December 28, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion >
Nibras Kazimi counsels taking Iran's mad tyrants at their word
December 28, 2005
The generation that bled away its youth to establish Iran's Islamic Revolution is now in power, and its leading lights are going through a dangerous mid-life crisis. But instead of cruising around in flashy sports cars, they seek to recapture their revolutionary virility by possessing a nuclear bomb. The world community has tried to set-up a pleasant 'intervention,' but Iran increasingly looks as if it needs to be forcefully checked into rehab.
The salt-and-pepper bearded top echelons of the Revolutionary Guard are replete with smart and scary men, who are now in their late 40s and early 50s. Why would such obviously capable - and in some cases charming and sophisticated - men choose to remain beholden to a fanatic ideology that is being overwhelmingly rejected by younger generations of other capable Iranians? Part of the answer may lie among the soggy trenches turned crowded graves along the Iran-Iraq border that witnessed a raging and senseless war for most of the 1980s.
Bulldozers and backhoes had turned hundreds of miles of dirt into a topographical template of mud walls and killing fields. Where the land has been more-or-less de-mined, one can wander and explore a terrain strewn with empty and rusting shell casings, mangled bullets, and ragged chunks of shrapnel, outnumbering pebbles and whatever nature spent millions of years placing there. A howling wind would seem to echo the anguished cries of men - no older than boys for the most part - screaming their fears into the red-brick earth as they ducked whatever was exploding around them.
These days, teenage boys with a boombox in North Tehran may convulse into a break-dancing routine along the tree-lined Vali-e-Asr Avenue, while young ladies in deliberately slipshod hijabs and nose-job bandages strut by. But these where not the sights and sounds encountered by a young 24-year-old Tehran kid called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he signed-up as a Revolutionary Guard and saw wartime action. His youth was about watching friends die and personally conducting behind-the-lines sabotage operations against Iraqi oil installations. And he and others did not put in the sacrifice so that these brats today would flirt along Vali-e-Asr during peacetime. No, Ahmadinejad suffered those agonizing years on the frontlines while ecstatically longing for the name-sake of Tehran's main avenue who also goes by another name, the Mahdi, or the awaited Messiah.
And as the case whenever crippling wars drag out, these grizzled veterans turned bitter and felt betrayed, even by somebody of the standing of the revolution's leader, Imam Khomeini, who had been hemmed in by a coterie of ambitious sycophants such as Hashemi Rafsanjani, the main schemer for the prolongation of the war, and the rival that Ahmadinejad would trounce at the polls for the office of president last June. With all the ceremonial tribute paid to Khomeini the founder, a visitor to his "shrine" would be confused by the slapdash nature of this prefab and grimy edifice, with one badly-constructed minaret leaning to its side. But the revolution has other symbols, like the rows of war dead at the immaculate and touching Beheshti-Zahra cemetery where many Revolutionary Guard comrades of Ahmadinejad's are buried not far from Khomeini's last resting place.
The war began as a defense of the Iranian homeland and its Mahdist insurrection against the Arab and Sunni onslaught waged by Saddam Hussein, but after his armies were pushed back, Rafsanjani's rationale for continuing the fight was a lunge at Karbala, the holy battlefield where Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson and the Mahdi's great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, was killed and beheaded. But after many waves of Mahdi-lovers had perished, the war was suddenly called off and peacetime ushered in as Iran tried to pull itself together into a "normal" republic. "But what about preparations for the Mahdi's coming, after over a millennia in hiding and occultation? What about liberating Karbala? What about the utopia of justice we had been promised?" cried the watery-eyed veterans of that long and cruel war.
The legions of the shell-shocked headed back to a normal civilian life, where nothing much has changed since the Shah. The rich could still live it up and slowly erode, through bribery and day-to-day brazenness, the strict order of the revolution. The poor remained poor and helpless. Ahmadinejad and his band of brothers saw elements of the counter-revolution as the peacetime ingrates went about their lives and dabbled in capitalism, democracy, and successive make-believe attempts at reform enacted by President Khatami.
It would be wrong to dismiss Ahmadinejad - who holds a PhD in transportation planning and previously served as mayor of Tehran -as some country bumpkin from Hicksville up to outrageous antics such as denying the Holocaust, and holding a World Without Zionism conference. But even the village fool would realize that the world of Shia Islam is today under direct threat from Zarqawism and its call for "final solutions" to the "treacherous" presence of Shias in the Middle East - at the heart of a caliphate in the making.
Saber-rattling is exactly what Iran shouldn't be doing, but then again, its leaders are not thinking straight. Their dirty diplotalk while twirling the keychain to a nuclear reactor is born out of sense of insecurity in their autumn years. All that Ahmadinejad and the retro-revolutionaries who engineered his succession see is their idealized past and the glorious future they long for. But they miss the cumbersome realities of the present: realities such as the world does not want to live with a nuclear armed Iran, that they will not be able to turn neighboring Iraq into a sister Islamic Republic, and that the oil bonanza is masking serious economic flaws that could come back to bite them, soon. Never mind that the early satanic icon of the revolution, the United States, liberated Karbala from Saddam's grip and there is a historic opportunity to exchange good behavior for a temporary alliance against the threat of resurgent Sunni Islam.
America is short on options in dealing with testosterone-drunk and vainglorious thugs like Ahmadinejad. Sanctions would be ideal: this is a situation where punishing the people of Iran would make sense - after all, they did elect Ahmadinejad. But with oil-lust at historic highs, the rest of the world, especially China and Russia, is not going to tag along. Waging war has always been a bad idea, because Iran's millennia-old consciousness of its self would be reasserted as a determined and tenacious insurgency. And short of an invasion, regime change is unlikely; the mullahs will always up the ante when it comes to intimidating the masses into submission, and liberals unfortunately are too timid to counter in equal sums of agitation.
Maybe someone needs to be cast for the role of a false messiah; such a stunt would go a long way to discredit those feverishly awaiting him in the presidential complex in Tehran. Sometimes, problems need to be enlarged before they can be solved, and America needs to think unconventionally as it juggles its many Middle Eastern woes. There are no easy answers, but more should be done to defuse dangerous ideas while they still seem tacky. Ahmedinejad may now seem as ridiculous as Hitler in his beer hall putsch days. The civilized world should learn from past mistakes.
Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
December 28, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion >