Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Come on, people

I know we're all supposed to hate Iran, yada yada yada. But this Danger Room post really crosses a line for me:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad likes to think of himself as a pretty patient guy, but all these dead Iranian nuclear scientists are starting to give him a rash, United Nations Security Council. The scientists who’ve been killed before today? He’s willing to float you those. But if one more gets killed — just one more — he’s putting all your Security Council asses on trial.

On Monday, unknown assailants on motorcycles attached bombs to the cars of two Iranian nuclear scientists, Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi, killing Shahriari and wounding Abbasi. In the past, Iran has been content to point the finger at Israel for the mysterious ends that some of its nuclear scientists have met. But this is starting to get annoying, so now Ahmadinejad is taking his ire up to a higher geopolitical echelon.

“By God, if such an incident takes place one more time, we will bring each permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to trial,” Ahmadinejad said today, referring to Shahriari’s death.

Ahmadinejad didn’t elaborate on how exactly he planned to bring the entire United Nations Security Council to trial in Iran [...]. But he did explain why the U.N. Security Council is the responsible party in the killings. Sure, murder’s a crime in Iran and Ahmadinejad could have waited for a credible, transparent investigation into the incident. But that’s a formality. After all, those U.N. sanctions resolutions against Iran are practically a license to kill.

Dead Iranian scientists are still dead scientists. If this were happening just about anywhere else, you wouldn't see a post like this anywhere outside of some weirdo corners of the Internet. Seriously, I tried to think of an example of a country that I could switch out for Iran and leave the rest of the piece the same, and I couldn't.

Furthermore, even if we subscribe to the narrowest, most middle-of-the-road, neocon ideas about how dangerous Iran is--and the perception of that threat is way inflated--the last people we should want dead in Iran is scientists. If we recall the period of unrest in Iran in 2008, we may also recall that this sort of pundit was a huge fan of the Green Revolution. In fact, they all piled on Obama for not supporting the movement enough.

What was so great about the "Green Revolution"? (Side note: will we ever be allowed to observe a revolution or protest movement overseas without giving it a nickname? Because I cannot wait for that day.) It was an honest protest movement dominated by the educated classes, the young people, the intellectuals. It was a democracy-promoter's dream. If some of the most educated people in the country--and some of the few who can directly translate their higher education into a career (even in the US and Europe, people that educated have trouble finding jobs)--are being systematically slaughtered, that is not good for Iran's democratic or revolutionary prospects. It can't be good for the morale of the very people who might drive any such movement in the future. Indeed, Massoud Ali-Mohammedi, the first scientist to be killed, taught at the University of Tehran and supported Mousavi, the leading figure in the political opposition. (To be fair, the most recently attacked scientists seem to have been much more closely attached to the regime, so this incident may not apply as much.)

To focus on the substance of the actual killings for a minute: Iran has pointed to the US and Israel as responsible, and it seems entirely possible to me that they're right. While Mohammedi was not an ally of the regime, the two scientists more recently attacked (Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi, the former dead and the latter injured) are apparently quite high up in the government's nuclear efforts. I can also imagine a scenario wherein some of Iran's friends who want to be able to continue straddling the fence--Russia is an example here--are trying to quietly forestall the day when Iran gets its nukes. It's plausible either way: this is the kind of thing nation-states have been doing to each other for as long as they've had specialized personnel to snipe at.

All of that is very interesting and worth covering--as in this excellent Danger Room piece from the first killing. (More like that, please!) I'm not saying we should all have a Very Serious national day of mourning; as I said, this is just reality in geopolitics. But just because we've all been conditioned to thumb our nose every time Ahmedinejad gets worked up about something doesn't make it funny.

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