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Obama has Iranian blood

American we knew and Kenyan we knew, but Iranian? Trust me, now we know. Let me explain. Iranians famously don’t like to fight. I’m not talking about actual killing—since its inception 34 years ago, the Islamic Republic has amply demonstrated that it has no qualms about that. No, I mean street fights. On a Naples or Medellin or Peshawar street, no one would think twice about engaging in fisticuffs in retaliation for a perceived offense but when an Iranian male feels insulted, his first reaction is to look around to make sure there are enough buddies nearby to restrain him and prevent him from jumping on the offender. street fightWhen living in Iran, I used to see any number of these displays—two guys yelling bloody murder at each other and occasionally turning to the people subduing them to say “hold me, don’t let me hit him” (begir mano, nazar bezanam), as the last thing on their mind is to actually fight.

The rules of the game are well-established—the buddies will not let go, the fighters thus hampered will not be allowed to fight and onlookers stand there laughing their heads off. Finally, honor saved through negotiation, the would-be pugilists are reluctantly made to shake hands and everyone gets to go home.

These days, I can’t help remembering these funny Tehran street scenes of my childhood. Our President is angry, very angry, furious with Assad; he’s really, really going to beat him up. He turns to Congress, to the American people, to Putin, to European allies, to whoever will restrain him and prevent him from getting at Assad, while threatening terrible retribution. “I’ll get you, you son of a bitch! You’ve killed 120,000 Syrians and turned millions into homeless refugees! And now sarin gas, will you, you mahfah? Have you no shame? Yeah, and your sister too!”

Here too, everyone knows how to play the game. Mainly finding excuses for Assad’s murderous spree of the last two years to avoid having one more country descend into Islamicism. Do we want to see more of these raging fanatics eat their enemy’s heart? Do we want one of the last nominally secular states in the region fall to sharia law and become part of the umma or global Islamist nation, with the kind of blind faith that has undeservedly discredited Islam the world over so that sadly the very name of that respectable religion has become a synonym for wild-eyed terrorism? Does anyone honestly believe that moderate dissidence is possible in that explosive region?

And, more questions—does history teach us no lessons? Don’t we know that moderates don’t stand a chance when a regime falls to violence? Haven’t the Mirabeaus and Kerenskys and, closer to us, the Bazargans of the first hour been swept away by brutal governments? So our President turns to anyone who can prevent him from going in. Rather step into a wasp’s nest than get mixed up in this incredibly volatile mish-mash—secular Bashar’s holy alliance with arch-conservative Khamenei, Saudis uncertain, Egyptians reeling, Hamas and Hezbollah not knowing which way to turn, Israelis wary, Turks worried, Iranians caught between factions, all lost in muddled strategy.

And where does duty or interest lie, for America? Do our citizens come first or are we morally obligated to protect whoever needs protecting across the globe, whatever the cost? (Even then, are Syrians better off under the present mass murderer or should the country be allowed to sink into decades of chaos?) Must we uphold our fast deteriorating image? Is striking the answer or not striking?

The street thugs of my Tehran childhood didn’t have complex issues to deal with but they had their own reasons for pretending to want to fight while not wanting to. I don’t know what our President is thinking and am not sure he can come up with a coherent plan in this totally incoherent context. For the time being, all he knows is that the forces holding him back need to be stronger than those pushing him forward.

  1. Narguesse Stevens
    September 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    Long may the holding back prevail.


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