Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am not a politician, and my other habits are good! That is why, whenever I have to talk politics, and of late I seem to be doing nothing but, I try to warm up to the subject by telling a story. The story is, oftener than not, a fable by James Thurber, whose writings for me constitute an unfathomable source of wisdom. The story with which I am going to start tonight is entitled: “The Foolhardy Mouse and the Cautious Cat”.
I do not have the exact text here with me, so if you permit me, I will give you the essence of the story in my own words:
It all started when the cat came back after a day’s absence and found a mouse nonchalantly nibbling crumbs in the butler’s pantry. The situation was odd, but our cat was more amused than surprised and said to herself, “Well, this mouse is quite dumb and not yet aware of my presence. No doubt when he sees me, he’ll run for his hole double quick.”
When she crept nearer, however, the mouse turned and spat a crumb in her eye. You would agree with me that after this, there was hardly any room for amusement, so the cat was no longer amused, but astounded. And she was still in her stupor when the mouse began insulting her deliberately by asking her “How did you get out of the bag?” for example; or by ordering her “Put on your pyjamas and take a cat nap!” for instance — and all the time continued to nibble as blasé as you please.
A change of attitude seemed inevitable, so the cat became suspicious. The mouse, understanding perfectly well the expression of bewilderment and hesitation on the cat’s face, started mocking her outright by repeating all the familiar provocative phrases used in mouse-cat cartoons in a “mousetto” voice.
What do you think the cat did all this while? Well she kept watching the mouse and telling herself: “Steady girl, steady. There is more here than meets the eye. This mouse is probably a martyr mouse and by provoking me to act rashly, wants to become a hero for generations of mice to come.”
The mouse ever bolder, now threw the ultimate affront at the cat: “You’d make,” he shouted at the top of his voice, “wonderful violin strings, if you had any guts!”
You would think I am sure, that the cat must have bounced after this most belittling, humiliating and unforgivable insult. But no — not our cautious cat. She still kept reminding herself: “Easy does it — easy. This is,” she told herself, “a mechanical mouse, a trick mouse. If I jump on it, it will explode and blow me into a hundred pieces. Damn clever these mice, but not clever enough for me.”
With this peace-restoring thought and a clear conscience, she stalked out of the butler’s pantry and into the sitting room where she went to sleep.
One important detail about our foolhardy mouse that I forgot to mention is that this mouse, eccentric by nature, once in his tender youth, had boldly nipped a bulldog in the ear and got away with it. He got away with it, simply because, the beast was a stuffed bulldog — hence his initial foolhardiness for staying in the pantry when the cat got back.
Well, this is almost the whole story, except for the moral, that any fable deserving the name should have. Thurber’s, if my memory serves me right, is this:
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and angels are all in Heaven, but few of the fools are dead.”
Mine, however, would be totally different, but I dare say James Thurber, had he lived to witness our time, would not have entirely disapproved of it in spite of its being insipid. The moral I suggest for this story is:
“If you don’t react punctually and appropriately towards the physical and verbal assaults of a foolhardy mouse, the butler’s pantry will be infested by mice in no time at all, with all the consequences that such an event would result.”
As far as the Islamic Republic of Iran is concerned, this gives an overall picture of the situation, up to the crumbling of the Berlin wall and finally lifting of the iron curtain. The audacity of the Islamic Republic turned the whole world into a cautious cat. I really mean the whole world — from the United States of America to the Soviet Union, via Western Europe, the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region and Israel in the heart of the Middle East, and you name it.
Each country got her share of insults, but in order to minimise the effects, sought some satisfaction in the other countries’ greater injuries:
America argued: Hard luck for us, but on the other hand, a theocratic government stops communism from spreading!
The USSR thought: Of course, we have difficulties with those fanatics, but it is the Imperialism, which gets the full blast of it!
Europe acted as an abacus, counted and compared the market benefits of yesteryears and regretted the situation, but did not mind in the least to see the Super Powers humiliated.
The Arabs were scared stiff, but found some enjoyment in the curses aimed at Israel.
Finally, Israel, who had miscalculated where the lesser evil lay, was happy to be rid of the Iraqi Army for a while.
The minor, and often illusory contentment of each country, as you notice, differs from the others; however, all public analysis and private dealings of the aforementioned countries about and with the Islamic Republic point to the fact that the main reason why they all preferred to keep a low profile vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic was based on the same assumption. A single and a simple assumption, namely that the fundamental interests of Iran (and hence her foreign policies) could not have changed entirely, and this revolutionary bragging and babbling was nothing but a façade, which would wear out in good time and things would return to normal.
