Sunday, June 08, 2008

Iran and the Jews

My position on war with Iran has been the same for some time -- I am against it. An American, NATO or Western-coalition attack on Iran would be a humanitarian disaster; militarily useless; and a catastrophic signal to the large segment of Iranians who are pro-Western and anti-totalitarian that the mullahs were right all along.

This is not mitigated or refuted by acknowledging the genocidal nature of Iran's theocratic war party, which is stridently represented by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But where there is a war party, there is some kind of peace party, and Iran's is significant. Iran has never initiated a conventional assault on any state and appears to respond rationally to diplomatic and military pressure.

Still the threat posed by the mullahs' millenarian Islam to Middle East Jewry must be acknowledged. It is -- I state with stoical restraint -- of interest to people of liberal sentiment. Iran has long fought a war against the Jews and the state where they ingathered after the Holocaust. It does this through millenarian proxies such as Hezbollah and more recently Hamas. If Iran eventually manages to weaponize uranium meant for its sham civil energy program, its nuclear arsenal will either back traditional or comprise a new breed of attacks on the Jewish state.

These are key reasons to vigorously confront the efforts of putatively anti-war campaigners, armed with the pseudo-scholarship of Juan Cole, to minimize or falsify Ahmadinejad's call for Israel's destruction at the 2005 World Without Zionism conference in Tehran. These are lies of an illiberal segment of the Left that, for a complex set of ideological reasons, privileges the well-being of Muslims over Jews.

Sadly there are reverberations of this among the liberal elite. A week ago, the New York Times Sunday Book Review published a survey of working writers' book recommendations for the Presidential candidates. This was before Hillary Clinton bowed out. The writer Junot Diaz addressed this to her:

Hillary: What to recommend to a driven, brilliant, flawed woman who has no problem threatening to obliterate Iran, should they attack Israel? I recommend Peter Balakian’s “Black Dog of Fate,” in an attempt to cure her of her genocidal impulses. Armenians know all about being “obliterated,” and perhaps that nation’s suffering and miraculous survival will crack Pharaoh’s heart. But don’t bet on it.

An exquisite pomposity inhabits allegorical writing as tone-deaf as this. Hillary’s promise to "obliterate" Iran was made in narrow reply to the hypothetical of its launching a nuclear attack on Israel. I shouldn't have to point out that this would result in the destruction of almost as many Jews as were killed by Nazi Germany. Diaz is oblivious to this. Robotically he likens Hillary to a golem -- mindless and bloodthirsty -- who targets innocent Iranians with her "genocidal impulses", and he does this by invoking Pharoah, Biblical captor of the Jews!

This is not the usual argument, in which people claim that irrespective of its ideological commitments and arsenal, Iran would not commit suicide by directly attacking Israel. Instead Diaz accepts that Iran has destroyed Israel and responds only by adducing the Armenians to speak truth to American power.

The Jews also know something about being obliterated, Mr. Diaz. It is knowledge that electrifies the machinery of real humanitarianism.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

The Anti-Totalitarian Future?

In the New York Times, Stephen Farrell reports there are only a handful of known Jews left in Iraq. What was presumably the last operating synagogue closed in 2003 when the chaos became too dire. Matthew Yglesias derives the following from the story:

... the upshot of the factoid about the synagogue seems to be that the U.S. invasion actually turned Iraq into a less hospital [sic] place for Jews than was Saddam Hussein's rabidly anti-Zionist rapacious dictatorship.

That's precisely the upshot a "reality-based" liberal would take from it, but it's historically illiterate. To be fair Farrell's article encourages a hasty reader to make that interpretation, but in Yglesias' case this appears to be just anti-Bush snark. One is wrong, the other wrong-headed. In The Assassins' Gate, George Packer makes it clear that Saddam's "anti-Zionism" -- the euphemism used by both Yglesias and Farrell -- so thoroughly poisoned younger generations of Iraqis that Iraqi Jews had basically become cryptids by the time of the invasion. The synagogue that closed in 2003 must have been an outlier.

Gate also illuminates the quote at the end of Farrell's piece, in which the main interviewee's father laments that he "used to spend more time with Arabs than Jews". He, an octogenarian, is referring to comity with Iraqi Muslims of his generation, their children and their childrens' children. These are people who formed their opinions about Jews before the anti-Semitism of the Baathist regime corrupted the later generations.

Insofar as it's particular to them, the situation today for Jews in Iraq has only a little to do with the Gulf actions. Our latter invasion has inflamed the Baathist die-hards and Islamist conspirazoids, but those processes were well under way during the inter-war years. It's true the chaos resulting from the stupidity and incompetence of the occupation has accelerated and amplified all kinds of violence. But to fold up your Times, rest it beside your latte, tisk and tick off Baathist Jew-hatred as one more "upshot" of Bush's war is just dilettantism. It collapses the history of Iraqi anti-Semitism -- which replayed across the Arab and Muslim world -- and yokes it to a cheap, partisan point.

Neoconservatism is the mullet of American politics. If Obama becomes President, a "reality-based" liberalism will be in the ascendant. It's interesting to consider what these people choose to notice and when.

Postscript: An older, related post.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Anti-War Conscience

Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister of Iran, has echoed his president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for Israel's destruction:

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called on the world's Muslims on Sunday to work to "erase" Israel, in the latest verbal attack by Tehran against the Jewish state.

"As the Imam Khomeini said, if each Muslim throws a bucket of water on Israel, Israel will be erased," Mottaki told a conference in Tehran, recalling a saying by Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked international outrage for his repeated attacks against Israel, which he has predicted is doomed to disappear and described as a "stinking corpse" and a "dead rat".

His most notorious attack was in 2005 when he repeated another saying from Khomeini calling for Israel to be "wiped from the map".

Mottaki added: "More than ever, the Zionist regime is disintegrating from within. Today, the Islamic resistance in this region has shattered the regime's legend of invincibility."

While Ahmadinejad and top military commanders reguarly predict the demise of Israel, such virulent attacks from the foreign ministry are relatively unusual.

This latter point is key. When Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be wiped off the map at the World Without Zionism conference in Tehran, Foreign Minister Mottaki was one of the Iranian government officials who came forward claiming that Ahmadinejad didn't really mean what he said. This fueled both the notions that the Iranian president was merely speaking metaphorically, and that no matter what he meant, Ahmadinejad is just a "puppet" whose opinions will not translate into government policy. Mottaki's defense was interpreted as a demurral to hard-line sabre-rattling by saner elements in the Iranian government.

Now, if we work within the framework set by Ahmadinejad's apologists in 2005, Iran's war party appears to have enlarged, but we need not do to be alarmed. Mottaki's foreign ministry also has been busy reassuring Hamas that a Syrian détente with Israel will not lessen Iran's support for its genocidal enterprise.

When Ahmadinejad trumpeted his desire to see Israel destroyed, a clutch of liars arose to retail the disinformation that he was mistranslated. They were led by Juan Cole and largely comprised left-wing foes of Israel. Minimizing or falsifying his words, they alternately claimed that he was expressing simple anti-Zionism, that he was calling for mere regime change, and, most risibly, in the words of Cole himself, that Ahmadinejad's statement was "in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem."

Insofar as Mottaki's echo of Ahmadinejad is noticed at all -- so far almost no one is reporting it -- it will be answered by the same apologists, who will do anything, even extenuate plainly genocidal decrees against Jews, to prevent a war against Iran. This is the "anti-war" conscience.

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