Friday, April 17, 2015

Death to ...

All over Iran, there can be seen billboards and graffiti saying, “Death to America,” and “Death to Israel.” It is understandable.  Every Iranian school kid knows about 1953.

I get angry when Israel, or any other country, interferes with our American political process.  It upsets me when a presidential candidate responds to a question concerning our foreign policy by saying, “Well, first, I would call my friend Bibi and ask him what he wants us to do.”  I cringe when Congress treats the Prime Minister of Israel with more respect than they treat our own president.

I get especially angry when Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu urges our Congress to invade Iran because “Iran supports terrorism.”  Of course, the terrorist organizations he has in mind are Hezbollah and Hamas.  However, most people in the world know that Hezbollah came into being to protect its people from Israel’s aggression and fight against Israel’s war to occupy the southern part of Lebanon on order to access the Litani River. Likewise, Hamas came into being to defend the people of Palestine, especially those in Gaza, from Israel’s brutal occupation and imperialism.

Because I know a bit of this history, I am prone to say, “Damn Israel.”  But in my most vicious moments, I do not wish for Israel to be literally damned, for all its citizens to die and burn in hell forever.  It is just an expression of my anger and frustration. But I would never support an invasion of Israel to bring it about.  

Every student in Iran knows that in 1953, the United States, primarily through the CIA, overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, their democratically elected Prime Minister. He had upped the price of oil to the west in order to offer education and medical care for his own people.  So, we, the United States, had him removed from office.  We chose Reza Pahlavi as the Shah, to rule as a king. As such, he lived in extreme opulence while keeping the people powerless, poor and under control by fear, murder and torture.  When salafist students demonstrated against the Shah’s policies, his SAVAK troops killed them by the hundreds, all the time being supported by the U.S.  Suddenly, the students began shouting, “Death to America,” and took over our embassy.  Most Americans could not understand.

But, remember, those students did not kill a single one of the 52 hostages and eventually let them come home. So, what does “Death to America” mean to the Iranian? 

Riding through Tehran in a taxi, Rick Steves heard the driver suddenly yell, ”Death to traffic.”  Steves wondered what that was all about.  The people of Iran would also say, “Death to summer heat.”  But they did not set out on an invasion plan to kill the traffic or the heat.  “Death to… “ is an expression of anger and frustration, of exasperation and disgust.  But, it’s just an expression. That’s all.    In our culture we would say, “Damn this traffic,” or “damn teen aged drivers.” Or even “damn it is hot.”  But we would never lay out a plan to kill teen aged drivers and have them suffer in hell because of their driving manners.  “Damn” is an expression of frustration with annoying things beyond our control.

Our cultures are different. Iran is a religious culture. From dress codes to gender segregation, public life is regulated and enforced by religious law. Their billboards advertise religious slogans. Murals on the sides of their building praise their leaders and martyrs.  On the other hand, we, in the west, live in a consumer culture. Every blank space is filled with commercial ads. “Buy this or you will never be happy.”  Iranians sacrifice their freedom to religion.  We have our freedom squelched by Wall Street and multinational corporations.  Their younger generation would probably choose to loosen the regulations a bit. But, would they swap their culture for ours? I wonder.[1]

All of this is to say, I hope our political leaders do not lead us into a war with Iran because we do not understand the semantics of their culture.  We did that in 2003. We allowed ourselves to be coaxed into a war with Iraq and we are still suffering the consequences.  And what did we get for it?  More people than ever who hate us, including ISIS.

Benjamin Netanyahu says that Iran is the most dangerous nation earth.  He doesn’t say why, only that we should be afraid. Wiser minds say that the flip side of fear is understanding.[2]   With the stakes so high, surely, it is worth a try.

Thomas Are
April 17, 2015      

[1] I confess that I am not an authority on Iran. I have never been there. I am not an ambassador nor have I served on any foreign relations committee. However, I have read enough books and listened to enough lectures to know that Iran is misunderstood and demonized by most Americans and we do so at our own peril. 
[2] I have been helped in my understanding of Iran by Rick Steves’ IRAN, a 1-hour Public Television Special, especially his lecture on personal impressions, (2009, Back Door Productions.  Also by several books, including: Flint and Hillary Mann Leverett, Going to Tahran,  Peter Beinard,  The Good Fight,  and Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Is Benjamin Netanyahu Mentally Unstable

On March 24th, an airliner carrying 150 people crashed into the French Alps. Immediately, the announcement of this tragedy dominated the news all around the world.  For over a week now, it has been investigated and analyzed from every possible angle. The most horrendous aspect of this story is that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, locked the pilot out of the cockpit, and deliberately crashed the plane.  Every day and every night since then, the airline, medical and news industries have been pulling their hair out asking how this could have happened. How could anyone so mentally unstable be allowed to be put in a position where he could cause such a horrifying act of terror? Could the people who knew him not see that he was mentally ill?

That question must run through the mind of every passenger stepping on a plane. 

We follow the airline accidents and hijackings because we know that it could happen to us. (However, statistics show that the odds of being killed in an airline crash is 1 in 9 million, which means that you would have to fly every day for 19,000 years to die in an airline crash.) However, on the other hand, it is happening every day to the Palestinians, and it has been happening for over sixty years.

So, my question has a much broader scope and far greater consequences:

 Is Benjamin Netanyahu mentally ill?

He is obviously paranoid. He caused, not just the crash of one plane full of people, but he deliberately caused the crash of tons of bombs into buildings full of men, women and children.  He dropped burning white phosphorus on defenseless people.  He blew up power plants, schools, mosques, hospitals and homes leaving thousands dead and tens of thousands destitute.  We are quick to question the sanity of a 28 year old co-pilot who deliberately caused the death of 149 innocent people. But, who questions the sanity of a man who babbled one thing on Monday and the exact opposite the next day and then announced that both statements were the same. Apparently, in his mind, “there will never be a Palestinian state” and “I still support a Palestinian state,” were not contradictory.

And now, Netanyahu is panic stricken over the possible easing of tensions between the US and Iran. On March 30 he actually said, “an emerging agreement in Lausanne sends a message that there is no price for aggression, – on the contrary, Iran gets a prize for its aggression.” [1]  Really?  Strange that he has nothing to say about the pass he gets for Israel’s aggression against the people of Palestine as he holds up the occupation of  Palestinian land and water like a prize. I say again, no rational thinking person could possibly miss the “transference” of his conduct unto the perceived actions of his victims.  A healthy mind would at least recognize that others would see the distortion.

But, what can we expect from a paranoid leader of a paranoid nation but a paranoid response to any situation?

Co-pilot Lubitz, deliberately killed 149 innocent people and the media is 24/7 proving that he was mentally unstable.  Netanyahu deliberately killed … only God knows how many … but thousands and thousands.  Count the wars he has hyped and it could be counted into the millions. I think Netanyahu is showing signs of mental instability and should never have been put into a position of power.

Thomas Are
April 2, 2015

[1] Earmon Murphy, Day before deadline, Iran negotiations coming “down to the wire’ and Netanyahu still hopes to play spoiler.,  Mondoweiss,  March 30,  2015