Category Archives: Iran

Analysis of a Cognitive War Campaign against the West: Why Iran will get a nuclear bomb

One of the more fruitful ways of understanding the dilemma of dealing with Iran is a cognitive warfare analysis. Cognitive warfare is the main theater of war for “weak” insurgencies in an asymmetric conflict. Unable to win on the kinetic battlefield, insurgencies must pursue means to prevent the stronger side from using their strength to prevent them from gaining strength. In the case of non-democratic insurgencies against superior democratic foes – the majority of such conflicts in the modern period – the “weak” side must deploy both their own deceptions and exploit the vulnerabilities of their foes in order to proceed. When the enemies are democracies who, in principle, consider the use of force a last resort, this means insurgencies must use the pacific (pacifist) tendencies of their foes to paralyze them.

In the case of Iranian nuclear ambitions this involves clearly high stakes: not only is Iran a Shi’i theocracy with an apocalyptic worldview, whose leaders have made clear since the inception of the regime in 1979 (1400 AH), that their resort to war is neither inhibited by modern norms, nor defensive, but also that Iran’s acquisition would trigger a much larger nuclear push on the part of their foes in the Sunni Muslim world. Thus, from any angle, whether from the huge increase in a nuclear Iran’s hegemonic influence among her immediate neighbors, or from the metastasis of nuclear weapons in other, pre-modern polities in so unstable a region, it seems an imperative that the West should prevent Iran from acquiring these weapons. Indeed, one might argue that with this cognitive-war victory (acquiring the nuclear bomb without opposition), Iran could dramatically alter the kinetic battlefield, and with this power to threaten and intimidate, to immeasurably increase their cognitive position of demanding concessions.

Apparently there’s a place in Muslim heaven for Useful Infidels

Ahmadinejad on Hugo Chavez:

In a condolence letter published by Ahmadinejad, he referred to Chavez as a “martyr” (shaheed), and said that Chavez will return on the day of salvation, along with the Mahdi (“the Vanished Imam”) and Jesus.

It’s nice to know that he got flak for this statement (which you don’t have to be Muslim to find grotesquely brown-nosing). Apparently, Ahmadinejad is so desperate for friends in the international community that he considers enthusiastic useful infidels honorary Muslims. Shades of the Mormons doing post-mortem baptisms.

One website made a particularly damning contrast between Ahmadinejad and his BFF, Chavez:

I wish Ahmadinejad was at least like Chavez. President Chavez won the support of the underprivileged masses in his country since he was able to use Venezuela’s oil revenues for the good of the people. He improved their welfare and increased their income, which won him the support of public opinion and propelled him to a third presidential term in a free election in spite of his illness. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has not improved the situation of his country’s citizens. Even though Iran’s oil revenues have increased by a similar extent to Venezuela’s, these revenues flowed into the pockets of just a few individuals, which is why Ahmadinejad does not enjoy the same level of popular support that Chavez did. Those Iranians who were hungry before have become hungrier, and those who were poor have become poorer (Baztab, March 6).

 

Iranian Semiotic Arousal and the 2012 Olympics

I have written a good deal (esp in my upcoming book) about “semiotic arousal” as a condition of the apocalyptic mind – everything is meaningful, patterns appear everywhere, nothing is coincidental. It is also a pattern of the conspiratorial mind (which, in many cases, is also apocalyptic). We’ve seen this among Muslims who can see either slanders of Islam or hidden support for the Zionists in various logos.

Now it’s the Olympics.

Iran claims London 2012 Olympics logo spells the word ‘Zion’
Almost four years after the logo’s launch, Tehran threatens to boycott the Games unless the design is changed

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 February 2011 14.29 GMT

The London 2012 Olympic logo, criticised by Iran. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
Iran has threatened to boycott the London Olympics unless the organisers replace the official logo, which Tehran claims spells out the word “Zion”.

The logo, a jagged representation of the year 2012, has been said by its critics to resemble many things, from a swastika to a sexual act, but the Iranian government argues it represents a veiled pro-Israeli conspiracy.

In a formal complaint to the International Olympic Committee, Tehran has called for the graphic to be replaced and its designers “confronted”, warning that Iranian athletes might otherwise be ordered to stay away from the London Games.

According to the state-backed Iranian Students News Agency, which is frequently used to convey official pronouncements, the letter says: “As internet documents have proved, using the word Zion in the logo of the 2012 Olympic Games is a disgracing action and against the Olympics’ valuable mottos.

“There is no doubt that negligence of the issue from your side may affect the presence of some countries in the Games, especially Iran which abides by commitment to the values and principles.”

Nice touch. Just what values and principles are these? Paranoid hatred? England would be well served by the absence of Iran and any other Muslim country crazy enough to insist on this.

The letter, from the country’s national Olympic committee, leaves unclear what “internet documents” it is referring to.

It’s also unclear what is “proved” on the internet. High school kids have a better sense of what’s reliable. Here, I think the principle is: If it supports your point of view, it’s true. Alas, that applies to many people in this world of self-induced brainwashing.

Amid the popular uproar that accompanied the unveiling of the logo in 2007, there were some claims, particularly on conspiracy-oriented websites, that its constituent shapes could be rearranged to make the world “Zion” and some animations were posted on YouTube showing how to do it.

An IOC official confirmed that the Iranian letter had been received but said: “The London 2012 logo represents the figure 2012, nothing else.”

A spokesman for the London Olympic organising committee added: “It was launched in 2007 following testing and consultation. We are surprised that this complaint has been made now.”

Notice how the gauntlet has been thrown. England either backs down or the Iranians do. Soooo honor-shame. Watch this space.

Jeffrey Goldberg has a few choice words on this:

…the Iranian regime complaining that the 2012 Olympic logo secretly spells out the word “Zion” (they’re wrong, of course; the logo secretly spells out “Mark Spitz is Jewish, and Jason Lezak is Too, So Go Drown Yourselves in the Caspian Sea)…

For a summary of the anti-Semitic idiocy that increasingly tumbles trippingly off the tongue of people all over the place, see Zombietime.

