Monthly Archives: July 2009

Could Ahmadinijad be good for the West?

No, the title is not a typo. Yes, I’m an educated student and yes, I stand by the title of this post.

It’s not difficult to name the horrors Ahmadinijad has done and the horrors he wants to commit (i.e. wipe Israel off the map). He runs an oppressive regime and opponents are frequently murdered, harassed or threatened. Many western leaders have recognized the threat Iran poses and many media outlets are not shy to announce the fear of Iran. But would removing Ahmadinijad make any difference?

Iran and the West have a long complicated history. Under the Shah, Iran had good ties with the West and even attempted to modernize the nation. But after the follow-out of American support in the mid 70s, Iran became more and more aggressive until the 1979 regime change which changed the Iranian regime’s policies. Following the revolution came a new interpretation in Shiite jurisprudence. This new interpretation believed there was a prophet that will come to the aid of all Shiites worldwide and this form of Shiism dominated the Iranian belief system. This idea of the saviour was advocated by Khomeini who argued for the concept of “Wali al-Faqih” (supreme leader) – a person who would be in charge of Shiite affairs until this savior arrives. And of course, he claimed that he was the appropriate person to act as the supreme leader. This interpretation was imposed on the clerical elite in Iran and thus, society at large.

Another important change in the Iranian regime was the constitutional manipulation. After 1979, Iran was called “The Islamic Republic,” which would supposedly introduce republican principles into the regime and but also put the political role of the Supreme Leader as the highest regime official of the regime. This was done to ensure that the final arbitrator in foreign policy affairs was a group of clerks loyal to Khomeini.

These changes are still in effect today – Iran can have elections after elections but as long as the supreme leader remains to be Ali Khamenei, the Iranian president will have no real effect on Iranian foreign policy. So even if Mousavi had won, it would not have made a difference.

So could Ahmadinijad be good for the West? He can decide to “wipe Israel off the map” but these decisions would only be put in effect by the Supreme Leader. And so, if we look at Mousavi’s record, perhaps he is good for the West.

Mousavi was favored to win by the West because he presented a moderate voice in Iranian public. Many analysts praised his handling of the Iranian economy, his leadership during the Iran-Iraq war which killed over a million people on both sides and his efforts to end Iran’s international isolation.

But as prime minister in the 1980s, Mousavi was a social conservative, and he backed the ideals of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Mir Hossein Mousavi’s hard-line past and spotless revolutionary credentials appeal to conservatives. And just two months ago, he announced Iran would continue advancing her nuclear program. The advancement of this nuclear program would have severe implications in the Middle East. Iran funds Syrian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, an arrangement worth keeping for Syria, which is then able to maintain the Lebanese border as an active military front against Israel. The funding that Iran provides lands into the pockets of Hezbollah and Hamas and if Iran had a nuclear weapons program, perhaps those weapons would also be transferred to terrorists.

When Mousavi introduced his cabinet in 1985, he boasted that his interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashami, was a religious conservative who’d built his reputation while building Hezbollah, the “Party of God,” in Lebanon. Mousavi’s parliamentary followers supported continuing terrorist operations in Lebanon. Mousavi neither liked nor trusted Americans. He led Iran’s boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics to protest U.S. foreign policy from Central American to the Middle East.

Mousavi’s past has been overlooked during the previous elections. The west preferred him to win and his supporters called him a moderate choice. If Mousavi is considered moderate, it is only when compared to Ahmadinijad.

So could Ahmadinijad be good for the West? If Mousavi was in “power,” perhaps the west would attempt to negotiate with Iran. As we have learned, negotiations with Iran are useless. Obama can extend the “olive branch” as much as he wants, but until he realizes Iran has no intention of ever cooperating with the US or even maintaining friendly relations with the US, his kind words will only do harm. As long as Ahmadinijad is in power, we can no longer pretend Iran is not a threat. It might even be a blessing in disguise – Ahmadinijad is up front about his cruel policies and strong actions against them need not be hidden. The west will receive less opposition when fighting a “Holocaust-denier” than if fighting a so-called moderate.

At the end of the day, Ahmadinijad and Mousavi both cannot change the fate of Iran – only the Supreme Leader can. And we have a unique opportunity to fight this threat – since it is so clearly right in front of us.

Finding my own place in the conflict

During the past few years, I have learned a lot (or tried to learn) about the Middle East Conflict/Arab-Israeli Conflict/ Israeli-Palestinian Conflict etc etc… I’ve learned that both sides make big, life changing mistakes. I’ve also learned that it is impossible to believe everything the media says. In an ideal world, the media would report simply to let us know the truth – but in our world, every media outlet has their own agenda and if spinning a story a certain way will allow them more access to future stories, then they will do it. And sometimes the ability to talk to terrorists is what the media wants – not always to justify their actions but to claim a coveted spot in the hierarchy of media outlets (the more evil the terrorist, the more coveted the interview, the more respected the media).

