Thinking beyond the US invasion of Iran
    As the world waits to see if US/Israel will attack Iran, Hamid Dabashi
examines the state of war this game of waiting has generated

    Once again the drums of war are roaring in Washington DC. Once again the
signs and signals of a pending US/Israeli attack on yet another country,
this time Iran, are heard louder than ever. The build-up to an
anxiety-provoking crescendo has already started to gain momentum. Direct
threats, indirect allusions, guarded remarks, provocative bluffs -- no one
knows exactly what the Bush administration has in mind -- and that precisely
seems to be the point: generating and sustaining a general condition of
suspenseful uncertainty, an atmosphere of amorphous fear and intimidation,
and a perpetual state of war.

    The practice of anti-war activism throughout the world has hitherto been
a periodic and scattered mobilisation against one war or other that the
US/Israel has launched -- very much chasing after the evolving military
designs of the neo- conservatives in the US, and the reinvigorated Zionists
in Israel, and simply reacting to their proactive acts of global terrorism.
As we are waiting for the Iran war to happen (or not to happen), it is now
perhaps time to step back and take stock of what this transcontinental axis
of global terrorism -- the United States of America and the Jewish state of
Israel -- is up to and thus rethink the civic manners of opposing and
resisting it. When the US launched its wrath on Afghanistan in October 2001,
even such progressive and astute American observers as Richard Falk
(seconded by the editorial staff of The Nation ) thought that it was a "just
war". This argument was no mere act of historical folly. It was a singular
sign of political naiveté.

    We are now way beyond those perhaps innocent yet angry misreadings of
what has fast come upon us. After the mayhem of Iraq, instead of constantly
waiting for the other shoe to drop and wonder if US/Israel will or will not
attack Iran, will or will not bomb Syria, will or will not completely take
over Somalia, will or will not militarily engage North Korea, will or will
not try for yet another coup in Venezuela, we need to think beyond such
probabilities, and reach into the heart of the state of war that this very
waiting game entails. As all indications testify, a Democratic US congress
will not make any significant difference in this state of war. Looking at
the emerging patterns of this state of war, it is now safe to suggest, for
example, that what the US is perhaps (and such conjectural phrases are the
symptoms of this very state of war) planning to do in Iran is modelled on
what Israel did to Lebanon last July -- hence the necessity of no longer
treating these two imperial and colonial nexus of warmongering in the world
as two separate political propositions and state entities, but in fact
collapse them into a singular axis of state terrorism aimed at undisputed
global domination.

    For that drive towards global domination to be politically effective and
psychologically enduring, the state of war is far more important than the
actual act of war, and the threat of violence politically far more
destabilising than the act of violence itself. For the state of war, and the
threat of violence, change the very political culture in which we receive
and interpret any particular act of war, or occurrence of violence, so much
so, that the enormity of the human cost, infrastructural damages, and the
environmental catastrophes, for example, contingent on any act of war
gradually begin to dwindle and dissipate in the miasmic emergence of the
omnipresent state of war. For more than five years now, US/Israel and its
European allies have been systematically at it inflaming acts of "shock and
awe", as the former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld called it, in
one place or another, so that now the law of diminishing returns has set in,
and the staggering acts of violence in Iraq under the US- led occupation, or
the barefaced barbarity of Israel in Palestine and Lebanon cease to register
their enormous weight and unfathomable consequences. In other words, the
state of war numbs the human consciousness, and thus we fail to respond (for
we lack any meaningful language) to the fundamental acts of moral depravity
that we witness on a daily basis in Palestine and Iraq in anything remotely
resembling a corresponding calibre.

    So, as the US/Israeli military and intelligence agencies, think tanks,
and, above all, mass media (all integral to the same militarised state of
mind) are engaged in discussions on how to deal with "terrorism", the world,
as well, needs to reverse the order, return the gaze, and begin to wonder
how to deal with these two terrorist states and save humanity from their
mutual, complementary, and strategically integrated acts of terrorising the
world. These two galvanised military machineries masquerading as
nation-states are today the most violent source of militarised madness on
our planet (and beyond). The Iraq war, in particular, competing with Israeli
atrocities in Palestine, has long since ceased to be a singular crime
against humanity. Initiated and sustained as it is by the US-led colonial
occupation of a sovereign nation-state, the world needs to invent new terms
to name, and grasp it.

