Iran – The Aftermath of September 11th and the New War on Terror

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Background

I try to be as impartial as humanly possible. For, anyone born and raised in the East, then educated and matured in the West � or vice versa � is most likely to acquire a double vision through which facts often appear to be reflecting two diametrically opposing sides. This is especially true of the Iranian expatriates of America. Although such a peculiarity may also prove to serve as a guide to impartiality, the existing settings in Iran, however, exert their own pressures of prejudice.

In the midst of strong political currents in the old central sections of Tehran � where aside from the traditional socio-economic and cultural structures of the community, many Afghans and Iraqis are mixed with the local population � the task of differentiating between the right and wrong and, hence, projecting an impartial view of the affairs is highly improbable. Particularly, when the issues being discussed are: the September 11th, the war on Afghanistan, America, Iraq, Israel, and so on.

Keep in mind that this area has been at the center stage of political history of Iran throughout the twentieth century. From the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, almost every political event of significance has had its roots in this part of Tehran. Memories of the American coup d’etat that toppled Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq’s government and brought back the Shah in 1953 are still fresh in the minds of many people. The bloody uprisings in response to the exile of Ayatollah Khomeini by the Shah in 1963 were concentrated here.

The Islamic Revolution was organized, executed and later guarded in the narrow back alleys of the neighborhoods of central Tehran. Most dissident groups had their roots in this area. Almost all public places, alleys and streets are renamed after the martyrs who lived in these neighborhoods that are currently shared with many refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq who number in the millions nationwide. And keep in mind that both the Taliban and Saddam’s regime are regarded as the worst adversaries of Iran.

It is, therefore, not realistic to expect an impartial view on any political and/or cultural issues in these settings. And it is only natural for anyone viewing the world from this standpoint not to be immune to the forces prevailing over the socio-political and cultural panorama. This is not an isolated territory. Whatever takes place in this core resonates widely in the periphery � the entire landscape of Iran and beyond.

Assumptions

Assume what follows are the rough translations, loose quotations, or simple interpretations of events. It is intended for those on the ‘other’ side of the spectrum. None are aimed at advocating or rejecting any specific tendencies. However, to be on the safe side, you may also assume that an Iranian expatriate of America, usually, both loves and hates America at the same time. All statements, nonetheless, are aimed at providing basic information for a better understanding of the complexities that have led to the present divergence of beliefs and mentalities. And all in the hope that even a single word from this traditional core � if conveyed well and received well � may help to bring the two worlds just a bit closer.

The Shockwaves of the September 11th

Not since the days of the World War II has Iran been shaken so rampant. The American Coup of 1953, the uprising of 1963, the Revolution of 1979, the aftermath of the Revolution, and the Iraqi aggression followed by eight years of war � none can be compared with the shockwaves of the September 11th. And one may wonder why? With the exception of the Iraqi aggression, the rest were basically regarded as domestic affairs. And as for the Iraqis, there was never any doubt that they would be pushed away.

This time, however, it is a foreign force of a different kind. It is the American military might on the southern waters of Iran. They are here not for Afghanistan or Iraq, but to get even with Iran. In the opinion of Iran’s rulers � and most of the public for that matter � there are only two forces in the post USA/USSR bipolar world. In the West, the mighty USA representing the industrialized world � the oppressors, and in the East, the Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking on behalf of the Third World � the oppressed. Hence, invariably, any statement from Washington is taken to be addressed to Iran, and any statement from Tehran, is intended for the political audience in Washington.

The back alleys of Central Tehran:

First, there was a deep silence, no comments, and no moves. Then, the reality slowly set. Oh, Almighty, so it can be done! Never mind about the thousands dead. That’s incidental in any war. For the first time, it has been proven that the undoable can actually be done. The super power has been hit and hit very hard, and right in the spot where it hurts the most. The symbol of the world economic power � the super structure, The World Trade Center � is destroyed; it is no more; it is gone. The heart of the world military power � The Pentagon � is severely damaged. And the political center of the world � The White House � is badly shaken. Never has such an amazing shock been felt before in Iran. America has been humiliated; the ‘superpower’ is not as ‘super’ as it appeared to be. The huge impenetrable iron security shield had holes in it � very big holes � and in the most sensitive spots.

The Upper-class neighborhoods of Northern Tehran:

The youth held a candlelight vigil in sympathy with the Americans. “Down with terrorism”, they shouted. The ‘unknown forces’ quickly silenced the crowd. The next day, they returned. This time with an official permit issued by the Ministry of Interior. But after 10 PM, they were ordered to disperse. Days later, the soccer game festivities turned into street riots. Several hundreds were arrested, beaten, and jailed. Dissidents abroad, through the recently established satellite television networks in Los Angeles, called for ‘civil disobedience.’ Police forces entered houses and removed satellite dishes on the rooftops. Others ‘voluntarily’ hid away their dishes for a ‘better’ time.

The President:

Immediately after the September 11th, President Khatami joined the world leaders in expressing sympathy with the Americans and strongly denouncing terrorism. He also offered Iran’s support of a worldwide coalition for combating terrorism, but only if it were under the auspices of the United Nations.

The Supreme Leader:

Shortly after the quick visit of the British Foreign Minister and his departure from Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, addressed the nation on prime time television � as if the whole world was watching: “America is neither sincere in its claim of combating terrorism, nor is it qualified to assume a position of leadership in such a war”, he proclaimed. In response to President George Bush’s statement of “you are either with us or with the terrorists”, He simply stated: “we are neither with you nor with the terrorists.” By this, the official position of Iran was clearly laid down.

