January 16, 2007

In A Case For War, Words Matter

Does this quibbling over phrases matter? Yes, of course. Within days of the Ahmadinejad speech the then Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was calling for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations. Other foreign leaders have quoted the map phrase. The United States is piling pressure on its allies to be tough with Iran. Let me give the last word to Juan Cole, with whom I began. “I am entirely aware that Ahmadinejad is hostile to Israel. The question is whether his intentions and capabilities would lead to a military attack, and whether therefore pre-emptive warfare is prescribed. I am saying no, and the boring philology is part of the reason for the no.”

I’m quoting from “Lost in translation” by Jonathan Steele, an article discussing the misinterpretation of a recent speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

You almost certainly remember the Iranian president being quoted as saying he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. Obviously, very troubling talk from a regime seeking nuclear weapons.

However, Steele says that the Iranian, while clearly hostile to Israel, is not calling for the extermination of Jews. He compares his desire for the elimination of the “regime occupying Jerusalem” with the fall of the Shah in Iran. Regime change, not extermination, and not genocide. Is a call for regime change a reason for war?

We were rightly shocked when we thought we heard Ahmadinejad say he wanted to wipe the Jews off the map. And since that time, there’s been increased talk that either we or Israel ought to attack Iran. If there is a question about what Ahmadinejad is saying, it seems important to get it right, especially as the build up for the war on Iran already appears to have begun.

Posted by James at January 16, 2007 10:08 AM
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Don't worry. Israel has a plan. See here ("boring philology" or no): http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2535310,00.html

Posted by: ThirdMate at January 16, 2007 12:19 PM

While it is true that we have to examine the meaning behind what he said, we also have to examine his other actions as well.

In addition to wanting to "wipe Israel off the map", he also hosted a Holocaust Deniers conference. That suggest a deeper desire than just regime change.

Posted by: briwei at January 16, 2007 5:43 PM

I disagree.

Assuming Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier, denying the Holocaust isn't the same thing as suggesting a new holocaust.

I wouldn't want him for my president, but I also don't see it as a reason to nuke his country.

Posted by: James at January 16, 2007 7:14 PM

I don't think it is either. Nor do I think it is a reason for invading his country.

But I'm not sure whether he is a denier or an antagonizer. I think he is more crafty than crazy. I think he meant for his words to be misinterpreted. I firmly believe that he is trying to escalate matters in the region. He is trying to take advantage of the situations created in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine to unify the Muslim world against the West.

Posted by: briwei at January 17, 2007 1:52 AM

The analysis I've been reading (StratFor and other places) suggests he's using rhetoric to gain Iran Muslim cred, which is a slightly different thing.

With world leaders, what you say is meant to influence others, not necessarily the truth... like Saddam with the WMDs (all show, for Iran because he felt he had to look strong) or Bush with his new way forward (much the same reasons).

We've screwed up so badly in Iraq that Iran just has to wait around now to pick up the pieces. That's IMHO why there's serious talk of striking Iran. Not because of anything Ahmedinejad has said.

The whole discussion over what he has said is just used to manipulate people into agreeing to a new war.

It'll be easier to see in about 5 years after Israel nukes Iran and we look back saying, "what the hell?"

Posted by: James at January 17, 2007 7:35 AM

I believe that war with Iran is largely inevitable. I hope things change for the better but I don't see anything else happening, realistically.

Posted by: Chuck S. at January 17, 2007 9:10 AM

It's kind of like how Americans have deliberately confused the two definitions of jihad - it can either mean "holy war" which is how we like to interpret it, or simply "struggle". When you assume any struggle on the part of the occupied Palestinians is a holy war, you bring up memories of the holocaust or the crusade and dismiss them as too crazy to deal with rationally.

And honestly, even though I think its factually wrong, I can understand why people in the middle east don't want to hear about the holocaust - as it is always used to justify the theft of Palestinian land and the massacre of PAlestinian people.

I mean, fuck, try in this country bringing up slavery or genocide against native americans and half the time you'll get either outright denial or apologetics, or if nothing else you'll get the "well my grandparents weren't around for any of that so I don't want to hear about it." You'll most certainly get that response from most folks if you say those holocausts would justify, for example, giving a large chunk of the country away to said group and forcing White folks out of their homes, making them non-citizens and not allowing them to come back. And that doesn't even get into using those historical facts to justify massacres.

Posted by: DG at January 17, 2007 11:27 AM

...why, if you're a Virginia state legislator you might even feel you can tell black people that they ought to get over the fact that their ancestors were subjected to slavery.

These are different flavors of the same attitude.

But, yeah, we in this country don't like to hear about Native American genocide or slavery much.

Honestly, I think these are difficult and important issues. We can't just move on and pretend these things didn't happen, like the legislator seems to want. However, we also can't form a cult over it and make it the center point of our lives.

Holocaust deniers go that extra step, though. They force people to make it a center point of their lives when they feel that the past is going to be wallpapered over. In the face of that, of course people are going to step up and defend history.

Posted by: James at January 17, 2007 11:36 AM

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