Selected Readings, February 16

oao’s daily roundup:

Omri Ceren: What More Must Obama Do to Prove to Prove Anti-Israel Realignment?

There’s an argument to be made that dispatching Ross to J Street’s confab is a bad and unseemly idea, that it will look like the White House is forcing a respected diplomat to shuffle into a Canossa filled with feverish partisans, that it will feed the perception of a renewed White House public-relations offensive against the Israel, that it will reignite questions about whether the Obama administration owes favors to a lobby backed by obscure foreign donors.

Martin Kramer: So in “free” Tunisia, this Tunisian mob is “free” to hold an antisemitic demonstration outside the Grand Synagogue in Tunis, changing “Allahu Akbar” and “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!” Filmed last Friday, so it’s reported―presumably after prayers. Who were those analysts who said Islamists in Tunisia were nowhere to be seen? Found ‘em! March on Tunis Synagogue | YouTube

Bret Stephens: In 1979, Western thinkers were quick to call the Ayatollah Khomeini ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive.’ (MUST READ)

But that doesn’t mean the Brothers don’t have an idea of what they’re aiming for. “We think highly of a country whose president is important, courageous and has a vision, which he presents in the U.N., in Geneva, and everywhere,” the Brotherhood’s Kamal al-Hilbawi told Iran’s Al-Alam TV earlier this month, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust and 9/11 denials. “We think highly of a country . . . that confronts Western hegemony, and is scientifically and technologically advanced. Unfortunately, these characteristics can be found only in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I hope that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia will be like that.”

McClathcy: Egypt’s opposition fights itself as army tightens control

Three days after Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, Egypt’s political opposition was bitterly divided over its next moves as the army expanded its near-total control over the country with no overt signs that it’s included anti-government protesters in its decision-making.

A major meeting of opposition leaders and protesters on Monday quickly devolved into arguments and diatribes, underscoring how difficult it will be for the diverse, leaderless revolutionary movement to coalesce around a political platform before elections that Egypt’s military caretakers have pledged to hold.

Charles Levinson: ‘Brothers’ in Egypt Present Two Faces

The Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Egyptian Islamist opposition group is plagued by rifts between young and old, reformist and hard-liner, and between big city deal-making politicians, and conservative rural preachers.

Michael Mandelbaum: Can Egypt Become a True Democracy?

But will the political transition ultimately lead to democracy? We cannot know with certainty, but, based on the history of democratic government, and the experiences of other countries … we can identify the obstacles that Egypt faces, as well as the advantages it enjoys, in building political democracy … Elections without liberty do not constitute genuine democracy, and here Egypt faces a serious challenge: its best-organized group, the Muslim Brotherhood, rejects religious liberty and individual rights, especially the rights of women. The Brotherhood’s offshoot, the Palestinian movement Hamas, has established in the Gaza Strip a brutal, intolerant dictatorship.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Ashton on Egypt: ‘Everyone, Including the Muslim Brotherhood, Must Be Involved’

Catherine Ashton, 54, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, discusses the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the need for elections within a matter of weeks and how Europe’s own experience following the Cold War could help.

Jonathan Spyer: Lebanon and the limits of protest

Experience suggests the pro-Iran camp can continue to happily observe pro-US regimes in the region tear themselves apart.

Selected Readings February 13, 2011

HT:oao

I’ll be trying, with oao’s help to put up a list of good links daily. Anyone who wants to send me links to include, by all means. (And if you want to add a paragraph of introduction, I’d appreciate it.)

Niall Ferguson: Wanted: A Grand Strategy for America (MUST READ)

Spengler: Chinese weather on Tahrir Square (MUST READ)

Yoram Ettinger: Impact of Mideast Turmoil on Israel’s Security Requirements

Little Green Footballs: Egyptian Protestors Hate on Israel

“CrossTalk”: The Great and Small Satan

Roya Hakakian: Egypt Through the Lens of Iran’s 1979 Revolution

The Telegraph: Arab Revolutions and European Future

John Rosenthal, Mubarak and Anti-Semitism: A Boomerang Effect?
American pundits say that the deposed Egyptian president fomented anti-Semitism in Egyptian society. But on closer examination, the charges again reveal that it was the anti-Semitism of the opposition that toppled him.

My latest piece at PJTV: Cotler, Rubenstein and Herzberg on Iran and the NGO giants

Time to Name and Shame: Iran’s Human Rights Violations

Bibliographical notes to the above piece:

Background Material:

Cotler’s Report: The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal, Right Violating Iran (PDF)

Executive Summary

Endorsers (PDF)

Elihu D. Richter and Alex Barnea, “Tehran’s Genocidal Incitement against Israel,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 45-51.

Op-Ed on the report in Ottowa Citizen.

Cotler Impresses Australian NGOs

The Three Human Rights NGOs Cotler commended for their work:

1) United against a nuclear Iran

2) Stop the Bomb

3) International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Global Human-Rights NGO Giants and their Critics

Human Rights Watch on Iran

Amnesty International on Iran

NGO Monitor, the major critic of the Human Rights NGOs tendency to pick on democracies.

NGO Monitor’s Critique of HRW:

NGO Monitor’s Critique of Amnesty International:

Aggressive Lack of Solidarity against Iran

Israel ambassador to Portugal reprimanded for Iran comments JPost 7/14/10

Why is German Public Television Courting Ahmadinejad’s Media? The Weekly Standard

Benjamin Weinthal, “Germany’s chance to get serious on sanctions” JPost

Benjamin Weinthal, “Germany robs sanctions of their power” JPost’

Russian and Chinese Support for Teheran

Attacks from the Left:

Richard Silverstein attacks an anti-Iranian NGO – hint, not on content but smear by association)

Norman Finkelstein’s attack on Cotler. Much projection.

While the [Western] NGOs are away, focusing on their own culture’s violations, groups like Hamas will play…

Hamas’ culture of impunity in violations of the human rights of Gazans

translation here.

