conquest refutes Herodotus' diatribes. For those who value actions above words,  the Macedonians' total assimilation into Persian life, and their wholesale adoption of Persian style governance speaks for itself.

Athens'  remarkable innovation of democracy could be the singular objective point of distinguishing the orient from the occident -- except that it demonstrably is not. For several centuries the city of Susa (or Shushan), Iran had an elected council, a popular assembly, etc. Susa is among many other examples of  adoption of democracy to the East (India, Bactria) a millennia before democracy sprouted to the west of Athens.  (Democracy Isn't 'Western')

A look at Iranians' contemporary history of democratic yearnings and achievements shows they did not arrive at the game any later than most European nations.

 

[The 1891 tobacco revolt]  crystallized the sense of outrage that had been building in Iran for more than a century. It also laid the groundwork for the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, in which reformers chipped away at the power of the dying Qajar dynasty by establishing a parliament and a national electoral system. ... Iran has an established history of elections that has put people in the habit of going to the polls. Iranians are used to hearing different opinions expressed in parliament and in the press. They turn out to vote in great numbers, and hold elected officials accountable for their actions.(Inside Iran's Fury)

 

 

Cheers to those who nostalgically toast the success of the U.S. and British-instigated 1953 coup which saddled a generation of Iranians with despotism. But, please put down your champagne flutes before you start to bemoan Iran's democratic underachievement.

 

Categorizing peoples is the vogue. Whether inspired by Samuel Huntington's scholarly warnings of the looming  clash of civilizations, or Mohammad Khatami's sentimentalist dialogue among civilizations, or beguiled by the caustic ramblings of neo-conservatives, the us-and-them brigades' exertions at stereotyping humanity have husbanded a seedling of  pseudo-logic into a giant tree. In the dark shadow of this grotesque tree, and on a bed of unreason are we to preserve our respective identities, or should we grow mushrooms? Fortunately, It is not a tree. It is an overgrown weed with roots no deeper than superficial differences among various peoples' lore, customs and traditions. In reality, all these differences amount to an ethereal veil over the axiom:  treat others as you would like to be treated. This universal code of social existence is self-evident to all except the dead (suicide bombers) and the deaf (who cannot hear the cries of the weak, and who fantasize power to be eternal, and put off compassion until it is undifferentiated from capitulation).

---------------

Similarly, Islam is under assault. The third of the Abrahamic religions, like Judaism, and Christianity before it, was born to the same Semitic peoples who spoke dialects of the same language, in culturally indistinguishable neighborhoods with the same zip code,  but it is being cast as something from another planet. To justify past cruelty and as part of (contingency) plans for future cruelty the ground is being prepared  by falsely maligning others' beliefs as sub-human, apocalyptic, violent, and suicidal. This is knuckle-biting irony as it comes from the same people who accuse Muslims of teaching and preaching hate.

The two faces of Amis

Martin Amis writes that 11 September 2001 was "a day of de-Enlightenment," the beginning of a global "moral crash", one that is still thudding and smashing all around us. But his battalions of critics believe this is an unwitting description of the author himself, a portrait of the artist as an ageing man. As the twin towers burned and fell, they believe Amis became radically de-Enlightened, and embarked on a "moral crash" where he mooted the collective punishment of all Muslims.

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes (watch video) how her brother threw her in an open latrine, prompting her mother to call him a Jew, and throw him in the latrine, and she postulates all Muslims are like her own sterling family, one would be wrong to think Ayaan's other opinions are not worth printing in the New York Times.

 

Only in Islam?

You could do better than ask a comedian.

There are more productive debates than the rabble-rousing of the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Martin Amis. The harsh punishments that are prescribed in the Old Testament and the Koran are an unapologetic tilt towards the rights of victims of prejudice, lust or greed. These scriptures were not advocating sardonic sadism.

Professor Jenkins of Penn State University asks Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran?

"... the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible," Jenkins says. Violence in the Quran, he and others say, is largely a defense against attack.

"By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane," he says.

"Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide."

Who Wrote the Koran?

