Monday, December 11, 2006

Matthias Küntzel on Ahmadinejad

Küntzel is a German political science professor. I have linked to his writing in the past, but I see that piece is now gone for some reason. He advances the compelling argument that a good deal of ME anti-semitism has European, specifically German, roots.

John Rosenthal translates. Here is a recent link to some of his other work.

Mark Bowden is the author of Blackhawk Down and Guests of the Ayatollah, a detailed look at the hostage crisis of 1979.

This link is essential background reading for anyone curious about the man whose rise to power in Iran is perhaps the most important international political development of the decade. Whether or not the US was well- or ill-advised in the past in dealing with Iran, the die is cast. Latter-day name calling is a pointless waste of energy, so read and learn before it is too late. Suffice it to say I regard Ahmedinejad as one of the world's most sinister, complicated and potentially dangerous characters. It will take more than military might to defeat this man. If there is no other lesson to be learned from the last two years in Iraq, it must be that a military occupation makes complicated political situations worse, not better.

Today there is an election in Iran. From all accounts there is no reason to think that the controlling hands of Ahmedinejad and the clerics who support him are threatened in any way. There is opposition, to be sure, but I'm not sure the alternatives would be any more desireable. Despite my tagline, I am no confidence that even if Ahmedinejad were tossed out by a landslide anyone in Washington would know how best to respond.

On November 4, 1979, 400 Khomeini followers, armed with sticks and chains, broke down the door of the American embassy in Tehran, stormed the compound, and took hostage all the Americans on the grounds. It was in fact these hostage-takers who in 1979 would pose for the cameras next to a poster with a caricature of then American President Jimmy Carter and the slogan “America cannot do a damn thing.” Khomeini did not release his prisoners until January 1981. Could America really “not do a damn thing”?

This is the key question raised by Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the hostage crisis in his new book Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam. The “guests” in question obviously were no guests. Not only were the Americans robbed of their liberty, but they were subjected to mock executions and beatings. Hardly any of them believed that they would get out of the compound alive. But in this “first battle,” the battle was never really joined either. Bowden’s account clearly reveals the helplessness of the Carter administration: the more assiduously President Carter sought compromise, the more contemptuously he was mocked by Khomeini.

Today, we are not only facing a second major conflict with Iran, but the West is confronted by the same theological regime, the same ideology of martyrdom – and indeed by some of the same persons. In 1979, a 23-year-old Mahmoud Ahmadinejad figured among the core group that prepared the seizure of the American embassy. According to then Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Ahmadinejad was not only present in the occupied compound, but served as liaison between the hostage-takers and Ali Khamenei, at the time one of the most important Friday preachers in Tehran. Khamenei himself, today Iran’s Supreme Leader, visited the hostage-takers repeatedly in the compound. Ali-Akbar Rafsanjani, today Iran’s third most important political figure, was in 1980 the chairman of the Parliament and in this capacity he shared responsibility for the prolongation of the hostage crisis.

As Bowden rightly puts it, the hostage-taking was “a crime against the entire civilized world.” Nowadays, when the sacking of embassies by Muslim fanatics has become a nearly daily occurrence, this assessment might not seem so obvious. But even at the height of the Cold War, it would have been unthinkable for the Kremlin, for instance, to attack the American embassy in Moscow and take its employees hostage. Such an action would have amounted not only to a declaration of war against the U.S., but indeed against the whole world. The free and secure movement of diplomats is the first form of civilization in the conduct of nations. Any nation that violates this rule, places itself outside the community of nations, since it substitutes war for diplomacy and chaos for international law. Khomeini’s approval of the hostage-taking made clear already in 1979 that Islamism represented for the West an opponent of an entirely different nature than the Soviet Union: an opponent that not only did not accept the system of international relations founded after 1945 but combated it as a “Christian-Jewish conspiracy.”

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