To Simon Rosenberg, NDN:
As you know I just returned from Iran a few weeks ago and have a decidedly different take on the general consensus concerning Iran, and a different take from your post.
I think first, you (and many, many others) overestimate the ‘cultural’ similarities between Iranian Shi’a and Arab Shi’a. I cannot tell you how many times I heard Iranians ‘dis the Arab Shi’a as uncouth and uncilized and it was the Persians who brought them real culture. Does the Iranian government support the Shi’a in Iraq? Yes, of course. But those ties are not nearly as strong as the media–and Nasr leads people to believe. (I know Steve Gilliard is going to say, “but they can still cut-off our supply lines if they want.” And he’s right. But that’s a confluence of interests, not culture.)
You also say something that I have a real hard time with:
One of the first acts of the revolutionary Iranian government was to end up in a war with Iraq, a war that lasted 8 years and cost more than a one million lives. America sided with the Iraqis in the war to help curtail the expansion of the Iranian, Shiite-led revolution, a revolution that Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, was very well aware could radicalize his majority Shiite population. Shiites well remember whose side America was on in this terrible battle.
One of their first acts? Perhaps Nasr spun this in his book, or someone else, maybe Ken Pollack? The bottom line is this: Saddam Hussein waged aggressive war against Iran; he invaded the Iranian province of Khuzestan for the oil at a time when Iran was extremely weak, and it’s army divided by the revolution. We, meaning the US, winked when he did so, gave him the chemicals to do it and the satellite targeting data as well. Iran did not instigate the war in any way shape or form. Your post makes it sound like they did, but they didn’t. Furthermore, the idea that Iran is an hyper-aggressive country needs to be disabused and clarified because it’s just not true. Why? Because in general their is a tendency to see the Iranians as very aggressive people, trying to invade other lands etc. . . that reinforces the dominant media narrative (and the neocon narrative). Fact is Iran hasn’t invaded another country in over 200 years.
More after the jump.
Now, all this is not to say that Iran doesn’t have some very serious human rights issues it needs to address. But the country spends $6 billion a year on its armed forces. We spend $400 billion. Do they support Hamas and Fatah? Yes, they do. Do they support Hezbollah? Yes, they do. Do they send arms to both? Yes, they do. So what? We prop up and support all kinds of odious regimes in our foreign policy too. Again, I am not excusing it, but what Iran does has to be looked at in a larger context. For almost 150 years Iran was dominated by Russia, then the UK and then the US. Throughout all that time they tried to develop a real constitutional monarchy and then democracy. First in the revolution of 1906–which the Russians and Brits surpressed. Then in 1953 with Mossadeq (who we overthrew in favor of the Shah).
Iran has more civil society, and is more modern than all the Arab countries. Women have 30 seats guaranteed in parliament–they are still treated in an absolutely odious and abhorrent fashion in general, as well as the treatment of gays, horrid. However, religious minorities in the country, including Christians, have churches and representation–although the Bahai are not treated well at all, it is better than Saudi Arabia where you cannot worship any other faith. Iran, again, is far from perfect, but it’s not a fascist or a totalitarian society in any way. The Sunni’s don’t like Iran because they see Iran as a more modern state than their own, with much more popular sovereignty than in their own and it scares them.
So, take this into to consideration. Iran is far, far, far from perfect, but it has a lot more to offer than any of the Arab states, and it does offer its people a lot more than they do.
Of course, this is what Ted Koppel reported last month for the Discovery Channel too, if you don’t believe me.
Also, this idea, in your words, “Iran has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons despite extraordinary global condemnation,” is simply false. The Iranians are no where near being close to having a workable weapon. Go ask Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk. The issue before the UN and the IAEA is Iranian completion of the fuel cycle, which is a first step towards a nuclear weapon, but still a very, very long way from it. When people write things like, “Iran has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons despite extraordinary global condemnation” it makes it so much easier for neocons and their enablers to demagogue “we need to attack Iran” issue. It reinforces the ‘hordes of Shi’a coming to get us’ narrative that the media so much loves. Iran is ten years at a minimum from having a workable nuclear weapon.
Lastly, while Nasr is an excellent scholar, his family fled Iran in the wake of the revolution, which means they were more than likely Royalists–although I do not know this for sure. If his father is who I think he is, his father is a brilliant scholar in his own right. That being said, if his family were Royalists, well, I know many Royalists and they have lots of axes to grind.
As with any other country in the world, there is a lot of gray here. It’s not a simply good-guy versus bad-guy dichotomy. And we really need to get past those as well.
I’m eager for your response.