Πέμπτη, 10 Μαΐου 2007

War? You must be joking

TEHRAN: An American friend recently forwarded me a chain e-mail. It contained a multimedia slide show of an Iran rarely seen by Western eyes - backed by the gentle sound of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train," photos showed a couple hugging on a park bench, cheerful snowboarders on a slope, a student observing a modern art installation, a woman playing golf. . . . In short, pictures of mundane life in Tehran rather than bearded faces and burning American flags. The slide show ended with a black screen and a quote from the former U.S. Defense Department official and prominent neo-con Frank Gaffney: "I would say the likelihood of a military action against Iran is 100 percent." The subject line of my friend's email was, "This made me cry." Most of my fellow Iranians are inclined to dismiss the possibility of an American military action against Iran. Ask an ordinary Iranian what the odds are that the United States will launch an attack on Iran in order to coerce the Islamic Republic into aborting its nuclear program, and you're likely to get an amused smile. Here's why: Iranian government propaganda excels at insulating Iranians from any sense of urgency about the current conflict with the West. Most Iranians get their news from state-run media. The government limits access to foreign-based sources through recurring raids on satellite dishes and the filtering of Web sites. Only a few independent newspapers question the official political stance. The view perpetuated by state-run media is that Iran is pursuing its undeniable right to peaceful nuclear energy and taking a courageous stand against "the Global Arrogance" - the United States. On television, Tehran's pursuit of nuclear power enjoys support from states around the world - even if they're places like Venezuela to Zimbabwe. As for the Bush Administration, it is blocked from action by growing domestic opposition and its self-inflicted calamities in Iraq. Iranian state television backs these assertions with gripping footage of havoc in Iraq and anti-war rallies in the West. The Islamic Republic, on the other hand, is depicted as a regional hegemon, somewhat in control of international matters. Frequent speeches by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - spiced with warnings that America's "bullying times are over" - are broadcast live on state television. The television also regularly reports on Iran's war games, in which innovations in military techniques and successful missile launches boost the national ego. At the same time, the Iranian people are ignorant of developments such as the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf last month. Iranians grow up with an impressive cultural self-consciousness. Pride in the legacy of the Persian Empire and 2,500 years of history provides them with faith in their nation's destiny. Many Iranians tend to see the current confrontation with the United States as a transient crisis, another episode in Iran's long and tortuous history. After all, the land was invaded by Greeks, Arabs, Mongols and Turks; attacked by Afghans and Iraqis, and occupied by Britain and Russia. "We have overcome all this and will live through more," a clerk at a Tehran library told me. And so, last month, as world leaders were agreeing on a tighter set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic, Iranians were fuming at the audacity of the Hollywood epic "300," which depicts soldiers of ancient Persia fighting Spartans in the historic battle of Thermopylae as brutal freaks. Thanks to television sound bites, Americans may view Iran as yet another angry Muslim nation. But Iranians see themselves as being in a league of their own, a notion bolstered by the fact that their country sits on top of one of the world's greatest oil and natural-gas reserves. "Iran is not a banana republic. The U.S. can't simply invade us," an anti-regime lawyer told me. "Natural gas is Europe's lifeline. Who else will sell it to the EU if Vladimir Putin pulls the plug on gas? Surely, the West is conscious of this." Many Iranians consider the current conflict as another episode in a global power game; another great-power intervention in Iranian politics, like the 1953 coup orchestrated by American and British intelligence services which swept aside the popular prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh because he tried to nationalize Iran's oil industry, then exploited by the British. To "Ali Agha" - Iran's ordinary Joe - today's nuclear standoff is a geopolitical chess game, played by masterminds in dimly lit rooms. Shrill rhetoric and saber-rattling are bargaining ploys, which will fall in place when "the big guys are ready to strike their deal," as a hotel employee put it. Don't you worry," he added, "it's in muddy waters that the biggest fish are caught." Ladane Nasseri is an Iran-based journalist. Δημοσιεύτηκε στην ''International Herald Tribune''