    For this military machinery to work best, the threat of violence or
state of war is a more effective tool for creating fear and sustaining
hegemony, than is the actual fact of violence or event of war, which is
effectively the neutralising moment of its catharsis. The key to sustaining
the state of war, the warmongers in Washington DC seem to have learned, is
to constantly keep alive an immanent specter of the enemy, as the Nazi
theorist of political power Karl Schmitt and his philosophical shadow Leo
Straus both fully realised. Both Karl Schmitt (in theological terms) and Leo
Straus (in philosophical conviction) believed that the absence of this enemy
and the neutralising effect of liberal democracies will be tantamount to the
death of state as the modus operandi of moral virtues. A pending war,
predicated on the ghostly apparition of a monstrous Muslim goblin about to
leap from darkness and swallow the earth, is thus politically far more
expeditious than is the actual event of war. In this psychopathology of
power, the American neo- conservatives have learned their lessons as much
from the advocate of the German Nazi Karl Schmitt as from the guru of
American neo- conservatism Leo Straus -- and then perfected their theory
with widespread practice.

    CRAFTING A CHRONOLOGY: As the world is waiting to see if US/Israel will
or will not attack Iran, we can begin to think through the state of war that
this waiting game has generated and sustained. The laundry list of US/Israel
litany against the Islamic Republic is long and tiresome: they sponsor
terrorism, they do not support the Arab-Israeli peace process (never mind
that Israelis are murdering Palestinians in Gaza on an hourly basis), they
are fomenting trouble in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, and on top of it they
intend to develop nuclear arms. But how this old and banal list is revamped
and brought to a crescendo is the way that the state of war -- while both
Afghanistan and Iraq are burning and the US is heavily engaged in Somalia --
is kept apace.

    In December 2006, Iran hosted a provocative conference on the Jewish
holocaust, rightly attracting global condemnation. The conference, along
with outlandish comments by Ahmadinejad were evidently meant to cover up the
humiliating defeat of the Iranian president's faction during the City
Council and the Assembly of Expert elections in the same month. At the same
time, the UN Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Iran and its
trade in sensitive nuclear materials and technology. The US/Israeli reaction
to the holocaust conference was swift, angry, and over- determined.
"Iranians" are insensitive to Jewish suffering. Their president has said he
wants to wipe Israel off the map. They now intend to develop a nuclear
arsenal. So two plus two equals let's bomb the living daylight out of Iran.
The Security Council resolution, meanwhile, failed to silence Ahmadinejad's

    The new Christian year began on similarly ominous notes. According to a
7 January article in the British daily Sunday Times, two Israeli air force
squadrons were "training to blow up an Iranian [nuclear] facility using
low-yield nuclear 'bunker- busters". Quoting "several Israeli military
sources", the Sunday Times reported: "as soon as the green light is given,
it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be
demolished." Moreover: "Israeli and American officials have met several
times to consider military action. Military analysts said the disclosure of
the plans could be intended to put pressure on Tehran to halt [uranium]
enrichment, cajole America into action or soften up world opinion in advance
of an Israeli attack." The Israelis denied that this report was in any way
accurate. The net effect was an evident increase in the state of war -- a
war that may or may not happen.

    Soon after this Sunday Times report, in a speech on 11 January 2007,
President Bush announced a new Iraq strategy in which additional US troops
were to be dispatched to Iraq. Many observers read this troop increase as
being more a sign of preparation for a military engagement with Iran, than
it was an attempt to bolster security in Iraq -- the latter, a seemingly
impossible task for this administration. The day after President Bush's
speech, US forces accompanied by military helicopters stormed the Iranian
consulate in the Kurdish city of Arbil, arresting five employees. The US,
the common wisdom suggested, was provoking Iran into some sort of rash
military action, so it could use it as an excuse to attack Iran. But this
was all in the realm of speculation -- precisely what the state of war (not
the actual war) demands and exacts.

    Soon after that provocative act in Arbil, on 14 January, US
Vice-President Dick Cheney upped the ante and declared Iran was "fishing in
troubled waters". About a week after the Arbil incident, on 20 January, a US
defence official (speaking to the press on the condition of anonymity)
blamed Iran for the kidnapping and killing of a number of American soldiers
in Karbala. This incident in Karbala, as suspicions and speculations had it,
was in retaliation for the arrest of five Iranians by US troops in Arbil.
But all of these were matters of doubt, suspicion, innuendo, anonymity and
above all denial. There can of course be no doubt that the Islamic Republic
will do anything that it can to affect developments in its neighbouring
Iraq, in a manner that would be compatible with its interests. Nor is there
any question that the Islamic Republic must not interfere in the internal
affairs of Iraq. But is US/Israel in a moral position to point the finger at
the Islamic Republic? How could anyone blame the Islamic Republic for having
five agents in Iraq, if that indeed is true, when US/Israel and its European
allies have mobilised the army of Attila the Hun from half way around the
globe and, officially, illegally, immorally, and murderously occupied Iraq
against the will of its people. If five Iranians have been identified as
interfering in Iraqi affairs, how many tens of thousands of Americans
(Israelis?) and British share that shameful identification?