At the end of the day, I still have hesitations. I read the papers and I find flaws in their understandings and their insinuations. I find flaws in the history of the conflict – who started what? who is to blame? can we even place blame? And it just makes me want to learn more. Maybe I’m only searching for the answers I want to hear, the answers I’ve been taught from birth – or maybe I’ll put aside my feelings and just search for some semblance of truth.

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"A state is not a right – it’s something you earn"

“I’m scared for the peace process to start again,” Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh stated last week at a lecture to a group of interns as he discussed the current situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an Israeli Arab (through his father) and a Palestinian (through his mother) living as a journalist in Jerusalem. After working for the PLO as a journalist, he started reporting for the Jerusalem Post during the 2nd Intifada, when it was too dangerous for Israeli journalists to be reporting on the streets. He willingly shares his unique views on the conflict and often lectures to various university campuses although he prefers to stay in Israel as often as he can – American campuses are so radicalized that “I feel more threatened on American campuses than on campuses in Ramallah,” Toameh said.

“When the Oslo Accords were presented, we were hopeful, we thought we’d have what the Jews had.” But in reality, the Oslo Accords deferred the peace process even further, causing the radicalization of Hamas. “The idea of Oslo was good – to end the occupation,” Toameh said, but the way it was implemented was problematic. The international community believed that if they gave the PLO weapons, the PLO will build proper government institutions and will do Israel’s dirty work and fight Hamas. But the money only went to the wrong things – Arafat’s shopping sprees and, some argue, to the families of suicide bombers. The international community poured money into the PLO without any conditions. Arafat even used some of the money to develop a media center on which he said “kill the Jews, kill the infidels.” Arafat did not care if the international community heard – if he kept the Palestinians hating the Jews and the Americans, they will continue to rely on Arafat to solve their problems and they will stop demanding democratic reforms.

“Arafat deprived the Palestinians of the fruits of peace and so he radicalized them,” Toameh said. As the Palestinians realized the peace process had failed to change their poor living conditions, they began to turn to Hamas, who was advocating for change. The radicalization of the Palestinians can be attributed to two main causes:

  • a) firstly, Arafat’s strategy to ensure his people hate the Jews backfired – rather than this causing the Palestinians to keep Arafat in power, it radicalized them so that they wanted a new representative for the Palestinian people – not a “moderate” one like Arafat.
  • b) secondly, Israel did help arm the PLO but now had a new fear to worry about – the threat of their newly armed neighbor. New security measures had to be in place, resulting in less free movement for the Palestinians. The “good, old days before the peace process” when Palestinians could easily pass from the West Bank into Israel “were over,” Toameh said.

As the international community promised a resolution to the centuries old conflict, the struggle was only worsening. Hamas was now so strong that they were able to “democratically” come to power in 2006. As the world focused on the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a new war was emerging – the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, the struggle “between bad guys and bad guys, both fighting for money and power,” Toameh said.” Don’t kid yourselves, “there’s no such thing as a moderate Hamas,” he argued. In the summer of 2007, Hamas kicked the PLO out of Gaza, accusing them of trying to bring down Hamas. Did Israel rejoice that at least one of their enemies had lost power? “Israel was the only country in the world who sent ships and helicopters to save Muslims from being killed by Muslims,” said Toameh.

With Hamas ruling Gaza and the PLO maintaining their weak hold on the West Bank, a two-state solution would not even suffice, since the Palestinians now have two separate entities, each vying for their own state. Toameh even said “if it weren’t for Israel sitting in the middle, they’d be shooting at each other.” The division amongst the Palestinians poses a problem to the new “peace plan” as outlined by Obama. We cannot move forward with a peace process when there is no partner on the Palestinian side. The only way to move forward is to tell the Palestinians to dismantle the terror groups and establish a government, a legitimate partner we can deal with. Easier said than done.

“When I see Obama telling Bibi to accept the two state solution, I laugh. If I were Bibi, I would stand up today and say yes, I accept, because he has nothing to be afraid of. The Palestinians are too divided to form a state,” said Toameh. The pressure from Obama should be on the Palestinians, Toameh said, not on the Israelis. A state is not a right, he said – “a state is something you earn when you show the world you are capable of governing. The Arabs are not prepared for a state.”

If the settlements were the real obstacle to peace, then there should have been peace already, he argued. Israel gave land for peace many times but the result has only been more war. “The international community is using ‘settlements’ as a cover up and the Obama administration is falling for it. If they focus on this, they can forget about Ahmadinijad and Osama bin Laden.”

As the area falls into chaos (or perhaps, more chaos), what is the million-dollar solution here? According to Toameh, we have to acknowledge there is no real solution here. Realistically, there is not enough room on this tiny strip of land for another state. But, he said, “there is room for a new party other than Hamas and the PLO and there have been attempts started by academics but they have no credibility. In our society, it’s more important to graduate from prison than from Harvard, because it’s the people who graduate from prison that run the country.”