The June issue of Commentary featured a
long article by Norman Podhoretz, the godfather of the neoconservatives, titled
Case for Bombing Iran." A shorter version of the article had already been
published in the Wall Street Journal, and the piece itself was based
on a speech that Podhoretz had given at a summit of the Israeli lobby, "Is It
Podhoretz's article is a blueprint for how to make people believe that Iran
is "an imminent and present danger" to the United States and Israel without
presenting any credible evidence whatsoever. It is replete with astonishing
exaggerations, half-baked half-truths, out-of-context quotations, amazing exhibitions
of ignorance and imbecility, and a complete lack of understanding of Islam and
its teachings. It reminds me of what Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering of Nazi
Germany once said:
"Naturally, the common people don't want war … but after all it is the leaders
of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag
the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a
parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always
be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is
to tell them they are being attacked…."
Podhoretz's "arguments" are based on a few premises. The first one, which has
also been invoked by President Bush in his propaganda, is that what drives the
Islamic radicals is the ideology of Islamofascism.
Podhoretz's recent book, which was released on Sept. 11 for publicity value,
is also based on the same premise.
The idea that Islamofascism actually exists is not only absurd, but also amazingly
ignorant. To quote the American Heritage Dictionary, fascism
is a "system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator,
stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror
and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism."
To quote the Web site of the Center for Holocaust
and Genocide Studies of the University of Minnesota, fascism
is "a social and political ideology with the primary guiding principle that
the state or nation is the highest priority, rather than personal or individual
No interpretation of Islamic teachings, no matter how skewed, condones racism.
Islam rejects nationalism. It is a religion in which any two people can start
a religious entity independently of the state. There are over 70 Islamic sects,
which indicates the great diversity of opinion in the Islamic world.
Shi'ism, in particular, divides all Muslims into three categories: the ayatollahs,
who interpret the Islamic teachings; the people, who are not knowledgeable enough
and, thus, follow the ayatollahs' interpretations; and the mohtaats –
people who know enough to decide for themselves which interpretations of Islamic
teachings they accept and, hence, do not follow any ayatollah or even the state's
instructions (as in Iran, for example).
Most ayatollahs act completely independently of the state. Often, they do not
agree among themselves on the correct interpretations of Koranic teachings.
Some still cling to the interpretations of many centuries ago, while others
present interpretations that address the needs of a modern society. As Ayatollah
Khomeini once said, "If we were to live with some of the interpretations of
Islamic teachings of 1,300 years ago, we would have to live in caves."
This diversity of opinion among the ayatollahs not only gives Shi'ism dynamism
and flexibility, it also explains why we have many dissident ayatollahs in Iran
who oppose the theocracy there.
But even if we imagine that Islamofascism does exist, it has nothing to do
with Iran. The current wave of Islamic radicalism did not emerge with the Iranian
Revolution of 1979. Rather, it began in 1977 when Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq,
Pakistan's army commander, overthrew (with U.S. support) the democratically
elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (who was later executed), and imposed
his version of Sharia law on Pakistan. Islamic radicalism continues today in
Pakistan, the closest U.S. ally in the so-called war on terror.
Even if we attribute the current wave of Islamic radicalism to the Iranian
Revolution, we must recall that, as Stephen Kinzer points out in his excellent
the Shah's Men, the root cause of the revolt goes back to 1953, when
the CIA overthrew the nationalist and democratically elected prime minister,
Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh.
We should recall that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, as well as the Taliban's
leadership, are the Afghan mujahedin of the 1980s who were armed by the CIA,
trained by Pakistani intelligence during Gen. Zia's rule, funded by Saudi Arabia,
and lionized by President Ronald Reagan as the equivalent of the freedom fighters
of America's Revolutionary War. They are Salafis, followers of the state religion
of Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani madrassas that are breeding grounds for radical
Muslims are funded by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf,
all U.S. allies.