Possible Sanctions/Attacks on Iran

AP: Ex-CIA chief: Strike on Iran seems more likely now

Elise Cooper, “Former CIA Director Sets the Record Straight Regarding His Comments on an Iran Attack,” PJMedia

CHARMAINE NORONHA (AP), “Canada imposes tougher sanctions against IranWashington Post, July 26, 2010.

EU tightens sanctions over Iran nuclear programme BBC, July 26, 2010

More extensive bibliography of recent articles at The Israel Project.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Obama? Guest blog from Uzi Amit-Kohn

I just received the following piece from a friend in Israel. I post it here at his request not because I endorse it, but because I think it’s important to think out of the box, and that’s precisely what he does. Comments and criticism welcome as always.

Unlike our brethren in the diaspora, most Israeli Jews – myself included – had no illusions about then presidential candidate Barack Obama being a friend of Israel. But even I did not foresee that Obama would team up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to subject Israel to a “good cop- bad cop” routine, and with Iran in the role of the “good cop”, no less.

By now, even many well known figures in US Jewry have come to recognize President Obama’s undisguised hostility toward the Jewish State. Ed Koch, Alan, Dershowitz, and Martin Peretz are just three of the more prominent American Jews who have publicly broken with Obama over his treatment of Israel. Here in Israel, distrust of Obama has reached such staggering heights that this Passover, at Seder tables throughout the country – or so my extrapolation from the experiences of my friends and acquaintances leads me to believe – Barack Obama’s name came up when the Haggadah (ritual reading) came to the text of “Vehi she’amda”, which –in English translation – reads:

“This is what has stood by our fore- fathers and by us! For not just one [oppressor] alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Almighty rescues us from their hand!”

Barack Obama seems to me a person full of self-regard but totally lacking in self-awareness, so at the White House “Seder” that he hosted, he probably had no sense that those words – written in reference to such villains of Jewish history as Pharaoh, Amalek, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus and Hadrian and more recently associated by one and all with Adolph Hitler – were now being recited with a picture of Barack Obama in people’s minds. It took real skill for an American president, elected with 78% of the Jewish vote, to be recognized by millions of Jews as a potential destroyer of the Jewish People.

It has been reported that the Obama administration’s intention in creating an artificial crisis in US – Israel relations was politically to weaken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and to force him either to form a new coalition with the Kadima party and its leader Tzippi Livny, or to engineer a situation in which Livny will form a new government. The most recent manifestation of Obama’s hostility seems to be a recent report in the Washington Post, that Obama, encouraged by his own National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, and such past – unfriendly to Israel – National Security Advisors as Zbigniew Brezinski and Brent Scowcroft – plans to try to impose a settlement on both Israel and the Palestinians, and will “link” Israel’s cooperation on that violation of our sovereignty to action on the Iranian nuclear issue.

To help forestall this possibility I recommend that Israel-supporters in the United States start being very vocal, and preemptively equate any attempt to impose a settlement on Israel with 1930′s era appeasement. Ed Koch has already applied the “M-word”, writing of Obama’s foreign policy “There is a foul whiff of Munich and appeasement in the air.” We may as well start using the “NC-word” (i.e. – “Neville Chamberlain”) in this context as well.

Obama is already tanking in the polls and is suffering the most rapid decline in his presidential approval rating of any first term president since polling began. He might decide that whatever benefit he had hoped to gain, by imposing a “peace settlement” on Israel, would not be worth the additional damage to his image and political standing.

The most mystifying aspect of this report is that Obama wants to make American action against the Iranian nuclear program contingent on Israel accepting the imposed settlement. The underlying premise would seem to be that Iran is only Israel’s problem, and that America’s friends and allies in Europe and the Middle East – let alone the United States itself – are in no way threatened by a nuclear armed Islamic Republic of Iran.

Life Imitates Satire: Obama’s “Win-Win” Diplomacy with the Iranians

I recently posted a satirical piece by the Onion on Obama negotiating with a forest fire — we have common interests — which I’ll replicate below. At the time it was part of making fun of Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize. Now we have the tale of his diplomacy with Iran which is unraveling before our eyes. Liberal cognitive egocentrism, politically correct paradigm, dupes of demopaths… you couldn’t write a script more tailored to the follies of the age.

First the satire:

Now, alas, the real live “peace-process” with Iran. From John Hinderaker at Powerline:

IRAN DOUBLE-CROSSES OBAMA
October 19, 2009 Posted by John at 6:24 PM

This morning, I noted that Iran’s government is telling the Iranian people that the Obama administration has consented to Iranian enrichment of uranium, thereby dismaying our European allies. I linked to, but did not discuss in detail, a Time article that appeared today. The Time article was based on interviews with Obama administration officials and was intended to put a positive spin on the administration’s effort to engage with Iran. Now, news from Vienna, where representatives of Iran, the U.S. and other nations are meeting, allows us to put the whole story together.

The Time article is the best place to start. It breathlessly describes President Obama’s personal involvement in negotiations with Iran, and the genesis of what the administration considered to be a brilliant plan:

    President Barack Obama has a personal stake in the outcome of Monday’s meeting in Vienna between Western and Iranian nuclear experts on the future of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium. That’s because, Administration sources tell TIME, Obama personally weighed in three times during secret, multiparty negotiations with the Iranians over the last four months….

    The backroom talks began in June, when Iranian officials told the International Atomic Energy Agency their country was running out of fuel for an aging research reactor built for the Shah in 1967 by American technicians….

    “We very quickly saw an opening here,” says a senior Administration official involved in the multiparty negotiations that ensued, speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. realized it could arrange for the manufacture of the specialized plates from an unorthodox source: the stash of low-enriched uranium Iran has produced in violation of U.N. Security Council demands at its massive Natanz uranium-enrichment plant over the past several years. The U.S., Israel and others had estimated that the Iranian stockpile was enough — if Iran kicked out inspectors and repurposed its enrichment facilities to enrich uranium to weapons grade — to produce material for a single atom bomb. So, the idea that Iran might agree to send most of it abroad to be turned into harmless plates for the research reactor seemed an opportune way to defuse tensions.

