What if the Iranians are people too?

I can’t claim to be an expert on the internal politics of Iran, but my meager efforts are surely better than the active anti-knowledge that is spreading around the Iran nuclear deal. I’ve ranted on Twitter a bit, and I thought I’d write down some longer-form thoughts here, in no particular order.

It was rational for Iran to seek a nuclear deterrent. The US had already toppled a democratically-elected Iranian government and replaced it with an autocrat. They were able to regain their independence, and since then they have been treated as a total pariah. Two neighboring countries were subsequently invaded by the US simultaneously, after the US had declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil.” They could also see that the US helped to overthrow the government of Libya after Libya had given up its nuclear ambitions and become a “good citizen” in the “international community.” It would be insane for a country in that position not to seek the ultimate weapons trump card to prevent an invasion, because an invasion is literally the worst thing that can happen to a country.

Iran is not going to commit national suicide to destroy Israel. Everyone knows Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The very fact that Iran was seeking a nuclear deterrent shows them to be rational actors, and so we have to conclude that they would also be rationally deterred by a nuclear deterrent.

Negotiating an end to the nuclear program was also rational. Creating a nuclear bomb takes a long time and is difficult to hide. It was becoming increasingly clear that Iran could not get across the nuclear finish line before their very efforts to deter a future invasion directly caused a present invasion. Hence, quite rationally, they sat down to negotiate with the most reasonable US president they were likely to get. It’s also in their interest to quite unambiguously comply with the agreement, because again, they are rational people who care about their country and don’t want to see it overrun and destroyed.

It is legitimate for a country to seek to influence events in its own region. People act as though Iranian influence in the Middle East is some nefarious and illegitimate agenda all rational people should oppose. In reality, Iran is in the Middle East. It is actually physically located there. It would be ridiculous for it not to seek to influence events that directly impinge upon it in physically contiguous countries. What’s more, Iran is a relatively rich and powerful country with a long history of taking a leadership role in what is, just to review, its own part of the world.

Colonialism is a terrible historical evil. We in the West are inclined to view the 20th Century as the story of overcoming the two great evils of Nazism and Communism, but everyone else would add a third item to that list: colonialism. Resentment toward colonialism is especially great in the Middle East given that the US continually meddles in their affairs, usually in hugely destructive ways, and given that the Middle East includes the most recently-established settler colony, which is itself backed up by the meddling imperial power. We’re always on the lookout for the next Hitler, but in the Middle East, they don’t have to be vigilant against one of the great 20th century evils because it is constantly ongoing. And the US is responsible for maintaining that situation!

“Anti-American rhetoric” is thus not some kind of randomly chosen prejudice, but an understandable response to the US’s ongoing actions. Anti-Semitism is obviously more unfortunate as a reaction, but we should understand its context in colonialism and not imagine that it’s “religious” which makes it magically determinative of all their actions in a way that defies reason (hence their supposed willingness to commit national suicide). In reality, the only leader in history who was willing to risk national suicide to kill all the Jews was a Western leader named Adolf Hitler, whose rise was enabled by the bungling and vindictiveness of other Western leaders in very specific historical circumstances that are absolutely nothing like anything that is even remotely happening in the Middle East right now, you fucking ignorant fucks.

So yeah.

16 thoughts on “What if the Iranians are people too?

  1. The incapacity of Americans to understand how deep and widespread anti-American views are among post-colonial peoples around world over never ceases to amaze me. They just don’t get it at all. Not the least clue. Here’s a little example that I like to cite, because it shocks everybody, especially white liberals. I’d been living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (that’s an ex-French colony in West Africa, between Ghana and Liberia) for a year when 9/11 happened. I happened to be extremely pregnant at the time, and 11 days later, I had my last daughter in an Abidjan Catholic clinic. The day after she was born, I overheard a couple of Ivoirian nurses chatting in the hall – they were talking about 9/11, and one of them opened her nurse’s uniform to reveal to the other one the t-shirt she was wearing, which had a picture of Bin Laden on it. These were educated (obviously) Catholic nurses. But this wasn’t a bizarre one-off. Everybody and their mothers were wearing these t-shirts in the few weeks after 9/11 – in great West African entrepreneurial spirit, people all across the region (probably the continent) were printing and selling these t-shirts by the millions. I even know some French ex-pats who wore them in Senegal. I tell people here this story, and they’re appalled. And I’m like, why the fuck are you appalled?? It’s a miracle people are only wearing t-shirts! I have another good one – a LURD fighter (that’s one of the anti-Charles Taylor groups in the Liberian war) tells a colleague of mine, just before the final military push to try and take Monrovia before the US engineered peace-talks; he says to her, on our way to Monrovia we’re going to commit as many atrocities as possible, cos that way the US, the UN, and the whole world will pay attention, and we’ll get a better DDR package (demobilization, disarmament, re-integration). International interventions 101 – they’ve all taken the fucking course. A caveat – I will utterly lose my shit if anybody starts a philosophical debate about the rights and wrongs and meanings of these little anecdotes. I just told you because it’s what happens – time to get with the fucking picture.