 

Abdulkarim Soroush:

When a verse in the Koran or a saying attributed to Muhammad refers to cutting off a thief’s hand or stoning to death for adultery, it only tells us the working rules and regulations of the prophet’s era. Today’s Muslims are not obliged to follow in these footsteps if they have more humane means at their disposal.

 

Iran's Head of Sate, Ayatollah Khamenei:

Those who are employing “philosophy or pseudo-philosophy” to “pervert the nation’s mind” should not be dealt with “by declaring apostasy and anger” but rather countered with the “religious truths” that will falsify their arguments.” [or if the arguments are convincing, the debate will help expand religious truths]

 

Naturally, the polemic between Soroush-the-scholar and Khamenei-the-executive does not grab headlines. And, the vacuum is filled by sensationalists feeding a demonization frenzy. Deliberate portrayal of Muslims as zombies is exemplified by statements such as: "Shiite Islam gives a special place to its clerics and demands blind obedience to their rulings on religious law" which Juan Cole (not to be confused with Juan Williams) wrote for U.S. Institute of Peace, The Iran Primer. No one reading such crock would suspect that, in fact:

Inane truisms such as 'lay people cannot reinterpret religious law' and 'clerics enjoy a special place', are at the core of ALL organized religions and therefore, cannot be cited as  distinguishing features of ANY, sans a proclivity to demonize.

It is perfectly permissible to follow any one of the many ayatollahs (marj’a taghlid). 'Taghlid' means emulation NOT blind obedience. If an ayatollah starts talking nonsense, his flock can look elsewhere for guidance. The biggest nonsense of all would be to demand of your flock 'blind obedience' in contravention of Koran's numerous references to 'reason' as the basis of faith. There are quite a variety of opinions among the ayatollahs. For a devout shi’i there is no restriction on whether he/she chooses as his/her marj’a taghlid either Sistani (an agnostic on separation of mosque and state), or Jannati (advocate of jurisprudents' guardianship), or Monatzeri (while alive, a strong opponent of Iran's system of government). To be a Shi'a, is to be Goldilocks -- if you don't like it too hot, nor too cold, there is always 'just right'. 

Shari’a law forbids questioning anyone’s depth of faith, and/or how sincerely a devotee emulates a source of emulation. In short, emulation is an academic concept. It is unenforceable.

Rampant shill-journalism has a cost. The price for fanning the flames of phobia is the misallocation of finite resources to fight shadows, all the while diminishing American credibility in the eyes of the world.

Allegedly, there is a benefit to the hyper-heightened sense of fear. It makes us hyper-vigilant and keeps us safe. It is perhaps reassuring to know that paranoia is an ageless and universal fodder for comic relief. The Funny, but Fictional, Mullah Nasreddin: In the dead of night, if you don't hear footsteps, it proves there's a thief in the house with very quiet shoes.

[In Iran] a magazine called Tavana was banned after publishing a caricature of President Mohammad Khatami, who is himself a reformer. But it showed him without his clerical turban and robe. That, the court said, amounted to defamation.

 

 

The "Bomb Iran" contingent's newfound concern for The Iranian People
 

Many of those now expressing solidarity with "The Iranian People" have been recently advocating bombing them.

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country -- actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People.  During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran.  The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary's Norman Podhoretz entitled "The Case for Bombing Iran," and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he "hopes and prays" that the U.S. "bombs the Iranians."  John Bolton and Joe Lieberman advocated the same bombing campaign, while Bill Kristol -- with typical prescience -- hopefully suggested that Bush might bomb Iran if Obama were elected.  Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

Salon.com: By Glen Greenwald, June 16 2009

 

 

Norman Podhoretz, whom the 43rd President of the United States has consulted on the topic of Iran, has written:

Iran's President is like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism.

World War IV, The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Published on the 6th anniversary of September 11th.

Is there an historical precedence, or economic/military basis to the charge of “religio-political culture of Islamofascism dominated by Iran”?

Not according to the editor of Newsweek International,  who protests that “for this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.”

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

 

Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, has had us holding our breath for several years, warning that Iran will end the world on, or after August 22, 2006:

This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to “the farthest mosque,” usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (cf Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

 The Wall Street Journal, Does Iran have something in store?, August 8, 2006

"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."

