I remember the first time I met an Irishman. I was 16 and stupid, and after we’d talked for about five minutes, I immediately steered the conversation to the Troubles, assuming that he would find the subject as fascinating as I did. I think I mentioned how Ireland was a model for solving intractable conflicts, and praised the Good Friday Accords as a historic breakthrough, but don’t remember the details.
It’s the answer he gave me, rather, that I remember to this day, and which immediately came to mind when I read about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. It was a laconic, sceptical ‘we’ll see;’ Nothing more.
We’ve been down this road many, many times before with Iran. And doubtless we will continue down it for some time. The chasms of disagreement still yawn fairly wide, and won’t be bridged because a paper has been signed in Geneva. Time will tell if President Rouhani’s new tone of dignity and respect is a genuine shift in attitudes within the Iranian establishment, or merely posturing to distract a credulous western public.
Though I will say that the pro-Iran lobby has been telling us for years that ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s senile blathering about Israel and the demon West was nothing to be concerned with. He didn’t speak for the Mullahs. He was a harmless figurehead. Cooler heads than the President’s prevailed in Iran. He was primarily a spokesperson to foreign nations, and shouldn’t be taken seriously, I remember being told.
It’s difficult now, after hearing so much of that, to believe that Rouhani’s tone of warmth is sincere. That the Mullahs who decide who wins Iranian elections haven’t just decided on a different tack in gulling the West, and that the olive branch Rouhani is extending doesn’t conceal a sword, which he is happy to use.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope it’s the real deal. Nothing would make me happier than a rapprochement with this ancient and beautiful civilization. It’s always been difficult to imagine a nation that has produced such treasures as Marjane Satrapi, Rumi, and Jian Ghomeshi, to range wildly over time and space, being quite what we’re told it is by Neo-Con hawks like Binyamin Netanyahu. This is an urbane, sophisticated society that actually has a few thousand years on the west in terms of its collective existence. It’s not to be infantilized. Edward Said is impossible to ignore.
But simply put, we don’t know who wields the levers of power in Tehran. If the political dynamic often seems opaque to Iranians who actually live there, how much more so must it be to us westerners, who glimpse it only through the filters of mainstream media propaganda, from both sides, and the blinkers imposed by our respective security establishments?
It’s most likely Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious leader, who is making the final decisions. But in that event, why isn’t he the one reaching out to the west convincing us of the need for peace between us? Why is that task being delegated to the ceremonial office of the President? Are they just playing on our gullibility and ignorance?
It’s important to remember that Iran’s Mullahs are playing a much longer game than we in the West are. Fundamentally secure in their positions of power, they aren’t thinking in terms of the next election cycle; they’re thinking in terms of the next hundred, even thousand years. They’re content to wait for what they want, which is the global triumph of their cruel, hateful brand of Islam, and feel no great rush to make it happen by tomorrow.
With that in mind, what’s more likely; that a set of committed religious fanatics have magically decided to stop hating Western values of individual liberty and separation between religion and the state? Or that they’re willing to don false smiles to get the boot of crippling sanctions off their necks, revive their economy, relieve the domestic pressure on their authoritarian rule, and get ready for their next bout with the Great Satan?
I don’t know. Only time will tell. But I do know that if we’re making the wrong call here, all we’re doing is punting the football of Iran’s nuclear ambitions down the field for another generation to deal with, as so many politicians are wont to do in lieu of actually taking a risk.
I consider myself a man of the left. Not a doctrinaire socialist, not a conventional liberal, but definitely on the side of progress, change, and social justice rather than that of tradition, hierarchy, and deference to established norms and elites.
But I often find myself lamenting the strange, Faustian, and ultimately suicidal pact that quite a few sections of the western left seem to have made with a radical, hateful current of Islamic thought; A strain of thinking, exemplified by Hamas in Gaza and the Mullahs in Iran, that is content to use the unthinking, credulous support of fashionably leftist western kids while it is useful to them, but ultimately wants to destroy the very freedoms that make it possible for those kids to ironically wear pink keffiyehs at peace raves while making out with their gay lovers and quaffing illegal substances like candy. Hamas, ISIS, the Islamic Republic and their ilk have seemingly become edgy, provocative, and hip. The sort of people whose smouldering good looks you can put on the cover of Adbusters.
But they’re not our friends, nor are they our partners in the war against colonial western imperialism. They’re the vanguard of an ideological tyranny that, were it ever to succeed in its wildest dreams of world domination, would make the old colonial empires of the West look like utopias of brotherly love and tolerance. And Iran is where they first assumed real political power. Try going to a peace rave in Tehran.
The members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, to name just one organizational example of the strange psychosis gripping the western left, would have been among the first to hang from cranes had they the bad fortune to have formed in pre-1979 Tehran.
Yet the truth is that most of us are not ideological zealots bent on ordering other people’s lives for them. Most of us, no matter where in the world we come from, are capable of treating other people as individuals, entitled to basic human decency, and not as products of our complicated cultures and pasts. There is hope for peace, and hope for a better world. A bunch of old men in Switzerland, however, do not represent that hope. And we shouldn’t pretend they do.
It was probably best said by the aforementioned Marjane Satrapi, so I’ll leave you with a thought from her.