It’s difficult to analyze claims that Iran is a “rogue state” or a “state sponsor of terror.” So much depends on definitions, and the definitions themselves depend on actual -- not theoretical -- comparisons with the practices of other states. Another difficulty is the depth of xenophobic, knee jerk conditioning of people in the West with respect to Iran.
It’s been almost 30 years since the so-called Iran hostage crisis, when, at the crescendo of the overthrow of the US sponsored torture state of Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iranian students seized the US embassy in Teheran, holding captive the US personnel whose job it had been to support the dictator’s regime, and to assure its compliance with US mandates.
The seizure of the embassy was precipitated by a report from Radio Turkey that yet another US sponsored coup was on the verge of overthrowing Iran’s new leadership.
It’s been almost 30 years since radio stations in the US began playing the “novelty song” Bomb Iran -- to the tune of an old Beach Boys hit, Barbara Ann.
Rambo, Reagan and “Bomb Iran” were only the beginning. The psycho-cultural stage for the entire development of overt neo-fascism in the US was established by the “humiliations” of Viet Nam and the Iran “hostage crisis.”
It is all but impossible to separate what the US has become from its relationship to Iran as its international opposite and “Other,” just as it is all but impossible to separate white cultural psychology in the US from its Black and Native American opposite and “Other.” Iran is, by every standard of the white empire, the modern image of the anti-colonial “savage.”
This is the image of the international “savage” that neo-cowboys like Ronald Reagan and Rambo set out to re-conquer in the popular white imagination of the early 1980s, even as the rulers set about re-conquering a rebellious Black population through the “War on Drugs” in the wake of the Black Power Movement, and American Indians in the wake of Wounded Knee. Thirty years later, these two groups, along with Chicanos, share the distinction of suffering the highest incarceration rates of any peoples on Earth.
All stigmas and stereotypes are used to tell a story that justifies violence against a target. If Blacks are “criminals” and Indians are “drunken” then Iranians are “terrorists” who present a clear and present danger to white capitalist Western “civilization.” And it is this simple image of “danger” that will ultimately be used to justify a nuclear attack on Iran.
If you clutch your metaphorical purse when the word “terrorist” comes walking down the sidewalk toward you, or gets on the elevator with you, then the past thirty years of deliberate conditioning has impacted you, and it’s going to be hard to speak with you objectively about Iranian “terror.” It may prove impossible.
But there’s no risk quite like the risk of being declared an unlawful enemy combatant, so with that proviso, let’s move forward.
First, for the sake of having a sense of proportion, let’s talk about what really rates as international crimes that might, properly, cause a nation to be deemed a rogue state, or a terrorist state.
In our list let’s include some of the universally acknowledged crimes a state might sponsor: genocide, the use of death squads, the widespread use of torture, the unprovoked or needless use of nuclear weapons, the crime of Apartheid, spreading chemical and biological weapons to those who use them to kill the innocent, the launching of unprovoked wars of aggression, and, of course, the deliberate starvation of mass numbers of civilians and the bombing of civilians. Since it’s germane, let’s include the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a crime.
These are things I think any reasoning human would agree are among the vilest of crimes a state is capable of, crimes against humanity.
In terms of the commission of these kinds of national and international crimes, the current regime in Iran hardly rates a nod. Jointly if not singly, however, other players on the Middle East stage are guilty of every crime listed. Every one of them. The players in question are the US and Israel.
US sponsored death squads committed genocide against the Mayan Indians in Guatemala, slaughtering 250,000 people in the 1980s.
The US led sanctions in Iraq in the 90s killed a million innocent civilians -- half of them children. Edward S. Herman has called it “possibly the greatest genocide of the post-World War II era (with only the Congo and Rwanda serious rivals).”
The US has trained torturers and sponsored torture around the globe -- from Iran, to South Africa to El Salvador and Argentina. Torture of Palestinians in Israeli prisons is routine.
The US and Israel backed the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and Israel is still an Apartheid state today, as the US once was under Jim Crow. The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate -- and most of its imprisoned people are peoples of color.
The US has spread biological and chemical weapons to states like Iraq, and passed the matter off when Saddam Hussein used them against the Kurdish minority of Iraq, and others.
The US bombed Yugoslavian civilians for 78 straight days and backed Israel in its recent war crimes against Lebanon, which targeted civilian populations, taking a special toll among children.
