Archive for July 2009
[This is my column in today's Iowa City Press-Citizen. It can also be found at
The situation in Iran in recent weeks has offered both much hope and much fear. Indeed, Iran seems to be on the brink of something not unlike the pivotal events of 1979. Those events triumphantly ended the monarchy in Iran … only to usher in a fascist theocracy.
Fortunately, two books have been released this year that illustrate both the hope and the fear. Both books are by accomplished journalists who have deep roots in Iran and mastery of the Persian language.
‘Honeymoon in Tehran’
Azadeh Moaveni’s “Honeymoon in Tehran” describes her experiences as a journalist in Tehran as she falls in love, marries and has a child with an Iranian man. Because her life is intertwined with the liberal modern culture that dominates northern Tehran, her story breathes rich life into the people we have seen in the news standing up so defiantly to the fascist regime that controls their country.
Moaveni shows that many people in Iran, across a variety of social categories, are not mere “moderates,” as that term is so euphemistically used to describe people in repressive countries who have merely suppressed the urge to murder. The people of Iran are largely liberals of the type we identify with in this country. They do not merely tolerate diversity and treat others politely; they embrace diversity and seek out cultural experiences beyond what the regime allows.
In spite of this hope, Moaveni also describes the creeping fascism that penetrates more severely after the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After a time of living in constant fear of arrest, she is compelled to leave Iran so that she can raise her child out from under the thumb of the fascist regime.
‘The Persian Night’
Amir Taheri’s “The Persian Night” more starkly shows the darkness and fear cast by the regime. He goes into great detail describing the repressive organs of the regime. He describes the morality patrols — known in Persian as Gasht-e Ershad — that oppress women who dress too colorfully, allow their hair to show, or converse with men.
Taheri tells about various horrors visited upon Iranians by the Baseej militia and the Revolutionary Guard. He examines how the regime exports its fascist ideology through the various arms of Hizballah that operate worldwide.
Most importantly, Taheri describes the regime’s insane pursuit of nuclear weapons and its lack of concern for the welfare of the Iranian people.
Perhaps the most troubling parts of both books are those that display the disregard the regime has for human life. From AhmadinNejad to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi, the regime’s leaders have expressed the sincere belief that the noblest act one can do for the regime is to die. These men justify the most evil acts with a messianic belief of divine rescue. During Iran’s war with Iraq, the regime most vividly displayed its ideology of death when it sent many thousands of young children to die, running across minefields.
When a fascist regime like this instigates foreign wars and pursues nuclear weapons, it poses a threat unlike any the world has faced. The Soviet Union and the United States were saved from nuclear annihilation because each side loved their children and wanted to see them live. What is the world to do when those controlling the nukes want to see their children die?
As we are forced to deal with this question more imminently in the coming months, Moaveni and Taheri explain that the world must make every effort to show solidarity with the people of Iran.
A small example of how America does this is the president’s Nowruz message to the Persian people. Nowruz is the celebration of Persian New Year that pre-dates the arrival of Islam in Iran. Even as the Iranian people have embraced Islam, Nowruz has remained a major holiday celebrated widely by the Iranian people. Because of its narrow theocratic ideology, the regime has tried to suppress Nowruz and has only failed because of the popular observance of it. When the U.S. president addresses the Iranian people on Nowruz, he sends a strong message that we stand with them against their oppressors.
As the Iranian people pursue regime change through boycotts, strikes, and other disturbances, we must continue to stand with them. Their actions provide an opportunity for us to pressure the regime through targeted policies and diplomacy that can reinforce the Iranian people’s efforts. With an intelligent strategy, we might provide the needed momentum to help the Iranian people change the fascist regime that oppresses them and threatens the world.
Anyone who has been through Israeli airport security knows that American screening is a joke. My first time back, I was detained for a few hours because I was carrying some of my wife’s research materials in my luggage – and none of that time was spent just sitting around. Israelis rely on multiple identity verifications, multiple human-to-human interactions, extensive bag searches, and almost universal chemical swab testing of baggage. Each time I went through, the process had minor differences, but it was always thorough. If you fly Israel’s El Al airline, the security is tighter still.
There is no privacy in flying from Israel, but the intrusion seems balanced by a genuine concern and effort to ensure security.
I have even had experiences with Chilean airport security that were better balanced than my American experiences. Once when going through security there, a screener pulled me aside and simply said, “show me the knife.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and so I completely dumped out my carry on. At the bottom of one of the pockets was a nail clipper with a small folding knife. It was what he was looking for, but once he saw it was not dangerous, the screener gave it back to me and sent me on my way.
Nowhere more than this country have I felt that airport security is tailored for maximum intrusion and minimum security. If you want to read some really great examples of this disturbing truth, read Jeffrey Goldberg’s ‘The Things He Carried’ in The Atlantic.
Fortunately, the courts seem to be rolling back the incentives for unnecessarily intrusive searches. This example, among others, was in today’s Wall Street Journal:
A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.
Of course, this only helps at the point where a court gets involved. If a search is merely inconvenient and intrusive, but leads to no criminal charge, it is hard to see what remedy is available. Sue for nominal damages? Maybe a class action for lost airfare due to delays that cause missed flights? We can hope …
Sri Lanka provides a solid example of how to most effectively deal with terrorists. After decades of facing some of the most brutal terror tactics, Sri Lanka adopted tactics sufficient to quell the terrorists. Robert Kaplan at The Atlantic gives us the lessons:
The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves.
Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists.
The international community disapproves of your methods and cuts off military aid because of the human rights violations you’ve committed? Again, no problem. Get aid from China.