Iranians turn Muslim Scapegoating on its head

I’m creating a category for “irony of the day,” which generally involves either useful idiocy or civic heroism. Here it involves both: Ahmadinejad wanted to make “Al Quds/Palestinian Day” a big expression of national unity. Instead anti-Government protesters came out again, turning shouts of “Death to Israel” into shouts of “Death to Russia” (which quickly sided with Ahmadinejad). So, on the one hand, we have an elite who treat their commoners with contempt, and systematically abuse power, using the classic “anti-Semitic” trope for their scapegoating… only this time it blows up in their face.

Note how revealing the photo of Khatami jostled. This is an immense loss of face for so prominent a cleric (who actually supported Mousavi, but was attending the government rally).

What a fine expression of the surfacing of “hidden transcripts,” as James C. Scott describes them. The emperor’s fine anti-Zionist cloak comes unraveled. These are critical moments in the emergence of a civic polity: when the public can openly challenge the scape-goating narratiive with which an authoritarian elite keeps them focused in the wrong direction.

Despite Warning, Thousands Rally in Iran


Associated Press
Mohammad Khatami, center, a former Iranian president, is attacked as he attends a Quds Day rally.

By ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: September 18, 2009

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Tens of thousands of protesters chanted and carried banners through the heart of Tehran and other Iranian cities on Friday, hijacking a government-organized anti-Israel march and injecting new life into the country’s opposition movement.

The protests, held in defiance of warnings from the clerical and military elite, served as a public embarrassment to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had hoped to showcase national unity just two weeks before he is set to meet Western leaders for talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

He used the annual rally for Jerusalem Day, also known as Quds Day, to deliver a fiery anti-Israeli speech in which he called the Holocaust “a lie” and impugned the West again for its criticisms of Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential election.

But his efforts to recapture the stage were largely drowned out by a tumultuous day of street rallies, in which the three main opposition leaders marched with their followers for the first time in months. Flouting the official government message of support for Palestinian militants, they chanted, “No to Gaza and Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran.”

Coming a day after President Obama announced a revised missile defense system that aims to check Iran’s military ambitions, the rallies underscored the continuing vitality of the domestic opposition movement, which has rejected the election as fraudulent and fiercely criticized the violence that followed it.

In a striking contrast with earlier rallies, the police often stood on the sidelines as protesters faced off against huge crowds of government supporters — many of them bused in from outside the cities — and chain-wielding Basij militia members. There were reports of arrests in Tehran and the southern city of Shiraz, but no shootings or deaths, with the police apparently showing greater restraint than during earlier protests.

Photoshop or Real?

Now why can Obama only do this to the Israelis, and not the people who really deserve it?

Roger Cohen poses in NYT over Iran and his broken heart

I grew tired of fisking Roger Cohen, whose idiocy so served the forces he now acknowledges had misled him. Now he presents himself as a heart-broken journalist trying to do a job as good as any scholar, hanging in to bear witness in Teheran even after his press card was revoked.

What we really could afford to hear is how Roger Cohen rereads the drivel he aggressively produced before the shingles fell from his eyes.

Times Topics: Iran

“Not everyone realizes,” Weber told students, “that to write a really good piece of journalism is at least as demanding intellectually as the achievement of any scholar. This is particularly true when we recollect that it has to be written on the spot, to order, and that it must create an immediate effect, even though it is produced under completely different conditions from that of scholarly research. It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.”

Oh would journalists take themselves that seriously.

Actually there’s an interesting contrast here. Weber was intensely self-critical (to the point of writer’s block), but what he did produce is still being read with profit. Journalist’s, granted, have to write faster, but that doesn’t mean they have to be less critical… just that, along with the glory of shooting your mouth off to millions of people, we deserve a look when you shoot yourself in the foot.

Yes, journalism is a matter of gravity. It’s more fashionable to denigrate than praise the media these days. In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.

The rest is no more than ornamentation.

To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.

No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.

I confess that, out of Iran, I am bereft. I have been thinking about the responsibility of bearing witness. It can be singular, still. Interconnection is not presence.

A chunk of me is back in Tehran, between Enquelab (Revolution) and Azadi (Freedom), where I saw the Iranian people rise in the millions to reclaim their votes and protest the violation of their Constitution.

We journalists are supposed to move on. Most of the time, like insatiable voyeurs, we do. But once a decade or so, we get undone, as if in love, and our subject has its revenge, turning the tables and refusing to let us be.

The Iranian Constitution says that the president is to be elected “by the direct vote of the people,” not selected through the bogus invocation of God’s will. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Revolution, said in 1978 that: “Our future society will be a free society and all the elements of oppression, cruelty and force will be destroyed.”

The regime has been weakened by the flagrance of its lie, now only sustainable through force. No show trials can make truth of falseness. You cannot carve in rotten wood.

I was one of the last Western journalists to leave the city. Ignoring the revocation of my press pass, I went on as long as I could. Everything in my being rebelled against acquiescence to the coterie around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose power grab has shattered the balances of the revolution’s institutions and whose goal is plain: no eyewitnesses to the crime.

Of course, Iranians have borne witness — with cellphone video images, with photographs, through Twitter and other forms of social networking — and have thereby amassed an ineffaceable global indictment of the usurpers of June 12.

Never again will Ahmadinejad speak of justice without being undone by the Neda Effect — the image of eyes blanking, life abating and blood blotching across the face of Neda Agha-Soltan.

Iran crushes people with its tragedy. It was unbearable to go. It remains so. Images multiply across the Web but the mainstream media, disciplined to distil, is missed.

Still, the world is watching. As we Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, let’s stand with Iran by recalling the first democratic revolution in Asia. It began in 1905 in Iran, driven by the quest to secure parliamentary government and a Constitution from the Qajar dynasty.

Now, 104 years on, Iranians demand that the Constitution they have be respected through Islamic democracy and a government accountable to the people. They will not be silenced. The regime’s base has narrowed dramatically. Its internal splits are growing with the defection of much of the clerical establishment.