The foreign fighters in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other
U.S.-supported Sunni states, as were the 9/11 terrorists. Of the 60 to 80 fighters
who travel to join al-Qaeda in Iraq, half are from Saudi Arabia. Almost all
the suicide bombers are Sunni, and the majority are Saudis. In fact, Shi'ites
do not condone suicide bombing. Roughly half of all foreign militants who target
U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians are from Saudi Arabia, as are nearly half of
the foreign prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq. But instead of confronting Saudi
Arabia, President Bush has decided to supply billions of dollars in advanced
weaponry to that country.
But even when it comes to the radical Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere, the idea
of a central authority akin to fascism is absurd. The Iraqi al-Qaeda has major
differences with bin Laden. The Madrid and London terrorists were homegrown,
having nothing to do with bin Laden.
So Islamofascism does not exist, and the Islamic radicals are on the fringe.
What surely does exist is fascism here at home. Christian fundamentalists and
Podhoretz's cohorts in the Israeli lobby, hand-in-hand with the neoconservatives,
support waging war against Muslims, invading Iraq, and providing material support
for Israel's colonial, expansionist, and apartheid-like policy in the West Bank.
This alliance has made torture of prisoners of war a permanent policy of the
U.S. government, and it has done so with utter secrecy by distorting the laws
of the land. Such crimes are called "enhanced interrogation techniques," echoing,
as Andrew Sullivan recently pointed out, the Nazis' Verschaerfte
Vernehmung. Many Nazi perpetrators were convicted by the Nuremberg court
for such crimes.
Podhoretz's second premise lumps together many widely disparate Islamic elements
under the rubric of the nonexistent Islamofascist enemy, who are magically "willing
to set sectarian differences aside when it comes to forging jihadist alliances
against the infidels," all under Shi'ite Iran's leadership. This idea cannot
possibly be more ridiculous.
Radical Sunnis hate the Shi'ites and reject them as non-Muslims. Arabs generally
despise Persians. The highest religious authorities of Saudi Arabia and Egypt
have issued many fatwas against Shi'ites. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban despise
Shi'ite Iran, with the latter murdering many Iranians, including nine diplomats.
Sunnis and Shi'ites are at each other's throats in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan,
and elsewhere, and for decades Saudi Arabia's government has been repressing
its Shi'ite minority population. The same goes for the ruling Sunni minority
If Podhoretz's "theory" of Iran leading the Muslim radicals is correct, why
is it that Iran played a major role in defeating the Taliban and helping to
erect Afghanistan's national-unity government? During the UN talks on the future
of Afghanistan after the Taliban's ouster in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001,
Iranian representative Mohammad Javad Zarif met daily with U.S. envoy James
Dobbins, who has credited Zarif with preventing the conference from collapsing
because of last-minute demands by the Northern Alliance to control the new government.
Most importantly, if Podhoretz is correct, why is it that Iran, though capable
of creating hell for U.S. forces in Iraq, has been relatively restrained?
Podhoretz may point to Iran's aid to Shi'ite Hezbollah and Sunni Hamas as evidence
of Iranian aggression. The aid is abhorrent, but neither group has any ambition
beyond its own nation's borders.
Hezbollah, notwithstanding its terrorist past and Iran's major role in its
formation, is now a popular movement that can bring a million people into the
streets on short notice. In addition, in legitimate elections in Lebanon, Hezbollah
received a significant fraction of the votes, and it is a participant in Lebanon's
Hamas' aim is to recover every inch of the Palestinian land occupied since
1967, in return for which it is willing to enter a decades-long cease-fire with
Israel. It has never carried out any military or terrorist operation outside
the historical Palestine, and it has no connection with al-Qaeda. Iran's aid
to Hamas is due to the popularity of the Palestinian cause among Muslims everywhere,
and Iran's desire to curry favor in the larger Islamic world. Saudi Arabia also
provides financial aid to Hamas, and Egypt allows it to bring funds raised abroad
into Gaza, all without U.S. protests.
Podhoretz's third premise, which is repeated by Israel's supporters everywhere,
is that it is 1938 all over again, Iran is the Nazi Germany of our time, and
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler.
