Analysis | ‘Civilising the Satans’: Iran, Evil and Nukes

A central tenet of Western anti-Iran discourse over the past three decades has been the notion that this is a fight between civilisation and barbarism. The description would be apt, argues Canadian academic Shiraz Dossa, but only if the roles are reversed.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Monday, September 17, 2012 0:00 - 0 Comments

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Countless American holocausts:  native Indian, Vietnam, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and others.  In 2003 the US and UK smashed Iraq, its libraries and museums. Yet they audaciously lecture Iran on justice and decency. It strikes the heirs of Cyrus the Great as uncouth and tactless.

Since 1979, Iranians have been reviled by the West relentlessly. Led by the US and its Israeli ally, this assault has questioned Islamic Iran’s legitimacy, imposed severe economic sanctions and confiscated billions of dollars of Iranian investments in US and Western banks. Indeed Iran has been cast as an outlaw state.

The West’s conduct in Iran since 1900 has been uncivilised. In equal measure it has been bellicose, predatory and racist. Even now the West and Israel issue threats and seem poised to attack. Naturally, most Iranians see the West as barbaric and unethical. In their relations with Iran, Muslims and the “third world” generally, Western elites lack sophistication, erudition and moral probity. Justice and fairness seem not to count at all. Ethics as morally defensible policy even less. Rousing fear in “subject races” is their modality. Western credibility is secured by terror.

Consistent invading and killing flow from this nihilistic premise. We saw it done generously in Iraq and in Libya. In Afghanistan, US drones specialise in targeting women and children. CIA/army boys and girls, obviously, can’t tell them apart. Clearly Afghans all look alike. To their saviours they seem dispensable. Foreign forces evidently relish bombing Afghan wedding parties. For Iranians, the cowardly nature of Western war doctrine is patent. It ensures maximum civilian casualties in the South.

The West’s putative passion for human rights and democracy co-exists fluidly with the Western zeal to abuse and kill. Suffice it to allude to the notorious US torture regimes at Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Bagram (Afghanistan) and Guantanamo Bay (Cuba). In all three camps anti-Islamism was/is rife. Freud called our world “white Christian civilisation”. We live in it by colonial and neo-colonial fiat. We endure its brutal “civilising mission”, its zeal to convert and control.

Assaulted by 9-11 and the ersatz “war on terror”, Muslims hold Islam closer. It signifies Muslim autonomy and honour. Less Muslim or un-Muslim were thus the only choices. In 1979 Iranians expelled the West from its homeland. Instantly they metastasised into “enemies” of the West. In time, they became hostis humani generis (enemies of humanity).

In 1979 Iranians also became “terrorists”. The West wanted Muslim parvenus. Instead, Khomeini delivered a potent, proud, revolutionary Islam; he faced-off Western hubris and chauvinism. He damned the US as the “great Satan” and its acolytes little Satans. Like Gandhi but more radically, Khomeini sought to civilise the white civilisers. In J.S. Mill’s idiom, the West lacks “the best characteristics of Man and Society”.

In Muslim lands such acts elicited revulsion. Khomeini intuited them as callous and banal. The suffering and persecution were delivered with casual, thoughtless license. J.S. Mill, in his essay on “Non-Intervention” (1859), asserted that “international morality [implies] reciprocity. But barbarians will not reciprocate. They cannot be depended on for observing any rules”.

Yet in the 20th century the “barbarians” were not the Iranians. Mill’s thesis was accurate but misapplied. His fellow Brits and Americans were the uncivilised yahoos: stealing Iran’s oil, foisting the Pahlavi tyrants on Iranians, erasing democracy in 1953, imposing economic sanctions and turning Iran into a US/Israeli client state.

By 1976, the Shah’s CIA and Mossad-trained SAVAK operatives had killed over 300,000 Iranians. The 1976 Amnesty International Report stressed that “No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran”. Shi’i Islam’s disdain for injustice enabled Khomeini’s criticism. As he said, the “the Shi’i school of thought….preached resistance” to tyranny. Khomeini condemned the foreign intruders: the UK, US, Israel and USSR. He called them all “barbaric imperialists”. Like Robespierre’s, Khomeini’s fury was justified. On this issue, the Iranian leaders, Khamenei, Rafsanjansi, Khatami and Ahmadinejad, are of one mind.

Yet there is no easy exit from this hell. As Khomeini stated “America is the number-one enemy of the deprived and oppressed people of the world….it exploits [them]……it sucks the blood of defenceless people as if it alone, together with is satellites, had the right to live this world”. During the Shah’s rule, “Israel…at war with the Muslim peoples for years… penetrated all the economic, political and military of the country…..Iran has become a military base for Israel….for America”. Only the ignorant and gullible think this is hyperbole. In the South, the West routinely unleashes bloodbaths. Israel is equally skilled in killing Muslims/Arabs continually. Then they blame Iran for the very terror they inflict on Muslims and ‘natives’.

In Iran, disciples of the West are a minority. Usually credulous “liberals” infatuated by Western things. Jalal Al-e Ahmad, the Iranian critic, called it “Westoxication”. The un-colonised in Iran know that liberalism is a devious beast. It finds racism as congenial as Zionist apartheid; it is chronically bigoted about Islam.

With Khomeini, this class can see that the liberal cure-all is spurious. It is no less so than the Trojan horse of “development”. The West swears by equality and freedom for all. Yet, as Khomeini noted , “all the miseries we have suffered, still suffer, and are about to suffer soon are caused by the heads of those countries that have signed the Declaration of Human Rights, but at all times have denied man his freedom”.

