May 10, 2012
May 10, 2012
May 10, 2012
Editor’s note: This article is one of two debating the necessity of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear project. The other, by Robert Wexler, argues that “An Attack Might Be Necessary, but Not Yet.”
A broad international coalition agrees that Iran must freeze its nuclear weapons program and may not develop either of the ingredients—sufficient highly enriched uranium and a usable warhead and delivery system—that could result in a bomb for the Islamic Republic. The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, the UN Security Council, and the governments of almost every influential country—including the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, and France, acting as the P5+1 negotiating group—have not only reached consensus on this demand but acted upon it. Increasingly tough sanctions have been imposed on Iran to force it to stop what is obviously a military program aimed at building a usable nuclear weapon. These diplomatic steps and these tightened sanctions reflect a wide consensus about the dangers that an Iranian nuclear weapon would bring.
But those dangers, ranging from the risk of further proliferation to the likelihood that a nuclear Iran would be an even bolder supporter of terrorism, do not affect all nations equally. In fact, they are a matter of principle but not much of a danger to many countries, while of much greater interest to Iran’s immediate neighbors and to the United States. And then there is Israel. The dangers it faces from an Iranian nuclear weapon are unique and, I will argue, are dangers no nation should be asked to accept.
The only case today in which a UN member country is calling for the destruction of another member is Tehran’s repeated threats to obliterate Israel, and there is no reason to believe the Iranians don’t mean it. Official Iranian comments about Israel are continually genocidal in nature. A good example is an article in the Iranian press in February—circulated by the Revolutionary Guard’s Fars News Agency but originating at the website Alef, which has ties to the supreme leader—that calls for the destruction of the Jews. The author, Alireza Forghani, a chief strategy specialist, is a significant figure in Iran; more important is that key regime websites are promoting his views. A report at the WND news website summarizes the central paragraph of Forghani’s analysis of the necessity for destroying lsrael and its people this way:
Under this pre-emptive defensive doctrine, several Ground Zero points of Israel must be destroyed and its people annihilated. Forghani cites the last census by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics that shows Israel has a population of 7.5 million citizens of which a majority of 5.7 million are Jewish. Then it breaks down the districts with the highest concentration of Jewish people, indicating that three cities, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, contain over 60 percent of the Jewish population that Iran could target with its Shahab 3 ballistic missiles, killing all its inhabitants.
This call for genocide is acceptable discourse in the Islamic Republic. It follows various statements by Iran’s president calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, and as recently as February 3rd, Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Khamenei, again called Israel a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.”
It is not necessary to believe that Iran would launch a nuclear attack at Israel the day after acquiring that capability to understand that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of this regime. In addition to the threat of state action, Iran could also provide such a capability to Hamas, Hezbollah, or some other terrorist group with which it has connections as a way of masking its own role in the attack. Iran could also use a newly acquired nuclear capacity to defend stepped-up terrorist activities, both against Israel proper and against Israeli and Jewish individuals and sites around the world. The recent attacks on Israeli Embassy officers in India and Georgia and the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community headquarters in Buenos Aires in the 1990s were all conducted when Iran did not have the added protection of a nuclear weapon. Similarly, Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks and terrorist bombings and kidnappings have all occurred when their benefactors in Tehran did not yet have the bomb. How much more aggressive would the mullahs be if the threat of retaliation against such attacks were neutralized by nuclear warheads? Israel has paid a great price in blood and treasure to survive in the decades when it had a nuclear monopoly in the region. To confront the same hostility, terror, and aggression when that monopoly is gone could undermine its ability to survive.
No nation, of course, can defend preemptively against an unexpected sneak attack. But if Iran acquires nuclear weapons (which it has already indicated a willingness to use), it will not come as a surprise to Israel or to its main ally, the United States. Instead, Tehran’s acquisition of such weaponry would give the lie to the stated determination of both nations to prevent that outcome. All the speeches about what we would and would not accept would be shown to have been mere talk; all the determination would be shown to have been mere show; and every observer would conclude that we allowed ourselves to be cowed by Iran into an inaction that would continue to have ramifications for years to come even if, by some miracle, Tehran did not soon act on its genocidal threats. We would have watched their program grow year after year, and done nothing—or nothing that worked. So the image of Israel as indestructible, resolute, tough, and ready to act—as it acted against the nuclear programs of Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007—would be gone, as would the United States’ own image as the dominant power in the Middle East and one committed to preserving Israel’s existence.
And what will the Middle East be like when Iran possesses that nuclear weapon and its top officials continue to say that Israel must be eliminated? It would be easy for Iran to bring Israeli life to a standstill by launching a missile or a plane whose mission might, just might, be a nuclear attack. The chances that miscalculation or misperception would bring war and catastrophe would be enormous…
In two separate incidents in March, Mohammed Merah, a French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad, ambushed four soldiers around Toulouse, killing three of them. A week later, he shot dead three children arriving for morning classes at a nearby Jewish school, along with a young rabbi who was father to two of them. The children were aged eight, six, and three. Merah recorded the killings on a micro-camera mounted around his neck and sent the footage to Al Jazeera, which did not air it. Shortly before he died by gunfire, Merah told the soldiers who had surrounded his apartment that he regretted not having done more of what he did.
