Welcome to the Ministry of Information.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ayatallah Guevara

Part two of two on Iran. See yesterday's entry for part one.

If some part of the Iranian government is sending weapons into Iraq, as Bush stated on February 14, to whom are they sending the matériel and how do we know? First of all, Iran is obviously not arming the Iraqi Sunni insurgents that U.S. troops routinely engage. How could they when the Sunnis are murdering Iraqi Shias and Iran is run by a Shia theocracy? It would be Shia suicide.

Second, we know that Iran is arming Iraqi Shias not thanks to any great achievement by American intelligence but because it is public knowledge. As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo reminds us, Abdul Aziz Hakim has publicly acknowledged that his Shia political party SCIRI receives weapons from Iran. SCIRI stands for Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. It was founded in Iran by Iraqi exiles in 1982 during the Iran-Iraq War, it occupies the most seats of any party in the new Iraqi parliament, and it is currently a U.S. ally. And let me say it again: SCIRI acknowledges receiving weapons from Iran. If, as he said, Bush does not know who in the Iranian government orders the weapons for Iraq, then all that he does know is nothing more than what has been reported in newspapers. That's not encouraging.

Instead of dwelling on what Donald Rumsfeld used to call the known knowns and the known unknowns, let's use this moment as an opportunity to consider the ideological sources of revolutionary Iran's international conduct over the years. It might help us further distinguish between the Iranian government's aims and those of al-Qa'ida, something Bush and the neocons seem unable to do.

Let's start by recalling that the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979. And what was happening on the world stage in the 70's? The 1960's and 70's were decades of revolution and de-colonization all over the world. Self-styled anti-imperialist thinkers erected a pantheon of national liberation figures: Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ahmed Ben Bella, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Mugabe et al. Most anti-imperialist leaders simply replaced foreign occupation with homegrown dictatorship, but that's besides the point. What matters is that there was a global culture and discourse of revolution and national liberation that swept the world and that its appeal to many was still quite robust in 1979.

The Iranian Revolution remains a strange hybrid of one part religious extremism, one part Shia empowerment, and one part national liberation struggle à la Che Guevara. Reader, I know that last part raised some eyebrows, but let's consider the evidence: the establishment of a revolutionary republic; the proud overthrow of a foreign-backed puppet regime; and a foreign policy based on 'anti-imperialist' international solidarity, especially where Shia populations are concerned. (Let me say for the record that I do not condone anything Iran does nor am I calling the U.S. an imperialist power. I am simply trying to characterize a state of mind common to 'anti-imperialist' discourses and Iranian attitudes of recent decades.) Let's also consider actual cases of Iranian foreign policy.

1. Hizballah in Lebanon
Iran sponsored the formation of Hizballah, the Lebanese Shia militia, in the early 1980's when U.S., French, Italian, British, and Israeli military forces were operating in Lebanon. Iran's goal: to expel what it deemed imperialist occupation. After the barracks bombings of October 23, 1983 that killed 241 American soldiers and 58 French, they succeeded.

2. Palestinians
The Palestinians' struggle is not a religious cause, let alone Shia. Palestinians are Sunni Muslims and Christians, and in the 1980's, before the emergence of Hamas, the movement's leadership was entirely secular. To its supporters, it was and remains a national liberation struggle. Why else would a revolutionary Shia republic support a secular-Sunni-Christian movement?

And if you ask me, this is precisely the reason that al-Qa'ida, despite its anti-Israel rhetoric, has never done anything to assist the Palestinians. (I made a similar point in my entry of January 27, 2007.) Nor, except for Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, do Palestinians join al-Qa'ida. Why is that? Because Al-Qa'ida has no interest in nations, national liberation struggles, solidarity, alliances, or even politics. Iran, on the other hand, is happy to play a Shia version of Che Guevara by supporting 'anti-imperialist' revolution abroad even when it is not Islamic and not Shia.

3. The rest of the world
Whether it was opposing apartheid in the 1980's or building alliances with the new leftist presidents of Latin America today, Iran has always adopted an 'anti-imperialist' posture on the world stage. I know this sounds incredible given how right-wing Iran is within its own borders, but don't take my word for it. Here is the New York Times's January 14, 2007 coverage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's second visit to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela:
'President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran arrived here on Saturday for talks with President Hugo Chavez, on the first leg of a Latin American visit to enhance Tehran's stature with governments where distrust of the Bush administration already runs deep.
It is Mr. Ahmadinejad's second visit to Venezuela in the past five months, and the two leaders were scheduled to talk about strengthening their economic ties. From here, the Iranian president is to visit Ecuador and Nicaragua, where leftist presidents aligned with Mr. Chavez are taking office this month.
''Welcome, fighter for just causes,'' Mr. Chavez said in a speech here before the National Assembly, describing Mr. Ahmadinejad as a ''revolutionary'' and a ''brother.''
Iran seems to have also found a welcome in Ecuador, an oil-exporting country where Mr. Ahmadinejad will attend the inauguration of Rafael Correa, a leftist economist elected president last year. And in Nicaragua, Mr. Ahmadinejad will meet with Daniel Ortega, the former guerrilla leader who assumed the presidency this month.'
Yes, that's the same Daniel Ortega that led the Sandinistas in the 1980's.

Surely, Hugo Chavez is no Muslim. But he does style himself an anti-imperialist revolutionary and he does arrogate to himself the mantle of Guevara. Now, can you imagine Osama bin Ladin standing alongside Hugo Chavez? Of course not. To al-Qa'ida, Chavez is just as much a 'crusader' as George Bush. Al-Qa'ida has no goals other than a caliphate run on Salafist grounds. They seek purity, not allies.

Iran, on the other hand, has dual agendas: Shia solidarity and 'anti-imperialist' solidarity. To the Iranians, arming Iraqi Shias accomplishes both goals, neither of which al-Qa'ida shares.

Reader, we desperately need to understand these differences. Bush and Cheney do not and apparently cannot. We can't let the most ignorant among us frame the questions for public debate. I began yesterday's entry by quoting Bush on what 'what we do know' and 'what we don't know'. Reader, let's disseminate knowledge as widely as possible and not be fooled by the foolish. Whatever happens, we cannot lose faith that knowledge makes a difference. Knowledge is the only thing that can save us from being fooled by people too stubborn to learn.

Labels: ,


Blogger Al S. E. said...

President Ahmadinejad's views are summarized on this website: ahmadinejadquotes.blogspot.com

9:27 AM, February 16, 2007

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

Al S.E.'s blog gives the impression that Ahmadinejad is a man of peace, love, and understanding. I was careful to refer to 'self-styled' anti-imperialist leaders, and I put 'anti-imperialist' in quotation marks several times. What Al S.E.'s selective quotations from Ahmadinejad ignores is that the Iranian president is a Jew-hater, Holocaust-denier, and suppressor of civil liberties and human rights at home. Nothing I wrote should be construed as supporting Ahmadinejad or Chavez, or Bush for that matter.

Even so, I appreciate the link so that my readers can examine his rhetoric on their own.

12:07 PM, February 16, 2007


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home