The Chairman of the Assembly of Discerning the State’s Interests:

Ayatollah Rafsanjani completed the official political round. “Terrorism is the effect and not the cause � to eradicate terrorism, we must fight the cause, and the cause is injustice, it is the arrogance of the world powers. We have been the victims of the most vicious acts of terrorism; yet, no one has once denounced these atrocities against us. America supplied weapons of mass destruction � biological and chemical � to Iraq to annihilate the innocent civilians. What can we call that other than terrorism?”

The Revolutionary Forces:

The National Security Council held emergency sessions lasting several days. The Revolutionary Guard issued statements about their readiness and ability to defend the country against any threats. Mass mobilization of militia groups went underway. Military maneuvers began. The Exposition of ‘Shattering of the Glassy Palace’ opened to the public on the anniversary of the ‘hostage crisis’ in the American ‘Ex-Embassy’ in Tehran. The slogans on the Embassy walls were repainted afresh. “We will crush America under our feet � Imam Khomeini”, “Who is America to tell the rest of the world what to do? � Supreme Leader.” All in all, it resembled the early days of the war against Iraq. As though, a military strike is imminent. The real question is when and where? The Americans are here for ‘us.’

The intellectuals:

It is “the clash of civilizations”, “the North against the South”, “the East against the West”, “the ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots’ “, “the Judeo-Christians against the Muslims”, it is the “New World Order”, “New War on Terrorism”, or “it is all about the oil”, �so we have been told. It has been claimed that the September 11th was a turning point in history because “now, for the first time, the guns were pointed in the opposite direction.” All familiar statements emanating straight from the current literature on the Internet. But something else resonates in the air, something very different. “It is a war against democracy!” The West cannot tolerate a democratic Iran. It will be detrimental to ‘the vital national interests of America.’

My mother:

She is almost a hundred years old. “Come Ali, hurry up, come and see the television. They are killing all the babies. Hurry up, the young naked boy is screaming and running astray from the bombs.” Assuming she was watching a movie � “who is killing who” � I asked. “Those damned Americans � they are killing everyone in Afghanistan. See all those old men lying dead in the fields with their hands tied on their backs. What are they doing in this part of the world? Don’t they have their own land? Don’t they fear God?” When I went closer to her, she held me tight in tears: “I will not let you go back there any more. They will kill you too. You shall promise me never to go back to America.”

Group discussions with the university students:

The West, at least in the rhetorical sense, had maintained a high moral ground in most of the recent past. It preached for: democracy, peace, civil liberties, freedom of individuals, the rule of law, human rights, free press, and so on. It used and abused its preaching to justify its actions throughout the world. For the first time, however, there seems to be a change. Now, the West, primarily represented by the self-appointed leader � the good old USA � is declaring a crusade, a war � albeit ‘the war on terror.’ Now, the most powerful, wealthiest, ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation in the world is destroying what is left of the wreckage of the weakest, poorest, Muslim nation in the world.

Ironically, all at the time, when the country that has been regarded as the pillar of terrorism and has been branded as the ‘terrorist state’ by the USA for the last two decades � The Islamic Republic of Iran � has become the focal point of the call on “dialogue of civilizations” � a dramatic shift of paradigm indeed. What has been the underlying force causing such a drastic shift?

The immediate response to the horrible events of the September 11th was the universal condemnations by all the governments throughout the world. More significant, however, was the unanimous proclamation of the “war against terror.” Exactly, when was the last time that all the leaders of the world cast such an instantaneous and unanimous vote? Was it because they are facing the same problem? And if so, doesn’t this imply that “terrorism” is also a universal phenomenon? Listen to the Iranian leaders: “America is not qualified to lead”, “Western Democracy is a farce, see the press censorship, see the infringements on the civil liberties of their own.” Listen to the intellectuals: “it is a war on democracy.” So, it seems, while America has resorted to force, Iran has resorted to morality. And one can’t help but wonder if a presidential popularity contest were held throughout the world today, which of the two presidents would have come ahead � George Bush or Khatami?

An Observation

It may be claimed, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that the aftermath of the September 11th and the war on Afghanistan � aside from the countries directly involved, namely: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the USA � had no more far reaching effects than it did on the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a sense, perhaps, the short-term effects on Iran were even greater than they were on Pakistan. Although, the immediate government reactions throughout most of the world were the imposition of limitations on the civil liberties of the people, such limitations, however, may have adverse long-term consequences with devastating effects on the political development and democratization processes in the countries such as Iran. One of the initial effects was the expeditious trial of the top members of the now outlawed ‘Freedom Movement of Iran’ behind closed doors in Tehran.

If the primary objectives of the terrorists were to limit the civil liberties in the West and to undermine the democratization processes in the East, then these objectives may have, indeed, been partially realized by such reactions to the events. Fortunately, no terrorist has ever claimed to pursue such an aim. And this, perhaps, provides the best opportunity for the reassessment of the current policies and practices for all. Namely, when there is a call for a ‘dialogue’, the least the other side can do is to lay down their arms. The remarkable Swedish approach might provide an exemplary guideline. They are almost half way in their efforts on throwing away their arms.

Mr. Ali R. Rabi is in Tehran, Iran.

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