By Kabir Helminski
We’re doing it all over again. Not only do we not learn from history, we cannot seem to learn from last year or last week. In March, the Democrats have removed an item from the military appropriations bill that would have required the President to seek Congress’ approval to go to war against Iran, after a number of “moderate” and conservative Democratic congressmen expressed concern over the danger to Israel. Removing the military threat “would take away our bargaining power,” they said. Whatever the political realities the Democrats face, we’re giving our out-of-control President tacit permission to threaten Iran with military force, including the likely use of “tactical” nuclear weapons, to prevent Iran from supposedly developing nuclear weapons. We are at the brink of an abyss potentially greater than the one we have already fallen into.
A cogent analysis of American military preparations has come from Dan Plesch, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He has written for the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, the Observer, Tribune, the Washington Post and the Washington Times. He writes:
“American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons. . . British military sources told the New Statesman, on condition of anonymity, that “the US military switched its whole focus to Iran” as soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of Baghdad. It continued this strategy, even though it had American infantry bogged down in fighting the insurgency in Iraq.”
He also comments on the shift in the American nuclear command and the 400% increase in American strike power since 2003: “Traditionally, the top nuclear job went either to a commander of the navy’s Trident submarines or of the air force’s bombers and missiles. Today, all these forces follow the orders of a marine, General James Cartwright, and are integrated into a ‘Global Strike’ plan which places strategic forces on permanent 12-hour readiness. . . Any US general planning to attack Iran can now assume that at least 10,000 targets can be hit in a single raid, with warplanes flying from the US or Diego Garcia. In the past year, unlimited funding for military technology has taken “smart bombs” to a new level. New “bunker-busting” conventional bombs weigh only 250lb. According to Boeing, the GBU-39 small-diameter bomb “quadruples” the firepower of US warplanes, compared to those in use even as recently as 2003. A single stealth or B-52 bomber can now attack between 150 and 300 individual points to within a meter of accuracy using the global positioning system.”
And where does one look for some truth amid the noise and misinformation that is echoed even by Democrats like Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Nancy Pelosi, and others, who go along with the scenario that Iran is a major threat. Most notably, the same voices we didn’t listen to last time. Sy Hirsch has been reporting that even high-level Pentagon people consider this madness. And then there’s Scott Ritter, former Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq, a self-described Republican, who has issued one of the strongest warnings in The Nation. Lately, too, General Wesley Clark has started a movement to “stop the next Gulf War.”
But there’s informed opinion and sanity, on the one hand, and then there’s the manufactured “reality” that a majority of our public and elected leaders seem to accept, a growing “consensus” that will one day be seen as equal to the paranoid and self-destructive consensus that allowed us to attack Iraq. Listen to the persistent drum-beat of misinformation that prepares us to accept the unacceptable.
“The Iranians are supplying the insurgency with weapons that kill Americans.” Never mind that the worst of the insurgency is Sunni-led and that Iran would be supporting the Shi’a. Never mind that Iran is an immediate neighbor and has undeniable vital interests in the bloody mayhem the United States has unleashed.
Or the accusation that President Ahmadinejad threatened to “wipe Israel off the map,” a mistranslation that seemingly originated with the New York Times, which later, however, quietly backed away from this false translation.
The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele cites four different translations, from professors to the BBC to even pro-Israel news outlets. The closest translation to what the Iranian President actually said is, “The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” In no version is the word “map” used or a context of mass genocide or hostile military action even hinted at. Moreover, he was quoting a statement made more than twenty years ago by Ayatollah Khomeini. It is important to understand what is meant by a statement like this. It is based on the Islamic belief that ultimately truth must prevail over falsehood, and justice must prevail over oppression. Therefore any state or government that oppresses people and denies them justice will not have Divine support and will eventually “vanish from the pages of time.” The same principles that apply to Israel, must presumably also apply to Iran, and to the United States.
Now, if we might pause and take a breath, and consider the situation of Iran today. Several years ago at a conference in Tehran entitled “Islam and World Peace,” I shared the opening address with Hojatullah Abtahi, former President Khatemi’s second-in-command, or “Vice President,” as he was described to me. Immediately after our introductory talks, the first question raised was: “Mr. Helminski looks like a man of the world and speaks of spirituality. Hojatullah Abtahi dresses like a man of religion, and speaks of politics. Could you comment.” To which the Hojatullah responded: “Mr. Helminski is a Sufi who understands politics and I am a politician who understands Sufism. I don’t think there is much disagreement between us.” At that time, Mr. Abtahi was the Director of the Center for the Dialogue of Civilizations, one of his most important responsibilities as “Vice President.” Imagine a President of the United States appointing his Vice President to focus on “the dialogue of civilizations.”
This was before the election on President Ahmadinejad, which was enabled by the weak performance of President Khatemi, the lack of an honest alternative, the difficult economic circumstances and his promises of economic reform. As of now, Iran is number one on our official list of enemies for its “support of terrorism.” Our government lumps together both political resistance movements like Hezbollah and Hamas, with true terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. Iran has supported the former and vehemently opposed the latter. Even with Ahmadinejad, Iran offered the United States help in tracking down terrorists after 9/11 and were very antagonistic to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ahmadinejad occupies roughly the same position within Iranian society as President Bush now does here. Both are unpopular, ineffective, and intellectually inferior politicians. If we just leave Iran alone, Ahmadinejad will almost certainly be voted out in the next election. If we continue our policies of aggressive confrontation, the Iranians will have little choice but to elect a non-reformist sword-rattler.
