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Escalating Fear of Iran Over Middle-East Peace

The streets of Colombo in Sri Lanka have witnessed angry crowds protesting at the soaring fuel costs, which have further crippled an economy already weakened by years of corruption and political mismanagement.
Small countries like Sri Lanka are affected disproportionately by the economic sanctions against Iran imposed by the U.S. and the European Union.

Iran is one of Sri Lanka’s principal buyers of tea, and the island-nation is also heavily dependent on Iranian oil. The freeze on transfers by intermediate banks has badly affected both our exports and imports.

Economic embargos on nations are rarely effective. It is the “common man and woman” who suffers most, not the political leadership. And other smaller and fragile economies suffer “collateral damage.”

Embargoes are also typically hypocritical: as I have pointed out in previous posts, the Western nations are so beholden economically to China and Saudi Arabia, countries whose human rights records are far worse than Iran’s, that they can never even entertain the possibility of any action against them except the occasional verbal rap across the knuckles.

And, as China ripostes, why does the U.S. not take a long and close look at its own human rights violations at home (its criminal justice system, for instance)?

As long as the U.S. claim impunity on the global stage for its own human rights abuses and war crimes in other countries, despotic regimes around the world can truthfully protest that “human rights” and “war crimes” are sticks with which the strong nations try to beat the weak into doing their bidding.

The growing obsession in conservative sections of the Western media over Iran gives me a feeling of déjà vu.

I have often been pushed into defending despicable regimes. I remember preaching in a famous Boston church in 1999, and to illustrate a point in my sermon, mentioned the hypocrisy of the U.S. government’s rhetoric against Saddam Hussein and the way that economic sanctions against Iraq were not hurting him but millions of children who were dying daily due to lack of access to medicines.

The college students loved it, but several older folk were furious that I had “brought politics into the pulpit.” At least they didn’t stone me.

Three years later, in January 2003, I was speaking at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Graduates and Faculty conference in Atlanta.

The other speakers (who included Marva Dawn, Miroslav Volf and Dan Trulear) and I drafted a letter calling on the Bush administration not to launch its planned invasion of Iraq.

We pointed out that there was not a shred of reliable evidence that Iraq had any links with al-Qaida, nor that it was developing chemical and nuclear weapons.

The majority of participants signed the letter, but there was the usual small, but vocal, minority who typically charged us with being both “unrealistic” and “anti-American.”

Well, the letter was obviously ignored, with terrible consequences, but at least our consciences are clear before God. If intellectuals cannot speak truth to power, then what is the value of intellectuals?

Today, the sabers are rattling again, with Iran replacing Iraq as the global “bogey” in another American presidential election year.

The current anti-Iran mobilization doesn’t reflect any actual U.S. or Israeli military or intelligence threat assessments, but rather political conditions pushing politicians, in Israel and the U.S., to escalate fear over Iran.

The danger is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I pointed out in a previous post that Iranian attacks on Israelis are universally, and rightly, condemned. But who condemns atrocities against Iranian civilians?

Interestingly, the Iranian regime has angrily denied that it instigated the recent attempts on Israeli diplomats in Delhi and Bangkok, while American and Israeli leaders (including a Republican presidential candidate) have openly expressed delight at the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Also, unlike the U.S. and several countries in the region, Iran is a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

The Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons on the same grounds that church leaders have used: the nondiscriminatory nature of the weapons.

Iran, ironically, seems to be one of the few countries in the world where the pros and cons of building a bomb have been debated in public.

Now we can dismiss all this as lies and bluster, as do many conservative Americans and others influenced by the pro-Israel lobby, but, then, why not also dismiss as bluster Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s populist pledges to “drive Israel into the sea”?

Don’t American politicians tell lies? And aren’t they generally noted for their bluster (remember Donald Rumsfeld’s threat to “nuke Afghanistan”?)

Unless the Iranians are possessed by a collective death-wish, sanity (and it is good to assume that our enemies are sane people) precludes their deploying weapons of mass destruction against Israel.

The International Atomic Energy Authority is never allowed to inspect the nuclear installations of any Western power, or China, India or Israel.

But Iran’s refusal to let them do so is taken as an indication of moral turpitude and sinister conspiracy.

Surely, sanity requires us to work for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, indeed a nuclear weapons-free world.

Such a multinational move would ensure Iran never builds a nuclear weapon, that Israel would give up the bombs and submarine-based nuclear missiles in its arsenal, and that the U.S. would keep its nuclear warheads out of its Middle East bases and off its ships in the region’s seas.

The mere possession of weapons of mass destruction, let alone their use, is an expression of hubris, man threatening to undo the covenant that the creator God has made with all his creation.

Where, then, are the sane among us who raise their voices in protest?

VinothRamachandra is secretary for dialogue and social engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He lives in Sri Lanka. A version of this column first appeared on his blog.