[OPE-L] What Ahmadinejad actually said - lost in translation...

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Jan 26 2007 - 14:50:08 EST

A few musings. The Guardian has this item on a new Israeli foreign policy

Pressure will be applied to major US pension funds to stop investment in
about 70 companies that trade directly with Iran, and to international banks
that trade with its oil sector, cutting off the country's access to hard
currency. The aim is to isolate Tehran from the world markets in a campaign
similar to that against South Africa at the height of apartheid.

Specifically, Haaretz mentions:

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday asked one of the biggest
U.S. pension funds to pull money out of companies doing business with Iran
because of fears over possible development of nuclear weapons.
It's as though they're really worried, for the rest it's symbolisms. The
perspective seems to be that Iran is hellbent on destroying the state of
Israel, so then you have to do what you can to defeat the enemy or at any
rate weaken him, and improve your own power position, your own leverage in
the situation. But you could also look at it in another way - if Israel
reached an equitable settlement with Palestinians and helped them set up an
independent state, then a lot of the animosity would disappear. Always nice
to blame the other guy, but how about your own backyard?

Right now that seems like a crazy oxymoron to say perhaps, but then again if
you have all these wars where people don't win anything and only lose
things, then that's just as crazy. Rationally speaking, you fight a war only
if you can gain something by it, if it can solve a problem. But if it
doesn't solve any problem, and nobody gains anything much (or the losses by
far outweigh the gains), there's not much point in a war, rationally
speaking. Of course, wars may occur which are quite irrational from this
framework of thinking, but rational people at least cannot endorse them. If
anything goes, you get uncertainty, trust goes down the gurgler, and in that
case the most basic processes of human life become difficult to sustain,
through lack of cooperation. Markets of course depend on cooperation to

I think a big problem in international relations here is that the Bush
Administration adopted strong war rhetoric and military rhetoric after 9/11,
with a perspective of "permanent war" even, a sort of siege mentality.
Problem here is that we get into a war mystique, a mystical "battle of good
and evil". Who exactly the enemy is (beyond "terrorists" and "extremists")
remains vague, but that aside the point is, that it gets in the way of the
political process, of solving things through debate and dialogue and
constructive policies, and it exascerbates the level of aggression all
round. You could be attacked, not for any good or predictable reason, but
simply because of beliefs, that is the scary thought conveyed by the
rhetoric. And then there seems to be evidence which confirms that anxiety.
Sectarian warfare and so on. Where did it originate?

The general norm till now has been that you start a military war, after all
options for a peaceful resolution are exhausted, but now we have the new
doctrine of "pre-emptive war". It is saying, we have no confidence anymore
in the political process to resolve problems. We no longer discuss beliefs
and verify them, we fight them with weapons. And the Israeli's mimick all
this (cf. Lebanon). What you get is a sort of super-aggressive, rapist
politics (I have to admire Menachem Mazuz, who seems to keep his head cool
in a very difficult situation).

The question then is, whether the pre-emptive war doctrine creates a better
political process, more confidence in the political process. Mr Bush argues
for example that in Afghanistan you really have a better situation, insofar
as many Afghans could return home. But I'm a bit skeptical about all that,
insofar as what you put in place there can just as easily fall down.
Meantime of course Iraqi's leave their country in droves. If you drop the
traditional norm and go for pre-emptive war, then you can start a war for
any old reason you see fit, but I think precisely for that fact, nothing
much good results from that.

Larry Elliott blogged on Davos 07: "This is the era when capitalists want to
do good and to feel good about themselves. But is it a good thing?". I was
thinking about that, as I was delving into Richard Rorty's philosophy
recently. One of the ideas is, that liberals are very much opposed to
cruelty, and in favour of humane treatment. The liberal hope is for a world
in which people are humanely treated, and their personal autonomy respected.
Everybody would feel good. Point is, that when they think their incomes or
assets are threatened, liberals can become very cruel. Very, very cruel. So
then how can you feel good about yourself?

The answer seems to be, so long as the cruelty is somewhere remote,
somewhere far away, or at any rate disconnected from your own activities.
For example, I am very high up in the air, and you are so far down on the
ground I can't even see you. If it is a problem that could be discussed, but
which does not affect you directy, and you don't have to take it too
personally. Which raises the question, what should you take personally, and
what shouldn't you take personally? Well there you go, feeling good depends
on what you decide to take personally... and this in turn depends on your
personal autonomy. We can flatten the argument out into a tautology - "I
feel good, because I AM a liberal" and any day now, that could become a
campaign slogan.

Looked at this way, some of the mystery surrounding terrorism might
disappear. The terrorist says "It doesn't make me feel good, and I am taking
this personally, I am prepared to die for it so you will understand that it
doesn't make me feel good". The liberal retort to this would obviously be
that this is taking things too personally, with disastrous effects for the
very life, not just the autonomy of others. The horror is really, that the
cruelty that you thought you were remote from, suddenly stares you in the
face, insofar as you still have a face after that. Which is precisely the
terrorist objective. And the response to that can be overkill.

The Divinyls did this number once "it's a fine line between pleasure and
pain". That line could become a mighty fine line. So fine, that you couldn't
even see it.

One way to respond to 9/11 was to attack a country (Iraq) that had nothing
to do with it. Another possibility would have been to invite a broad public
debate ("conversation") in the first instance on the question "what do you
Americans think this event means, what caused it?". That is the tack I think
a true Rortyist would have taken. Rorty himself stated "politicians in all
the rich democracies ought to be thinking about [the question of] How can
democratic institutions be strengthened so as to survive in a time when
governments can no longer guarantee what President Bush calls homeland
security?". And the most primary means is to get a real dialogue and inquiry
going about the meaning of what happened. Of course Rortyists weren't in
power. In power were people who wanted to capitalise on public fear and hit
back hard. Then you get a politics of fear. And that gets in the way of
doing good and feeling good. Unless you can blot out politics.


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