These were crazy deeds, and one can argue about what role insanity played in them, but something else needs to be candidly acknowledged: the killer was not a lone wolf. He had a measure of community support and a great deal of family support. His brother Abdelkader professed himself “proud” of his relation to the murderer. His mother refused to convince her son to surrender to police. His father threatened to file a wrongful-death suit against the French state. The contemporary culture of politicized Islam, as deracinated Internet-surfers understand it, is what Merah believed he was fighting for. He was upset about French laws that limit the wearing of the Muslim veil among schoolgirls. Someone had whipped him into a frenzy over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
France has been sickened, but not surprised, by the killings. They had an antecedent. In 1995, Khaled Kelkal, an Algerian-born petty criminal in the Lyon suburbs who had discovered radical Islam in jail, murdered a Parisian imam whose positions on the Algerian war were a bit moderate for his taste. Kelkal then set off a bomb in the Saint-Michel RER station, killing eight people. He detonated a car bomb in front of a Jewish school in Villeurbanne, outside Lyon, timed for the moment the children were scheduled to emerge. (A bloodbath was averted only because of a delay in the day’s dismissal.) He planted a bomb on a high-speed rail track that would have killed dozens or hundreds had it detonated. But it did not, and the police got Kelkal’s fingerprints. When he was killed by police in a shoot-out that was partly captured on television, there were riots in several immigrant neighborhoods around Lyon.
ALL WESTERN EUROPEAN countries have some version of this problem, which involves immigration, Islam, dissent from established European culture, and organized violence. Although it has been temporarily overshadowed by budgetary and currency woes, it is Europe’s most significant chronic problem. What to do about it depends on where one thinks the problem lies.
Some blame France for having shirked the work of turning foreigners into citizens. If they are right, then all that is now required to put an end to such incidents is that one finally address the problem in good faith. This, broadly speaking, was the reaction of François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for president and favorite to win in France’s two-round elections, which finish in May. Hollande sounded an Obama-esque note after the Ozar Hatorah killings, insisting that the French Republic can be made safe “without losing anything of its values against its worst adversaries.” That is true enough, at the simplest level. And given that the continent has spent the last six or seven decades trying to atone for, and prevent a return of, the sort of hatreds that tore Europe apart in World War II, people are rightly warned against tit-for-tat thinking. But there is a thin line between a refusal to escalate violence and a refusal to face reality. It sounded to many French people like Hollande was scolding them preemptively for merely taking such crimes seriously, rather than placing the blame where it belonged, with Merah and his sympathizers.
There is another way of explaining what went wrong. The grim fact is that no Western European country—not one— has managed even a marginally successful integration of its Muslim immigrants, despite half a century of vast treasury outlays, wholesale constitutional re-workings, and indefatigable excuse-making. One is drawn to the conclusion that no successful integration was ever to be expected. Larger historical currents were at play. Islam was on the rise. Europe had lost its élan vital, or its mojo, or whatever you choose to call it. The idea that Europe could handle a mass immigration of Muslims may have been a momentous historical mistake. As Roy Jenkins, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, remarked in 1989, “We might have been more cautious about allowing the creation in the 1950s of substantial Muslim communities.”
It ought to go without saying that Jenkins was assailing neither individual migrants seeking to improve their position nor the 1,400-year-old religion they practice. But those who speak this way have been accused of Islamophobia, of racial prejudice, and of ill will. They have even—especially in France—been taken to court. This has had a powerful disciplining effect on public discussion, and it has walled off most European countries’ immigration policies from the faintest breeze of common sense. By the time those Big-Events-of-the-Year-2012 shows get aired next December, French viewers may need their memory jogged about what happened in Toulouse in March.
PEOPLE WHO ASK whether better government policies could have made Muslim immigration to Europe less of a debacle tend to look at Britain and France as two ends of a spectrum of approaches. Britain has let immigrants go their own way. It has been multiculturalist, laissez-faire, tolerant of partial allegiances and unintegrated identities. If you are a Sikh policeman, you can wear your turban on duty. In immigration as in other matters, the United Kingdom is unusually disorderly and willing to run the risk that “parallel societies” will form; but it does offer immigrants more self-respect and freedom of religion. France, by contrast, favors the assimilatory pressures of the melting pot. It wants immigrants to embrace a single model of republican citizenship. France’s model may sound condescending and hypocritical, but at its best it can convince a newcomer that the country’s thousand-year-old history belongs to him as much as anyone. It is a fool’s errand to call either the French or the British approach “better.” Each is built out of thousand-year-old habits of political culture. But immigration experts tend to laud whichever of the two has led to riots less recently.