(Oscar Wilde)

Curmudgeonly bigotry, or Muslims should be rightly feared?

Gallup conducted tens of thousands of interviews with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have significant Muslim populations. The data shows "plainly that much of the conventional wisdom about Muslims -- views touted by U.S. policymakers and pundits and accepted by voters -- is simply false."

Los Angeles Times: Muslim true/false

What you think you know about them is likely wrong -- and that's dangerous.

Many charge that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths, but studies show that Muslims around the world are at least as likely as Americans to condemn attacks on civilians. Polls show that 6% of the American public thinks attacks in which civilians are targets are "completely justified." [In  Iran, it's 2%].

[9 out of 10 Iranians] say that men and women should have equal legal rights.

Moreover, it's politics, not piety, that drives the small minority -- just 7% -- of  Muslims to anti-Americanism ... Gallup found no statistical difference in self-reported religiosity between those who sympathized with the [9/11] attackers and those who did not. When respondents in select countries [excluding largely pro-American Iran which would have skewed the results] were asked in an open-ended question to explain their views of 9/11, those who condemned it cited humanitarian as well as religious reasons. ... On the other hand, not a single respondent who condoned the attacks used the Koran as justification. Instead, they relied on political rationalizations, calling the U.S. an imperialist power or accusing it of wanting to control the world.

Evidence of apocalyptic  tendencies?

Surely there are no long-term projects in crucial sectors of the economy.

Forbes  reports long-term Iran-Swiss gas contracts signed in March 2008:

The duration of EGL's natural gas procurement contract ... is 25 years.  The contract will also secure long-term supply for Italy and Switzerland, as well as help diversify gas supplies to Europe.

The agreement was signed between executives of the two companies in the presence of Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey in Tehran today.

 

Proclivity to national suicide?

How to account for the emphasis on high-tech universities and research institutes?

The Scientist (Magazine of Life Sciences): Iran investing in stem cells

An article in this week's The Scientist points out that Iran has been active in stem cell research. Iranian scientists have successfully reprogrammed embryonic stem cells to differentiate into other types of cells potentially useful in therapy.

The article states that Iran's emergence in this field relates to the fact that there is less of a religious objection to working with embryos since "ensoulment" is viewed as taking place at 120 days. Of course the Iranians are hampered both by international restrictions which has led them to get much of their equipment on the black market as well as difficulty meeting scientists from other countries.

(An unlikely stem cell leader…)

Newsweek: The Star Students Of The Islamic Republic

In 2003, administrators at Stanford University's Electrical Engineering Department were startled when a group of foreign students aced the notoriously difficult Ph.D. entrance exam, getting some of the highest scores ever. That the whiz kids weren't American wasn't odd; students from Asia and elsewhere excel in U.S. programs. The surprising thing, say Stanford administrators, is that the majority came from one country and one school: Sharif University of Science and Technology in Iran.

Bruce A. Wooley, a former chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford, has said that Sharif now has one of the best undergraduate electrical-engineering programs in the world. That's no small praise given its competition: MIT, Caltech and Stanford in the United States, Tsinghua in China and Cambridge in Britain.

 

Tarred by Terrorism

Iran is "accused" of backing Hezbollah of Lebanon, and Hamas of the Palestinian territories. However, Iran justifiably could be accused of insufficient support, since it officially regards these groups as legitimate "resistance movements". After all,  Iran has obligations as per Article 154 of her constitution:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has as its ideal human felicity throughout human society, and considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world. Accordingly, while scrupulously refraining from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the mustad'afun (oppressed) against the mustakbirun (oppressors) in every corner of the globe.”

According to surveys conducted in Iran by Terror Free Tomorrow and the New American Foundation in May 2009:

More than 64 percent support the government of Iran providing military and financial assistance to Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. 52 percent of Iranians would, however, favor recognizing the State of Israel as part of a deal with the United States.

