In the last post, Niki pointed out that it was both disingenuous and dangerous to radically de-couple "the people" from "the government" in the current climate of threats being made against Iran: "We may be able to tell the difference," between government and people, she said, but "bombs cannot."
I would like to add a point to this argument: Even "we," the observers of the current standoff on the Iranian nuclear program, no matter where we stand politically on this issue, need to be very careful about being able to make the distinction between government and people correctly. This is important, I believe, because at least on the surface of things, these two entities seem to view the nuclear issue somewhat differently, and it is important to carefully consider this difference.
The Iranian government has always adamantly insisted that its nuclear program is strictly for energy purposes, that it cannot rely on oil alone to satisfy its growing energy needs (Iran actually imports billions of liters of gasoline each year), and that mastering the technology for nuclear energy production is a key objective in ensuring national "self-sufficiency." To allay concerns that the energy program might be a front for a nuclear weapons program, the Iranian government recently signed on to the additional protocol of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which has been signed by less than half of NPT member-states so far, and which allows for snap inspections of nuclear facilities by experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The U.S. and Israel claim that none of this is satisfactory, and that they still believe Iran is secretly developing a nuclear weapons capability. Of course, there is really no way to determine the truth of this accusation. Recent experience tells us however, that the U.S. is usually not to be trusted when making statements about the WMD programs of other countries. And Israel is not qualified the least bit to make such accusations, as it has consistently refused to even sign on to the "basic" NPT treaty, much less renounce its large and ambitious nuclear weapons program and its massive stockpile of nuclear warheads.
But even if no one may be able to objectively determine the "true" nuclear intentions of the Iranian government, the nuclear intentions of the "people" seem to be relatively clear and consistent: Most Iranians support not only a nuclear energy program, but indeed, a full-fledged nuclear weapons program (also see here and here). In this sense, the people may be more radical than the government. The question that just begs to be asked here is this: when Bush condemns Iran for its nuclear program but says "America" stands by the "Iranian people," is he willing to acknowledge that one of the very few issues that can perhaps unite "the people" against America is support for the "government's" nuclear program, and perhaps even a program more radical than what the government itself is pursuing?
George Bush's 2005 State of the Union address contained a familiar
(de)coupling, one which he been known to espouse elsewhere: a threat to the Iranian regime, "the world's primary state sponsor of terror" , and a gesture of assurance to the Iranian people that "America" stands with them in their pursuit of liberty.
I will be the last person who would argue that the ruling regime in Iranor any other place for that mattercan be conflated with the people of the country. But to radically de-link the people of Iran from their government in contexts such as the above is both disingenuous and dangerous. No matter how many photos we are shown of Iraqis under occupation stuffing ballot boxes with checks next to un-named candidates, or how often we see the stylish Karzai playing the role of the sovereign statesman, Bush's forays into Iraq and Afghanistan have reminded us of the obvious: though we may be able to tell the differences between people and states, bombs cannot.
Iranians, no matter what their political persuasions or stance towards the current regime, must adamantly reject any claims of so-called support which go hand-in-hand with calls to war.
And with this entry, my first contribution to the new anti-war co-blog, I will take my own advice and register my objection to any act of solidarity with the Iranian people which is based on violence against us
Yesterday, I received an email from someone who asked why I was so worked up about a possible war on Iran. It is unlikely that the U.S. would attack Iran, the author of the email said, "because Iran is not Iraq or Afghanistan." It is true. The situation in Iran is quite different than that of Iraq or Afghanistan, and we need to keep that in mind in our analyses of a possible war on Iran. But I am not convinced that my worries are unfounded, nor do I believe that Irans case is separate from the expansionist project of the U.S. in the Middle East.
As a matter of fact, I have been concerned for a while now about what kind of future is awaiting Iran. There have been many reasons to worry, all of which are too close to home.
To start with, shortly after Bush announced his war on terror, the conservative think tank, Hoover- which is located on the campus where I am pursuing my education, started a program to develop policies towards Iran. Interestingly, it was people from this very program who wrote the 2003 "Progressive Internationalism Report: A 'Democratic' National Security Strategy." The authors of this report (some of whom are good old liberals!)endorsed the invasion of Iraq, claiming that containment was no longer an option. Knowing this, I have wondered about what is being decided for the Iranian people in the name of the people in places such as Hoover and in a coalition between certain segments of Iranian diaspora and the U.S. law makers.