What a monumental mistake that was! I will explain myself. Let us first have a glimpse at the kind of interests they had in mind, which they thought unchanged. Allow me to quote a few at random:
From America’s point of view, Iran was a country with approximately 2500 km. of common frontier with the USSR, hence would always need the Western world as a reliable friend.
From Russia’s point of view, Iran with her so-called friends so many thousands of miles away, could never afford to have an enemy on her doorstep.
From Israel’s point of view, Iran was surrounded by Arab countries in the Middle East, hence must forever consider the Hebrew State as her natural ally.
From Arabs’ point of view, Iran had every reason to want the Persian Gulf region as quiet and peaceful as possible in the end.
And so on and so forth.
These arguments all sound so wonderfully logical — don’t they. But the only snag is that this kind of logic and this line of reasoning, which accords perfectly well with common sense, could only be adapted to Iran. To Iran whose goals were clear; whose ambitions were defined; whose boundaries were traced, whose friends and enemies were determined; whose place among other nations was established. The world was now dealing with the Islamic Republic, not with Iran. With the Islamic Republic, allow me to insist, whose main goal is the revival of the Islamic Empire; whose boundaries extend from Indonesia to Nigeria; whose “heart-land” is the Arabian Peninsula; whose preys are the Third World people and the newly-formed Moslem states; whose sworn enemies are the Western democracies; whose ambition is the exportation of the revolution; and who does not give two hoots for a place among other nations — especially if they are civilised.
I have not invented all these, nor have I discovered them. They have been claimed, loud and clear, and then acted upon, repeatedly by the Ayatollahs’ regime. They are there to be taken at their face value. The later the world understands the better for the mullahs; the longer the democracies take to grasp the nature of this regime, the more time and scope for the clergy to implement their plans.
If I now leave the rest of the world and address only the democracies and democracies-to-be, it is because — as I mentioned before — democracy is considered as enemy number one of that theocratic government. A government that claims to rule people in this world as well as the other is by nature extremely intolerant. Such a government may concede to live alongside other regimes just as intolerant — such as the totalitarian regimes, but it cannot allow any sort of coexistence with the democracies. Such is the nature of this regime.
Moreover, nothing can possibly change this nature, certainly not the factors considered by the Western world as decisive for bringing about some sort of a change. Neither inflation, nor unemployment cuts into the essence of fundamentalism. Neither the Charter of Human Rights, nor the pleas of Amnesty International can get the better of the Divine laws. Neither political isolation, nor state terrorism goes against a single Sura of the Koran. Neither even the death of Khomeini, nor even the end of Iran-Iraq war could shift one iota the pillar of the celestial ideology, as we have all witnessed.
To achieve its goal – i.e. to form a unified Islamic world – that Republic of turbaned heads uses the well-known methods of dissuasion, subversion and persuasion. Dissuasion is used to discourage the democracies from taking an active part; subversion is reserved for countries with important Muslim communities; and finally persuasion is practised on people who are potentially ready to embrace a new idea. All these three methods have met with considerable success so far.
The acts of terrorism committed in Europe or the U.S.A. (most of which were either plotted directly by the Islamic Republic, or else carried out with its blessings) is a part of the strategy of dissuasion. By each hostage taking, the mullahs manage to get a new concession from Democracies.
The annual subversive activities in Mecca during the pilgrimage season, and the periodical assassination plots in Kuwait, Turkey and Algeria, for example, are calculated acts for the implementation of the strategy of subversion and it has proved effective.
The strategy of persuasion, aimed to attract the discontented people of the Third World and the fragile and newly independent Republics of Central Asia, has been the most successful part of this trifoliate strategy. First, the success of the revolution and the unyielding attitude of the Islamic Republic towards the developed countries (which has proved extremely fruitful) have made this government credible in the eyes of its prey. Secondly, the training of Muslims, from all over the world, as religious ideologists in the Koranic schools of Ghom and other such centres has added to the global success of the persuasion part of the strategy.
The very same tactics were used inside Iran: The neutralisation of the people who were potentially anti-clerical; sabotage after sabotage to shake the government; the constant wooing of those they called the disinherited, with whose massive help they won over the control of the country.
I was there when it happened. Therefore, if I am not in a position to know how Daniel felt in the den of lions, I am perfectly well placed to tell you how a lion felt in that den of Daniels! What a calamity! What is worse, that catastrophe was not tackled by anyone, but it was certainly tickled — in the best Shakespearean tradition — by almost every one.
However, I am not here to talk about the plight of my people and my fatherland. I am addressing you, ladies and gentlemen, not as an Iranian, but as an admirer of Democracy. Our host country, i.e. Holland, is among the guardians of that invaluable heritage, and the guest countries, namely Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are trying to achieve it. Both, host and guest should know how vulnerable this admirable system is.
