February 2 in North America brings the most-watched weather forecast of the year. Led by a rodent, Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, annually attracts thousands of visitors, who eagerly await the appearance of Phil the groundhog, and his foretelling abilities; by the way, the groundhog, come oracle, is always male. Legend has it that on this morning, if a groundhog can see its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it cannot see its shadow, spring is just around the corner.
Understandably so, the groundhog ceremony in Pennsylvania was held in secret until 1966, and only the groundhog's prediction was revealed to the public. However, since 1966, we have seen the democratization of the forecasts, with the audience actively witnessing and participating in the groundhog's predictions. This national media event in the United States was coupled this year with the re-emergence of another rodent's divinations, and an arrogant pageantry and pomposity that pales in comparison to any groundhog ceremony.
George Walker Bush's first State of the Union address, since his inauguration, was replete with the expected rhetoric of an administration that sees itself as a benevolent proselytizer. Written by former editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn, Bush's speech began with a congratulatory rumination on the democracies that America is helping to build in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Ukraine, and moved into the invoking of a millenarian language that issued a decree stating “the end of tyranny in the world.”
When congratulating the people of Iraq for holding elections, numerous members of Congress held up their self-inflicted ink stained fingers, as not only a sign of solidarity with Iraqi voters, but as a way of vindicating this administration, and the bedlam that has become Iraq.
Let's face it, George Bush's speech is not just about the state of the union in America, it is about mapping out how America's state will inevitably end up effecting the state of the world, and judging from Bush's proscriptions and prescriptions, the focus of the administration has shifted to the state of Iran.
Included in Bush's imaginatively geographical “axis of evil” two years ago, once again Iran took centre stage, and was referred to as “the primary state sponsor of terror in the world.” Although this assertion is highly debateable, we cannot negate the fact that the theocratic regime in Iran has often used terror as a tool of foreign and domestic policy.
In fact, Bush spoke directly to Iranians in his speech by stating: “to the people of Iran, I say, as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you”, there is no doubt that many Iranians, both inside and outside of the country, welcomed the gesture. There is also no doubt that Washington would like to see regime change in Iran, and guess what, so would a vast majority of Iranians.
However, military aggression and the promulgation of US hegemony is not the answer; as my own oracle recently told me: no bully ever made the playground safer. The question remains, what will the rhetoric against the Islamic Republic of Iran in Bush's speech translate into?
Although the administration has categorically denied any intentions to attack Iran militarily, for those Iranians who remember Condoleeza Rice's assertion's in October of 2002 regarding Iraq, mainly that “we're going to seek a peaceful solution to this”, provides little comfort, and although noted linguist, and what some would call an oracle in his own right, Noam Chomsky, recently wrote that he “highly doubts” that America would attack Iran, the behaviour and language of the administration eerily resembles that of a pre-war Iraq. In fact, Iran was the top issue on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's agenda on her European tour this week, and although Iranians love rice, this present manifestation of it is leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
However, because of the administrations debacle of Iraq, and the false pretenses under which America launched its military aggression, a U.S. Senate committee is currently reviewing the CIA's analysis of Iran, an event that did not take place prior to the attack on Iraq. Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, recently told the Los Angeles Times that he sought the review because lawmakers were wary of the CIA's current assessments about Iran's weapons capabilities.
“We have to be more pre- emptive on this committee to try to look ahead and determine our capabilities so that you don't get stuck with a situation like you did with Iraq,” Roberts said. This significant change in policy should not be overlooked, and can be utilized by those of us who are intent on avoiding a war on Iran at all costs.
Every state of the union address there are guests in the audience who are signifiers of the good intentions of the administration; living signs of America's altruism. This year, seated above the proscenium arch of the stage, were the special guests of the First Lady, Laura Bush. Introduced by George Bush were, Safia, an Iraqi woman, and Janet and Bill Norwood, the parents of an American soldier who died while serving in Iraq.
What followed these introductions was a theatre in the round that would have made both Shakespeare and Pirandello proud: the Iraqi woman, with fresh ink stained finger, turns and embraces the mother of the dead Iraqi soldier, and both women begin to weep, as the members of the chorus explode in applause.
As the two women begin to release their embrace, Safia's cufflink becomes entangled in the dog tags of Janet's dead son, which she is wearing around her neck, and as the women awkwardly attempted to free each other from the other, this entanglement of the two women provided yet another opportunity for members of congress to stand, with purple index fingers raised, and salute their president.
In fact, there were sixty-eight applause breaks in George Bush's fifty-three minute speech, and although there was some jeering by some members of congress, upon Bush voicing his intentions to privatize social security in the country, most members relished playing the role of an uninspired and mediocre orchestra that only reverberates and ricochets.
It is important for Iranians not to fall into the pit of this orchestra. It is time for us to carve out a space where we are able to at once, vocalize our collective abhorrence of the incessant grievous human rights violations of the Iranian government, while denouncing and protesting against the militaristic rhetoric of the Bush administration. This is not a Panglossian exercise, and can be done without espousing the doom and gloom oratory of the Bush administration.
Any novice of the political situation in Iran knows that the Islamic Republic is in a dead lock, and that in its present form, it cannot represent the wishes and aspirations of an entire generation that played no role in its coming to fruition, and although the residents of the Pennsylvania town, that year after year holds its Groundhog Day ceremony, contend that the groundhog has never been wrong, we cannot say the same for George Bush, nor the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Samira Mohyeddin is an Iranian / Canadian and has a degree in Religion and MIddle Eastern Studies from the Uni'ersity of Toronto, and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Women's Studies and Middle Eastern Studies there. See her weblog: SmiraMohyeddin.blogspot.com