April 17, 2006

Isfahan: Heart of Persia, Possible Ground Zero

Imam Mosque, Isfahan: Courtesy dejkam.com And here we begin yet another entry whose title was so very nearly something like, "How F*cking Stupid Are These CheeseF*cking, P*ssDrinking, GoatBl*wing Cretins!?" And I thought to myself, "Self, while it's true that the Bush administration's apparent plans to nuke Isfahan might even exceed in stupidity a target selection guided by a game of drunken pin-the-turban-on-the-mullah in the Oval Office played with a map of the Middle East, such a title might not properly clue readers in to the topic of the post. Further, I'm offended by the implied abuse of innocent goats and it's too long and unwieldy even to be (peace be upon Dave Barry) a good band name. While you're at it, don't forget to throw in some nice pictures." It was a fair point, so here we are.

 Though borders and rulers changed, many pockets of continuous Persian culture have persisted in what was once the Persian Empire, such as Isfahan, the former capital of the Safavid dynasty and "[t]hePersians called it Nisf-e-Jahan, half the world; meaning that to see it was to see half the world." (Ethnic map of Iran.)

Chaharbagh Madrassah, Isfahan: Courtesy dejkam.com Persian expatriates have described Isfahan as a place where you can almost forget that you're in a country run by ayatollahs. It's a place which travel-jaded British tourists have to drag themselves away from while thinking sternly about their mortgage payments and the fact that there are no pubs, like in Utah. It's the home of some of the most recognizable and beautiful examples of Islamic architecture in the world outside the holy cities in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

 Oh yeah, and unlike the site of the Bahmiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban, over a million people live in Isfahan. But not just any people. It's one of the cities in Iran whose residents are most likely to hold a 3 week open air dance party with drinks on the house and Googoosh's greatest hits blaring from every stereo the day the regime changes. You remember the scene from the end of the re-release version of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, where the camera pans across whole cities given over to spontaneous celebration? It will probably be like that.

 Unless American bombers place Isfahan in the center of a fallout zone while trying to hit the uranium conversion facility located there, or the nearby manufacturing plant needed to make alloys used in nuclear plants.

Si O Se Pol bridge at night: Courtesy dejkam.com I'm not an expert like Juan Cole, but I think I know enough to say that for Persians, such an act would be like bombing Mecca or Medina in the minds of Arab Muslims. Which is to say that with cold, calculating determination, devoid of the passions of a two-way war between our countries or the excuse of imminent threat, America will have struck at the heart of their civilization.

Rudi Bakhtiar: Courtesy Wikipedia Wingnuts might note that you don't usually find Persians in the ranks of suicide bombers, and the ones in the US are more likely to be sitting around at parties reminiscing about what their families lost in the revolution than talking faith at the local mosque. When the Shah was in power, they were among the most likely to have gotten college educations on the government, started their own business, or traveled around just for the heck of it. Expatriate Iranians of Persian origin have fit in comfortably with western society from Los Angeles to Wiesbaden and are happily esconced in American media, business and academia, with the notable examples of the couple who first sponsored the Ansari X Prize to establish a cash reward for the first private space flight. They often have relatives back in Iran with whom they exchange news and stories and may even sometimes visit. Some would even go back if the country's laws were more secular.Christiane Amanpour: Courtesy Wikipedia

 It may seem like I've lost the plot, here, and like I'm about to wander even farther off point, but this is in no way a digression. During the red-baiting heydays of the Cold War, leftists and human rights activists were targets of brutal assaults in every American client state under the banner of fighting communism. This held throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In some of these countries, like Saudi Arabia for example, these campaigns were so successful that to this day it's difficult to find an opinion in the Kingdom of Saud that wouldn't be at home on the 700 Club or at a John Birch Society meeting, given a few minor tweaks. That is not the case in Iran.

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh: Courtesy iranian.com In Iran there is the anchor of the Persian social influence, which has remained distinct even after centuries of Islamic rule, as well as smaller groups of Armenian Christians and various other peoples who prefer the greater freedom they are allowed in a pluralistic society. A reservoir of political moderation remains, not only because there are many groups with distinct cultures but because they've been allowed to go about their business in relative peace. There is a desire for democracy that doesn't need to come from 'lessons' taught by the west, a sentiment that lives in the minds of people who walk the streets of Iran every day. It's fed by their history, by contact with expatriates, and has survived the reign of the ayatollahs through an unofficial political ceasefire.

