Iranophobia or: Postmodern racism and the clash of civilizations (Episode II)

Why is the US going to war…again?  (Continued from Jan. 3)

We now return, after a necessary detour, to Iran, or rather, the US imaginary of Iran. Full disclosure: I am a first generation Iranian American, so it is unfortunately incumbent upon me to specify that my critical attitude towards the US is not due to the fact that I identify with one pole of my identity more than the other, but rather due to the status of the US as the aggressor nation in this conflict and, generally, as the predominant imperial power in global hegemony. Not coincidentally, it is this imperial identity that informs Americans’ conservatism, militarism, and uncritical attitude towards the domination of ethnic others: the far-right, or “the right” (as they’re known here), being more conservative, are thus also seen by a great deal of Americans (particularly Fox News viewers) as being more “American.” The extent of this connection between conservatism and American identity has been visibly exacerbated by the pervasive 20th century ideological association of leftist politics with Asiatic (non-Western) cultures, i.e. the Soviets and the Chinese. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the politicized ethnic other has shifted to “radical Islam,” lovingly dubbed “Islamofascism” by its most linguistically creative critics. The War on Terror, like the war on communism, continues not because the threat of radical Islam can feasibly be eradicated, but because the ethnic other continues to resist domination. In doing so, they commit a cardinal double-sin: they try to “take our freedoms,” and simultaneously live their own, unacceptably different lives.

“We will not apologize for our way of life,” Obama announced at his Inauguration. Or our way of committing violence against weaker nations. That’s the American way. Obama’s massive expansion of extrajudicial killings via the drone program should have done more than enough to earn the respect of bloodthirsty, freedom-loving Americans (in other words, “voters concerned about national security”). Yet he is only the latest in a long line of militaristic Democrats to be called “weak” by the far-right, even if he is the first to be accused of secretly being a Muslim. The fear of Islam in the United States is particularly strong among, but by no means limited to, self-identified conservatives. A fifth of the voting population are evangelical Christians, for whom neither Obama nor Mitt Romney (two Christians) are Christian enough to be President.

All three evangelical-friendly candidates in the Republican Presidential race (the no-longer-running Michele Bachmann, the soon-to-be no-longer-running Rick Perry, and the Last Fascist Standing, Rick Santorum) have identified themselves as the “furthest-right” by embracing the almost ubiquitous notion that the War on Terror is simply an extension of a larger clash of civilizations involving both the necessary military engagements against “terrorist” governments (a clever, racially-charged paradox) in the Islamic world and the infiltration of “radical Islam” (read: Islam) into the West. “We are a Christian nation,” Bachmann is fond of saying, and voices on Fox are wont to agree that Christianity must now by defended from the impending takeover of our legal system by Sharia law (which is a scary way of saying Islamic law). Sharia, of course, is ideology run rampant, and its implementation here would clearly violate our beloved separation of church and state. If you ask the Republican base, the best way to safeguard against this is apparently to violate that nasty, unnecessary separation by allowing “faith” (Christianity) back into public institutions. No matter what we may think of ideology, Christian and American identity, once equated, are terribly difficult to disentangle.

The urgency of a military engagement in Iran is further mediated by the relationship of the United States to Israel. Unconditional support for the state of Israel is established and constantly reinforced not only as an integral part of American Jewish identity, but also more broadly as a staple of transcontinental Euro-American solidarity. This is more or less a rule of American politics, insofar as even liberal Americans who normally protest human rights violations are expected to support the right-wing policies of the Israeli government—whether liberals, conservatives, or ultraconservatives are in power—towards Palestinians. After WWII, when it was definitively decided that Jews are indeed white, the term “Judeo-Christian civilization” (as opposed to that of the other Abrahamic religion) made a marked and lasting appearance in the Western consciousness. The Jewish lobby, groups like the Anti-Defamation League, neoconservatives, and Christian Zionist evangelicals (for whom Jewish occupation of the entirety of Palestine is a must for the Rapture) have successfully regulated a political discourse in which criticism of Israel (or support for Palestinian human rights) – as the dominant regional military power and as regional proxy for Western (European) democracy – is not only dismissed as anti-Semitism but also branded a de facto threat to US interests. The pro-Israel pandering in Washington is a truly admirable bipartisan effort, with virtually all Democrats anxious to prove their hawkishness in defense of Israeli “security” in the face of their own partially self-inflicted reputation as slightly less jingoistic than the GOP. Case in point: in an episode of Glenn Beck’s former Fox program dedicated to “the history of Jews and Israel,” Beck plucks a quote from a vehemently pro-Israel/anti-Iran statement from an allegedly reasonable New York Senator, and utters the strange, magical words, “I agree with Chuck Schumer.”

Here’s the argument for war as it’s presented by Democrats: Iran is developing nuclear weapons, a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to the US/Israel, therefore their “nuclear facilities” must be bombed into oblivion. The first premise is doubtful, the second is demonstrably untrue, and the conclusion is a cowardly lie that covers up the fact that a bombing campaign (even without a ground war) would destroy Iran’s infrastructure, kill thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of civilians, and throw the country into violent chaos to be only nominally alleviated by a pro-Western quasi-dictator like al-Maliki – basically, like Iraq, but 2.5 times bigger. Here’s the argument from Republicans: They don’t seem to like us, they’re getting uppity, therefore their country must be bombed into submission and regime change must be engineered. Republicans have been upfront for years about their desire for a military intervention in Iran, and for this, they have my utmost respect.