60 percent of Iranians also support the government of Iran providing military and financial assistance to Iraqi Shiite militias (33 percent oppose), while 62 percent back such assistance to Hezbollah in Lebanon (31 percent oppose). Again, however, as part of a deal with the United States, 54 percent of Iranians would endorse the Iranian government ending support for Iraqi militias.

Iran's claimed "support for the oppressed"  is one of the anchors of a policy which is clearly prioritized according to 'strategic depth' valuations. Iran's pragmatic approach to geopolitical realities is the other anchor which explains Iran's lack of support to such entities as Chechen separatists.

The reflexive abhorrence that most Americans have towards Hamas and Hezbollah may have as much to do with these groups' ghastly fighting tactics, as it is a symptom of being uninformed about America's policies in the Mid East, and its unbearable consequences.

... one of the fundamental problems for a country with an interventionist foreign policy is that it frequently does things that others don't like and sometimes resist. If U.S. citizens do not know what their own government is doing, however, they won't understand exactly where that hostility is coming from. Instead of recognizing it as a reaction to their own policies, they will tend to assume that foreign opposition is irrational, a reflection of deep ideological antipathies, or based on some sort of weird hostility to our "values." Believing ourselves to be blameless, and motivated only by noble aims, we will misread the sources of anti-Americanism and overlook opportunities to reduce it by adjusting our own behavior.” (On that viral video from Baghdad)

New Zealand Herald: Why Iran needs a different approach from Obama

So forget for a moment the almost universal assumption in the Western media that they are true, and consider the evidence. Iran certainly does supply weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are defined by the US State Department as "terrorist organisations".

But then the State Department also defined Nelson Mandela as a terrorist for his support of armed confrontation with apartheid - yet mysteriously failed to call Ronald Reagan a terrorist when he armed the "contras" against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Hamas and Hezbollah are deeply unattractive organisations, but then so are most nationalist movements fighting foreign occupation.

In the former British empire alone, Irgun in Israel, Mau Mau in Kenya, EOKA in Cyprus and the IRA in Northern Ireland all employed brutal terrorism in their struggles - but their leaders all ended up having tea with the Queen.

The New York Times: Middle East reality check

... the significant Middle Eastern news last week came from Britain. It has "reconsidered" its position on Hezbollah and will open a direct channel to the militant group in Lebanon.

Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.

John McCain on Hamas in 2006:

They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.

 

A reader's comment on a NY Times article:

Think: no, not Hamas (as you do), but ourselves back in the years before and after 1776. The British crown meant simply to destroy our armies – Washington’s Continental Army, and all the various militias elsewhere, from Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion in the Carolina lowlands to John Sevier and his mountain boy friends upland. The American colonials fought like savages against the crown armies. Proper English gentlemen were aghast at the notion of dealing across a table with any of our rebels or their emissaries.

Santa Anna marched his army up from Mexico in the winter of 1835-36 in order to destroy all those in Texas who opposed centralized rule from Mexico City. The settlers in Texas wanted a federal configuration with more local rule. Santa Anna intended no negotiation – & held none, neither with the Hispanic settlers who would die by the hundreds for freedom, nor with their Anglo allies, who also died by their hundreds. But at the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto, all were mere “terrorists” in the view of proper authority then.

Things change. Thanks for your column today reminding us how today’s terrorists often become something else entirely by the time our kids get their schoolbooks.

 

 

 

Every Wall is a Door

"Beyond our ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." (Rumi)

Skill, patience, consistency, logic, and understanding go a long way toward the design of an effective foreign policy. These attributes — perhaps obvious but frequently in short supply among foreign policy decision-makers — build a much firmer policy foundation than rude and emotional outbursts, erratic challenges, public bullying, contemptuous disdain, or efforts to isolate and demonize.

Managing the Iranian Challenge
William deB. Mills | April 8, 2009

 

The Daily Telegraph: Iranian boy is treated for brain tumor at Israeli hospital

An Iranian teenager suffering from a serious brain tumor has been brought to an Israeli hospital for treatment, in a rare case which goes against the grain of regional politics.

 

The following three papers are a must-read for serious students of U.S./Iran relations.

