Iran and Israel: Tribalism
By Moji Agha
August 24, 2001
In regards to the recent thought provoking and controversial editorial
in iranian.com ["Just
wondering"] much has been said. I don't want to re-present the
thoughts and feelings that have been so far expressed -- some more eloquently
than others -- rather I want to add my two cents to this timely debate.
One perspective that has been articulated, but only partially, is that
how Iran deals with Israel should be decided on the basis of Iran's national
interests. I agree wholeheartedly and want to add to this aspect of the
To provide additional context, I also want to share with you my recent
e-mail exchange with Amotz Asa-El, Editor-in-Chief of The International
Jerusalem Post -- apprarently the "Kayhan" of Jerusalem, with
regards to the quality of its journalism, especially in his recent editorial
(I will quote his concluding paragraph later on). It shows that ideological
tribalistic "journalism" has many faces.
As far as Iran's national interests are concerned, I think they should
be considered in two different contexts: a) with regards to Iran's present
interests, and b) with a view toward Iran's long-term survival in the context
of the survival of life on our "puny" Earth -- for now to the
foreseeable future that is all we living beings have for a home. Maybe far
in the future some of us will find a way to escape to some other planet.
But for now let us not defecate even more in our small and over-populated
Back to Earth: If the sentiments expressed in the editorial below are
any indication, Israel does not see herself as a "friend" of Iran.
Thus, Iran should treat it accordingly and in the context of her respective
national interests. These include Iran's defensive strength and her need
for peace and stability, so that she can survive and prosper in her no nonsense
neighborhood. Both of these requirements speak to Iran becoming politically
and economically strong.
Now, I believe Iran should evaluate, free of ideological bias of any
kind, if her policies vis-a-vis Israel have been EFFECTIVE. From this vantage
point, we should level-headedly examine if Iran has been successful in dealing
with her main regional adversary, Israel.
In my opinion, Iran's post-revolutionary policy toward Israel has been
independent, namely, not dictated by any foreign power. This is quite precious.
On the other hand, no matter how much Iran has talked (in slogan, or shoaar)
about being resolute in the face of Israel's adversarial behaviors, her
ability in being factually EFFECTIVE in this matter is debatable.
I think if Iran could have concentrated more on increasing its true national
strengths, as opposed to the strength of her rhetoric, she would be in a
better position now, for example, to be an effective player in trying to
make sure that her natural resources are used in the best way possible or
to protect the Islamic holy sites and being a more effective friend to the
These three factors are among the many aspects of Iran's multi-faceted
national interests, which also include her responsibilities on the scene
of civilization AND her ecological destiny in the interest of her future
survival, in say, the next 5,000 years of her history.
This brings me to the next topic. As our globe shows increasing signs
of suffering as a consequence of human self-destructive self-centeredness,
Iranians find themselves having to think wider about our "national"
interests in this planetary context.
In this regard, we share some interests with those of ALL other inhabitants
of the increasingly fragile cosmic "gravel" that we call our home.
This includes Israel. I realize that we are not used to think in such terms,
let alone to think of Iran's international policy in such planetary light.
What I contend here is that we have no choice. I repeat we have NO CHOICE
in this matter. Could there be a global blessing disguised in this painful
journey? Somehow, I think so.
Now, let us again come back to Earth to look at tribal/ideological ugliness
in the face. Thanks to being on the mailing list of the Iranians
for International Cooperation, I recently read an online Israeli editorial.
In his editorial, Mr. Amotz Asa-El, the Editor-in-Chief of The International
Jerusalem Post expressed a lot of Israel-centered ideas. Here is the
shockingly surrealistic concluding paragraph of his racist editorial:
".....In fact, in waging war on our infants, he [Arafat] turned
on that hidden switch which governs Israelis', and any post-Holocaust Jew's
mindset whenever they feel cornered. In such moments, we, who came here
'from the dark,' a mere '50 or 60 years ago,' in order to be precisely
where our ancestors built temples, tilled the soil and wrote laws, now
have this tendency to do exactly what our forebears in Europe so fatally
failed to do: fight."
It outraged me so much that I emailed him this response:
I am a PERSIAN-AMERICAN (not Arab) psychologist. What I see in this
paragraph is evidence that you think anyone who says anything "against"
you is Hitler. You pay homage to blind violence by doing so. You say we
will fight back THIS TIME (rather than being exterminated).
You are a sad victim of your own victimization cycle. Break out of this
cycle and you will see that Palestinians are humans (identical to "you"
genetically -- they are semites that came from North Africa, like your
"forefathers.") who want to raise their children (if you let
them) with dignity.
Palestinians are the victims of Israel. They are not Hitler. You are
not David this time. Please let the Palestinians and others in the region
live, then you will see that we Middle Easterners are a peaceful lot too.
We don't have an "Arab" mentality as Jews don't have a "Jewish
mentality," as Hitler used to say. All people are INDIVIDUALS.
I really did not expect a response. However, he sent the following rhetorical
question as his response to my email:
Thank you, Agha. Have you ever been in Israel?
The International Jerusalem
Faced with his dismissive and patronizing response, and wanting to remind
him that people fear Israel (as opposed to the reverse) I wrote:
Why are you asking? I am afraid of your secret police. I am a lover
of peace, a Sufi and therefore a "Jew" [among others] -- Sufism
and the Kabbalah are "identical" [in spirit].
Why I am afraid of you? Many years ago "your folks" assassinated
(through the ADL) a Palestinian activist in the San Francisco Bay Area,
and secretly engaged in tapping the phone of and stealing the mail of a
number of people involved with the Arab ADL. Your folks are good at "secretly"
ruining lives, careers, etc... even of Jews who wake up to see the horrors
that are being committed by the so-called "defenders of Jews."
I refer you to read another Jew, Noam Chomsky. Have you read the "Holocaust
Industry" by Finklestien?
"Your folks" are doing to Khatami's Iran what was done to
Mossadegh in 1953 because "your" interests are mutually dependent
as those of "your" "enemy" -- the "horrible right
wing conservatives" in Iran. Have you sent them a thank you card lately?
When it comes to "defending" Jews against whomever your "co-cyclists"
(those who are enslaved in the victimization cycle, similar to "you")
determine to be new Hitlers, then their deep switches ( as you put it)
get pushed and they go to "fight" mode.
It does not matter that in the process "you" lose your Davidness
and gradually your humanity. One day Israel had a moral appeal as an oppressed
people who wanted a homeland (like the Kurds). But unfortunately, your
country is losing that moral legitimacy as you are doing to your Palestinian
genetic brothers that which was done to you. When are you going to wake
up to this reality?
In a very "peaceful" and self-righteous (hagh-bejaaneb and
mazloom namaa) fashion he wrote:
Some day we'll meet in peace.
Seeing his arrogance I wrote back:
If Israel wants peace...rather than arrogant domination of the region
as the "chosen" people...thinking it is a zero sum game! (Have
you ever been to Iran?)
I doubt he will respond.
Moji Agha is a visiting scholar at the Center For Middle Eastern Studies
at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He recently founded a non-profit
center for inter-cultural and interfaith dialogue. He has been a teacher
of cultural studies, conflict resolution, and cross-cultural psychology.