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Hamid Dabashi: People should demand a nuclear weapons free region that starts with Israel and Pakistan

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

The question of the growing confrontation between the United States, Israel, and Western Europe and Iran over what they say is its nuclear weapons program continues to sharpen. But what is going on inside Iran? What’s the reaction of the Iranian people? And what, particularly, is happening within the Iranian regime itself in response to all of this pressure?

Now joining us to talk about this is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. And his new book is The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism, and it comes out this spring. Thanks for joining us again, Hamid.


JAY: So the Iranian regime government does not seem to be too fazed by all of this pressure. There’s all kinds of talk in the Western media about a possible Israeli attack, but you do not seem to see the Iranians taking all this that seriously. Am I misreading this?

DABASHI: They are taking it seriously, Paul. The question is: what are their options? I mean, you had in the broad daylight the assassination of one of their nuclear scientists in Tehran, and all the fingers are pointing at Israel. In fact, Haaretz published a piece based on a report from London Times that claims that they have information that the Mossad was behind this. And as the Iranian authorities are reading it the way that everybody else is reading it, namely, this is a provocation, these are series of assassinations and bombings and covert operations instigated by Israel in order to trigger a violent reaction by Islamic Republic that they will then bring United States in and you will have a military strike, and the rulers of the Islamic Republic are resisting it, this does not mean that they are not concerned. They are deeply concerned.

They are being spotlighted. The American military presence in the Persian Gulf is increasing. European Union just joined United States in very severe, crippling economic sanctions. And yesterday there was a report on CNN that in fact ordinary people cannot afford their daily sustenance. The rate of exchange between dollar and rial has skyrocketed. I mean, people have lost their savings and they can’t afford [to] pay for their daily sustenance. So—and this in fact is a manifestation of—recently, United States representative in a talk show in radio said in so many words that they are going to pull food from out of Iranian mouth until such time that they revolt against their country. Of course, no such thing will happen. You have a brutal, repressive Islamic Republic in charge, and these kinds of repressions are—economic sanctions are going to be directly harmful to ordinary people without any consequence of that effect.

JAY: Now, we’ve interviewed the former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley and others about the most recent IAEA report, and the people we’re talking to say there’s still no evidence there is a weapons program, nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, they do raise the issue that there are some things Iran could do in terms of transparency that could put a nail on the coffin of the accusation, at any rate, if Iran really wanted to. I mean, either they do have a weapons program that they are hiding things, or they like this, there’s some reason they want this cat-and-mouse game to continue.

DABASHI: I really don’t think so, Paul. I think that this question of Iranian nuclear project is such a bogus red herring when glaringly Israel is looking you and Pakistan is looking you into the eye with massive stockpiles of nuclear weapon, and not even a signatory to NPT. It is a joke to pick on Islamic Republic. Islamic Republic is—like any other nation, is perfectly entitled to a peaceful nuclear project, and as a signatory to NPT must be held accountable to every detail, every minutiae of the detail. But not a single element in any one of these international atomic energy reports indicates that Islamic Republic has developed or is about to develop—. At the most they say they seem to develop in certain direction that might be used for weaponization. So to me this is an entirely bogus claim.

JAY: But I—but let me just interrupt for a sec. I saw an interview a few months ago with Hans Blix, the former—heading the inspections in Iraq, and he was saying that he doesn’t think there’s a weapons program himself, and he’s had access to a lot of the data. But he said he doesn’t understand why Iran doesn’t become completely transparent on some of the things IAEA is asking for. And let me mitigate that with one thing, the recent interview we did with Robert Kelley. He thinks IAEA is tailoring a lack of information to suit the hawks, which they didn’t do under ElBaradei. So, I mean, I’m not trying to give credence to IAEA. On the other hand, there does seem to be some steps Iran could take to resolve some of these issues, and they don’t seem to want to.

DABASHI: No. I have no doubt that Islamic Republic can do any number of things. But one of the things that the official Islamic republics are saying is that the information that they give to IAEA actually ends up with Mossad, and as a result puts their nuclear scientists in danger. And given the fact that their nuclear scientists keep being assassinated, you know, you cannot blame them to be secretive or stingy in giving of the information.

There is no trust. That is, the United States and International Atomic Energy [Agency] does not have the moral authority to go to Islamic Republic when it completely disregards Israel and say, show me complete transparency. We as ordinary citizens at the mercy of these horrible weapons of mass destruction, of course we want complete transparency. We want to completely deweaponization of nuclear energy from one end of the world to another end of the world. But you cannot—for all their domestic horrors of the Islamic Republic, you cannot pick on the Islamic Republic and say, why are you not completely transparent, when right next to you you have Israel sitting on massive stockpiles and not even raising an eyebrow.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, clearly, if anyone was serious about the weapons, the issue would be a weapons-free region and the first step would be Israel needs to come clean. It’s a little much to say Iran should be more transparent when Israel has zero transparency.

DABASHI: We have to—Paul, we have to separate two issues. The domestic abuse of power by Islamic Republic, one of the most repressive horrors in Iranian history, I mean, this is not something that we say from New York, or you have now people completely loyal to the Islamic Republic, people who—high-ranking officers in /pOs.D@."rVn/ writing open letters and articles in dailies and comparing Khomeini to the late Shah of Iran. I mean, the fact is that people in Iran are subject to a repressive regime, are fighting against that repressive regime. But one has to separate that issue from this astonishing hypocrisy, astonishing hypocrisy of United States, European Union, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc., of completely disregarding the geopolitics of the region and nitpicking on a country whose national sovereignty is being violated, increasing number of covert operations, including extrajuridical assassination of its nuclear scientists, and say, why are you not coming clean.

JAY: Now, what’s happening inside Iran in terms of the debate about how to deal with this, and then the whole issue of the opposition movement?

DABASHI: Yeah, there is a whole range of debates. Of course there are debates. It’s not that everybody thinks right now we’re—. In March there is a parliamentary election, and most of the reformists, and even more radical than reformists, have categorically denounced and boycotted the election. To me, the Green movement is not dead. It’s going through various mutations. There are fantastic, important development from political activists, from journalists, from filmmakers, from artists, every one of them in one way or another resisting tyranny, fighting against this repression.

But the question of nuclear energy is very much, in Iran, Paul, reminiscent of the coup of 1953, British Petroleum and colonial powers deciding against the national interest of Iran. Even Mousavi said in so many words that access to nuclear knowledge and nuclear energy is the national right of Iranians. This is not something that if, for example, Mousavi had become the president, or if we woke up one morning and you had a fantastic democratic regime in Iran, that they would abandon their nuclear energy project in a way that will make Israel a very happy country. This is not to disregard the belligerent statements of idiocies of Ahmadinejad about Israel or denying Holocaust, things of that sort. These are two different issues.

But Iran, as a sovereign nation state, in the aftermath of the Islamic Republic and through the democratic uprisings that imagines itself after the Islamic Republic, has every right to nuclear energy. This is not just my position; it’s everybody’s position. But not weaponization, not these weapons of mass destructions. Not only Iran should not have weapons of mass destruction, but the other countries in the region—Pakistan, Russia, Israel—they should get rid of their weapons of mass destructions. This is the real issue. The real issue is not complete transparency of the Islamic Republic vis-à-vis international atomic energy. We should not allow U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia propaganda machinery to establish the terms of our engagement, how we deal about the issues. We as ordinary citizens, we don’t want these weapons of mass destructions. What do we want them for? And not only new countries should not develop them; those countries who have them has to get rid of them.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: Anytime.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Hamid Dabashi

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.
Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.