The comparison is outright ludicrous. Germany, a powerful industrialized nation
defeated in World War I, had grievances against the victors who had humiliated
it. Adolf Hitler was a charismatic leader, and Germany's culture was such that
its people would follow Hitler blindly – fertile grounds for fascism and Nazism.
Above all, the 1938 Wehrmacht was the most powerful military in Europe,
backed by Germany's advanced technology, industrial capacity, and a corps of
Iran, on the other hand, has neither territorial claims against any nation,
nor has it attacked its neighbors in centuries. It was the victim of an eight-year
war with Iraq, which was encouraged and supported by the U.S. One reason the
U.S. "knew" Iraq had WMDs was that the Pentagon had receipts, so to
speak, for all the chemical weapon-related materials that had been shipped from
the U.S. and Germany to Iraq.
Arabs conquered Iran 13 centuries ago, but Iranians preserved their language
and culture. One hundred years ago, Iranians set up the first constitutional
government in all of Asia and the Middle East. At the same time, Iran is not
industrially advanced. Its armed forces have been designed to defend the country,
without any ability to project power outside its borders. Ahmadinejad is not
a charismatic leader. There are simply no similarities between Iran and Nazi
Podhoretz's fourth premise is that Ahmadinejad is an all-powerful president
who controls everything in Iran. This is news to Iranians and the rest of the
For nearly eight years the U.S. refused to deal with former President Mohammad
Khatami – a true reformist – on the grounds that Iran's president has no real
power. On the eve of Iran's presidential elections in 2005, President Bush declared
that the elections had no legitimacy because the office was meaningless. Ahmadinejad
suddenly controls everything? How?
Ahmadinejad is, in fact, in deep trouble at home, even with his own supporters.
The Iranian parliament, where his supporters supposedly form an absolute majority,
has criticized him severely and tried to roll back many of his policies. Two
of his ministers and the central bank director quit, because they did not want
to go along with his nepotism. Last December and again last week, university
students stopped his speech by shouting "death to the dictator." His supporters
received only 4 percent of the votes in last December's municipal elections.
His chief foe, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, was elected to the powerful
Assembly of Experts (a constitutional body that supervises the supreme leader)
with the highest number of votes and is now its chairman. In short, Ahmadinejad
is a transient phenomenon who will soon disappear from the political scene.
He will be the first one-term Iranian president.
All the decisions regarding Iran's national security and foreign policy are
made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He does extensive consulting
with Iran's National Security Council, the Expediency Council (headed by Rafsanjani),
former leaders such as Khatami, and the military brass before making any decision.
Say what you like about Iran's internal situation, but the fact is that Iran
has followed a pragmatic foreign policy since the early 1990s. In addition,
Iran's leadership is not homogeneous. Important differences exist among the
leadership's top echelon about the wisdom of defying the UN Security Council
resolutions against Iran's nuclear program, or what concessions Iran should
As evidence of the similarity between Ahmadinejad and Hitler, Podhoretz and
other Israel lobbyists point to his remarks about the Holocaust and Israel.
The Holocaust is perhaps the best-documented historical event of all time,
and what Ahmadinejad has said about it is sheer rhetoric and nothing else. In
fact, Iranian television recently broadcast a movie produced in Iran that was
very sympathetic to the plight of the Jews during World War II. Ahmadinejad's
words are surely offensive, but various Israeli leaders and partisans have denied
the existence of Palestinians without repercussions, so why the double standard?
Ahmadinejad's remarks regarding Israel are deplorable and have been roundly
condemned across Iran's political spectrum. But, as documented by the Iranian
Norouzi, he never even uttered the infamous words, "Israel must be wiped
off the map." The actual words were "The Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said
this regime, occupying Jerusalem, must vanish from the page of time."
Thus, Ahmadinejad never used "map" or "wiped off." He was referring to the
government's collapse, like that of the Soviet Union. Iran's position since
the 1979 revolution has always been that Jews, Christians, and Muslims who live
in the Holy Land must vote freely in a referendum to select their destiny for
Moreover, how is it that we do not believe Ahmadinejad when he says that Iran
does not need nuclear weapons for its national security, but we believe him
completely when he supposedly foresees the end of Israel in the future, and
take that as an indication of his evil intentions?