One distinguished Iran scholar, Farideh Farhi, wrote this to me: “So I cry and ask why we have to do this to ourselves over and over again. Yet I do have hope, perhaps for purely selfish reasons — because I don’t want to cry all the time, but also because of the energy you keep describing. We have a saying in Persian, I assume out of historical experience, to the effect that Iran ultimately tames the invaders.”

Alas how many Iranians, along with the mullahs, read this statement as the victory of those very forces whose loss you mourn. Freedom is a rare and hard-won accomplishment, not a gift. Neither you, nor the Western liberals like Roger Cohen and the President he feigned to advise, wanted it enough.

That transported me to Ferdowsi Square, on June 18, and a woman who, with palpable passion, told me: “This land is my land.”

She called Ahmadinejad “the halo without light” — a line from the anthem of the Iran demanding its country back, the Iran still saying “No” by lifting its unbending chorus into the night.

From far away, I hear it, and this distance feels like betrayal — of those brave rooftop voices and of a journalist’s “actual responsibility.”

Excuse me while I visit the vomitorium. All that time you spent practising your purple prose while dragging your feet before leaving, could have been spent on asking yourself publicly, about how you could have been so badly fooled.

A little self-criticism? Or is the difference between a reporter and an editorialist while the former is insatiably voyeuristic, the latter is insatiably exhibitionist?

Is the Neda Soltan Video a Fake? Gary Trieste thinks it’s 85% probable

While searching for a picture of Neda Agha-Soltan for my next post, I ran across this. I didn’t have time to check out Gary Trieste, or even to examine the evidence. But just reading it through once I had a sense of how it must be for pro-Palestinians to read our arguments. I just don’t want to believe this is a fake, so I am ill-inclined to consider the arguments. I submit it to the readers of this blog to respond to. I have no position yet, although just reading it has been a salutary emotional experience. All comments welcome.

Was the Neda Agha-Soltan video a Hoax?
A few humble observations, and a few impertinent questions.
by Gary Trieste
(libertarian)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It was the shocking video that flashed around the world by the Internet. An at-the-scene moment, taken during the recent Iran election protest demonstrations.

The Neda Agha-Soltan video, shows a young woman in the street, having been struck down by a government sniper’s bullet.

The video shows her stunned, and collapsing backward to the ground while being let down gently by a man.

The woman peers sideways at the camera coming towards her, with an perturbing visage of resignation on her face, probably due to massive shock.
A closeup of her face suddenly reveals rivulets of blood streaming down the side of her mouth and then from her nose, while a doctor attempts to revive her.

In the background we can hear her friends trying encourage and console her. Heart rending sounds of anguish and cries come shortly thereafter when it is apparent she had succumbed to her injuries.

Shocking. An indictment of the callous and brute force of the Iranian militia. A tragic and senseless death that shows perfectly how wrong this conflict is.

And yet, as one gets over the visceral impact of it, past the gut wrenching tragedy, and one begins to reflect . . . does it not have, perhaps, a bit of a “too-perfect-to-be-true” feel to it?

Much like the infamous Stephen Glass articles written for the New Republic, edgy, highly topical, and on point to cutting edge social events, his articles were just too good not to be true, they went down as smoothly as KoolWhip and Flan.

I would have thought al Durah was a more appropriate comparison, no?

And the hapless soldier’s sigh runs in blood down palace walls

London (1794)

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Pictures from the streets of Iran (HT/Noah Pollak, published by Boston.com)

There’s a possibility that, because Iranian soldiers refuse to fire on Iranians, the government has brought in Arabs to do the job (Hizbullah?). At present, this is only a rumor, but it might make sense, and reinforces the rumors that some of the bodyguards of the Gaza clique are Iranian.

There are widespread reports of police and security forces, around Tehran and other big cities where there have been demonstrations, who are not Iranian and either speak Persian with a very pronounced Arab accent or speak no Persian at all…. Reports are circulating that Venezuela has sent anti-riot troops to Tehran to help Ahmadinejad, joining Hezbollah members from Palestine and Lebanon who are employed by the Islamic government as anti-riot police — the reason such forces are being brought in is that some of the Iranian police are unwilling to hit people as ordered and some are even joining the protesters.

Is this Obama’s Jimmy Carter Moment?

Am I getting this right? Are there hundreds of thousands of protesters in Iran — up to a million people in the streets — against an insane, medieval theocracy on the verge of getting the nuclear bomb, which is firing on the crowds, and Osama hasn’t said anything?

Déjà-vu all over again.

Joe Lieberman (not Avigdor) has this to say (HT: Michael Totten)

[T]hrough intimidation, violence, manipulation, and outright fraud, the Iranian regime has once again made a mockery of democracy, and confirmed its repressive and dictatorial character.

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

I guess one of the problems for Obama is that he forgot there was a reason that we didn’t try and make friends with Iran besides the fact that they didn’t like us. Cozy up to nasties in the hope of charming them — Carter again! — and you end up on the wrong side of history.

Michael Totten Covering Iran

(HT/Joel Fishman).

Iran under Fire

Fareed Zakaria: Poster Boy for Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism

I haven’t posted a lot on Iran because it’s not really an area I know a great deal about. But what I can recognize is the predictable tropes of cognitive egocentrism, and that’s what this latest by Fareed Zakaria is full of. I’ve been following his program on CNN segments of which we’ll be posting soon at the new Second Draft site for comment and criticism. There, it’s hard to know what he thinks aside from how he chooses his guests — Gerges is less of an analyst than an advocate, but Zakaria doesn’t seem to notice — but in this piece he’s wearing his colors loud and clear.

Lorenz Gude, one of our regular commenters here notes:

    I found myself pretty surprised by Fareed Zakaria’s piece on Iran in Newsweek entitled “They May Not Want the Bomb.” It is an example of apologetic propaganda that reminds me of hagiographies of Stalin.

Emerging Iran

Inside a land poised between tradition and modernity

How’s that for a start. It may be somewhere between the two conceptually, but to call it poised between them is to suggest those are its two possible (and imminent) directions. On the contrary, Khoumeini’s “Islamic Republic of Iran” is a terrifying experiment in anti-modern apocalyptic Islam. To leave that out of the picture already marks Zakaria’s (or is it the Newsweek editor’s) conceptual framework as critically deficient.

