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August 10, 2005
Why Iran Must Not Be Invaded
There's a depressing interview over at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Two excerpts, from separate interviews with Islamist women, are below.
Abd al-Lami: The demands raised by [secularist demonstrators]...are demands contradictory to Islam.
since apparently such a thing as paternity leave doesn't exist. The other interview subject isn't much more encouraging.
Sumaysim: I want to stress one point: This extreme attitude that leftist, liberal, and democratic forces have taken in handling these affairs only provokes an opposite extreme. I call for dialogue. Regarding these activists, whom I do not like to call "secularists" because I have a particular view on the problem of "secularism" but who oppose the application of Islamic law, why do they not gather with activists who support the application, or the practical implementation of terms, of Islamic law? Why don't they try to understand each other?
Kanan Makiya described, in his 1989 Republic of Fear, just how thoroughly the Ba'ath Party and Saddam Hussein had atomized what would now be called Iraqi civil society, using Orwellian methods of divide and conquer and liberal applications of brute force. Makiya also described how, before the Ba'ath Party ascended to power, Iraqi civil society was decidedly majoritarian, gleefully supporting the overwhelming use of force against whichever populations and groups happened to be unpopular: Assyrians, Jews, the Hashemite dynasty, rivals for power. Iraq can move beyond this majoritarianism to levels of democracy surpassing anything ever found in Iraq. Unfortunately, it seems like the new constitution and the new regime isn't going to enable this.
The Kurds will be protected by their autonomy; if need be, Iraqi Kurdistan can quickly pass to independence. Iraq's million Christians likewise don't have much to fear since, early optimism aside, are emigrating massively to such prosperous and stable places including Syria. Secularists and women, alas, and other unpopular groups, unless they can document their persecution and find welcoming governments. They can be guaranteed the first, but the second may be harder to come by given growing xenophobia in likely receiving countries. Life in the Islamic Republic of Iraq will be more tolerable for those groups deemed unpopular true. I wonder, though, whether to some extent the groups stigmatized have simply been switched.
The United States has removed terrible tyrannies in Iraq and Afghanistan, true. The United States has not implanted democracy and civil rights in either country. Rather, it has created not one, but two Islamic republics. It's true that they are fairly traditional tyrannies, lacking the synthetic modernities favoured by Iraq's Ba'athists and Afghanistan's Taliban or by the early Islamic Republic of Iran. It's still true that they are tyrannies, the one in the process of becoming a majoritarian polity marked by all forms of strife and the imposition of private mores to ensure public virtue, the other a collection of warlord states looking like Iraq writ small. Neither, I fear, is going to prove to be much of a model for the wider Islamic world.
Events in Iran, now, will have global import. Almost unique in the Middle East, Iran is a country that works well. Iran has a middle-income economy characterized by reasonably ; Iran has a reasonably high level of technology available to it; Iran has mass politics and an ambitious parliament; Iran has mass media and high Internet penetration. Iran is run by a clerical regime that verges on fascism, yes, but this regime can't dominate everything. The life story of Shirin Ebadi is one element proving this. The widely-reported discontent among the young and the urbanites, desiring secularism and true democracy, suggests strongly that Iran's future will be bright. Spengler was right, in June, to note at Asia Times that Ahmadinejad was elected because Iran's conservative rural peasantry wanted to be protected. Spengler was wrong to expect this to be sustained indefinitely, since, after all, modern urban Iran can trace its origins directly to the dislocated peasantry urbanized and modernized by economic growth and the modern state. Iran just has to wait, hopefully not much longer, for the political demographics to tip in the right direction.
This is why Iran must not be invaded. Michael J. Mazarr's observations at The New Republic on the 5th of this month are accurate, in that an American invasion of Iran would create a new garrison state. Worse still, an American invasion that shattered the Iranian state--as it would, judging by precedents in Iran's eastern and western neighbours--would create just the right sort of opportunity for Iran's real fascists, the reactionaries who've been so far limited, to imitate Iraq's urban guerrillas and wreak havoc. If the United States wants Iran to become fully fascist, this is what the US military should do. Iran shouldn't be sent back a generation because of a nuclear deterrent in the working that may be built only after the current regime has fallen.
And so, ¡No Pasarán!. I've no doubt that the United States as a whole would mean well, but an American invasion of Iran at this point would be the worst thing that it could possibly do for freedom and liberty in the Middle East.