If Ahmadinejad wants to murder Jews, why does he not start with Iran's own
Jewish population, the largest in the Middle East after Israel's? His government
recently allocated several million dollars for a Jewish center in Tehran to
promote Jewish programs and related cultural events. Iranian Jews have their
own representative in parliament, as do Iranian Assyrians, Armenians, and Zoroastrians.
Ahmadinejad's rhetoric regarding Israel is nothing but an attempt to present
himself as the leader of oppressed Muslims.
Moreover, the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest place and the first qibla,
is in Jerusalem, and Iran's leaders consider themselves as the Palestinians'
protectors. How could Iran attack Israel with nuclear weapons (that it does
not have, and will not have any time soon, if ever) but save al-Aqsa and the
Palestinians? Anyway, any Iranian attack on Israel will provoke a counterattack
by the U.S. and Israel that will wipe Iran off the map.
To further "buttress" his "arguments," Podhoretz points to two quotes. One
is by Ayatollah Khomeini: "I say let this land [Iran] go up in smoke, provided
Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world." The second is by Rafsanjani,
who supposedly said, "A day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with
the arms Israel has in possession … application of an atomic bomb would not
leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the
Aside from the fact that Ayatollah Khomeini was referring to Iran, not any
other nation, he died in 1989. It is a grave mistake to believe that the character
of the Iranian regime is the same as it was during his reign. In fact, Iran's
theocracy has lost much of its revolutionary zeal. Aside from Ahmadinejad's
rhetoric, Iran has shown, since the early 1990s, remarkable pragmatism in its
foreign policy. The best evidence for this is its close relations with Russia
and its silence over the suppression of Muslim separatists in Chechnya. Iran
also used its influence on the Islamist opposition group in Tajikistan to end
the long-running civil conflict there. Iran supports Christian Armenia in its
confrontation with Shi'ite Azerbaijan. Its commercial relations with Japan and
the European Union have never been better.
As for Rafsanjani's statement, it has been taken out of context. I happened
to be in Tehran, watching him on Iranian television when he uttered those words.
What he said and meant was, "There will never be a nuclear exchange between
Israel and the Islamic world, because a day will come when the world of Islam
is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession…."
In other words, Rafsanjani was saying that Israel is wise enough not to want
a nuclear war with Muslims, although even this correct observation of his was
roundly criticized by Iran's reformists and democratic groups. By distorting
Rafsanjani's statement, what Podhoretz has done is like removing "but Allah,"
from Muslims' standard shout of "there is no God but Allah."
Podhoretz's diatribes against Europe's Muslims have nothing to do with Iran.
In making his outrageous statements, Podhoretz fails to address a fundamental
question: Why is it that the first-generation Muslim immigrants in Western Europe
were hard-working and law-abiding, but the second and third generations are
alienated? The answer is clear: decades of colonialism, discrimination against
Muslims, and European and U.S. support for some of the worst dictators in the
Middle East, and for Israel's atrocities against Palestinians. Podhoretz need
not worry about Europe. Muslims are not about to take over Europe; by 2020 they
will make up only 10 percent of its population.
Podhoretz and other neoconservatives have been talking about "freedom" for
Iran's people. But the freedom they advocate is Iranians' freedom from
their religion, historical and cultural heritage, and natural resources, so
that a puppet government similar to Iraq's is installed in Iran, the country
and its resources are controlled by the West, and the U.S. can have "enduring
military bases" in Iran.
The neoconservatives also say they want another war in the Middle East in order
to have "peace" there. But the peace they have in mind is a graveyard peace,
one in which everyone is either dead or silent. That "peace" will not be achieved.
True peace will break out in the Middle East only if it is honorable and fair
to everyone, not only to Israel, but also to the Palestinians.
Podhoretz and company like to talk about "moral clarity" in U.S. foreign policy.
After reading that Podhoretz believes the invasion of Iraq was an "unfailingly
courageous" act by President Bush, I concluded that his moral clarity means
the destruction and rape of yet another Muslim nation.