[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
Music has not saved the world, as some pot smoking flower-powerists used to believe it would in the 1960s. Yet musicians have occasionally uttered words of wisdom that might have helped us calm our hypes. Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, better known by his stage name Sting, once gave one such message of restraint. In one of his greatest songs, “The Russians,” released very timely in 1985, Sting sang the following:
“In Europe and America,
There is a growing feeling of hysteria,
Conditioned to respond to all the threats,
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.
Mr. Khrushchev said we will bury you,
[But] I don’t subscribe to this point of view,
It would be such an ignorant thing to do,
If the Russians love their children, too.”
Sting was right. Russians, like all humans, love their children. Thus, despite their crazy ideology (called communism), they did not take the step that would plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust. Mr. Khrushchev’s rhetoric remained what it was — rhetoric.
Root causes of the Problem
Then the Soviet era ended and most fears about the Russians — except about their mafia, perhaps — disappeared. Yet soon another “Evil Empire” emerged in the minds of some Americans, and, less so, Europeans. Especially after Sept. 11, radical regimes and currents in the Muslim world have been defined as the new threat. This novel enemy, as President Bush named it, was “Islamofascism.”
Although I don’t like the term, I don’t doubt the existence of the threat that it implies. I know that fanatics can and do kill innocent people in the name of Islam — as can be the case with virtually all religions and philosophies in times of crises. But I have always sensed, and argued, that the problem stems more from the political and social troubles of the Muslim world than its religion. Yes, suicide bombers of Islamic Jihad target Israeli civilians by crying “Allah-u Akbar.” But three decades ago, it was Marxist militants led by George Habash, a Palestinian with Christian background, who were hitting Israelis. Obviously there is political and social trouble in Palestine — guess what it is — that creates perpetual radical motion. It just happens to be expressed in Islamic terms these days.
The “Muslim rage,” as Bernard Lewis once called it, has such earthly “root causes.” Yet some hawks in the West, and most notably the United States, insist that the “root cause” is Islam itself, as a religion. Moreover, they claim that this threat is even more serious than that of the Soviets. Muslims, they argue, believe in martyrdom, and hence don’t fear death. So, the reasoning goes, it would not be possible to “deter” militant Muslims by conventional balances of power.
Iran especially became the focus of this gosh-we-cannot-deter-them-so-lets-nuke-them-in-advance argument. We have continuously heard that the Iranian regime, and especially its furious president, is hell-bent on a nuclear apocalypse, and thus a “pre-emptive” war is needed. Others have been trying to tell the Americans and the Israelis that although Tehran’s language was dreadful, its mind was not as senseless as they assumed. Turkish President Abdullah Gül, for example, recently said to his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, that Iran’s threats “were just rhetoric.”
Myth of the Mad Mullahs
In the face of all that, the recent report by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program is most meaningful. By stating that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the NIE has confirmed that much of the “Persian Peril” is indeed overblown. In his Washington Post column of Dec. 5, which was aptly titled, “The Myth of the Mad Mullahs,” journalist David Ignatius notes:
“For the past several years, U.S. intelligence analysts have doubted hawkish U.S. and Israeli rhetoric that Iran is dominated by ‘mad mullahs’ – clerics whose fanatical religious views might lead to irrational decisions. In the new NIE, the analysts forcefully posit an alternative view of an Iran that is rational, susceptible to diplomatic pressure and, in that sense, can be ‘deterred’.”
I think it would be great for all of us if Americans realize all of these nuances instead of creating “visionary” — i.e. crude and sweeping — scenarios about “World War III.” There is no united front of evil “Islamofascists” trying to take over the world. Such black-and-white scenarios exist only in Hollywood blockbusters. In the real world, there are various radical Islamic regimes and movements, which all have their specific contexts, particular targets, and different levels of radicalism. The most radical of them, al-Qaeda, seems indeed undeterrable, because it is a nihilistic killing machine with only abstract goals. But most others — such as Hamas or Hezbollah — could possibly be reached out to through diplomacy, covert or open. States like Iran are even more accessible because they have so many things to lose from war.
Yes, I know that Chamberlain’s appeasement policy failed in the face of Hitler, and I have heard all the other arguments for hawkishness. But history is also full of counter examples. It was only wise for President Truman to discard the militarism of General MacArthur. Similarly the current American president, and especially the next one, should disregard the warmongers in the United States. Despite the latter’s presumption, Muslims, too, love their children.