The media in America seems to ignore and obscure the fact that Iran has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has never indicated that it is developing a nuclear weapons program. As a matter of national pride, it is exercising its right to develop a nuclear energy program for domestic purposes, but there is no evidence so far that this is a weapons program. This essential distinction is routinely ignored.
On the issue of nuclear weapons, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s current “supreme leader,” and other Iranian clerics have repeatedly declared that Islam forbids the development and use of all weapons of mass destruction. “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction,” Khamenei said recently. “In contrast to the propaganda of our enemies, fundamentally we are against any production of weapons of mass destruction in any form.” Furthermore, Iran has nothing to gain by developing a nuclear weapon, which would only accelerate the arms race in the region.
The consequences of any military attack on Iran would be catastrophic and have been commented on by many already. But let me list the most obvious.
Iran is not Iraq. It may have means to retaliate within the borders of the United States, and certainly throughout Iraq, against US interests throughout the world, and by restricting the flow of oil through the straits of Hormuz.
A Moral Abyss
An American attack, especially a “surgical” nuclear attack, would send America further into a moral abyss. Even keeping the option on the table communicates a message to the world. The death of tens of thousands of civilians, the nuclear pollution would incite moral outrage not only in Iran but throughout the Islamic world, certifying the United States as an enemy of Islam and humanity.
It would cripple the forces of Islamic moderation throughout the world and embolden the most extreme elements. Rather than solving the problem of Iran’s hypothetical or imagined nuclear threat, it would radicalize much of the world with unforeseeable consequences, politically, economically, and strategically.
The politics of military domination and pre-emptive war are not a realistic or supportable strategy. Can we find no solution to our problems in the 21st century other than the threat or actuality of war—moreover war that kills mostly civilians? Humanity is more than ever interdependent and our well-being truly depends on the well-being of the whole. This shoot-em-up scenario has already been played out in Iraq, and its consequences will debilitate America at home and weaken us abroad for decades to come, but it is nothing like what we will see if we attack Iran.
The United States of Denial
Americans are unable to cognize the scope of the deaths resulting directly from the Iraqi Occupation. Among those polled for a recent AP survey, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths for the entire “war” was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower. So most Americans believe there has been a mere 10,000 or so civilian deaths. There are, of course, no “official” estimates, although numbers like 30,000 and 50,000 are thrown around. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.
But the only actual study of civilian casualties, reported in the respected peer-review publication, The Lancet, October 11, 2006, estimated civilian deaths in Iraq to be far greater:
“As many as 654,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The deaths from all causes—violent and non-violent—are over and above the estimated 143,000 deaths per year that occurred from all causes prior to the March 2003 invasion.”
This news was reported for about one or two days in major American media and then forgotten, despite the fact that it followed the most rigorous research protocols and was accepted internationally.
We simply do not acknowledge the wide-spread bombing of civilian targets as recently as last week, the routine brutalization of the population, and even the hideous war-crimes committed, for instance, at the battle of Fallujah where white phosphorous was used to incinerate human beings.
The Myth of Islamic Support for Terrorism
According to a recent article in the February 23, 2007 Christian Science Monitor:
“Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.
“The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland’s prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that ‘bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians’ are ‘never justified,’ while 24 percent believe these attacks are ‘often or sometimes justified.’
“Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world’s most-populous Muslim countries Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are ‘never justified’; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent. . . .”
Yet America is hell-bent on a perpetual war against terrorism. America has lost the higher moral ground it had at the end of the Second World War and it is leading the way to the Abyss of a Third World War. We can speculate what motivates this administration, whether a skewed but messianic view of our place in the world, an ignorance so profound as to be tragic, or a more cynical view—namely, that this fatal juggernaut is actually an intentional movement of profit and wealth from American citizens to private military and industrial companies & the long-term use of war to secure foreign oil contracts and economic advantage for private corporations.
By now a majority of Americans have concluded that this administration is using the precious men, money and resources of this great nation to subvert its greatest principles: America (and the world) are seen as nothing more than a resource for the private gain of individuals and corporations. The citizens and the values of their nation no longer are relevant. You, the reader, are irrelevant. President Bush has brought the age of “one dollar, one vote” upon America as the guiding principle of a new Corporate Democracy.
There is an alternative. We can stop creating enemies and reach out in friendship. We can analyze our actions and policies according to a comprehensive understanding of humanity’s situation on this fragile planet. We can recognize a new bottom line of “goodwill toward men.” A new global “Marshall Plan” that would focus on clean water, adequate food, sustainable agriculture, environmentally sound technologies, could kick off a new prosperity and a new sense of purpose for America.
Kabir Helminski is a Sufi Shaikh, writer, and a social justice activist. His books on spirituality, and translations of Rumi, have been published in seven languages. His most recent book is The BeliefNet Guide to Islam.