I was also concerned when Sam Brownback, Kansas Senator and the author of the "Iran Democracy Act," in his 2003 Keynote speech at the American Enterprise Institute forum on The Future of Iran, declared that Iran was the most significant source of terrorism in the world as well as the single biggest opportunity for a peaceful democratic revolution in our age. What does this statement mean, especially when it was iterated in the midst of a so called "war on terror?"
You see, as much as I want to believe that the neoconservatives in the U.S. cannot legitimize an attack on Iran, the very recent history of events has shown that liberals, neoconservatives, and conservatives can put their differences aside and happily endorse the rhetoric of "war on terrorism." Whether one supports a military attack on Iran, or promotes democracy through peaceful solutions, the common assumption seems to rely on the dichotomy of success of democracy in the U.S., against its lack elsewhere. There is nothing new about this logic. It has its history in colonial discourses in Europe and the U.S. The new part, perhaps, is the way that forms of neo-liberal governmentality couple economic agendas of global capitalism with tropes of freedom and democracy. And these forms of governmentality go beyond ideological and regulatory state apparatus (Hence my concern about the role of corporations, communication technologies, and non-governmental Iranian diasporic organizations in projects of "envisioning the future of Iran").
My other reason to write preemptively against a war on Iran is the racist backlash against the Iranian communities in the U.S. After September 11, 2001, when Bush declared a war on terrorism, the question that came to mind was who are these terrorists and who defines acts of terrorism?
After all, it was only a few years back when Timothy McVeigh, a white supremacist, had bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, and causing immense terror. Was Bush to hunt down white men? No. The criminaliztion of men of color in the U.S., who were arrested for looking like terrorists, made it clear that terrorists have a particular look. Bushs axis of evil talk made it clear that they live in particular parts of the world, but have been creeping into our home through the cracks in the immigration system. Immigration and Naturalization Services became a part of the Department of Homeland Security. Policing and surveillance became an everyday part of American way of life, as they increasingly revealed the failures of American multiculturalism.
Bushs military crusade has made it clear that we are to expect a long war with no fixed target and no bounded geographical designation. What is distinct about this new war is that no clear offense needs to be committed before the U.S. launches a military attack: Terrorists could be anywhere and preemption is needed to destroy them! If Taliban were trained by the CIA to create terror in Afghanistan for many years, so be it; now they are against us. If Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, so be it. We, in the land of freedom are fighting terrorism! If we cannot prove that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iran, no problem They foster terrorism!
It seems to me that the trope of terrorism has become necessary for the legitimization of U.S. expansionist projects and for the suppression of dissent here at home. But we cannot be quiet about any form of U.S. intervention in Iran. After all, the case of Iraq has shown that diplomacy can easily turn into bombs and military occupation. Too many lives have been lost in this bogus "war on terror." Our voices of dissent are needed to stop the violence of war in Iraq and Afganistan, and to prevent the occurance of a war in Iran. Bush's claims of "exporting democracy" notwithstanding, U.S. intervention does not bring democracy; it often creates and supports undemocratic regimes. As they say, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!
I think the new emphasis of Bush on his plans, in his State of the Union, reveals that we are facing someone with daft policies who is determined to change the world as he wishes. The empty promises of freedom and end of tyranny may seem very much appealing to those who have always been deprived of their civil liberties. But is that all? What is this tyranny that Bush is talking about? To what extent have the Americans themselves contributed to the continuation of these tyrannies around the world? We have a dilemma and double problem here.
On the one hand, we do not wish the neo-cons with their aggressive and arrogant attitudes to govern the fates of the peoples of the world. Anyone who has some knowledge about the process of the development of democracy and its principles would realize that this attitude is a threat to civil society everywhere, including the United States. Bush is apparently calling himself committed to advancing freedom in the world. But, first of all, what gives him this right to consider himself the representative of the people of the world? Was the American democracy set up by force of military intervention of another country? What makes him think that he is ethically and legally authorized to do this, else than the fact that he has power? Unlimited and unbridled power has blinded the eyes of wisdom in the Unites States. Moreover, this corruption of power is overcoming all the ideals of that democracy. It is a cancer developing right under our nose.
