Defiance is for children
Never underestimate the power of the people, professor
February 8, 2007
I was disappointed to read Dr. Ben-Meir’s article regarding Iran’s nuclear energy "The price of defiance", for the professor is too well versed in the politics and histories of the East to write such a problematic piece. I argue that it is because of such miscalculations by experts, and not because of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program (which has been under the surveillance of the international community, and which the United States CIA and various academic institutions have attested to being a legitimate program and one that Iran needs for its future domestic purposes), that the international community is in its current state.
I do not intend to argue Iran’s case here, for it is well documented, and I urge those interested to study the material for themselves and draw their own conclusions. However, I would like to comment on the general flaws in the professor’s article as well as the role academics play in global politics.
Behind the demeaning, egotistical language which permeates the article resides an extension of the imperialistic ventures which carry the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I assume that the article is meant to draw attention to another potential catastrophe; however, in both its analytical approach and language, the professor exerts the very aggression and destruction which he seems to argue against.
Professor, the discourse that we as academics generate constructs political theory and action. Our rhetoric has the ability to form international crises; we are in the businesses of depicting reality and this is a heavy burden indeed (Smith and Booth, 1995). By choosing to use such a narrow and simplistic approach to examining an interconnected and complex issue, you are silencing many creative perspectives. With your writing, professor, you are in fact instigating a war against Iran, not deciphering the political situation as you would like to imply.
I understand that international relations is a masculine field fascinated with war and that it tends to view social realities, such as wars, through cold calculations and game theory. Indeed, studying in one’s office in New York or Cambridge makes it easy to forget that our actions determine the future for countless individuals.
Nevertheless, as the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, as the Israeli invasion of Lebanon this summer, as the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, have all shown, professor, never underestimate the power of the people. No amount of methodological course work or realist paradigm applications can account for the love a nation has for its land, and for the explosions which occur when a people are placed under immense pressure. Putting aside the tone and inspiration of your writing, unfortunately, you also have the facts wrong.
First, Dr. Ben-Meir, if by international community you mean the various nation-states that make up the world, Iran is not in conflict with any of them. In fact, Iran has extensive trade, cultural, political, and economic relations with the countries mentioned. The United States and Israel have written an unspoken rule (long before this crisis, I may add) claiming that any nation which deals with Iran will reap punitive repercussions. Those European states that you named, professor, have articulated in various venues that American and Israeli forces are behind their pressures on Iran, with the French president stating off record in the last few days that Iran is not a threat.
Second, Dr. Ben-Meir you make no reference to the several attempts Iran made in 2003 to negotiate with the Americans, only to have Cheney respond by saying that the US government does not speak to evil.
Third, you do not make any mention of the Iranian diplomats invited to Iraq by its supposedly democratic government, only to have the real powers arrest and incarcerate them. As I write this article another Iranian diplomat has been kidnapped in Iraq by US forces. Why not apply IR theory and international law to this phenomenon? You state that “Iran’s actions speak for themselves,” but I argue that American actions are speaking quite louder.
Fourth, Hizballah is part of the fabric of the Lebanese culture, and its relations with Iran are more religious than political in contemporary times. Iran has been aiding the rebuilding of Lebanon and provides food and shelter for the victims of the Israeli onslaught. Iran is internationally known for providing humanitarian aid to other nations during catastrophic times.
Fifth, the Shia-Sunni divide is exaggerated; the civil war which rages in Iraq is based on economic resources and political allegiances – it is not a dispute over religious lineage. Therefore, the impending civil war you predict for the entire region is unlikely. Most importantly, why is religion the paradigm that is used to examine the political calculations of countries from the East? These are highly sophisticated nation-states which make rational political decisions based on possible outcomes, not on the historical roots of their faith.
Finally, you make no mention of the enormous support the Iranian president has from his people. Iran is a country which has numerous centers of political power; the religious jurists, professor, are neither a monolithic group nor the only initiator of debate. There are open debates; newspapers present contrasting points of view about the nuclear program and a potential invasion. Democratic debate does not equate to an abandonment of the nuclear program or a disregard for a democratically elected president.
A recent poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org -- a US based international polling organization -- stated that over 80 percent of Iranians support the nations nuclear program, and believe their country should continue with its plans even if it means that the Americans will attack nuclear sites. Last February, during what was to be a routine, annual celebration for the establishment of the Islamic Republic, there were ad hoc demonstrations in every city in Iran, by man, woman, and child, in support of the nuclear program. It was an awe-inspiring scene. And guess what, not a single news agency in the United States, including the New York Times and its reporters who are quick to print the so-called rift within the Iranian government, mentioned one word of this chilling moment. The cover of the news that day? Ariel Sharon’s health issues.
Iran is a nation that has not attacked another nation in 250 years, a nation which has an eclectic spiritual history and great respect for human life and peace. However, professor, it is also a nation that is not afraid to sacrifice and which does not view the demarcation between life and death to be tangible or permanent. I disagree with your concluding remarks that Iran’s case differs from Iraq’s predicament a few years ago. Iraq and Iran have both fallen victim to the emergence of an American empire; both nations are under attack for the riches which lay beneath their feet.
And now the question becomes what responsibilities we carry as academics to expose the truth, as opposed to spinning discourse toward domineering forces. It is my suggestion that in your political calculations you take these matters into consideration. I believe as academics we need to re-evaluate the intellectual boundaries within our fields in order to create a more conducive environment for co-existence. Comment
Shirin Saeidi is pursuing her doctoral degree in the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK. Her interests include religious history, the role of gender in international politics, and US/Iranian relations.