Good-natured liberals become Iran apologists

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, January 19, 2012
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Every further step Iran's quest for nuclear weapons takes, and any new piece of evidence documenting it, should concern good-natured liberals. As dedicated internationalists, they should decry the lasting damage such a development will do to the non-proliferation regime - a key element of the international order they sanctify. As the intellectual heirs and moral custodians of the cold-war era disarmament movement, they should oppose any state seeking nuclear weapons. As human rights champions, they should particularly loathe the idea of an authoritarian regime with nuclear weapons. And as enlightened secularists they should be alarmed at the sight of a theocracy, animated by religious fervour and millenarian aspirations, voicing belligerent rhetoric while pursuing the ultimate weapon.

But in the world of liberal commentators, what should be is not what it is. Instead, a morbid fascination with dictatorial regimes drives a world view, animated by a peculiar blend of post-colonial rage against the West and a grievance-driven pseudo-scholarship, cloaked in the language and footnotes of the late Edward Said.

This, in turn, has offered the moral pretext for getting sanctimonious about Western governments' mistakes and imperfections while getting cosy with tyrants.

On Iran, the argument goes like this: there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons (remember Iraq?); even if Iran is building them, it is either Israel's problem only, or it is not that big a problem; and the best way to deal with this issue is to be nice to Iran, which is only acting out of understandable fear of imperial aggression (from the West).

The Guardian's Simon Jenkins has articulated the above view repeatedly - as late as January 3, in a column decrying new US sanctions, where he blamed them on President Obama's need to assuage what Jenkins calls "the pro-Israel lobby."

He had previously argued that "nuclear dissemination is deplorable, but massively overhyped," and dismissed Iran's pursuit by saying: "No one seriously supposes that Iran, under whatever ruler, would seek to wipe out Israel - and anyway that is Israel's business."

More recently, Julian Borger gave a platform on his Guardian blog to the claim that, indeed, the IAEA report accusing Iran of pursuing weaponisation was based on a forged document.

But Iran, an Islamic dictatorship whose founders made hatred for America, Israel and the neighbouring Arab monarchies a central tenet of its world view, is not an Israeli problem alone.

To suggest that trying to stop Iran is aimed at placating the "pro-Israel lobby", aside from having a sadly familiar ring, proves the mendacity of those who peddle this argument.

Could it be that all 27 members of the European Union, alongside an American president, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and numerous Arab states, are all beholden to the wicked Zionists? Or might it just be that those who so quickly accuse their opponents of being Zionist pawns, are themselves apologists for a totalitarian regime seeking weapons of mass destruction?

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

    Last updated: 12:32pm, January 19 2012