The international system created largely by western nations has produced these lessons. While democrats and liberty-minded people would rightly feel shame at learning these lessons, most nations have no problem adopting such Machiavellian approaches. Indeed, failing to adopt such amoral policies attracts terror and other vicious methods for obtaining political goals. We need to rethink the system that encourages terrorism and offers only such fascist responses as effective tools to combat it.
I have no doubt that Israel will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb. Israelis across the political spectrum perceive an Iranian nuke as an intolerable existential threat and are willing to tolerate almost anything (particularly any diplomatic consequences or military consequences from Iran’s proxies) more than such a threat.
What has interested me most is whether other nations, specifically Saudi Arabia, the United States, or France might preempt the need for such an attack by carrying out an attack of their own. After all, Iran attempted to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak before Israel finished the job.
And, today, we get pretty solid news of at least some coordination between Israel and Saudi Arabia from The Times:
The Israeli press has already carried unconfirmed reports that high-ranking officials, including Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, held meetings with Saudi colleagues. The reports were denied by Saudi officials.
“The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia,” a diplomatic source said last week.
It is still my hope that such eventualities do not come to pass. Iran has every right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to peaceful nuclear energy. But, it must submit to safeguards to prevent nuclear weapons development. Those safe guards are not in place, the IAEA has been kicked out of Iran, and the nuclear fuel enrichment in Iran goes well beyond peaceful uses.
We need the Green Revolution to restore sanity to the government of Iran and constrain the nuclear pursuit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. If they do not succeed, I have little hope that Supreme Leader Khamenehi and the insane Mahdi-obsessed public face of the regime, Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad, will submit to a peaceful resolution.
Argentina is among the better places for Jews living in South America. While my Jewish friends in Venezuela were prepared to flee on a moments notice and making long term plans to live in other countries, my Jewish friends in Argentina were mostly worrying about vandalism and lower level hate crime.
That said, Argentina was the site of one of the severest terror attacks on Jews in South America. In 1994, an Iran-backed Hezbollah attack on the AMIA (Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid) building murdered 85 and injured 300.
Now, one of the police who so bungled the case that he might have made himself an accessory after the fact (or worse) is getting the top police job in Buenos Aires:
Buenos Aires city mayor Mauricio Macri has appointed Jorge Palacios, a disgraced former Argentine Federal Police officer suspected of involvement in the cover up of the AMIA massacre, to be the head of the city’s first autonomous police force. Such is the strength of the suspicions attaching to Palacios’s role in the aftermath of the AMIA attack that State Prosecutor Albert Nisman is believed to be on the point of indicting him on charges of having warned a suspect , Kanoore Edul, that he was under investigation and that his home was about to be raided by the police.
Such is the situation of Jews in many places in the world. Even when Jews are relatively well off, they face dangers considered unacceptable to most other peoples. This is one of the reasons why Israel is so important. When other states refuse to protect Jews, whether out of malice or negligence, Israel is there to protect and receive them as needed.
It is good to remember that much of the world is severely unfree. Foreign Policy has a good feature on a few of the least free places on earth. Many Americans, I suspect, could not locate many of these places on the map. It is too bad because some of them are within the US orbit of influence. Americans should want our country to be a beacon of light into the dark places of the world. But, in order to be that beacon, we must know where the darkness reigns.
One disputed territory that shockingly few people know about is Western Sahara, which is under Moroccan occupation:
Western Sahara is the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed rebel group, the Polisario Front. Morocco controls local elections, severely restricts freedom of assembly, and denies nomadic Saharans, or Sahrawis, their right to form independent political or nongovernmental organizations. Sahrawi activists face harassment, arbitrary detention, and torture. Moroccan authorities regularly use force when quelling demonstrations and riots in Sahrawi villages.
The source data is available from Freedom House at this link.
I am always quick to note that a major reason why overhead costs at Medicare are low is that Medicare is better at foisting those costs on health care providers and other health care players who pass them on in the form of higher bills. Of course, my complaint really only applies to legitimate healthcare providers. From the Wall Street Journal, here is an exception to my argument that still shows they are a sham:
One of the purported benefits of nationalized health care is that it will be more efficient than private insurers since it would lack the profit motive and have lower administrative expenses, like Medicare. But one reason entitlement programs are so easy to defraud is precisely because they don’t have those overhead costs — they automatically pay whatever bills roll in with valid claims numbers.
People everywhere do bad things. Jews and Israelis are not immune from the ordinary misconduct that plagues all peoples. What a civil and democratic society, however, will do to remedy this problem is provide multiple layers of protection against such misconduct.
Israel’s military and prosecutorial establishments already do much to investigate and prosecute official misconduct by Israel’s military forces. However, Israel, probably more than any other nation in the world, allows for searching judicial review when the administrative safeguards fail.
In this recent case, a soldier fired a rubber bullet at a bound prisoner. There is no excuse for such conduct and any person doing such a thing, as well as those who enable it, must be punished.
The soldier was already being charged for his actions. However, Israel’s judiciary found such charges to be insufficient and demanded that he be charged more seriously. This, even though the victim was a Palestinian Arab and the conduct took place in a military setting.
From the JTA:
Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the military prosecutor to file more serious charges against an officer and a soldier who shot a bound Palestinian.
The court’s ruling Wednesday came in response to a petition filed by the Palestinian victim and four human rights organizations, which said that the charge of improper conduct was not commensurate with “the gravity of the acts.”
I tend to read several books at once and that sometimes makes for slow turnover in my reading list. Usually, I wait until I am done before I recommend a book. But, I am about halfway through Amir Taheri’s ‘The Persian Night’ and I am ready to recommend it to people. It might be a little dense for some, but I have not read anything as good that deals with the issues taking place in Iran today. And, if you don’t want to take my recommendation consider Michael Totten’s.