Stories from Afar & Up Close

Will they, or will they not?

It’s not like Lebanon doesn’t have enough problems of its own (problematic presidential elections and a faltering economy only the most obvious of them) to also worry about what is going on in the wider region. It’s just that whatever happens in the wider region will inevitably have consequences for the country. It is thus that a move like president Bush’s, declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, is slightly worrying. In itself, of course, it doesn’t mean that the United States will attack Iran. Yet this declaration will be very convenient if/when they do attack, because then no ‘martial law’ or ‘human rights treaty’ will be applicable to any Iranian soldiers captured by the United States, and they can be locked away for years without a process as is happening now in Guantanamo Bay, but this time without criticism of any foreign governments or human rights organizations – after all, they would lawfully be labeled as ‘terrorists’, not as ‘prisoners of war’ to whom rules and rights apply.

And there are other things happening in the States that are slightly worrying because of the possible consequences in the region. Once again it is not a remark like that of the French minister of foreign affairs, who flat out stated that ‘we have to prepare for the worst’ in regards to Iran (although words like these have a big impact here, where people know all too well what it is to be in a war and how little it can take to start one, and these kinds of threats are taken very seriously here – judging by the amount of phone calls I received right after the news where the French minister’s words were broadcast to urge me not to visit Iran as was my plan at the time). What is worrying are the much more ingenious ways in which Iran is depicted not only as evil, with its ‘undemocratic, fanatical (Islamic) regime’, but as indistinguishable from the ‘terrorists’ who attacked the United States on their own soil, on 11 September 2001.

Right after the attacks on the World Trade Centre, Osama Bin Laden was the big bad boy and Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Afghanistan with him. The country was invaded by the American army and its allies (the Dutch, unfortunately, among them), in the name of punishing those responsible for the crime. Yet a year later, in his speech to commemorate what happened on that fateful day in 2001, president Bush spoke of the attacks that “brought grief to [his] country”, but not even once did he mention the name of Osama Bin Laden. He did, however, speak of evil, of Saddam Hussein (whom he mentioned 8 times) and the Iraqi regime (brought up 15 times in his speech)*. This speech was just one of many with which he managed to slowly but surely blur the distinction between those who committed the crime of September 11 (or who, in American eyes, supported them), and generally unwanted Middle Eastern regimes, and was later followed by the invasion of Iraq.

Just a few weeks ago, Iranian president Ahmedinejad visited New York City (I’m still wondering how he managed to get a visa, because the application form clearly states that ‘being or having been part of a terrorist organization will probably influence the outcome of the visa-process’ or something similar, but that aside), where he was told he would not be allowed to visit Ground Zero, the site of the attacks of 11 September 2001. Supposedly, this was because his safety couldn’t be guaranteed. Yet in light of the above, it would not be farfetched to think that apparently, the accusations of ‘providing arms to Iraqi insurgents’ are not providing a big enough aura of evil to the Iranian regime, and thus a new, unspoken but very present, link between September 11 and an unwanted Middle Eastern regime is being made. What the consequences of the making of this connection will be, we can only wait and see, but the past does not bode well for the future.

* Source: Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (2006)