Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Guitar Blogging

DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight (money at 3:07)

What Next In Iran?

I recommend Juan Cole's analysis of yesterday's Revolution Day demonstrations in Iran, which the government seems to have had well in hand. Internet access was shut down, preventing pro-reform demonstrators from employing the real-time protest strategies they'd developed over the past months, and security services were out in force to intimidate, beat and arrest the anti-government crowds that did gather.

I have to disagree, though, with Cole's suggestion that the regime "checkmated the Green dissidents." Check, more like. It was clearly a discouraging setback for the Greens, who appeared to have some momentum coming out of the Ashura demonstrations that they were not able to capitalize on yesterday, but it's a long game. I think the Greens continue to represent a credible challenge to the system, but I don't know of anyone, apart from the usual neocon hallucinators, who says that the Islamic Republic is in imminent danger of collapse. Based on statements both from movement leaders and street activists, I think the Greens themselves understand that this process is going to take a while, and has a range of possible outcomes, and so should we.

As for the best policy on Iran going forward, on Wednesday I did a bloggingheads with Eli Lake of the Washington Times, we discussed this among other things. I described my view that the "realism" versus "regime change" narrative that seems to have taken hold among some in Washington is not productive, and the Obama administration should perhaps take a page from the Cold War (the actual Cold War, not the comic book version that conservatives peddle) and continue to seek some accommodation with the Iranian regime over its nuclear program (and keep the onus on the regime through continuing engagement), but which also puts human rights solidly on the agenda.

As I note, based on past U.S. treatment of Middle East peoples as disposable instruments in the maintenance of regional power balances (aiding both sides in the staggeringly destructive Iran-Iraq War, for example) Iranian democrats have a lot of reason to believe that the U.S. would sell them out in favor of a chance to resolve the nuclear impasse with the regime. I hope the Obama administration will make it clear that we won't.

Even though I'm skeptical for a number for reasons that a nuclear deal is still possible, understanding that domestic Iranian nuclear enrichment is broadly supported by the Iranian public, even the Greens, I think it's worth considering offering an explicit recognition of Iran's right to peaceful domestic enrichment, as opposed to the implicit recognition of already-enriched uranium contained in the Tehran Research Reactor deal. But rather than presenting this as simply an attempt to sweeten the pot, it should be accompanied by a demand that Iran commit to abide by its international human rights obligations, and the creation of some sort of verification regime along the lines of Helsinki Watch. This won't provide the soothing satisfaction of an Iranian capitulation, but it could possibly bring Iran's nuclear program under control, while also helping to create space for Iranian reformers to continue their work.

(Cross-posted from Wonk Room)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday Guitar Blogging

Bill Frisell.

Glenn Beck: Drunk Driving The Express Bus To Clown Town

Yesterday on Glenn Beck's Wild-Eyed Hysteria Hour, the Tearful One managed to pack an unusually impressive amount of incoherent stupidity into one rant about Iran. "This week Iran successfully launched a rocket into space," Beck informed us. "The media yawned. The only thing they found interesting about the launch was that the rocket had a rat, two turtles and a worm on board. But they don't look any further than that":
But technically, if Iran can send a missile up into space and have it explode, it could shut down our electronics; that would do more damage to us than any conventional bomb ever could. Imagine the chaos if an EMP [electro-magnetic pulse] bomb took all of our computers, phones, TVs, lights and flipped them off? America would be out of business.

"Imagining" the effects of an Iranian EMP attack is exactly what you're going to have to do, because there's not a credible national security expert alive who thinks that this sort of attack is even remotely feasible. You have to love how Beck throws "technically" in there, as if to indicate that he has some idea what he's talking about, but there's a rather enormous "technical" chasm between "send a missile up into space and have it explode" and "shut down our electronics." It's like saying "technically, if Iran has lasers, they can blow us up with their Iranian Death Star." Well, yes, maybe, someday, theoretically. Not any time soon. Certainly not before Glenn Beck has scared himself into a stroke.

Turning to a video clip of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praying to God to "hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi," Beck asks "'Hasten the return of Imam al-Mahdi' -- what's he talking about?" Glenn Beck is going to tell us!
He's talking about the 12th Imam. He's a "Twelver." What is that? If journalists weren't so busy trying to land jobs with the Obama administration (14 to be exact), they'd look into that.

The "Twelvers" believe that the Mahdi, or 12th Imam, will soon return. This is end times, stuff. They are different than most Muslims because they believe that the return needs to be hastened. It's not a good idea to hasten the return of the Chosen One, because to do that, the world has to be in chaos, carnage and even genocide — so the Messiah comes and brings peace.

"Twelvers" are so dangerous that at one point the Ayatollah Khomeini banned them.

While it's true that Twelver eschatology describes the return of the Mahdi, most Twelvers (like most Christians who believe similar things about a returning Messiah and an End of Days) do not believe that it is their duty to trigger it. It’s also true that Ahmadinejad, a pious conservative Shia Muslim, lards his speeches with references to the return of the Hidden Imam, so much so that he was chastised by several Iranian clerics, who told him he “would be better off concentrating on Iran’s social problems…than indulging in such mystical rhetoric.” There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever that Iranian policy is guided by a strategy to hasten the Twelfth Imam’s return.

The idea that "Twelvers" are some sort of secretive, extreme apocalyptic sect is patent nonsense. If Beck, or anyone at Fox, would bother to Google "Twelvers," they'd learn very quickly that Twelvers are, in fact, the largest sect of Shi'ism. The idea that "Ayatollah Khomeini banned them" is rather confounding, given that Ayatollah Khomeini was a Twelver, as are all the leading ayatollahs in the world, including those serving as religious guides for the Iranian pro-democracy movement.

This isn't the first time Beck has authoritatively delivered these complete, and easily disprovable, non-facts about Twelver Shi'ism to his audience. The last time, to my knowledge, was last September. What this tells us, as if we didn't know already, is that neither Beck nor anyone who works at Fox News really gives a damn whether it's true or not. The point is it's scary.

Skilled entertainer that his, Beck saves the very best for last:
By the way, do you know what "Iran" means in Farsi? Aryan.

Actually, the Farsi word for Iran is "Iran." But still, it's derived from "Aryan," so... whoa dude. Now that I think about it, it's actually pretty crazy how Ahmadinejad caused historians in the 1700's to adapt the Sanskrit word arya to denote a subset of Indo-European languages and peoples, and then caused French racialist Arthur de Gobineau to steal the term in the 1850's for his goofy theory of a master "white" race, and then caused the Nazis to weave that nonsense into their ideology, and then caused Reza Shah Pahlavi to decide as part of his modernization program that he wanted people to use the term "Iran" instead of "Persia" so that later, decades after the Pahlavi dynasty had been overthrown by the Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad would get to run a country whose name really means "Hitlerland."

This is what can happen when you treat Jonah Goldberg as a serious historian.