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By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse


Mousavi or Ahmadinejad - On the heels of Iran's presidential elections, President Obama's paid a precedent-setting and timely visit to the Middle East. In his address to the "Islamic World" during his stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he showed a degree of respect and humility that seemed more genuine than the usual arrogant or, at the very best, condescending attitude we have been used to expect from former American leaders. Here I am putting the "Islamic World" in quotation marks for a reason.


First of all, is there such a kingdom, phylum, order, genera, family or species that we could correctly refer to collectively as the Islamic World?


Secondly, if there truly is such a recognizable category, was the President addressing the actual Islamic people of that nondescript Islamic World?


His Cairo speech was indeed a masterpiece of eloquence, well organized and quite profound, albeit heavily cliché-laden. He said many nice things in a very nice way, reminiscent of another well educated and eloquent speaker, the former Secretary of State, Condy Rice, whose similarly profound statements always left one with the question whether she could have just as eloquently reversed her course in mid sentence without missing a beat. But what did the President say exactly that might lead us into hoping that meaningful changes in America's attitude toward the Middle East are underway?


To begin, there is no such creature as the so-called Islamic World. From the western edge of Africa, two-thirds of the away around the world into eastern Indonesia; and from the depths of Siberia to central Africa, there are Islamic nations that are as diverse in their histories, cultural idiosyncrasies and ethnicities as we see among the Christian nations throughout the world. Is there such a thing as the Christian World - some homogenized blending of various ethnicities, histories and cultural habits that stereotypically distinguishes a people as members of a "Christian World"?


More importantly, what parts of the so-called Islamic World did President Obama visit and who were the leaders that hosted him? Does the Egyptian government truly represent the sympathies and grievances of some eighty-million Egyptians? Does the Saudi regime that rules over Islam's holiest sites speak for the world's Moslems? Most certainly and emphatically not!


In his speech, President Obama reduced a huge bundle of highly complex international issues down into a cartoonish confrontation between the United States of America and an entity simply called the Islamic World. Listening to it, one could picture a science fiction scenario where the leader of an earthly confederation is attempting a rapprochement with an alien empire from some other corner of the galaxy, in order to avoid a Star Wars type of confrontation.


Unfortunately, things are not that simple or clear cut. Worse yet, the "Islamic World" that the President was trying to appeal to, at least those members of that non-descript entity who are truly of serious consequence, while appreciative of his effort, were not too impressed by his speeches.


Those people of "real consequence" within the Islamic World do understand diplomatic constraints that limit the latitude, honesty and sincerity of a public address by even the most powerful leader of the so-called Free World.


Who are these people of consequence? Are the "friendly, moderate" leaders of Arab nations, from the Persian Gulf Emirates to Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in other words, our own puppets or allies of convenience, the ones that Mr. Obama needed to address? Certainly not. Could the President have, instead, visited Iran, Syria or Gaza, even though he would have been greeted with great respect and anticipation? Again, certainly not.


Why certainly not? Well, for the same reason, perhaps, that the President simply had to visit Buchenwald concentration camp on his return trip through Germany - or else! So, what was that all about?


It is all about Israel, stupid! Israeli interests and Israel's undeniable, as well as to this very moment unchallengeable, influence on America's Middle East or "Islamic World" politics is what that was all about. The President did not really have to reiterate America's allegiance to Israeli interests so that the leaders and the peoples of the "Islamic World", in particular Iran, would understand that he is not as free as they would hope, to say and do as he might truly feel in the privacy of his own heart.


Many outspoken leaders of the Islamic nations of "real consequence" regarded President Obama's Middle East trip or speeches as a public relations feat of little or no actual policy significance. For Iran's leader of "real consequence", Ayatollah Khamene'i, for instance, Mr. Obama's encouraging words, which are nullified in real-time by actual actions and policy decisions, did not carry the promise of a positive change in the air.


Kam Zarrabi is the author of
In Zarathushtra's Shadow

On his stop in Germany on the way back from the Middle East, the President, after criticizing those who deny the Holocaust, invited the Iranian resident, Ahmadinejad, to visit Buchenwald concentration camp and see with his own eyes that the genocide against the Jews did, in fact, take place. But Barak Obama is not George W. Bush; he must know that: one, the Iranian president is not the "decider" of Iranian foreign affairs or in a position to declare war or mobilize Iran's military to "wipe Israel off the face of the map"; and, two, the utterances attributed to him regarding the Holocaust were deliberately and maliciously distorted to portray him as a buffoon, an illiterate madman with no knowledge of current history, who is bent on the destruction of the state of Israel.


Is demonizing Ahmadinejad supposed to diminish his chances against his more liberal progressive rival, Mousavi in this Friday's elections? Is this what President Obama really wants; Ahmadinejad's defeat and the rise of a more moderate or "agreeable" administration in Iran? We shall examine if that is really the case.


No doubt, Iran's rising educated youth, as well as the more politically savvy upper middle class, particularly the women, have long been craving more liberal policies at home and better relations within the international community. Mr. Mousavi is enjoying these groups' overwhelming support. Iranians in diaspora are predominantly against a second term for the firebrand Mahmood Ahmadinejad, for obvious reasons. For the Western oriented, mostly Western educated Iranians any departure from what they see as a retrogressive religious conservatism would be a welcome change. In reality, most foreign based Iranians, whether they have any intention of ever returning to their original homeland, prefer to see an Iran molded in a Western model, adopting idealized versions of Western values and principles, regardless of their applicability to that culture.


But the nation is comprised of as many or more voting citizens who continue to support that little fellow and his folksy and incendiary style. And let us not forget that, even though here in the West the concept of an Iranian democracy is regarded as an oxymoron, a comment by Dr. Brzezinski during a recent speech at RAND Corporation paints a different picture. To paraphrase, he said that while one can predict who will be the President in Russia in 2012, no one can predict the result of the presidential elections in Iran!


What this means is that, like it or not, every vote cast by the educated and enlightened elite is countered by a vote by the traditionalist conservative - and every vote carries the same weight.


Now, for those friends and colleagues who might be disappointed if Mr. Ahmadinejad is elected for a second term, here is the irony or the paradox of all paradoxes: What would the United States, in other words Israel, do in the absence of a potent enemy or existential threat, however fictitious, in the Middle East?


Just think about such a prospect under a more moderate and West-friendly Iranian leadership. Would it not, then, lead to pressure on Israel to abandon its aggressive policies of expanding Jewish settlements, gulping up more Palestinian land, demanding and getting ever increasing financial, military and diplomatic support, etc? Would this not ultimately encourage Israel to strike at Iran just to keep the pot churning?


To avoid that eventuality, should Mr. Mousavi replace Ahmadinejad in this Friday's elections, the diplomatic pressures on the American administration would prove enormous. The biggest challenge for the Obama team would be to satiate Israel's appetite with ample guarantees that all its expectations and demands would be met, regardless of a prospective normalization of relations with Iran. This guarantee would include a face saving strategy for Israel to walk away from any peace settlement with the Palestinians, with the blame, as usual, put on the latter for that failure.


So, make your choice, world!



Kam Zarrabi

Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion. He is available to conduct lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues, at formal and informal gatherings or academic centers anywhere in the country. To make the necessary arrangements, please contact him at More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at:


... Payvand News - 06/10/09 ... --

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