    Echoing Vice-President Cheney's threatening remarks and confirming these
suspicions, a Kuwait-based newspaper Arab Times reported that the US might
launch a military strike against Iran before April 2007. The report cited "a
reliable source" and predicted that the attack would be launched from the
sea, while Patriot missiles would guard all Arab countries in the Gulf. The
news was brought home to the Ayatollahs in Qom and Tehran by their next-door
neighbour. But why would the Kuwaitis know something that others did not?
The question remained on the borderline of un/certainty, where the state of
war is habitually intensified.

    Such speculations and haphazard guesses were rampant until President
Bush's State of the Union address delivered on 23 January, when, as the BBC
World Affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds put it, "one of the notable
features of President George W Bush's State of the Union speech was its
hostile attitude towards Iran. He accused the 'regime' in Iran of arming
'terrorists like Hizbullah' and of directing 'Shia extremists' in Iraq."
Again: no particular declaration of war was evident. But the suggestion was
as tall and thick as is the Israeli apartheid wall. You could not possibly
overlook its threatening shadow.

    PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE AS PSYOP: The following particular reference of
President Bush in his State of the Union Address was quite noteworthy:

    "If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi
government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an
epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists
aided by Al-Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence
could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could
be drawn into the conflict."

    How did that happen? When did President Bush learn about the difference
between Sunnis and Shias? This particular presidential pronouncement on
Shia- Sunni hostilities seems to have been the handiwork of a certain Seyyed
Vali Reza Nasr, who teaches American military personnel about matters
Islamic (and thus ipso facto dangerous and detrimental to American national
security) at the Department of National Security Affairs of the Naval
Postgraduate School. The latter, according to its website, "is an academic
institution whose emphasis is on study and research programs relevant to the
Navy's interests, as well as to the interests of other arms of the
Department of Defense. The programs are designed to accommodate the unique
requirements of the military."

    In his recently published book, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within
Islam will Shape the Future (2006), Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr reported to his
students at the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval
Postgraduate School and whoever else wishes to learn about Islam and Shiism
that Americans had better watch out because there is a new chimerical
creature called the "Shia Crescent". Stretching its venomous posture all the
way from Pakistan, through Iran and Iraq, and then down to Syria and
Lebanon, this creature is about to gobble up the region in its "epic"
hostility with Sunnism. With this, it threatens the moderate US allies and
interests, for the protection of which Professor Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr has
been hired by the US military, in his current position at the Naval
Postgraduate School
. It is precisely this presumed threat that appears in
President Bush's State of the Union address.

    To be sure, there are such observers as Michael Hirsh of the Newsweek
who believe that this particular attention of President Bush to the Shia-
Sunni divide in the Muslim world is due to the presumed resurrection of
Henry Kissinger in the US president's post-catastrophe strategy in Iraq. "In
an extraordinary series of moves," Michael Hirsh reports in Newsweek on 1
February 2007, "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials
have been seeking to create a united front of Sunni Arab regimes and Israel
against Shia Iran as part of an aggressive new approach to Tehran." But
whereas Henry Kissinger's "fingerprints", as Michael Hirsh calls it, can be
gleaned in his classical line of negotiating from a position of power,
Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr's "fingerprints" (to borrow Michael Hirsh's term) are
reflected in a more substantial and circumstantial stipulation. His
significant imprint is reflected in the manner in which the state of war is
not just sustained, but, as well, put on automatic piloting. If the role of
Osama bin Laden was to give the US global imperialism ( aka "war on terror")
a generically Islamic disposition, then the function of Seyyed Vali Reza
Nasr's book (perhaps, as Michael Hirsh suggests, circumstantially
commensurate with Henry Kissinger's strategies) is to give that cosmic
battle with "Islamic terrorism" an innately Islamic disposition. In other
words, if Afghanistan is in a state of utter desolation and the Taliban are
about to take over, or if almost four years into the US-led invasion of Iraq
the country is from one end to another, suffering total devastation, with
hundreds of thousands of Iraqis maimed, murdered, tortured, raped,
incarcerated, and made into refugees in their own homeland, then the United
States has really nothing to do with any of this. It is really this "epic
battle", as President Bush puts it, "between Shia extremists backed by Iran
and Sunni extremists aided by Al-Qaeda" that is to blame. The circumstantial
appearance of Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr's argument, Henry Kissinger's strategic
council, and President Bush's renewed strategy of aggressive domination in
Iraq, and the potential invasion of Iran are all integral to sustaining a
state of war that is now almost entirely self-propelling, and on automatic
piloting because the US is dragged into an epic (cosmic and pre-eternal)
battle. This is not due to its own will or volition, but is in fact entirely
despite itself, and against its best intentions.

