No World Reaction to a Reactionary Iran
In a week when names such as Samuel Alito and Scooter Libby have leaked into the American consciousness and domestic political chaos dominated the media, I was struck hardest by a story originating from outside of the United States. A week or so ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a speech entitled "The World without Zionism," revealed his vision for eliminating the state of Israel. Employing words and concepts more militant than aught have been heard from a country in possession of missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads distances up to 1,200 miles, President Ahmadinejad, for one day, dropped the jaws of people throughout the world.
Ahmadinejad asserted "anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury," and that Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was a "trick" to win acknowledgment of Israel by Islamic states. He stated, "the fighting in Palestine is a war between the (whole) Islamic nation and the world of arrogance," and that "Israel must be wiped off the map."
Although on some levels his actions should come as no surprise (Iran still does not formally recognize Israel), they are nevertheless disturbing. It is shocking that in the year 2005 a country's leader can call for the destruction of another sovereign nation on the basis of racial and religious differences. The anachronism that is Iran's current presidential administration is indeed unbelievable.
One day after the tirade, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for the expulsion of Iran from the United Nations. Countries such as France and the U.S. came to Israel's aid issuing statements of condemnation. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a statement of concern. Even Palestinian spokesperson Saeb Erekat said, "We do not accept the statements of the president of Iran." All of these reactions were positive and respectable. For one day, some of the world acknowledged the severity of Iran's position. However, one week later, three aspects remain greatly troublesome to me.
First, countries across the Middle East remained silent. Second, in less than a week, the issue has been forgotten: no news headlines or opinions articles, no more statements of concern from government administrations or U.N. envoys. Third, it does not appear that any actual consequences will be felt by the Iranian government.
As Ahmadinejad's words were still echoing, most Arab countries remained silent. Administrations from Egypt to Jordan suddenly, and uncharacteristically, found themselves tongue-tied. While it has been generally accepted that a majority of the Middle East (even many Iranians) does not share in the radical Islamic views expressed by the Iranian president, there is still no justification for a lack of a response. It is this silence that further undermines stability in the region, further empowers the radical Islamic contingents, and further reinforces supposed misconceptions. It's regrettable that these countries failed to take an opportunity to unify and stabilize, to symbolically shun radical Islam.
My second concern is with how this issue has been handled after day one. Either the entire world has been stunned into silence or it is apathetic to the dangerous position in which Israel currently finds itself. The latter seems more likely. In just the United States, the lack of media and governmental attention paid to the situation is problematic. I have talked to many students here at Dartmouth who were not even aware that such comments were made, that such a situation exists. While leaks, resignations, nominations, and closed session Senate meetings have understandably monopolized much of our media and government's time and energy, it is still crucial for both to pay attention to the Iranian issue. We deserve to be informed about the international reaction and potential consequences of this Iranian hostility. We deserve to hear the talking heads and op-ed columnists debate what an appropriate reaction should be. Additionally, the U.S. government has neglected to put any serious pressure on either the Iranian government or the United Nations towards the remediation of the problem. We deserve at least an explanation.
Lastly, with silence from neighboring countries and apathy from the rest of the world, Iran appears to have suffered no consequences for its president's hateful words. While ultimatums of expelling Iran from the U.N. sound catchy, even justified, they are ultimately unlikely. However, I can accept if Iran is not expelled from the United Nations; I cannot accept the lack of an international reprimand. Given the nuclear potential and desires of Iran, shouldn't there at least be a formal warning, an international debate, a Hans Blix sighting? But nothing? Eerily, this is just the benevolent and appeasement-esque attitude that has doomed prior generations -- ask Neville Chamberlain.
Observing the world reaction after one week, I fear this metaphorical situation: Ahmadinejad is the little kid who mischievously touches a hot stove but the stove decides not to burn him. We can not let ourselves become the fickle stove, emboldening the dangerous leader and setting ourselves up to get burned.