Reintroducing the language of diplomacy into the West

By Arshin Adib-Moghaddam (for Safe Democracy)

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam writes on the recent crisis of the captured British soldiers in Iran and its meaning in the Western world. From ignoring the parallel cases of kidnapped Iranians, to emotionally and nationalistically portraying the families of the kidnapped soldiers, the Western media irresponsibly neglected reporting the facts to take advantage of irrational fears. In Adib-Moghaddam‘s opinion, it should come as no surprise that the anarchy and rhetoric of force of the first world engenders anarchy and rhetoric of force in the third. The West must relearn its much-neglected language of diplomacy to avoid the escalation and manipulation of this small crisis into a second catastrophe in the Persian Gulf.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the author of The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A Cultural Genealogy and the forthcoming The Question of the Islamic Republic: Selected essays on the politics of post-revolutionary Iran. He teaches international relations at Oxford University.

THERE ARE FEW CERTAINTIES WHEN IT COMES TO CONTEMPORARY WORLD POLITICS, except perhaps for one: every crisis involving Iran, such as last week’s over the captured British navy personnel, will be represented as yet another example of Iran’s ‘irrational’ defiance of the ‘international community’. During the crisis, not a day passed without news reports about the distress of the families of the navy personnel, and their anger and frustration that their loved-ones had been taken captive in the land of the Persians.

Indeed, so negative and distorted is the image of Iran in Britain that I have empathised with them. From their perspective Iran is incomprehensible.

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the press, and those “experts” who purport to know better, to confront irrational fears with facts on contemporary Iran. It is their responsibility to explain the context of the Iranian actions rather than to help mobilize destructive nationalistic sentiments. One doesn’t read much about the fact that Tony Blair was the prime advocate of tougher UN sanctions against Iran and that he continues to act as the diplomatic appendage of the Bush administration in Europe. Nor does one see reports about the Iranian diplomatic staff captured in Irbil on January 11th, 2007 and earlier in Basra in December 2006.

Do I have to mention that their families were equally distressed, that being a hostage of US forces in Iraq, who operate in a destructively anarchic context, is exceedingly more worrisome and dangerous than being captured in Iran, where there is a judicial process and legal framework regulating crisis situations? There is, I think, a difference between the images of Abu Ghraib and the images of the British Marines and Sailors in suits eating Persian food and receiving presents however stage-managed and ‘propagandistic’ they were.

Yet, the international media readily abstracts from these comparisons. The suffering of the third world continues to be of less value than suffering of the white first world. Likewise, aggressive foreign policies by third world countries are considered to be disproportionately more outrageous and destructive than aggressive foreign policies by ‘Western’ powers. Why else is there limited criticism about the deployment of a second US carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf; the authorisation of the killing of Iranian ‘agents’ operating in Iraq by President Bush and the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons in the United States (mini-nukes) and in the United Kingdom (Trident)? Doesn’t anarchy breed anarchy?

It is useful to remember the Tonkin Gulf incident, allegedly a North Vietnamese attack on US warships, which was used by the Johnson administration to deceive the US Congress and involve the United States in the Vietnam War. It taught us that singularly provocative acts of violence can catalyse the implementation of pre-existent strategic war plans irrespective of the true causes of the matter. The same calculation of artificially linking the terrorist atrocities of September 11th, 2001 to Saddam Hussein worked to engender the War in Iraq. Do we have to wait for another invented case, this time against Iran?

There is no doubt in my mind that the actions taken by the Iranian government are a response to the pressures of the international community, to the comprehensive economic war against Iran, and to the UN sanctions against the country’s nuclear energy programme. Solving the current impasse requires reintroducing the language of diplomacy, rather than reinforcing the rhetoric of force.

The incident with the British Navy personnel has shown that force will be reciprocated in kind by a country that continues to be very self-conscious about its role in the Muslim and wider third world. Another disaster in the Persian Gulf would bring with it truly global consequences, and would affect the security of all of us for years to come.

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