    As a major ideological intervention in aiding and abetting the US/Israel
"war on terrorism", Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr's book on The Shia Revival,
published while he is employed by the US military, opens a whole new chapter
on the politics and power of knowledge production. In the entire gamut of
the sociology of knowledge, and in the deepest layers of Michel Foucault's
theorisation of the relationship between knowledge and power, no one ever
imagined a day when the military apparatus of a globalised empire, as
Chalmers Johnson's groundbreaking Blowback Trilogy has convincingly
demonstrated, will itself begin to generate its own homegrown knowledge
about its enemy, and start disseminating it to the public at large. For this
reason, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr's book on The Shia Revival is best read as a
piece of military psyop meant to prepare the public at large for an even
more prolonged state of war against "Islamic terrorism". The latter is
ostensibly, a terrorism that is, because of "the epic battle" between Sunnis
and Shias, actually entirely independent of the US good intentions, and
squarely laid at the feet of mediaeval ("epic") hostilities between two
factions of Muslims. President Bush was offering Muslims peace and
prosperity on behalf of the Americans, however, the Muslims' own tribal
barbarism prevents them from deserving such a splendid gift.

    SUSTAINING A SOURCE OF MENACE: The catastrophe that faces the whole
world -- Americans included -- is not limited to this level of psyop
Something far more serious is the matter with the world. For five
years now, every one to two years, George W Bush has perceived a new source
of menace in the world, and launched a massive new war against Arabs and
Muslims while telling them that he is really shooting at them, in order to
save them from their own evil. The normative vacuity of these identical
terms of fear and warmongering has reached incomprehensible proportions, to
the point that except for the lives of yet another few hundred thousand
waiting to be annihilated in the region, if the US/Israel attack Iran, it no
longer makes any difference if they will or will not actually do so. What
matters, and what remains a corrosive force in the soul of an entire nation,
is the state of war in which the US/Israeli ideologues are determined to
keep themselves. and the world which they systematically endanger.

    More than being at war, what works best for the US/Israeli warlords is
being in "a state of war" -- for the fear of war is the best condition in
which they want to keep the world. Come March, April, May or whenever,
US/Israel may or may not, invade Iran. If the war indeed happens, no one
will count the Iranian dead, for counting them will amount to no moral
outrage loud enough to match what is happening to the world. CNN will count
the US soldiers' casualties, but even this, too, will dissipate into a
vacuous pomposity that could not care less about the poor and
disenfranchised Americans who are grabbed by the throat of their poverty,
and catapulted half way around the globe to maim, murder, torture, and rape
their own brothers and sisters. For every one US casualty (which is one too
many) there will be anywhere between one to two hundred Iranian casualties,
if we were to take the Iraqi case as our measure. No one will hold anyone
responsible. The Iranian neo-con contingency will have made their career and
lucrative contracts, and still appear on television. Just like Fouad Ajami,
they will tell Americans that these Iranians, just like Iraqis, did not
deserve the gift of freedom and democracy that the Americans were offering
them (as he proposes in his new book The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans,
the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq ). The rest of the world will have gotten
even more used to the state of war that US/Israel is imposing on the globe.
The invasion of Iran will add yet another front to the US/Israeli global
flexing of its military prowess. And if they -- the US government and Jewish
state (the two most violent states on planet Earth) -- don't invade Iran, it
still makes no difference. All it takes is a comment here by President Bush,
or a suggestion there by Vice President Cheney, or yet another confession
that Israel makes that it indeed has massive nuclear capacities -- or else
planting of a news story that Israel may attack Iran. The actual context of
these news, that the US/Israel may or may not attack Iran, is entirely
irrelevant to the reality of positing these threats. It is this that keeps
the world on the edge of its seat, making fear and warmongering the
paramount condition of our lives.

    In his groundbreaking work on the "state of exception", the
distinguished Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has begun the uncanny task
of theorising what has hitherto been delegated to the realm of necessities
legem non habet ("necessity has no law"). Defying this dictum, Agamben has
taken Karl Schmitt's famous pronouncement in his Political Theology (that
the sovereign is "he who decides on the state of exception") quite seriously
and sought to theorise that state of exception. In Agamben's own project,
what he calls the "no- man's land between public law and political fact, and
the juridical order and life" remains paramount. But adjacent to
that effectively juridical project, there remains a widespread culture of
catastrophe that must systematically generate and sustain that state of
exception, which here and now in the United States, and the world it
ruthlessly rules, amounts to a perpetual state of war. It is to that state,
and not merely its potential and actual evidence, that we must learn how to

    Hamid Dabashi's most recent book, Iran: A People Interrupted , has just
been published by the New Press in New York.

    C a p t i o n : Ahmadinejad; Bush

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