Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Post #300 - This I Believe

Commemorating 300 posts on this weblog, I thought that I ought to be both introspective and forthcoming. Here, then, is a set of my beliefs pertaining to Iran and its position in the world, expecially vis-a-vis my own country, the United States. I have structured it as a series of responses to the questions raised by critics of Iran, and by sincerely concerned citizens, in hopes that the reasons behind my own stance might become more apparent. I invite comments, however negative (though I would hope my audience would maintain a modicum of civility, if they wish to have their posts published here).  [Please overlook a formatting problem with italicization of parts of the text; I'm working on it...]

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is a Shi'ite Muslim theocracy."

For the most part, this is a true statement, but it begs the question, "So what?"

If one opposes the idea of a theocracy (a nation governed by its religious establishment), then should one oppose the idea that "America is a Christian nation?" (a view that is taken by a number of the most ardent Iran critics, I might point out.) Should we dismantle Pakistan, which was established, with British and international support, as an expressly Muslim nation? Should we sever ties with Saudi Arabia, which is not only the venue for the Haj but home to a fundamentalist religious sect? Should the church and the state be separated in Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Norway or the United Kingdom?

Is it perhaps only with Shi'e Islam that you have a problem? Remember that this is the religion of the ruling majority in Iraq, which we consider an ally. And bear in mind, too, that it is not the faith of most of those who have committed terrorist acts against us. It is considered, by most scholars, as basically a more nuanced approach to Islam -- one that is more open to change and reform -- than Sunni Islam, though individual adherents obviously do not always show thi.
Or do you simply not favor any rise of Muslim power and influence? If so, that makes matters complicated, since there are now, give or take, a billion Muslims (or nearly a quarter of the world's inhabitants), and that number is growing.

The main consideration is whether the people of Iran want such a form of government.  Most polling indicates that the population could accept the form, if the substance were different -- they want a stronger economy, more freedom of movement and thought, and more interaction with the rest of the world.  Half of them being under 25 years of age makes them as eager to join the workforce, surf the web and study abroad as people in other countries of the region.

"The IRI is undemocratic."

Yes, it is...if compared with Switzerland or Canada. But, compared to many countries with which we do business every day, it compares somewhat favorably. Freedom House, which makes assessments of democratic conditions around the world, rates the following countries (some of which are US allies) equal to or lower than Iran : Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, Chad, Cameroon, Cambodia, Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, Libya, The People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

More interaction with the rest of the planet is the best way to ensure that change -- evolutionary, rather than revolutionary -- takes place.  Current sanctions make that harder, rather than easier.

"The IRI does not protect the human rights of its citizens."

True enough. It has been a rough road in Iran for gays, Baha'is, political dissidents, some Christians and individuals that the regime fears for one reason or another. Persons, both Iranian and foreign, have been jailed, tortured or even executed without due process. Anybody who seriously cares about the Iranian people wants to see this change as quickly as possible.

We were in a better position to argue the case, back when Jimmy Carter made human rights a major element of his foreign policy. Unfortunately, under his administration human rights in Iran took a back seat to other geopolitical considerations, which led to our friend the Shah being ousted and an Islamic revolutionary government taking the place of his autocratic rule. Also, it became widely known during the time of the George W. Bush administration that the American Government was prepared to use extrajudicial abductions, denial of due process and torture when it deemed such practices necessary to advance its interests. We lost some credibility that we have yet to recoup.*

America supported the International Declaration of Human Rights when it was first proposed, yet we are unwilling to support international mechanisms (such as the International Criminal Court) that might ensure its actual use, and seem to be undermining other safeguards (like the Geneva Accords) by our current policies and practices.

We should put our basic values front-and-center, instead of projecting an image of ruthless, imperial domination.

"Iran must not have nuclear weapons."

I agree that it is a bad thing for nuclear weaponry to proliferate anywhere in the world. Even if never used by those who hold them, the risk of accidents, uncontrolled sales or sabotage is too great, given the horrendous potential outcomes. And, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran voluntarily relinquished any claim to the right to have nuclear weapons (whether developed within Iran, or imported).