How about: Inside a land hijacked by anti-modern Islamists on the painful path from tradition to modernity

By Fareed Zakaria | NEWSWEEK
Published May 23, 2009
Religion Versus Reality
Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What’s the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons.

And they wouldn’t lie to us, would they? Zakaria seems to think that having nuclear weapons is like having dessert — something you can take or leave. Does he really mean this? Is this deliberate misinformation or just breathtaking naivete? As the kept woman said to the court when told that her senator lover denied having any knowledge of her, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were “un-Islamic.” The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that “developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam.” Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini’s statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes.

Of course they could be lying. And they could be doing that for the sake of Islam. After all, the Shiites are the original practitioners of Takkiya. As the Supreme Leader Khoumeini put it:

    Should we remain truthful at the cost of defeat and danger to the Faith? People say, “don’t kill!” But the Almighty himself taught us how to kill… Shall we not kill when it is necessary for the triumph of the Faith? We say that killing is tantamount to saying a prayer when those who are harmful [to the Faith] need to be put out of the way. Deceit, trickery, conspiracy, cheating, stealing and killing are nothing but means… (Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad, p.43).

Are these statements made in English and broadcast to us, or in Pharsee and broadcast to the Iranian public. Could it just be fodder for dupes?

And then, what about this:

    Iran’s hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.

    In yet another sign of Teheran’s stiffening resolve on the nuclear issue, influential Muslim clerics have for the first time questioned the theocracy’s traditional stance that Sharia law forbade the use of nuclear weapons.

    One senior mullah has now said it is “only natural” to have nuclear bombs as a “countermeasure” against other nuclear powers, thought to be a reference to America and Israel.

    The pronouncement is particularly worrying because it has come from Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is widely regarded as the cleric closest to Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Nicknamed “Professor Crocodile” because of his harsh conservatism, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s group opposes virtually any kind of rapprochement with the West and is believed to have influenced President Ahmadinejad’s refusal to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear programme.

    The comments, which are the first public statement by the Yazdi clerical cabal on the nuclear issue, will be seen as an attempt by the country’s religious hardliners to begin preparing a theological justification for the ownership – and if necessary the use – of atomic bombs.

Does Zakaria know about this and doesn’t think it’s relevant? Is the Daily Telegraph misreporting?

The Dupe and Demopath: The Rubin Report analyzes Stephanopoulos’ lame interview with Ahmadinejad

Barry Rubin, the prolific analyst whose every essay is well worth reading (not to mention his books), has a new blog, The Rubin Report. Here’s a piece from today’s selection that hones in on the dysfunctional (or should I say, counter-functional) relationship between a demopath (Ahmadinejad is among the finest) and a dupe. It’s a classic clash between PCP and HSJP.

SUNDAY, APRIL 26, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Wishful Thinking: Ahmadinejad and the “Two-State Solution”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an interview to George Stephanopoulos of ABC. He knew what he was saying but others want to insist on refusing to understand him.

First the relevant exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinian people negotiate an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian people vote and support that agreement, a two state solution, will Iran support it?
AHMADINEJAD: Nobody should interfere, allow the Palestinian people to decide for themselves. Whatever they decide….
STEPHANOPOULOS: If they choose a two state solution with Israel, that’s fine.
AHMADINEJAD: Well, what we are saying is that you and us should not determine the course of things beforehand. Allow the Palestinian people to make their own decisions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they choose a two state solution, if they choose to recognize Israel’s existence, Iran will as well?
AHMADINEJAD; Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I’ll ask them. But I’m asking you if Palestinians accept the existence of Israel, would Iran support that?….
STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinians sign an agreement with Israel, will Iran support it?
AHMADINEJAD: Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well.

And how did the Israeli online service of Yediot Aharnot newspaper, YNet News, play this? Here’s the headline: “”Ahmadinejad ‘fine’ with two-state solution.”

Well, not exactly. He refused to say that. All Ahmadinejad said was that he would support what the Palestinian people decided. What does that mean?

First, he personally believes that they would never accept a two-state solution so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect.

Second, of course, he knows that Hamas would never agree to such a thing and Hamas already controls how people vote in the Gaza Strip. One might presume that if a referendum was held there, the vote would be “100 percent” against a two-state solution. In addition, Hamas and others opposing a two-state solution would get between 30 and 70 percent of votes in the West Bank. A lot of Fatah supporters would also vote against it. The exact numbers aren’t important because whether the number is the higher or lower figure such a proposition would always be defeated.

Third, any two-state solution would only be made by Fatah. Iran supports Hamas. If Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were to make a deal with Israel, Tehran would still back Hamas in overthrowing that government, using the deal to portray its rival as treasonous. Once Hamas took over the state of Palestine, it would tear up all the agreements and invite in the Iranian military.

So in effect Ahmadinejad just said that he would never accept a two-state solution but why put that in clear words when the dumb Westerners can be left to interpret it as they wish.

But Ahmadinejad also put a little bomb in the interview which no one seems to notice. Let me repeat one of his answers:

AHMADINEJAD; “Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?“

What’s he saying here? “All Palestinian lands” might sound like saying the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem to Western ears, but everyone in Iran and among the Palestinians knows this means: all of Israel plus all the territories it captured in 1967.

So here’s what the Iranian president is saying: Suppose the Palestinians vote that they want all of Israel, would the United States accept that? The answer, of course, is “no” and so, Ahmadinejad is saying: I’m the one in favor of democracy and you’re against it.

(According to him, of course, Israelis have no rights to a state so they don’t get to vote.)

Ahmadinejad has built his own career on regarding the West as extremely stupid, cowardly, and easy to fool. Many or most of his colleagues in the Iranian regime agree with him.

I could write at this point that the one exception was when in the mid-1980s the United States was appearing ready to attack Iran unless it ended the Iran-Iraq war. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did so but I think he was misreading American intentions (albeit to the credit of U.S. policymakers in pulling off that bluff).

Still, I’m tempted to say that up to now that the Iranian leaders’ assumption has never proven to be wrong.

