Last week, Iran's newly elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while addressing close to four thousand students at a Tehran conference entitled “The World Without Zionism,” called for the unequivocal destruction of Israel. In no ambiguous terms, Ahmadinejad stated that Israel “must be wiped off the map.” That evening, Ahmadinejad's comments were reported by the Iranian state-run news agency.
By the next day, the international community was bustling over the Iranian president's comments. Iranian ambassadors and diplomats were summoned to explain the words of the their president, and official condemnations of the statement were made by Kofi Annan, the United Nations Security Council members, the European Union member states, and Canada.
Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat also distanced the Palestinian leadership from Ahmadinejad's comment, and offered, “What we need to be talking about is adding the state of Palestine to the map and not wiping Israel from the map.” Israel also called for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations, with Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres saying that Ahmadinejad's comments flout the United Nations charter, and are “tantamount to a crime against humanity.”
Heads of state and foreign ministries were all making reference to Iran's nuclear ambitions in the same breath as Ahmadinejad's call to wipe Israel off the map. In fact, the fear and paranoia of a nuclear-equipped Iran swept through the front pages of the world press, with Britain's Daily Express newspaper, running with the cover “MANIAC PLOTS WORLD WAR III.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been calling for the obliteration of the Israeli state since its inception twenty-six years ago. So what's all the clamoring about? The Iranian president's comments, however reprehensible, do not signify a major shift in Iranian policy towards Israel, and should not be portrayed as a break or departure from the ideology of the government.
In fact, before making his call for the destruction of Israel, the Iranian president made specific reference to one of Iran's chief revolutionary ideologues, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, by stating, “As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map.” Ahmadinejad was simply repeating the words of Khomeini and vocalizing his ideological commitment to the rhetoric of the Islamic Republic, a promise that he had made during his recent election campaign.
In form and function, the Iranian government is a totalitarian theocracy, and while member states of the United Nations become afflicted with bouts of collective amnesia and forget this fact, the people of Iran are quite aware of their predicament. If they could, they would distance themselves from the ideologies of their government.
However, as I am sure many American citizens know all too well today, this is a very difficult, yet necessary thing to do, particularly when it is always the citizens of the country that end up paying for the crimes and misdemeanours of their government. I am reminded of this fact every time I visit the United States. Despite being in possession of a Canadian passport, I am fingerprinted and have my retina scanned. All of this based on the assumption that because I was born in Iran, I am imbued with terroristic tendencies.
The fact remains that the ad nauseum chanting of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” are emblematic of the Islamic Republic's need for having a constant enemy or Other in order to keep its stranglehold on the country. In other words, “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” are the Osama Bin Laden's of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and for many of Iran's Islamists the revolution continues, and they are determined that it be televised.
Iran's hodge podge of anti-Zionist ideology, codified oppression of religious minorities, institutionalized persecution of Bahais, and all the makings of a gender apartheid state, are seemingly not enough to garner a unanimous rebuke of its abysmal human rights record. Instead, the issue is centred around the potential or perceived threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel. This framework is ironic on two fronts. First, Iran's long range missiles have had the capability of striking Israel for some time now. Second, Israel is already in possession of nuclear weapons, and needs to be deprecated for its own gross human rights violations.
Although I am not averse to the Iranian government's condemnation by the international community, the reason for doing so, however warranted, disappoints. Rather than focusing on the potential threat to Israel, how about the recognition of the particular pernicious brutality that the Islamic Republic has inflicted on Iranians for the past twenty-six years?
About 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