  2. Of course only an idiot would deny the massive shaping force (and the large-scale, widespread resentments, impacting directly on present-day international relations) of the colonial legacy. I sometimes think, though, that ‘colonialism’ is one of those words that obscures as much as it illuminates. I come from a country, Britain, that actually once had a global empire and I can see that the particular resentments this caused have left anger that can be directly linked back to colonial history. France likewise. But America is in a different category. It’s easy to forget, for instance, that one reason US policy makers thought the Vietnam war a viable proposition was precisely the belief (wrong, as it turned out) that the local population would look differently on US troops, that these troops would not be hated in the way the occupying troops of their colonial power, France, were, precisely because the US was not a colonial power. Hasn’t it always been part of the defining story of the USA that they led the world’s first great war of decolonisation? I know we all talk of ‘the US Empire’ as if it’s a real thing in the world, and of course the US has engaged in a great many foreign interventions using military force to try and shift the geopolitical balance in its favour rather like a colonial power would. But ‘the US Empire’ is a rhetorical rather than an actual entity. Pegging the widespread anti-Americanism (that Ruth rightly identifies) to colonialism seems to me a wrong step. Isn’t it more ideological, to do with Capitalism and liberalism, the spread of MacDonalds and sex and so on? Which is to say, doesn’t it relate back to and continue by other means the big ideological conflict of the 20th-century, Capitalism/anti-Capitalism?

  3. I think it’s fair for those in post-colonial regions to view “the West” as such as the colonizing power rather than exclusively focusing on the individual nation-state that historically colonized them — this is sensible insofar as something like the “scramble for Africa” was a more or less pan-European effort even if only one particular power colonized any given place. And in Vietnam, it was clear that the US was assuming the “duties” of the French, so that there and in many other places, the US can be regarded as the successor entity of the previous specific representatives of “the West” that in fact colonized them. And while the legal organization of the US Empire is very different from something like the British Empire (which itself incorporated many different legal and organizational forms, both synchronously and diachronically), it does remain the case that US troops are stationed in dozens upon dozens of nations throughout the world. Hence the imperial presence is not entirely notional.

  4. Adam R, you are totally incorrect. Firstly, it’s not about ‘resentment’ – which is a way of ascribing to postcolonials a sort of ‘slave mentality’.The anit-Westernism is about soveriengty, and nobody in Africa today takes Britain, or for that matter France who actually tried really hard to be a neo-colonial power, seriously from the point of view of power. Britain only matters as a puppet of the US… As Adam K says, US imperialism is anything but a notional entity. Lumumba, Mozambique, Angola, Haiti – these aren’t simply a few exceptions that prove the rule that the real enemy isn’t direct military or political intervention, but capital. Firstly, because it’s stupid to imagine you can separate soveriegn state power and capital – they relay one another, and nowhere more patently than in foriegn policy. It’s even more wrong-headed to think the anti-Americanism is about ‘culture’ – sex, consumption, decadence et al. Maybe that’s what ‘ISIS really wants’, but then again, I wouldn’t believe what you read in the Atlantic. It’s so fucking patronizing to think Africans are rejecting America for all the things WE think are fucked about it – why the fuck shouldn’t Africans want/get fridges and flat screens, just like everybody else? In French there’s an expression for ‘window shopping’ – leche vitrines’, which literally means, licking the windows. That’s what people are doing – licking the windows of globalization. So don’t fucking patronize them by thinking they hate the US because it’s the symbol of capital, or because it’s decadent etc. You don’t know shit about what people want or don’t want. Anti-Americanism is about political and economic domination, about American arrogance and ignorance. It’s about the structural violence that is relayed by acutal US policies that perpetuate on so many levels exclusion, inequity, and domination, and that ensures only a tiny group get what we’ve – you’ve- got.

    I’m amazed how everybody thinks they get to have an opinion about these issues – “colonialism obscures as much as it illuminates” bla bla bla – even though they’ve no fucking idea what they’re talking about. I mean, would any of us Adam up on his reading of Agamben’s Kingdom and the Glory, without first reading the book, or having a notion about who Agamben is, and what his intellectual project consists of? No! So do your fucking homework Adam R, and stop talking out your ass.

  5. Ruth: ‘the real enemy isn’t direct military or political intervention, but capital’ … I’ll confess I thought that was the point I was making. But, then again, I’m a fucking ass, I don’t know shit about what people want or don’t want, I’m fucking patronising and so on, so I daresay I’d better just fuck off.

  6. And let us not forget Hawaii and the Philippines. It’s convenient that most of our empire was constructed in our own hemisphere, but we are a colonial power. Or used to be, depending on how you define the term. Just because we weren’t the colonizers of Vietnam didn’t make us not colonizers.

  7. Hasn’t it always been part of the defining story of the USA that they led the world’s first great war of decolonisation?

    To ourselves, yes, but this myth has vanishingly little power outside of the U.S. Walter Lefebre’s Inevitable Revolutions is an excellent (and enraging) read on just how quickly the American Revolution lost its rhetorical force for other revolutionaries in the face of the US’s emergence as a global power.

  8. One might try to remember that the Revolting Colonies were formed and grew out of an expressed “colonial” identity. All the people who were there before the colonialists came were defined as “non-people” so that the colonialists could claim the whole thing for themselves (and, regardless of Jesus or the Ten Commandments, any dissenters were sought out and killed). One can still see this mentality in the puppet states of Central America, in the widespread fear and loathing of any form of independent thought in South America (Allende, anyone?) and in the religious domionism of certain right-wing church people within the US demanding to force a specific kind of theology on everyone from the Hopi through to the Ugandans (a theology that is not like anything found in any Holy Book, I might add)

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