COLUMN: Neocons, Iran, nuclear weapons and a panel discussion: Who’s really being bamboozled?

By Tyler Friederich

We better watch out: The neocons, a vague term that can possess numerous meanings these days, are coming. They are apparently framing a confrontation with Iran, with steps eerily similar to the ones taken to convince the public that war with Iraq was necessary. The propaganda from Western intellectual elites, the Western media, and the White House suggest that we are all being bamboozled into thinking that Iran poses a threat with its nuclear program. At least, this is what some professors at our own University would have you believe.

I recently attended a panel discussion entitled “Iran Between Revolution and Reaction: A Panel on the Geopolitics of the Middle East” held at the Humanities Lecture Hall. Little did I know that I would be attending a lecture in which the incorporation of the word “neocons” as a pejorative would be necessary in order to sway the audience, which didn’t seem to require much swaying.

To be fair, only one panelist, Dany Postel, a journalist for opendemocracy.net, seemed inclined to integrate the evil Bush Administration and the rest of the neoconservatives into his lecture. The rest of the panelists, including our own Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi from the Department of History, conducted toned-down lectures largely devoid of anti-Western rhetoric.

The panel’s overall message indicated that Iran is in a transitional period. After its 1979 Revolution to overthrow the Shah, it became a major power in the region. Now it is attempting to stabilize the region through relationships with Arab states and other nations. Despite the recognition that the current radical Iranian regime has not been conducive to providing a stable Middle East, all of the panelists seemed convinced that they are not seeking nuclear weapons.

What caught my interest was the fact that none of the panelists mentioned the Iranian President, Ahmadinejad, especially since he has served as the impetus for the growing international concern.

I questioned the panelists as to why we shouldn’t believe in Ahmadinejad’s insane rhetoric, which includes “wiping Israel off the map.” According to Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Princeton, whose political leanings I’m uncertain of, nuclear weapons would serve the interests of Ahmadinejad, who believes that the apocalyptic end of days is very near.

Unlike the Cold War, the deterrence of Mutually Assured Destruction is nonexistent, at least for Ahmadinejad. Passing off nuclear weapons to terrorists for the destruction of Israel or other factions of the West would actually hasten the coming of the apocalypse and the subsequent heaven on earth, a notion similar to the Biblical description of the apocalypse marked by Jesus’ arrival on earth.

The panelists quickly derided Lewis, an authoritative figure on contemporary geopolitics in the Middle East, as being “discredited.” A couple of the panelists even joked, albeit seriously, that Lewis “must be off his medication.”

Nonetheless, the realization that some Middle East experts believe Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons warrants more justified repudiations than those stated above.

The moderator, Stephen Hartnett from the Department of Speech Communication, compared the American Revolution to the Iranian Revolution in an apparent attempt to quell concerns about the Iranian regime. Noting that radicals were present on both sides of the American Revolution, the same can be said about Iran. In addition, the Americans shared a hatred of Britain, while the Iranian leaders share a hatred of the West. In due time, the Iranian Revolution will conclude peacefully – I’m not buying it. Hartnett failed to mention one fundamental difference: the power and availability of technology and nuclear weapons in our modern age.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has not been able to “confirm the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.” Given that a consensus has not been reached, the status of Iran’s nuclear program remains open to speculation.

While the panel provided an alternative view concerning Ahmadinejad’s sincerity in his rhetoric, the public would have been better served if at least one other panelist presented a different opinion to provide a true debate. Conventional wisdom suggests that pandering to those who already believe in the proposed message does not serve a discernible purpose. I think I may have been the one bamboozled, expecting a fair discussion.