I’m in Shiraz, on the way to Esfahan. It’s good to get out of gray, smoggy Tehran, one of the least photogenic cities in the world, where black is the new black, from the hijabs on down. One of the attractions of Shiraz is the tomb of Hafez, a Persian poet from the 14th century. It’s thronged at night. Iranians bring flowers, then stand or kneel beside the sarcophagus and recite his poems. Iranians are among the most gracious and hospitable people I’ve ever met.
The question is, should we bomb these people?
In America today, we tend to see things in Manichaean terms, as absolute opposites: light and dark, good and evil, us and them. We could, if we went back far enough, blame that on the Iranians. Manichaean refers to the Persian prophet Mani (c. 250 CE). The whole notion of good and evil, with man in the middle, able to choose, rewarded or condemned in an afterlife, goes back to an earlier Persian, Zoroaster, from around 1,000 BCE. Those ideas entered Judaism during the Babylonian exile and the liberation of the Jews by Cyrus the Great of Persia, and from there migrated into Christianity.
There are still Zoroastrians and Jews in modern day Persia, the Islamic Republic of Iran. These are people with a rich and varied, humanistic history.
Why should we bomb these people?
The Bush administration has claimed that they are part of the Axis of Evil, though Iranians are somewhat confused by that designation.
The United States was attacked on September 11, 2001 by a ragged group of conspirators called Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, headquartered in Afghanistan, where they were protected and nurtured by the Taliban. The Taliban are fundamentalist Sunnis, who put women in burqas, required men to be bearded, banned all music, television, movies, photographs, statues, stuffed animals, and dolls. They came to power in 1996, supported by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. They were opposed by the Northern Alliance, supported by Russia, India, and, most of all, by Iran.
The United States was neutral until 9/11. Then we demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden. They refused. We entered the war, primarily with air power, in support of the Northern Alliance.
According to Ray Takeyh, author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, “American links with the Northern Alliance were fragmentary.…Afghan opposition groups [were] suspicious of the United States. Tehran’s mediation proved essential.…Iran also provided intelligence…agreed to rescue American pilots…allowed some 165,000 tons of US food aid to traverse its territory…[after the fighting] Iran was instrumental in crafting the interim Afghan government.” Iran’s president at the time, Mohammad Khatami said, “Afghanistan provides the two regimes [the US and Iran] with a perfect opportunity to improve relations.”
The Bush Administration embraced the people who had given the Taliban and Al Qaeda safe haven (Pakistan) and money (Saudi Arabia and the Emirates) and declared Iran, who aided us in our war against the Taliban, as part of the Axis of Evil.
Shouldn’t we bomb them because they are part of the Islamo-Fascist Alliance to rule the world?
We moved on to Esfahan.
In the 16th century, when Shah Abbas the Great made it the capital of the Safavid dynasty, Esfahan was probably the greatest city in the world. It has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty, and the Taj Mahal, among other masterpieces of culture.
We had dinner with a group of 20- and 30-something Iranians, men and women, who spoke excellent English. The conversation was lively and touched on politics, religion, and even disbelief. Shouldn’t we bomb Iran to help good people like that? They’ll blame their own leaders for forcing us to attack them, rise up, and change the regime.
Through all these conversations it became clear that their number one, hot button political issue is standing up to foreign powers.
Since Alexander the Great invaded and burned Persepolis, their history is one of being attacked by outsiders. As for the 20th century, the British exploited their natural resources, then the United States overthrew their democracy and put a compliant king in charge. As soon as he was deposed, they were invaded by Saddam Hussein, who received support from America and other Western nations. That war lasted eight years and Iran had somewhere between 750,000 and 1,000,000 casualties.
The notion that bombing Iran will make the people overthrow the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians makes as much sense as imagining that another 9/11-type attack will make the us thank Al Qaeda for their inspiration, rise up, and overthrow our government in order to replace it with a one more receptive to Islamic ways.
We have to bomb them. They might get nukes and use them on Israel.
Iran is, ultimately, ruled by the Supreme Leader. He is deemed to be infallible. In 2003, he issued a fatwa, a ruling of holy law, against the development and use of nuclear weapons. This is when, according to the US National Intelligence Estimate, Iran stopped such developments. Iran claims it only wants nuclear energy. Countries that produce nuclear energy include Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, South Africa, Czech Republic, Mexico, and Brazil. At least 56 countries have nuclear research reactors.
If Iran did get nuclear weapons and used them, then Israel and the United States would retaliate with overwhelming force. What is more likely to happen is the sort of mutual stand off we had with the Soviet Union for 50 years.
I like to think that America can somehow overcome what’s happened these last seven years. The unprovoked invasion of another country, the embrace of torture, the assault on civil liberties, the looting of our own economy, and the failure to rescue the people of New Orleans. Somehow.
But bombing Iran because they posture and provoke on the world stage will be a disaster that we won’t live down. We might try to say it’s something that our leaders did, we had no part in it, we could not stop them. If that’s true, and it may be true, that’s sadder still.