On the other hand, when it comes to Iran, we have multiple problems. It is true that we do not have the kind of freedom we expect from a democratic civil society and the people of Iran have shown that they are more than willing to witness a non-violent power sharing democracy governing in Iran. However, the hardliners cherish the idea of war (after so many years, Bush and the Iranian hardliners have found something in common!). It will, no doubt, make a hero of all of them as people who are defending the nation and its territories. I think it is really futile to speak of the illegitimacy of either Bushs claims or the hardliners propaganda. Invasion of a territorial state is clearly a violation of international laws. The American arrogance and intoxication of power does not seem to allow them to think wisely and realize that they can never ever eradicate tyranny like this. It would merely give way to the birth of a new tyranny under a different guise. The nature of that tyranny never changes. Instead of challenging faces and forms, the real debate and the gravest combat lies in transforming a system from within and this is what the American people have failed to do: for more than four years they have failed to convince the neo-cons that their policies is a threat to world peace. Strikingly, what happens in Iran is no more threatening than what happens in the US. We have a silent majority who do not speak up and allow their rulers to wage war in their name. Yet, the situation of Iranian people is far better than that of the Americans. Iranian people, those who are indeed concerned about their freedom, neither appreciate the hollow conceited remarks of Bush, nor do they consent to terrorism of any sort, be it American or fundamentalist approaches to Islam.
Let the people of Iran decide and speak for themselves. Do not speak on our behalf. We have tongues ourselves and we do have all the means to express what we think, even in Iran. And this goes for both sides: the Bush administration and the Iranian hardliners who have hijacked political power. Let democracy and freedom flourish the way they should. The ethos of democracy is alien to the rule of a monolithic, dogmatic and ambitious pursuit of power.
Let us just for a few minutes consider, in horror, that the American invade Iran to change the regime (the same regime that they know very little about). What happens next? Have we ever thought about that? Let us even forget, that in best calculations, a lot of civilian people will be murdered (not killed, murdered) and a lot of our infrastructures will be destroyed. Let us forget about all the damages. Let us all the same assume that the Americans will, with their own money, rebuild what they have destroyed for changing the regime (everyone knows that they will never do so; they will never rebuild my demolished house). Who will be their alternative for ruling Iran? Suppose they allow us to choose whoever we wish. How can we find those people? Would it be too difficult to envisage that they will only consent of the election of those they wish themselves? Does it seem too hazy in the future horizon that they will set up a different Council of Guardians who will, nonetheless, be ignoring our wish? Can somebody answer these questions before they think of simply getting rid of the present regime?
Even if we put aside all our sympathies, as Iranians, for our nation and even for the revolution, what are the alternatives? Any alternative would turn out to be gruesome and daunting. There is no future in a democracy at gunpoint. Beware! O Americans and Iranians! The hawk of a devastating war can be flying above your heads. You rulers! Prove to the world that you are worth having. Dont fail your own families at least!
Bush's second-term 'call to arms'
Bush's 2004 State of the Union
Full text of Bush's 2005 State of the Union
United States and Europe Differ Over Strategy on Iran
Reflections on the State of the Union (Hoder)
The new problem of democracy:
interview with Professor John Keane (University of Westminster):
Part 1 & Part 2.
Perhaps one of the central issues which have to be addressed when someone is denouncing the warmongering of the Bush adminnistration is the palpable existence of the language of civil society and liberalism. Contrary to what Bush is apparently claiming, there is no such thing as freedom and democracy on his agenda at all. Freedom and democracy are, most optimistically, excuses for establishing and reconsolidating the military hegemony of the US in the Middle East region. I would even go further to say that this is not merely for the Middle East. It is a much broader attempt to restore the damaged face of the American foreign policy in the world.
It goes beyond saying that those who have been pondering on the more theoretical aspects of the issue immediately recognize the flaws of Bush's rhetoric. Liberal democracy is coming to a point of decline in the Unites States. One might be able to call the American society a civil society which could secure the individual liberties of its citizens, but it would be indeed inconceivable to say that this is the achievement of Bush administration.
Raising the flag of war against Iran or even threatening to do so, is the hallmark of the decline of liberalism in the US. The very tone and language of war, particularly when it takes an ideological and dogmatic embodiment in terms such as 'Just War' are terrifying in themselves. This language is being misused for power. I think there is an urgent need for a sort of linguistic disobedience to purify the language of civil society from barbarian elements which have crept into it under the pretext of freedom. The double standards of Bush's kind of democracy end up in the debasement of democracy itself.
Had I believed the current U.S. government had the slightest of what I consider to be "common sense," I would not be writing this today. The irony is, George W. Bush's "sense" does seem to be quite "common" here in America, and that is bad news for everyone in the world, but particularly for the people of Iran.
I would rather err on the side of caution and take the dangerous signals being sent out by Neoconservatives and Likudniks in the U.S. and Israel during recent months very seriously. If any of us has the power to do anything to prevent disaster, we will have to do it now. One dimension of any effort at such prevention will have to be in the realm of information, or more precisely, in fighting the dis-information campaign that is being waged at an ever-more alarming rate, some say to test the waters, others say to lay the grounds, for a coming war.
This group blog is one small step in that direction.