 

New York Times: Change Iran at the Top

Published: December 30, 2009

... let us give this theocracy credit. It has brought high levels of education to a broad swathe of Iranians, including the women it has repressed. In a Middle East of static authoritarianism, it has dabbled at times in liberalization and representative governance. It has never quite been able to extinguish from its conscience Khomeini’s rallying of the masses against the shah with calls for freedom.

The result, three decades on from the revolution, is precisely this untenable mix of a leadership invoking transplantation from heaven as it faces, with force of arms and the fanaticism of militias, a youthful society far more sophisticated than the death-to-the-West slogans still unfurled.

Nowhere else today in the Middle East does anything resembling the people power of Iran’s Green movement exist. This is at once a tribute to the revolution and the death knell of an ossified post-revolutionary order.

Smithsonian Magazine: Inside Iran's Fury

Scholars trace the nation's antagonism to its history of domination by foreign powers.

Iran's assertiveness on the global stage—especially its defiant pursuit of what it sees as its sovereign right to a nuclear program—is in part the product of traumatic events that have shaped its national consciousness over the course of generations. In fact, all of 20th-century Iranian history can be seen as leading to this confrontation. That history has been dominated by a single burning passion: to destroy the power that foreigners have long held over Iran.

Many countries in the Middle East are modern inventions, carved out of the Ottoman Empire by victorious European powers following the end of World War I. That is not the case with Iran, one of the world's oldest and proudest nations. Half a millennium before the birth of Christ, the great conquerors Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes built the Persian Empire into a far-reaching power. When Europe was descending into the Dark Age, Persian poets were creating works of timeless beauty, and Persian scientists were studying mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Over the centuries, the nation that would become Iran thrived as it assimilated influences from Egypt, Greece and India.

The New American Foundation: Time for a U.S.-Iranian 'Grand Bargain'

The rationale for a new U.S. policy toward Iran seems almost self-evidently obvious: to engage the Islamic Republic, on the basis of its interests, in order to reach a broad-based strategic understanding with Tehran. The goal would be to redirect Iran's exercise of its influence to support U.S. interests and policies, rather than work against them.
 

In the rhetoric of too many American commentators, the Islamic Republic is portrayed as an immature, ideologically driven regime that does not conceptualize its foreign policy in terms of national interests. Indeed, apocalyptic scenarios that have been advanced about a millennially inclined Iranian leadership using nuclear weapons against Israeli targets, with no regard for the consequences, effectively posit that the Islamic Republic aspires to become history's first "suicide nation."

But even less extreme views of the Islamic Republic make the U.S. policy debate about Iran eerily reminiscent of debates over how to discipline badly behaved children. On one side, a hard-line "spare the rod and spoil the child" school argues that this immature polity must be coerced into more appropriate behavior. On the other side, a pro-engagement "build a problem-child's self-esteem" camp argues that it is more productive to cajole Iran into better behavior through various material inducements.

[Another] deficit in the current U.S. policy debate over Iran is its disregard of a historical record showing that since the death of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 the Islamic Republic has been increasingly capable of defining its national security and foreign policy in terms of national interests. While it may not be easy for some Americans to acknowledge, most of those interests are perfectly legitimate -- to be free from the threat of attack or interference in Iran's internal affairs and to have the political order of the Islamic Republic accepted by the world's most militarily powerful state as Iran's legitimate government.

Moreover, the Islamic Republic has for many years shown itself capable of acting in instrumentally rational ways to defend and advance its interests. As Americans, we may not like some (or many) of the strategic and tactical choices that the Iranian leadership has made in pursuing these national security and foreign policy interests -- e.g., its extensive links to a multiplicity of political factions and associated armed militias in Iraq, its support for groups like Hizballah and Hamas that the U.S. government designates as terrorist organizations, or its pursuit of nuclear fuel cycle capabilities that would give Tehran at least a nuclear weapons "option." These choices work against U.S. interests -- and, on some issues, antagonize American sensibilities. They are not, however, "irrational," particularly in the face of what many Iranian elites believe is continuing hostility from their neighbors as well the United States to the Iranian revolution and the political order it generated.

 

 

In closing,   thank you for your time.  

 

George Washington's
Farewell Address
(1796)

The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

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