The US, in principle, “agreed that the rights of man must be protected and that man must be free”, but it undercut them in practice. Consider, Khomeini said,  US crimes “against man ….it has created disasters for mankind…..the imperialists proclaim that man is free ….but they have no reality …The Declaration of Human Rights exists only to deceive the nations; it is the opium of the masses”.

Few in the Muslim zone or in the global South will demur. Iran tried to de-link: “to sever all its relations with this Great Satan and it is for this reason that it now finds wars imposed upon it”. Not just Saddam Hussein’s assault with WMD but also economic boycotts and warnings to Asian and Arab nations not to support Iran.

We will not “compromise” with the US because “our nation is no longer ready to submit to humiliation and abjection”. Khomeini stressed that the people of Iraq “support our Islamic Revolution; our quarrel is with America” whose hand is visible in the “sleeve of the Iraqi government”. The majority Shi’is as well as the Sunnis generally sided with Iran. In West Asia, the famed Persian-Arab rivalry is as tenuous, flimsy, as the Turkish-Arab rivalry. It is a classic colonial device, still serviceable as a divide and rule tactic. Currently Israel has had some success in using it against Iran in the Arab world.

Kant’s legacy is germane here. The binary logic and the human rights doctrine stem from Kant’s reflections on evil. Liberal theory splits good/evil, heaven/hell. It is enabled by this bifurcation. “We are not Nazis”, “We are not evil” is the West’s opening gambit. The US and other “natives” globally will dispute this. So will the Palestinians.

Who then is evil now? The Muslim/Arab fits the bill. He is the evil figure that the Jew once was. As Alain Badiou (2002) noted,  Kantian ethics is “conceived here as an a priori ability to discern evil” and as the “ultimate principle of judgement”. In these times, Muslim evil, specially Shi’i Muslim evil, is obvious after the 1979 Iranian revolution. In the West, “good is what intervenes visibly against an evil that is identifiable a priori” (Badiou).

Contextually, Iranian evil and its nuclear threat spring from this analytic – sans evidence, sans facts, sans truth. It is unreal in the extreme. Even US/ Israeli intelligence reject these claims. In March 2012, Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei reiterated his nation’s doctrine “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons…Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous”. Further, Khamenei added that Iran has a “no first strike policy”. Since 1990, this has been Iranian policy.

Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, Israel considered gutting the Islamic Republic. And since then Israeli leaders have continually threatened to attack Iran. In 1992 Shimon Peres called “Iran the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East”. In 1993, Israeli PM Rabin wanted to annihilate “the cancer of radical Islam…….at the academy of Khomeini and his followers in Iran” Israel was vilifying Iran well before the fiery Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005. And its assaults on Shi’i Islam deepened Iranian disdain for Zionism.

Yet in the West it is up to Iran and Iranians to prove their “innocence”. The US and Israel know that Iran is evil. Thus Iran has to prove that it is not evil. As Muslims, and Shi’is to boot, in other words, Iranian evil is incontestable and ineradicable. Its nuclear program is thus evil – unless Iran jettisons Islam. In Freudian terms, US/Israel “project” their fondness for evil and their irrationality on Iranians. Like the US globally, the Israeli taste for hegemony in Palestine and the Middle East since 1948 is well documented.

If Iran was to build a nuclear weapon, its purpose would be deterrence. It is ironic that the leading Israeli military historian and strategist, Martin Van Creveld concurs. In 2004, he asserted flatly that Iranians “would be crazy not to build nuclear weapons considering the security threats they face.” In June 2007, Creveld further noted that

“The U.S. has lived with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China, so why not a nuclear Iran? …We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us… repeated murder … of Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotage of Iranian nuclear equipment with computer viruses, the sale of faulty parts and raw materials, unexplained plane crashes, explosions at Iranian facilities … Who can be behind this but US-Israel? How do we know? It’s called plain common sense”.

It is finally not about nukes at all. The real aim is mastery and conquest of the Muslim zone. In fine – re-colonisation. Yet Iranian realities refute the anti-Iran calumnies. The reviling is unjustified. The indictments are counter-factual fictions.

In essence, Iran and Shi’i Islam are swamped by liberal porn promising new Abu Ghraibs. Missing in this scenario is any sense of Iranian resolve or of the resilience of Zarathustra’s spirit. Unlike many suborned and gelded Muslims elsewhere, Iranians will counter-attack. 74 million Iranians will not genuflect or submit. With Gunter Grass (2012), it is vital to recall the truth that it is “nuclear Israel”, not Iran,  that “endangers an already fragile world peace”.

Israel is the leading violator of the UN Charter and international law. Yet the West overtly condones Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. The famed version of anti-Semitism – anti-Jewish anti-Semitism – is nearly dead, but its sibling version – anti-Arab anti-Semitism- is thriving, both in the West and in Israel. The anti-Iran animus of the “civilisers” is its scion. Strangely this philo-Semitic habitus is morally neutral. It is hostile to ethics and limits. It was silent when Israel bombed Gaza in 2009 and killed 1400 civilians. The US/Israel threats to attack Iran flow from this milieu and its chutzpah.

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Shiraz Dossa

Shiraz Dossa (PhD Toronto) teaches political theory, holocaust, Iranian culture and politics, in the Department of Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University in NS Canada. His essays have appeared in such journals as Political Theory, Philosophy and Social Criticism, Alternatives, Review of Politics, Third World Quarterly and European Legacy.

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