The US has carried out dozens of unprovoked invasions, most recently including Iraq, Panama, Grenada, and Haiti, but also including Mexico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, just to name a bare few. Israel has invaded Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and every inch of land it sits on. The US, another white colonial settler state, also invaded and occupied every square inch it sits on.
The US is the only nation in history to have used nuclear weapons -- and it used them against civilians. Israel’s nukes were acquired in gross violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
That’s what I mean by a sense of proportion. Nothing that Iran has done remotely compares to these even one of these crimes. It practices nothing close to Apartheid, it’s launched no wars of aggression -- it’s invaded no one at all, it’s starved no one, bombed no cities, sponsored no genocide, trained no torturers or death squads, it’s seized no one’s land, exported no chemical weapons, has never used a nuclear weapon, has none, and is in compliance with the Non-Proliferation treaty.
But those who have committed just these crimes against humanity label Iran a rogue state and a terrorist state.
Sadly, the main thing Iran is guilty of is the same thing it was guilty of in 1953: having too much oil, and intending to defend it.
The U.S. government has listed Iran as a sponsor of terrorism since 1984. Typical of some of the main charges have been the following, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
* In late 1979, Iranian students thought to be backed by the government occupied the US Embassy in Tehran. They held fifty-two Americans hostage for 444 days.
This was an act of war and popular revolution, not terrorism. Most, if not all of the embassy workers were actively complicit in crimes of the Shah against the Iranian people. They were, in any case, hardly innocent bystanders.
* Observers say Iran had prior knowledge of Hezbollah attacks, such as the 1988 kidnapping and murder of Colonel William Higgins, a U.S. Marine involved in a U.N. observer mission in Lebanon, and the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Jewish cultural institutions in Argentina.
* Attacks against military targets are, by definition not terrorist attacks, they are military attacks. The alleged Iranian links to the Argentinean bombing have never been proven.
* Iran still has a price on the head of the Indian-born British novelist Salman Rushdie for what Iranian leaders call blasphemous writings about Islam in his 1989 novel The Satanic Verses.
Very well, then, but is every state that targets a writer a state terrorist regime? If so, the Bush administration’s going to have a lot of wars on its hands. Just ask the worldwide association of writers, International PEN. Bush will need to invade Turkey, China, Niger, and a dozen others. He’ll also need to send in a commando unit to free Mumia Abu Jamal, an African American writer on death row in Pennsylvania.
* U.S. officials say Iran supported the group behind the 1996 truck bombing of Khobar Towers, a U.S. military residence in Saudi Arabia, which killed nineteen U.S. servicemen.
Iran has been accused of being behind the attack on US soldiers in Saudi Arabia – although the matter has never been proven. But, again, US soldiers are by definition a military target, not “innocents.”
Innocents don’t carry weapons or act as occupation forces in foreign countries. For the same reason, and by definition, there can be no such thing as a “terrorist” attack against the US occupation forces in Iraq, for example.
Is Iran a criminal regime? Perhaps. Ask the Iranian people, not George Bush.
Should theocracies be embraced? No. But those of us in the West have our own emergent theocracy to combat: the one in Washington DC. If the people of Iran want to do battle with their theocracy, they will.
Can anything Iran has done warrant reducing the nation to rubble, or attacking the Iranian people with nuclear weapons? No.
Does Iran have nuclear weapons? No.
Is it developing them? No. Not according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Is Iran a terrorist state? Ask the Mayan people of Guatemala, the survivors of the death squads of El Salvador, the survivors of Hiroshima or the free fire zones of Viet Nam for their answers.
Compare anything Iran has done to the recent Israeli/US bombing of Beirut.
There is, of course, a somewhat longer list of claims against Iran, the bulk of which relate to Iranian support for anti-Israeli resistance groups. These are dealt with somewhat even-handedly in a piece by Gary Sick called “Iran: Confronting Terrorism,” written for The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and published in The Washington Quarterly.
None of the claims has much more substance than those dealt with here, but for those inclined toward an academic source that treats the matter with the requisite dispassion, it’s worth reading.
Coming Up in Part V: The Apocalypse Factor
Other Articles by Juan Santos
Unthinkable War, Part III: Why They “Hate Us”
Endgame: May 1st and America’s New Race War