ASK IRAN TO JOIN NATO
This was when I went around repeating to myself,
and to anyone who cared to listen, that people like myself had become
irrelevant. This pathological disorder was not limited to me;
many others felt they had lost their place in the world. I wrote
rather dramatically to an American friend: “You ask me
what it means to be irrelevant? The feeling is akin to visiting
your old house as a wandering ghost with unfinished business.
Imagine going back: the structure is familiar, but the door
is now metal instead of wood, the walls have been painted
a garish pink, the easy chair you loved so much is gone.
Your office is now the family room and your beloved
bookcases have been replaced by a brand-new television
set. This is your house and it is not. And you are no
longer relevant to this house, to its walls and doors and floors;
you are not seen.”
Prof. Azar Nafisi describing her sense of displacement by the Iranian Revolution in
“Reading Lolita in Tehran,” paperback edition, 2004, p. 169.
The rulers of Iran have a singular fear of acceding to the demands of the European Union and the United Nations (ex rel. U.S. of A.). As a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is being asked to grant verifiable assurances that her nuclear energy activities (centrifuges, etc.) will not be converted into a weapons program. All of the leading spokespersons critical of Iran have publically agreed that Iran has not yet decided to “weaponize.” How they can be sure of that, as a fact, is beyond me because the conclusion crosses the line that should separate intelligence from clairvoyance. The governing Ayatollahs believe that even if Iran were to proclaim such an iron-clad guarantee, the United States – and possibly others – would still seek to subvert Iran’s regime. Such an intent to provoke regime change could be thwarted only by Iran’s achievement of its goal to enter the association of nations forever poised on the brink of mutual assured destruction -- as anyone can see by looking at the respect the United States bestows upon North Korea, not only because North Korea is befriended by China but also because North Korea already has some quantity of deliverable atomic bombs. At any time, including just yesterday, North Korea could or could have placed one nuclear armed missile each aboard a series of indistinguishable fishing vessels on the vast Pacific that might set sail to within striking distance of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It has been reported that since the 1980’s, an increasing number of Iranians have been suffering from “buyer’s remorse,” over their decision to morph their revolution into a theocracy. The same issue that confronts Islamic countries in turmoil today was apparently settled by the Persians a generation ago. Tersely stated, that decision, now pending from Egypt outward through all of North Africa and the Middle East is whether Islam is a polity or a religion. It cannot be both. As a religion, Islam can inform the institutions, laws and practices of a society, but where Islam is a polity, so far, all we have seen is a resultant theocracy that is far more repressive than the cruel and corrupt reign of the late Shah. At least under the Shah they had some measure of intellectual and academic freedom.
No external set of forces can protect the Ayatollahs from the universal trend toward democracy and freedom, especially in this information age – nor should they. At some point, the Iranian people will have had enough of the brutal suffocation that occurs every day in their country. No government that holds power through force or internal terror can possibly last. Should the Iranian people stage a rebellion or counter-revolution that seems to suggest a shadow of success, the temptation on the part of the United States and other NATO countries to come to their aid, as we did in Libya (for all the trouble that may continue to cost us), would be irresistible.
So it seems to me that the ONLY option we really have regarding Iran depends upon how sure we are that we could not abide an Iran with nuclear weapons. Iran will not, and need not, bow to sanctions. Indeed, their leaders must be at least as aware as we are that sanctions cause deprivations among their people that are far more likely to reinforce the people’s ethnocentricity than they are to foment a war by the people against their government, which would appear to ally their citizens with Iran’s enemies.
Asking Iran to join NATO as the trade-off for abandoning their WMD intentions, which seem to me to be unwavering, would certainly strengthen the government’s hand against its people. As a member of NATO (like Turkey and Poland neither of which are adjacent to the North Atlantic) Iran would have shared responsibilities, but would be insulated against subversion by its new allies. However, that circumstance need not be conclusive as to internal momentum toward regime change. Indeed, if Iran were to join NATO, increased contacts between their people and Western societies might actually hasten Iran’s hoped for liberalization.
The United States must continue to distinguish our own foreign policy from that of an insistently bellicose Israel. If we do not, war between an isolated Israel and the United States against Iran is inevitable. Such a war would incur monumental costs to the United States. President Obama was exactly on the right track when he declared, before the election, that any definition of Israel acceptable to the world must include, with certain adjustments, their return to pre-1967 borders. That eventuation would further isolate Iran, not Israel, but the Israelis have yet to signal any awareness of that likelihood.
Whoever is elected the next Prime Minister of Israel should face a few uncomfortable truths.
- After World War II, the Jews never had the opportunity or occasion to vent their anger, let alone seek revenge against the Germans for the Holocaust. West Germany had to be rebuilt quickly and turned into an ally in order to create a buffer state designed to stem Stalin’s westward imperialism, which sought to Sovietize France and Italy.
- Jewish repressed anger now breaks into pieces and is displaced and projected upon the Arabs. The Jews may be genuinely threatened by Hamas and Hezbollah, but are they really so threatened they have to kill women and children, as they did recently in Gaza? Is anti-terrorist revenge Israel’s only motive? What we witnessed in Gaza went far beyond my understanding of Mosaic principles.
- Not only Iran but also many others in the world continue to ask about the need for a specifically Jewish state. In a sense, the Israelis are struggling with the same question confronting Islam: Is Judaism a religion or a polity? We can understand the longing for a Jewish state through history and sociology, but what about theology? Philosophically, the Israelis face a conundrum. Judaism, as set forth in the scriptures, describes a closed society, whereas the Israelis want an open – read democratic – system of government. This is not an academic question because the continued occupation of the West Bank is justified on Biblical grounds which brook no recourse to reason and common sense.
- For what it’s worth, my own take on the religious question is this: Jews are the chosen people not to hold dominion and sway over captive peoples. Jews are chosen for one reason and one reason only. Upon the Sabbath, in every synagogue, the rabbi raises the Torah over his head and proclaims, “This is the Law of God given to us through Moses.” The act is symbolic and has been regarded so by most Jews for centuries. Our central mission in the world is to uphold the law. The greatest American jurists who have been Jews, beginning with Brandeis, Cardozo and Learned Hand, have made clear that law entails an evolving set of institutions and precepts: it is not “set in stone” nor is it situate in the mythic 18th Century that so bemuses Justice Antonin Scalia.
- Jews have also played an important role in the development of international law, significant human rights aspects of which the Israelis violate on an almost daily basis. As one of the characters in “The Plague,” by Albert Camus observes:
“For many years I’ve been ashamed, mortally ashamed, of having been, even with the best intentions, even at many removes, a murderer in my turn….Yes, I’ve been ashamed ever since I have realized that we all have plague, and I have lost my peace. And today, I am still trying to find it; still trying to understand all those others and not to be the mortal enemy of anyone. I only know one must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken, and that’s the only way in which we can hope for some peace or, failing that, a decent death. This, and only this, can bring relief to men and, if not save them, at least do them the least harm possible and even, sometimes, a little good.” (Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert in 1948, a year after the original publication.)
- So, Mr. Putative New Prime Minister of Israel, are you and your fellow Israelis capable of envisaging a Jewish identity that omits the need to create and sustain mortal enemies?
Finally, for those who would argue that Iran would turn down an offer to join NATO, I am reminded of an anecdote somehow elided by Tony Kushner’s magnificent screenplay for the movie “Lincoln.” When Lincoln told his Cabinet that he was about to free the slaves, one of the Secretaries piped up, “but Mr. President, suppose they refuse?”
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and an appellate lawyer in New York City.
© Copyright Harvard Hollenberg 2012. All rights reserved.