Let's put this in perspective, though. Countries like our own and our European allies do not have the same sorts of strictures on them, simply because our nuclear capabilities predated the treaty. Therefore, we don't need to put up with any intrusive inspections by IAEA or risk economic sanctions if we update our stockpiles. Moreover, other countries, such as Pakistan or India do not need to fear such reprisals, either, because they never signed the treaty in the first place. Israel is "safe" because it did not sign the NPT -- in fact, it does not even admit that it has any such weapons (the most common estimate of Israel's arsenal is about two hundred warheads).

[Maybe it's good to keep in mind that Iran has previously declined to use weapons of mass destruction (as ethically "un-Islamic") -- even during the devastating Iran-Iraq War; it still maintains that such weapons would be wholly inappropriate for a state such as theirs; and no conclusive evidence exists that they have weaponized a single nuclear device. All the sanctions and other punitive measures are based on speculation, intelligence estimates and fear.**]

The NPT should be strengthened -- or, rather, implemented in a serious way.  The purpose and the letter of the pact was always that "nuclear" countries would disarm (hasn't happened), and other countries would be helped to use nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes (hasn't happened).  It's time to make both parts finally come true (and a nuclear-free Middle East wouldn't be a bad idea).

"Israel is existentially threatened by Iran."

There is no question that many of Iran's most prominent leaders have no love for the State of Israel. This puts them in the company of most of the leaders of the Middle East region. Some of them may be anti-Semites (though the Jewish population within Iran has not, over the centuries, seen as much societal rejection and persecution as Jews living in many other parts of the world, including the countries of the European Community). But the main objections they have are 1) the displacement of Arab peoples from their homes and businesses, and 2) Israel's claim that its status as a place where Jews of the world can enjoy a controlling position within the government is part and parcel of what Israel is and must remain.

I happen to feel that Israel should remain as a homeland for Jews; any other solution to the situation would be untenable, unworkable and unfair. That does not mean that I do not appreciate the extent to which Israel's establishment and its career since 1948 have been a terrible nakba for the Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian). It also does not mean that I don't condemn many of the policies and practices that Israelis have carried out in the course of their occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

At the end of the day, one must ask why this Iranian nation would ever see it in their own interest to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon (even supposing that they were trying to develop one, and that they succeeded in doing so). Surely, they would not sacrifice their own national existence just to support the largely Sunni population of Palestine (Iranians are not even Arabs). They certainly could not hope to sell more oil after attacking a country that has U.S. backing? They would not expect that the period following such as assault would be a period of growth and prosperity for Iran? What would be the motivation? I am stumped.

On the other side of that coin, what would be the motivation for Iran to change its stance vis-a-vis the rest of the community of nations?  Guarantees that it would not have to fear any more outside attempts at regime change, invasion or covert subversion would provide that motivation, many Iran experts believe.

"Iran has fomented terrorism around the world."

We have a great many allegations and suppositions regarding assassinations, bombings, supply of weapons or explosive devices. It is pretty tough for most of us to know how to evaluate the information coming out of any military command or diplomatic post to know what is valid, what is false, and what is just poorly substantiated. Let's assume for the moment that all the reports are correct: the United States is conducting covert ops and so is Iran. Israel is committing assassinations and so are the Iranians. The IRI is acting in an undemocratic way in its courts and America is doing the same at Guantanamo.  This shadow war of clandestine "hits" and cyber-attacks is one way that we could find ourselves in a major shooting war that nobody wants.  But beyond that, real people -- many of them completely innocent -- are giving their lives because our two countries cannot find a way to talk to one another that gets beyond recriminations and oneupsmanship.

What is needed is a sincere, patient and courageous move toward sustainable peace.

* Former President Jimmy Carter recently wrote on this subject in the New York Times:  

"The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights. Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation's violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.
"Recent legislation has made legal the president's right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or 'associated forces,' a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.
"In addition to American citizens' being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications.
"The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, now houses 169 prisoners. About half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom. American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of 'national security.' Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either."

** The day after I posted this piece, Walter Pincus, writing in the Washington Post, took note of an appearance by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on CNN (July 30).  In that interview, Barak made clear that, according to Israeli intelligence, Supreme Leader Khamenei has not yet even given the order for his country's scientists and technicians to begin building a nuclear weapon.  Their theory is that the Ayatollah has not done so because he assumes that the word would leak out and Israel or the United States would take action against Iran based on that directive having started the ball rolling. 

No comments:

Post a Comment