Twice in this century, the free world has been caught unawares and almost got crushed by two movements, both resembling to a frightening degree the religious upheaval in Iran. I am talking of course of communism and fascism. Both times for having underestimated the extent of the danger that those movements represented for the survival of democracy.
I do not want the democracies to repeat that mistake yet another time, or the countries who have only recently managed to emerge from an avalanche to be caught in a blizzard. That skin of the teeth by which the old democracies escaped previously, may not hold strong this time, and the blizzard may prove to be more hazardous than the avalanche. What has happened in Iran is best explained as a contagious disease and if it is not stopped, no country can consider herself immune from catching it, least of all those in search of democracy which are totally incapable of containing the sick in quarantine and who are not able to produce an effective vaccine against this sickness.
This may sound unnecessarily alarmist to you. You may think that I am exaggerating, but I am not.
The cracks in the structure of many western and established democracies can already be detected even with the naked eye, let alone the not-yet-established eastern ones. I will take the field of Justice as an example:
In Italy, Abu Nidal, against whom an international warrant has been issued, was arrested, then set free in no time at all.
In England, a member of the Libyan Embassy shot and killed a policewoman, yet the murderer along with the other staff of the Peoples’ Bureau (as Gadafi fancies to call the Embassy), left the United Kingdom unpunished and certainly unrepentant.
In West Germany, there was the Tabatabaï affair. He entered that country with a few kilos of opium in his diplomatic bag, but instead of landing in jail, he was finally given the red carpet treatment. The case of the Hamadei brothers came later.
In France, the cases of Naghash, Abdelah and Gorji are most eloquent examples of what I want to say.
Yes, of course, public opinion is shocked, but that is how it is — the fanatics and the fundamentalists are already dictating your justice — and where would democracy be without the independence of its judicial apparatus, I ask you?
These are but a few notorious examples in a single field that no doubt you had already heard about. There are other cases as well, not so widely known by the public, but just as painful.
Sometime ago, two Iranians fled the clutches of the clergy, hiding in a ship headed for Italy. They arrived there and asked for political asylum. The Islamic Republic demanded that the Italian government hand them back to the mullahs. Italy refused and a few days later, two citizens of Rome, who were about to leave Iran, were arrested at the airport in Tehran. The message was clear: the exchange was made almost immediately.
What happened to those two Iranians, no body even wanted to know — any way it was not hard to guess. So much for the respect of Human Rights, when faced with a system, which deliberately and without encountering the slightest reproof, ignores its merits.
This is by no means an isolated case, and these domains (justice and human rights) are not the only fields, which have been rebuffed so far. This sort of interference will be felt eventually in other aspects of your daily lives — aspects, which in their totality build the overall structure of democracy: Education, Rights of Women, Protection of Children etc., etc.
You cannot possibly hope to find a common language with these people, common solutions, and common values, but at the expense of surrendering yours completely and unconditionally.
Please do not give me that naive scenario about a moderate mullah now in place of Khomeini and all the rest of it. Hashemi Rafsanjani is making eyes at you, or Ayatollah Montazeri being nothing but a silly buffoon, or Hojatoleslam Mousavi favouring free trade does not mean a damn thing. A mullah, who wants to rule, cannot afford to possess the virtue of moderation.
When I see the old democracies still flirting with the Islamic Republic believing in “moderate clergy”, I am reminded of Samuel Johnson, who exclaimed on the occasion of the remarriage of a widower: ”Alas! Another instance of the triumph of hope over experience!” When I notice some sort of rapprochement by the countries on their way to becoming democratic states to that regime, I am reminded of the proverb: Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
You cannot possibly discard the danger of extremism by supporting the so-called moderate wings of ecclesiastics anywhere in the Muslim world while there is the example of the Islamic Republic to be followed and copied. (To imitate that government pays so handsomely that even the Palestinians, who have claimed to be secular so far, have taken up religious slogans).
The heart of fundamentalism is beating in Tehran, and as long as it keeps pumping blood, you have no chance of stopping the corpses of fanaticism from coming to life elsewhere.
I hope the picture I drew was dark enough to frighten the cat out of her cautious skin. If not, I am afraid I shall have no choice but to turn into the animal that Aristotle thought mankind to be – i.e. “a political animal”. In which case, Mark Twain will get the better of Aristotle, because he describes the human as “the only animal that blushes or needs to!”
1This lecture was given at the request of Pax Christi (Utrecht, Netherlands), in the framework of an international seminar on Central Asia (1992). The text has been published in English and Russian in East — West — South Project, publication no. 5 of Pax Christi and the Peace Research Centre (1993).