The liberal establishment is, tellingly, almost always on board with the neoconservative agenda. CNN, the New York Times, etc. all interpreted this IAEA report the same way that Fox News did, the same way that Obama did: as “proof” that Iran is well on its way towards developing nuclear weapons. The report states that the Agency “has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities including military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” such as “acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network” and “development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.” This may all be true, but this information was available before 2003, when the Iranian government admitted it had pursued nuclear weapons capabilities but chose to discontinue the program. Notably, no evidence of actual construction of weapons or even enrichment to levels necessary for weaponized uranium has been found. On top of that, Iran (unlike Israel, which does have undisclosed nuclear weapons) has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has heretofore complied fully with international inspections. The “evidence,” frankly, reeks of the WMD propaganda that presented fabricated “existential” grounds for the invasion of Iraq. The New York Times and Wolf Blitzer bought it in 2002, and they’re buying it now.

Perhaps they know something we don’t know. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, in dealing with situations like this, there are known unknowns: things we know that we don’t know, like whether or not there are WMDs in Iraq/Iran. There are, of course, unknown unknowns, things we don’t know we don’t know. There are known knowns, things we know we know, like the fact that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, or that the Iranian government aren’t, generally speaking, big fans of the US military presence in West Asia. But, Zizek points out, there is one more category, one that Rumsfeld left out: the unknown knowns, what we don’t know we know. There one finds all sorts of unsavory underlying motivations: anti-Islamic sentiment, a feeling of wounded national masculinity and loss of regional power, ethnic prejudice, a desire for “stability” (control) that outweighs concern for peace and self-determination – this is where all of those fantasies reside.

As for the existential threat that Iran poses to Israel, this claim is patently absurd, and feeds into my larger point about racism in postmodernity: given that the US and Israel have the 1st and 3rd largest nuclear arsenals in the world, respectively, and given that Iran currently has none, are we truly expected to believe that the Iranians are the ones who pose an existential threat to us? We are, because the psychology of deterrence apparently does not apply to Persians, who as we know from the film 300, have (at the very least) scary monster capabilities with which to threaten us – the Spartans (who were, incidentally, the proto-fascists of antiquity), valiant defenders of Western civilization that we are. No, by the logic on which the argument for war operates, the Iranian government is controlled by people who would launch a nuclear missile at Israel knowing full well that they and their entire country would, within minutes, be reduced to a cloud of radioactivity and rubble. Clearly, if it’s not a biological inferiority that produces this impediment to even a modicum of sanity, then it’s the brain-addling effects of – you guessed it – “radical” Islam that makes a nuclear Iran “unacceptable” (quote from Obama, Secretary Clinton, everyone on Fox News, etc.). The mutually assured destruction that serves as a deterrent to nuclear Pakistan and nuclear India doesn’t apply here, because Iran’s government has ties to terrorist organizations and could, according to former President Clinton on The O’Reilly Factor, supply terrorists with nukes. What’s that? The Pakistani ISI works closely with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Hakani network? We don’t need to worry about them. They might be uppity, too, but they would never give a terrorist organization nuclear weapons that could be traced back to their government, because they’re what’s known in military parlance as our “frienemies.”

All 17 national security agencies of the US government have advised Obama that Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons. The head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, has said that a nuclear Iran would not be “an existential threat” to Israel. A former Mossad chief has stated that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “stupid.” Obama ignores them all, knowing that despite his by now unquestionable imperialist cred, the conservative establishment is watching his every move, waiting to catch him in an act of spineless pacifism. The stalwart Ron Paul has called the crippling economic sanctions “an act of war,” his unanswered protest as clear a sign as any that while many on Capitol Hill may agree, it’s obvious that no one minds.

Truly, bipartisan pressure for a real act of war has reached a fever pitch: Israel and the United States have already begun covert operations, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists (not yet classified “enemy combatants”) with impunity. But in a political discourse as rabidly militaristic as ours, such measured escalation of violence is tantamount to waving a white flag. Just ask Singh (remember him?): “The only way to really get Iran’s attention here is to either target the oil, which we’re doing now, or to really make this military threat much more credible than it has been the last three years.” On Dec. 31, Lt. Col. Bill Cowan told Fox, “They may think they can fire something at us from a submarine and get away with it scot-free. And they may well try to do that…. If the President gets called to task here because of the conflict with Iran, we’ll find out once and for all if he’s really a national security President. We cannot afford—we, the United States, and we, the global economy—cannot afford to have the Strait of Hormuz shut down.”

Obama’s foreign policy has been thoroughly neoconservative. Take the stated agenda, released by leading neocons in 2002, of countries in which regime change must be facilitated after Afghanistan: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran. Under Obama, bombing campaigns have been initiated in Somalia and Libya, in addition to the expansion of those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Pakistan. Now, with the help of other conservative governments, the “weak” Mr. President wants to blackmail and arm-twist Iran into a position of perpetual existential peril – as a nuke-less nation targeted by nuclear powers. If the military option is still “on the table,” and it’s “unacceptable” for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, then what, you may ask is Obama twiddling his thumbs for? The answer, unfortunately, that his thumb-twiddling has long since concealed a violent intention: US forces are amassing in the region; hundreds of bunker busters – the most powerful bombs in the world, after nuclear weapons – are now ready for deployment by the US and Israel.

Happy (Gregorian) New Year, America. Let’s see some fireworks.

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