 Left well enough alone, Iran would likely eventually return to the style of secular, open government that its citizens chose for themselves when the British left. The style of government that the United States took from them in a coup.

 Does it take a foreign policy expert to piece all this together, look at the state of the region right now, and suggest that dropping a nuke on a city that's iconic of Iranian national pride and one of the more secular segments of their society is just a bad idea every which way? Not that it would be any less immoral if a nuclear first strike was dropped on a largely Arabic or Armenian population; indeed, it would be just as reprehensible. What I'm saying is that it would be hard for a person to come up with a strategy that would better alienate the group of people in Iranian society that westerners have the most in common with.

 If the goal is in any far future time an Iran that the United States can negotiate with, this is a path that will push that date at least 80 years down the road. It is gross immorality, mass murder, with a heaping helping of stupidity to top it off. It would be the answer to the prayers of the ayatollahs, who would finally get to turn around to all the secularization activists and say, "See, we were right all along. They hate all of us and we will never be able to please them unless our entire nation serves at their command. They will not rest until they can steal our oil as they are stealing Iraqi oil."

 Yet not knowing the meaning of 'enough,' the Bush administration could have been planning its war with Iran perhaps as early as 2003 and has been violating their airspace since at least 2004 using spy drones and manned fighters. Upon entry into Iraq, US forces gave gave Geneva Convention protection to the marxist-islamist Mujahideen-e Khalq, a group on the State Department's terrorist watch list, in their camp in Iraq and may have set them loose to start a bombing campaign inside Iran in 2005. This is the same MEK group that has made big news around these parts lately as new evidence has come out that they are currently gathering intelligence for the US inside Iran. Bush must think that if he's got a bunch of cultish Marxist terrorists that turned against their country to fight for Saddam and the wishy-washy son of the late Shah on his side, that practically constitutes a referendum on the will of the Iranian people.

 I'm sure they'll welcome us with tulips and baklava.

Fortunately, even Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, doesn't seem so sure about that and is trying to tell the administration to cool it. Perhaps he's been talking with the same generals who spoke to Seymour Hersh, the ones who are considering resigning, or perhaps sending a strongly worded policy statement, in opposition to a bombing campaign against Iran. They seem to know that in spite of all the hype, in spite of the petty tyrant at the helm, the Iranian government is still offering to negotiate and they can be reasoned with.

 The Bush administration, on the other hand ...

Posted by natasha at April 17, 2006 01:37 AM | Iran | Technorati links |

Bombing Esfahan would be a crime (not that endangering it with a nuclear facility isn't also a crime).

Also, since Bush glories in his ignorance, he will have no concept of that fact that Iran is in no way like Iraq. If we bomb Iran it will not come apart at the seams like Iraq has done.

If Bush's goal is to start armageddon, then he is very good at his job.

Posted by: Gail Davis at April 17, 2006 09:53 AM

I've been to Esfehan... in 1977 (two years before the Revolution).

My parents worked for Bell Helicopter and I visited them before my senior year of high school.

My history instructor in college learned his profession because he wondered what he was blowing up during WWII when he was a fighter/bomber pilot.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce at April 17, 2006 06:32 PM

Thank you for this informative post.

Posted by: Ron Beasley at April 17, 2006 07:19 PM


Thanks for making this mockery of a foreign policy so human for us. I had known of Isfahan but not it's beauty or it's place in Persian culture or it's unfortunate proximity to nuclear facilities.

Posted by: Lynn at April 17, 2006 07:30 PM

Further evidence that this administration either doesn't know or doesn't give a rat's ass about the cultures or history of the Middle East.
Wouldn't it be handy if we had a better source of intelligence from Iran? That would have been the provenance of a certain Ms. Plame and her crew.

Posted by: tjewell at April 18, 2006 04:13 PM

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Posted by: Keenan at April 25, 2006 05:47 AM