Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kindness: no more dead than God; but who'd think so?

Given the demonization that regularly passes for news reporting lately, coupled with a sort of amnesia for anything that happened more than two weeks ago--though somehow we get our memory back at about six months--one would think Iran has become a nation of nuclear engineers trying to game the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the UN, and the rest of us. If one focuses solely on the coterie around Pres. Ahmadinejad, as the press has done, that might almost seem a reasonable deduction.

June, anyone? Remember Mir Hossain Mousavi and the Green Movement? I bring him up for two reasons. The first in a sense challenges the question of whether the press has over-focused on Ahmadinejad, because during his campaign Mousavi specifically claimed the right of Iran to have a nuclear program. One wants very much to know how much, if any, daylight separates the two, or indeed the country as a whole, on the matter of the nuclear program, especially the secret site at Qom. My Iranian Facebook friends seem to think that we spend too much time thinking about it, and that national pride entitles them to it. Weaponization? One wants to see bombs first before believing our charges, or considering them a reasonable subject for discussion.

That kind of attitude--waiting for the horses to leave the barn before worrying about whether it might catch fire--should disturb us all, and help us understand the limits of understanding between Iranians and the world at large. And yet, they do have one point we need to answer better than we currently do, as Pres. Obama knows and has sought to change--we have an awful lot of bombs. In fact, the Iranians in Geneva tomorrow will face diplomats representing collectively the majority of the world's nuclear arsenal. Obama and Russia's Medvedev have spoken about eliminating nuclear weapons, but Iran's team in Geneva might fairly wonder when that will happen and why they should take such talk seriously.

The second reason has to do with something he said in a meeting with reformist parliamentarians, posted today on his Facebook page. In paraphrase--the English of the translation has a few rough edges--he applauds the development of kindness in recent social relations in Iran. He seems to mean kindness among the members of the Green Movement. Without good Farsi, one finds it hard to know for certain.

And here we have a telling parallel between Iranian and American politics, at least internally. The rhetoric of hate abounds everywhere. Not too long ago the same Facebook friend declared Mousavi irrelevant, and presumably still feels that way. Mousavi may have invented this outpouring of kindness for political purposes. Tom Friedman wrote a piece this morning warning that our culture of political hatred reminds him frighteningly of Israel before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. And yet we have a president who ran his campaign and runs his administration with the firm conviction that hope matters.

Mousavi seems to mean that the Greens have redirected at least some of their energy from attacking Ahmadinejad to the degree his police state permits, and focusing on the more immediate demands of living humanely. It's a message Obama has repeated constantly, most poignantly in his Philadelphia speech on race. One has good reason to doubt how differently a Mousavi regime would handle nuclear negotiations--perhaps they would have started months ago. The fact that two politicians in two such different societies--but two men for whom their religious faith matters centrally--place such emphasis on our dealing with each other humanely suggests that we may have more to say, one culture to another, than we think.

This argument, of course, has one major problem. Ahmadinejad sent the diplomats to Geneva for tomorrow's meeting,


  1. footnote: moussavi and two reformist colleagues made it clear again this week that they have no interest in a militarized nuclear program--a bomb-making ability--only a peaceful program for energy production.

  2. I am glad you keep us focussed on an ongoing story that is so easy to tune out, because of its complicated nature and our sense of far-away-ness. It just so happens that I am reading an article right now about Dwight Eisenhower and his rhetoric of the 1950's around nuclear war. Even though I am naive, ignorant perhaps, I wince every time I see our policing of other countries around matters of nuclear force. I understand the threat and I wonder how we can continue to monitor our own actions. I am thinking as simply as origami cranes.