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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Putting Iranian rhetoric in perspective

(By Chris Moore,

The European establishment is currently in an uproar over a series of undiplomatic remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel, the National Socialist-perpetrated Holocaust, and the plight of the Palestinians.

The increasingly testy back-and-fourth between the new Iranian president and his continental critics started in late November when Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

The speech-sensitive British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recently had a constituent arrested and convicted for standing outside Downing Street and reading aloud the names of the 97 British soldiers who have died in the Iraq conflict, immediately spoke up.

"To anybody knowing our history, when we hear statements like that made about Israel, it makes us feel very angry, it's just completely wrong," said Blair, apparently alluding to German bombing of Britain and the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust that took place in Europe during World War II.

Possibly picking up on Blair’s Holocaust reference, Ahmadinejad addressed the issue himself.

"Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps ... Any historian, commentator or scientist who doubts that, is taken to prison or gets condemned," Ahmadinejad said.

"Let's assume what the Europeans say is true ... Let's give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria," he added. "They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?"

This immediately drew a rebuke from Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel who responded by stating that the remarks were "an outrageous gaffe, which I want to repudiate in the sharpest manner" and summoning Iran's Ambassador to Austria to the Foreign Ministry.

The most recent rhetorical escalation between Ahmadinejad and his Israeli and European critics took place December 14.

"Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets," said Ahmadinejad, according to an account carried in the Washington Post headlined ‘Iran's President Calls Holocaust 'Myth' in Latest Assault on Jews.’

‘In Western countries, "if someone were to deny the existence of God . . . and deny the existence of prophets and religion, they would not bother him," Ahmadinejad said. "However, if someone were to deny the myth of the Jews' massacre, all the Zionist mouthpieces and the governments subservient to the Zionists tear their larynxes and scream against the person as much as they can."’

According to an Asian Age account of the same speech, Ahmadinejad added:
"If your civilization consists of aggression, making oppressed people homeless, suffocating the voices of justice and bringing poverty to a majority of the world's people, we say loudly that we hate your hollow civilization."

The Associated Press reported Europe’s response: ‘German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the remarks "shocking and unacceptable." … "I cannot hide the fact that this weighs on bilateral relations and on the chances for the negotiation process"…The German government said Chancellor Angela Merkel would call on the European Union to press for international condemnation at the U.N…European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso said Iranians "do not have the president, or the regime, they deserve."’

The conflict has finally brought the continental Europeans, heretofore critics of the Bush administration’s war against "Islamo-fascism," into alignment with American hawks.

‘State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the comments "outrageous" and "certainly reprehensible," reported AP. "This is one more indication that Iran is headed off 180 degrees from the rest of the world"… The White House said Ahmadinejad's words "only underscore why it is so important that the international community continue to work together to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons."’

Despite the escalating war of words, it should be noted that Ahmadinejad’s remarks are consistent with the over-the-top rhetoric often employed in the Middle East, and well within the historical framework of rhetoric the West has tolerated from Israeli politicians, religious leaders and military officials who over the years have regularly incited acts of violence against Palestinians directly, or through a process of dehumanization.

For example, writing at, activist M. Junaid Alam notes: ‘One can quote former Israeli PM Menachim Begin, who in 1982 described Palestinians as "beasts walking on two legs." Or one can quote Ehud Barak, another former Israeli PM who in 2000 said, "The Palestinians are like crocodiles." There is also former Chief of Staff of the IDF Rafael Eitan, who said in 1983, "We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours." Or to take a more recent IDF Chief of Staff, there is Moshe Ya'alon, who described Palestinians as a "cancer" requiring either "amputation" or "chemotherapy" in 2002. And then there is also Rabbi Yaacov Peerin, who, speaking at a ceremony held in the "honor" of Baruch Goldstein, considered a hero among Israeli settlers for mowing down Muslim civilians at a mosque, said, "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail."’

The last remark, by Rabbi Peerin, is in the vein of certain supremacist interpretations of Jewish theology sometimes taught in Israel and to the settlers in the occupied territories by religious officials. In 2002, for example, the Palestine Chronicle reported that a rabbi in Hebron provided religious sanction to the murder of non-Jews.

‘A prominent Israeli rabbi with thousands of followers said during a Sabbath homily in the settlement in Kiryat Arba'a Saturday that halacha, or Jewish religious law, "essentially supported the annihilation of non-Jews in Israel."The rabbi, Rav Leor, said most rabbinic authorities "of the past and the present accepted the opinion that the lives of non-Jews don't' enjoy the same sanctity as the lives of Jews.""Hashmadat goyem" (the extermination of non-Jews), he said was an established principle in Jewish theology.The rabbi is affiliated with the messianic Jewish movement known as Gush Emunim which is represented in the Israeli Knesset by seven Knesset members.The movement is represented in the Israeli government by Minister without portfolio Ed Eifam of the National Religious Party (NRP).’

Despite extreme views held and often vocalized by many of Israel’s own government officials, Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, assailed Ahmadinejad’s words as "extremist," and cited them as evidence that Iran shouldn’t be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons that might pose a threat to nuclear-armed Israel.

Well aware of America’s "special relationship" with Israel (which has received tens of billions of dollars in financial and military aid over the years from the U.S.) Ahmadinejad likely views the Palestinian crises as a replay of U.S. financial and military support of Iraq and Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s. Saddam, who started the war, was also supplied with military technology and components for his Weapons of Mass Destruction by many of the European countries condemning Ahmadinejad’s statements today.

The Iran-Iraq war, and the West’s arming of Saddam, cost Iran dearly. According to Wikipedia: "With more than 100,000 Iranian victims of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons during the eight-year war, Iran is, after Japan, one of the world's top afflicted countries by Weapons of Mass Destruction."

On top of this is the fact that Israel supported the dictatorship of the Shah, the autocratic, pro-western monarch who ruled Iran with an iron fist for decades prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which transformed Iran into the populist, theocratic Islamic republic that it is today.

As reported by Saleh Abdel-Jawwad, a professor at Beir Zeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah:

"The beginning of Israel's relationship with the Shah was formed when the Mossad, acting in accord with British (MI6) and American (CIA) intelligence, worked to bring about the collapse of the democratically elected Iranian leader Mossadeq in 1953. Their role remains a secret to this day. The relationship forged with the Shah enabled Iran to be the primary importer of Israeli products until the rise of Khomeni. Israel also played a role in training the SAVAK, the infamous and brutal intelligence service which protected the Shah."

Wikepedia notes that the SAVAK was founded in 1957 with the assistance of the CIA, and records:

‘SAVAK had virtually unlimited powers of arrest and detention. It operated its own detention centres, like the notorious Evin Prison. It is universally accepted that SAVAK routinely subjected detainees to physical torture.'

As a young activist, Ahmadinejad reportedly kept a printing press at home, which he used to print leaflets denouncing the Shah and his monarchy. Because of this, his family was forced to flee Tehran on the eve of the Iranian revolution for fear of being arrested by the SAVAK secret police.

This personal history, in conjunction with reports that emerged last summer that Israeli operatives have been working in Iraqi prisons advising the U.S. on "interrogation techniques" used on Islamic detainees (just as they had advised the SAVAK during the Shah’s dictatorship), sheds light on the lens through which Ahmadinejad views the Israeli government.

Given the history of enmity between Iran and Israel, and Israel’s partnership with the U.S. government and other Western powers in attacking and undermining both Palestinian human rights and Iranian and Islamic autonomy, it is little wonder that Ahmadinejad regards the Holocaust through a far-less sacrosanct prism than do many of those in the West.