By Pepe Escobar
May 01, 2008
More than two years ago, Seymour Hersh disclosed in the New Yorker how George W. Bush was considering strategic nuclear strikes against Iran. Ever since, a campaign to demonize that country has proceeded in a relentless, Terminator-like way, applying the same techniques and semantic contortions that were so familiar in the period before the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq.
The campaign’s greatest hits are widely known: “The ayatollahs” are building a Shi’ite nuclear bomb; Iranian weapons are killing American soldiers in Iraq; Iranian gunboats are provoking U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf — Iran, in short, is the new al-Qaeda, a terror state aimed at the heart of the United States. It’s idle to expect the American mainstream media to offer any tools that might put this orchestrated blitzkrieg in context.
Here are just a few recent instances of the ongoing campaign: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insists that Iran “is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admits that the Pentagon is planning for “potential military courses of action” when it comes to Iran. In tandem with U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus, Mullen denounces Iran’s “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq, although he claims to harbor “no expectations” of an attack on Iran “in the immediate future” and even admits he has “no smoking gun which could prove that the highest leadership [of Iran] is involved.”
But keep in mind one thing the Great Saddam Take-out of 2003 proved: that a “smoking gun” is, in the end, irrelevant. And this week, the U.S. is ominously floating a second aircraft carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf.
But what of Iran itself under the blizzard of charges and threats? What to make of it? What does the world look like from Tehran? Here are five ways to think about Iran under the gun and to better decode the Iranian chessboard.
1. Don’t underestimate the power of Shi’ite Islam: Seventy-five percent of the world’s oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf. Seventy percent of the Gulf’s population is Shi’ite. Shi’ism is an eschatological — and revolutionary — religion, fueled by a passionate mixture of romanticism and cosmic despair. As much as it may instill fear in hegemonic Sunni Islam, some Westerners should feel a certain empathy for intellectual Shi’ism’s almost Sartrean nausea towards the vacuous material world.
For more than a thousand years Shi’ite Islam has, in fact, been a galaxy of Shi’isms — a kind of Fourth World of its own, always cursed by political exclusion and implacable economic marginalization, always carrying an immensely dramatic view of history with it.
It’s impossible to understand Iran without grasping the contradiction that the Iranian religious leadership faces in ruling, however fractiously, a nation state. In the minds of Iran’s religious leaders, the very concept of the nation-state is regarded with deep suspicion, because it detracts from the umma, the global Muslim community. The nation-state, as they see it, is but a way station on the road to the final triumph of Shi’ism and pure Islam. To venture beyond the present stage of history, however, they also recognize the necessity of reinforcing the nation-state that offers Shi’ism a sanctuary — and that, of course, happens to be Iran. When Shi’ism finally triumphs, the concept of nation-state — a heritage, in any case, of the West — will disappear, replaced by a community organized according to the will of Prophet Muhammad.
In the right context, this is, believe me, a powerful message. I briefly became a mashti — a pilgrim visiting a privileged Shi’ite gateway to Paradise, the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, four hours west of the Iran-Afghan border. At sunset, the only foreigner lost in a pious multitude of black chadors and white turbans occupying every square inch of the huge walled shrine, I felt a tremendous emotional jolt. And I wasn’t even a believer, just a simple infidel.
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