Monday, January 16, 2006

The West's worse nightmare

Is how Jason Burke describes the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's an interesting piece well-worth reading but I couldn't quite get past the title: Burke invites us to understand where he's coming from, and there's lots of fair enough stuff about the hypocrisy of the west with regards to the use of nuclear power, possession of nuclear arms and so on. But I couldn't help thinking this is the problem; it's all about us, our guilt, our hypocrisy - and because of this it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Ahmadinejad is a nightmare in his own right, independently of what our governments think about him.

It's not appeasement - more something akin to self-loathing, I reckon - that allows people to be blinded to what Ahmadinejad represents. In so many ways, he is the very incarnation of what just about everyone who could claim even a passing acquaintance with the centre-left opposes. His early career, as Burke outlines in his article, is marked by his enthusiasm for, and identification with, the most reactionary elements in the Iranian revolution:
"When the revolution against the repressive regime of the Shah finally came in 1979, Ahmadinejad was already a well-known figure in one of the harder-line student groups and took part in the vicious struggle to establish the dominance of the Islamists over the leftists following the Shah's fall."
Having been instrumental in establishing the post-Shah regime as a strict theocracy, he then spent his energies maintaining it's purity:
"In 1986, he joined the Revolutionary Guards, the militia created by Ayatollah Khomeini to balance the power of the Iranian army. Based near Kermanshah, Ahmadinejad directed a squad specialising in the assassination of 'enemies of the revolution'. He was, according to those who came across him at the time, committed, brutal, extremely effective. He may have participated in secret missions overseas, such as the assassination of a Kurdish dissident in Vienna.
All the present evidence would suggest that he hasn't mellowed with age. The beeb reports that he intends to host a debate on the Holocaust where the scientific evidence would be 'examined', according to a government spokesman. Now, given that Ahmadinejad has already described the attempted annihilation of Europe's Jews as a 'myth' and has called for Israel to be wiped (hypothetically of course) from the face of the planet, I'm not expecting the standard of scientific objectivity at this 'conference' to be particularly high.

This is the regime whose nuclear ambitions we're not supposed to worry about. Or at least if we are permitted to be concerned, it must be tempered with plenty of western, middle-class liberal guilt about the hypocrisy of it all. Don't we have nukes, along with the USA, China, Russia, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel? Don't we pursue nuclear energy as a future option yet deny this to others? Yes, yes - but let's try and keep it real. Am I being asked to believe that a country that says, in effect, we've got so much oil that if you refer us to the UN, we'll reduce production and push up the world price - and can say, with some justification, that you need us more than we need you - feels a pressing need to search for alternative sources of energy?

When I was with CND, we took the view that while no nukes was the ideal, less was better than more, which is why we supported unilateral disarmament. So what happened? Is this being ditched in the name of anti-imperialism or something? We've went from shitting ourselves that an American President with his finger on the nuclear trigger described the Soviet Union as an 'evil empire' to being blase about the president of a sovereign country who mixes his pursuit of hi-tech energy solutions with the Higher Force.

You'd think the fact that the Higher Force appears to be telling him extinguishing the region's Jewry is a desirable outcome might be enough for the left to view him as an unsavoury character, but it seems not. Nor, it seems, is the fact that he follows the pattern of reactionary regimes everywhere; using external enemies to distract from their failures internally.

There's too much stuff in the press suggesting we should understand Ahmadinejad's behaviour as being about Iran seizing its moment as a regional power in the wake of regime-change in Iraq. It ignores the internal dynamic in Iran: this should be interpreted as the last gasp of a revolution that has faltered and is at the crossroads. The signs of its failure are that it seeks external enemies as a distraction from its own internal problems: the problem isn't that we run a corrupt and bankrupt semi-theocracy that has failed to meet the economic aspirations of the people; the problem is them, is the regime's line.

It's not a little unsettling that quite so many people on the 'left' understand perfectly well that the 'them' in question are those pesky Jews; I wouldn't accuse them of agreeing exactly but I'm disconcerted by the way they seem so relaxed about it all.

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