Appeasing Iran: How Should Obama play the game

I’m thinking of giving this article to my students on the honor-shame course final with the following query: how does an honor-shame analysis of the interaction between Presidents Obama and Ahmadinejad help figure out whether Obama’s approach will work, and if not, what approach might?

The Logical Fallacies of Appeasing Iran
Pajamas Media
Posted By Nicholas Guariglia On April 24, 2009

Roger Cohen, one of the op-ed columnists for the New York Times, has, as of late, made it his personal pastime to defend the theocratic killers ruling Iran. One of his recent columns, entitled “Israel Cries Wolf,” mocks and belittles Israeli concerns regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, citing warning statements made by Israeli leaders over the years, most of which have (yet) to come to full fruition. Today, his chief target is the newly sworn-in premier, Benjamin Netanyahu. The following excerpt captures Cohen’s inane argument ad captandum:

    I don’t buy the view that, as Netanyahu [said], Iran is “a fanatic regime that might put its zealotry above its self-interest.” Every scrap of evidence suggests that, on the contrary, self-interest and survival drive the mullahs.

    Yet Netanyahu insists … that Iran is “a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” Huh?

    On that ocular theme again, Netanyahu says Iran’s “composite leadership” has “elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist in any other would-be nuclear power in the world.” No, they exist in an actual nuclear power, Pakistan.

    Israel’s nuclear warheads, whose function is presumably deterrence of precisely powers like Iran, go unmentioned, of course.

This is an important passage, because it underscores the logical fallacies employed by proponents of appeasement with Iran. By utilizing three commonly used tricks, Cohen throws everything he has at the wall in just a few short sentences — hoping something sticks.

Cohen’s first error: equating Western-centric models of rationality to those of our theocratic enemies. “Self-interest and survival drive the mullahs,” he swears — and not “self-immolation” as he claims Netanyahu believes. This is false. While it is true that the Iranians might have a Persian “superiority complex” and would rather hire Arab terrorists to blow themselves up — Lebanese, Palestinians, Jordanians, Iraqis, etc. — whom they ethnically look down upon, it is a mistake to believe Iranian “self-interest” coincides with Israeli or American self-interest.

Think of it this way: Why do would-be suicide bombers run away from U.S. military units while engaging them on the battlefield? Why did the operational planners of 9/11 flee Tora Bora into Pakistan? Why do al-Qaedists and Taliban militiamen seek refuge from air strikes overhead? According to Cohen’s universe of zero-sum logic, these suicidal extremists should welcome their own demise, should they not? One is either a self-immolating fanatic or pursuing coherent self-interest, as personally defined by Cohen himself — right?

The truth is a little bit more complicated. The sincerest jihadist prides himself on a fanaticism that is as tactical and patient as it is theological. Just as Mohamed Atta’s crew donned cell phones and hobnobbed casinos and strip malls — growing parasitic on the society they vowed to destroy, coming to lust what they claimed to loathe — so too it is common, in fact widespread, for a Khomeinist mullah from Iran (or a Wahhabi prince from Saudi Arabia) to indulge in the financial niceties, personal pleasures, and opportunities offered by civilized normalcy. But, as with Atta and his eighteen cohorts, the transition from such immediate real-world self-interest to fantastically dogmatic supernaturalism and brutally self-and-mass-inflicting violence is an easy process, indeed.

Iran’s current president talks into water wells, hears voices, and anxiously awaits the return of the “hidden imam” — and with it, the end of the world. Iran’s former president, and perhaps future supreme leader, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is wanted in Argentina for knocking down a large office building. And he’s supposedly the “moderate” in Iran’s leadership.

The rest of the clerical regime, from the Orwellian-sounding Assembly of Experts to the Council of Guardians, is as ideologically unhinged as any governing body in the world. Cohen scoffs at this fact at our own peril.

Cohen’s second error: applying a false comparison between Iran and Pakistan. This point has been raised for years — and as current realities stand, it has never made less sense. Pakistan is an immense challenge, but the problem it poses to the world is one of intrastate warfare: a government incapable or unwilling to impose its sovereignty over all of its territory. In other words, there are factions within Pakistan that are openly hostile to the United States. But the government itself, led by President Zardari, is at least publicly an ally in this joint effort.

In Iran, however, the government itself is openly adversarial. All apparatuses of the state fall under the dominion of Ayatollah Khamenei, a murderous old man who does not think within our geopolitical constructs. Should the Pakistani government ever fall to al-Qaeda-linked clerics, then Cohen’s parallel would make a semblance of sense.

His third error: applying moral equivalence between a liberal democracy and a ruthless theocracy, while advocating Cold War doctrine to an inherently asymmetrical conflict. Israel’s nuclear program is morally and politically superior to Iran’s program, just as France’s nuclear program is acceptable and North Korea’s program is not.

Additionally, deterring what Thomas Friedman once coined “the undeterrables” is impossible, particularly given the fact that Iran could sell or proliferate its nuclear expertise to other rogue entities, black market networks, or terrorist groups. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, one of the last great comedic wits: Iran doesn’t have to shoot the nuclear three-pointer; they could pass off the assist to their teammates, instead.

Which brings us to President Obama, who has consistently and deferentially referred to Iran as the “Islamic Republic” — perhaps subliminally signaling that we seek no regime change and recognize the political legitimacy of the ruling clerics. This is worrisome, especially given the news that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau indicted Le Fang Wei, a Chinese financier, for duping several American banks and peddling nuclear materials to the mullahs.

Reportedly, Fang Wei set up four bogus import-export companies that worked with six Iranian shell firms, with the largest recipient believed to be a subsidiary of the Iranian defense ministry.

There were some 58 transactions in all, including shipments of banned materials from Beijing to Tehran between 2006 and 2008. Among them: 33,000 pounds of a specialized aluminum alloy (used in long-range missile production), 66,000 pounds of tungsten copper plate (used in missile guidance systems), and 53,900 pounds of maraging steel rods (an incredibly hard metal used in uranium enrichment to make the casings for nuclear bombs).