In his important book, Robert Leiken comes down decisively in favor of the French system (which he sees as only a partial failure) and against the British one (which he regards as an outright catastrophe). His bar for success is heartrendingly low: Leiken finds it encouraging that, in contrast to Britain, where 56 percent of Muslims believe the CIA or Mossad or someone other than Arab terrorists carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the corresponding figure for France is only 46 percent. Leiken’s book saw print before the Merah killings. Readers might question certain of his judgments in light of them. But it has a wealth of on-the-ground reporting and many virtues, particularly when it moves beyond France.
Subtlety is not just this book’s virtue but also its calling card, its analytical objective. Leiken bills the whole effort as a call for “nuance, specificity and complexity.” Razor-thin distinctions preoccupy him. He cares whether it was pietism or quietism that turned a ghetto kid into a suicide bomber. Such distinctions can sometimes be useful. It makes sense that the “portability” of a Koran-based fundamentalism should appeal more to second-generation migrants than a “folk” religion based on shrines, family ties and landscapes a continent or an ocean away…
Time: last year. Place: an undergraduate classroom, in the airy, well-wired precincts of Silicon Valley University. (Oops, I mean Sun-Kissed-Google-Apps-University.) I am avoiding the pedagogical business at hand—the class is my annual survey of 18th-century British literature, and it’s as rockin’ and rollin’ as you might imagine, given the subject—in order to probe my students’ reactions to a startling and (to me) disturbing article I have just read in the Harvard alumni magazine. The piece, by Craig Lambert, one of the magazine’s editors, is entitled “Nonstop: Today’s Superhero Undergraduates Do ’3000 Things at 150 Percent.’”
As the breaking-newsfeed title suggests, the piece, on the face of it, is anecdotal and seemingly light-hearted—a collegiate Ripley’s Believe It or Not! about the overscheduled lives of today’s Harvard undergraduates. More than ever before, it would appear, these poised, high-achieving, fantastically disciplined students routinely juggle intense academic studies with what can only seem (at least to an older generation) a truly dizzy-making array of extracurricular activities: pre-professional internships, world-class athletics, social and political advocacy, start-up companies, volunteering for nonprofits, research assistantships, peer advising, musical and dramatic performances, podcasts and video-making, and countless other no doubt virtuous (and résumé-building) pursuits. The pace is so relentless, students say, some plan their packed daily schedules down to the minute—i.e., “shower: 7:15-7:20 a.m.”; others confess to getting by on two or three hours of sleep a night. Over the past decade, it seems, the average Harvard undergraduate has morphed into a sort of lean, glossy, turbocharged superhamster: Look in the cage and all you see, where the treadmill should be, is a beautiful blur.
I am curious if my Stanford students’ lives are likewise chockablock. Heads nod yes; deep sighs are expelled; their own lives are similarly crazy. They can barely keep up, they say—particularly given all the texting and tweeting and cellphoning they have to do from hour to hour too. Do they mind? Not hugely, it would seem. True, they are mildly intrigued by Lambert’s suggestion that the “explosion of busyness” is a relatively recent historical phenomenon—and that, over the past 10 or 15 years, uncertain economic conditions, plus a new cultural emphasis on marketing oneself to employers, have led to ever more extracurricular add-ons. Yes, they allow: You do have to display your “well-roundedness” once you graduate. Thus the supersize CV’s. You’ll need, after all, to advertise a catalog of competencies: your diverse interests, original turn of mind, ability to work alone or in a team, time-management skills, enthusiasm, unflappability—not to mention your moral probity, generosity to those less fortunate, lovable “meet cute” quirkiness, and pleasure in the simple things of life, such as synchronized swimming, competitive dental flossing, and Antarctic exploration. “Yes, it can often be frenetic and with an eye toward résumés,” one Harvard assistant dean of students observes, “but learning outside the classroom through extracurricular opportunities is a vital part of the undergraduate experience here.”
Yet such references to the past—truly a foreign country to my students—ultimately leave them unimpressed. They laugh when I tell them that during my own somewhat damp Jurassic-era undergraduate years—spent at a tiny, obscure, formerly Methodist school in the rainy Pacific Northwest between 1971 and 1975—I never engaged in a single activity that might be described as “extracurricular” in the contemporary sense, not, that is, unless you count the little work-study job I had toiling away evenings in the sleepy campus library. What was I doing all day? Studying and going to class, to be sure. Reading books, listening to music, falling in love (or at least imagining it). Eating ramen noodles with peanut butter. But also, I confess, I did a lot of plain old sitting around—if not outright malingering. I’ve got a box of musty journals to prove it. After all, nobody even exercised in those days. Nor did polyester exist. Once you’d escaped high school and obligatory PE classes—goodbye hirsute Miss Davis; goodbye, ugly cotton middy blouse and gym shorts—you were done with that. We were all so countercultural back then—especially in the Pacific Northwest, where the early 1970s were still the late sixties. The 1860s.
The students now regard me with curiosity and vague apprehension. What planet is she from?…