Herein lies the asymmetry to Iran’s nuclear pursuits: if their military program is shut down, they will continue to secretly weaponize their “civilian” nuclear program; if that is shut down, they will acquire atomic materials through third parties — sometimes, as in this case, from within the borders of the Great Satan itself — and across the black market; if those efforts are stifled, the mullahs will ascertain the bomb from their rogue allies in Pyongyang or elsewhere.

There are many avenues the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-Rafsanjani regime may travel, all of which must lead to a U.S.-led roadblock at the nuclear intersection. But there is no evidence that this will be the case. More than three years ago, Joe Biden, then in the Senate, told the Israelis they would eventually have to accept a nuclear-armed Iran. Today, Vice President Biden warns Israel not to take action against Iran’s nuclear program.

This is untenable. Mr. Obama must be wary of these insufficient Cohen-like rationalizations and avoid falling prey to their deceptions. He must understand the urgency of the situation, for if he votes “present” on this issue as well, there will be repercussions to pay.

Blair vs. Hamas: The Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism Personified

An Iranian press agency reports on Hamas leader Khaled Mashal’s visit to Iran and his remarks about Tony Blair’s remarks about the conditions of Hamas’ participation in discussions aimed at resolving the conflict. Both the remarks, and the article, represent lucid insights into the deep disconnect between the religious and political culture that produces an organization like Hamas, and that that produces a politician/diplomat like Blair. The Moebius strip of cognitive egocentrism at work. Again, like the exchanges between Obama and Ahmadinejad, we have two different notions of honor at play.

Hamas: Blair’s remarks mirror of stupidity
Sat, 31 Jan 2009 17:15:52 GMT

Hamas has dismissed a condition set by Mideast Quartet Envoy Tony Blair that the movement must recognize Israel before starting talks.

Mushir al-Masri, the head of Hamas’s parliamentary bloc, said Saturday that raising this “suggestion” testifies that Blair is not familiar with the situation in the Middle East.

He termed Blair’s suggestion as “utterly foolish and useless.”

Both the tone and the content suggest contempt, in particular for how clueless Blair is. He just doesn’t get it: Hamas has no intention of changing its tune on Israel, and believes that the vast majority of the Muslim world (minus some cowardly politicians) is behind it.

Note that they make no effort to “respect” Blair’s feelings. On the contrary, dissing him, public scorn, is part of their act. No reciprocity here.

Note that the article begins with the insult before even revealing the remarks to which it is a reaction.

In an interview with The Times published Saturday, Blair said Hamas must be involved in the Middle East peace process; however, the movement have to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce ‘violence’.

Although by Western standards this is basic stuff, simple groundrules for reaching a positive-sum solution, by Jihadi standards, this is a joke. From their point of view, he is an idiot, not only because he’s made a demand they will not meet, but because unless he’s got a way to marginalize Hamas, that’s a losing opening gambit, in which case he’s an idiot and a fool. (Let’s hope he’s got some other moves in response to this clearly predictable reaction to his opening condition.)

Obama’s Al Arabiya Interview: Honor-Shame Dynamics and VDH’s Analysis

I’m teaching my favorite course this semester on “Honor-Shame Cultures, Middle Ages, Middle East.” In a discussion, we touched on President Obama’s interview on Al Arabiya and his offering an open hand to soften the clenched fist of the Muslim world, including an offer to meet with Ahmadinejad without conditions. When I asked them what they thought the response might be, the closest I got to an accurate estimation was, “they ignored it.”

I pointed out that, as we had been learning about cultures given to blood revenge, people have long memories, and that they keep score. In that sense, since 1979 — i.e., when Khoumeini took over — Iranians had humiliated the Americans and the West repeatedly, from the seizure of the American Embassy, to kicking the US out of Lebanon via their proxies, Hezbullah, to intimidating the Western intelligentsia with the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, to messing with the US in Iraq, again via proxies. So Iran, having been offered the hand of friendship was less likely to view this offer as a sign of magnanimity and courage and a new opening for a peaceful diplomacy, than as a sign of weakness and cowardice.

And within moments, Ahmadinejad responded precisely as a player in the honor-shame game could be expected to respond, not with magnanimity but with the aggresion one can expect from someone who smells blood: to Obama’s offer to meet without conditions — a position that many warned was an ill-advised concessionAhmadinejad responded with a host of conditions, from further grovelling (Iran has their own list of grievances against the US), to major on-the-ground unilateral concessions.

And still more predictably, dedicated America haters chimed in — Hugo Chavez blamed Obama for not showing sufficient respect; while our own media discussed his “cool” or “ambiguous” response.

Below, Victor Davis Hanson’s analysis with comments from the honor-shame perspective.

January 27th, 2009 8:40 pm
Dancing Among Landmines—The Obama Al-Arabiya Interview.

President Barack Obama is being praised for choosing an Arabic TV network for his first formal television interview on the Dubai-based, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel. I think we can all appreciate the thinking behind such bold outreach, given that the media at home has chortled to the world that our new guy’s unusual background, in sort

A classic PCP move based on principles of integrity: be self-critical, and generous in judging the other side. They in turn, out of gratitutde for how you’ve shown them respect, will reciprocate. The Israeli progressives tried this on a massive scale during the Oslo process, including rewriting/revisioning Zionist history in the form of an apology to the Palestinians for all the damage Israelis had caused their neighbors.

Now this kind of historiography is a form of “therapeutic” history — “if I apologize, then the other side can accept my acknowledgment of the suffering I’ve caused them, and we can both move on. But therapy is a most dangerous platform on which to build a serious history, not only because it subordinates facts to a rhetorical stance, but because if you misjudge your audience(s), it can misfire. Indeed, not only has post-Zionism (predictably) provoked more hatred — “we told you so, we always knew you were to blame! — among Palestinians and other anti-Zionists, but it has seriously, dangerously, undermined Israeli self-confidence.

Obama, in a minor way, is trying the same maneuver. Let’s hope he’s got a fast learning curve. In any case, both history, and the study of honor-shame cultures suggests that this maneuver will backfire.