Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Why this man should give us all nightmares

Ann Leslie, The Daily Mail:
Why shouldn't Iran have nuclear weapons? We have them, so has America, France, Russia, Israel, China, Pakistan, India and possibly North Korea. So why make such a fuss about Iran?

After all, we gulped, but then decided to accept Pakistan's and India's nuclear bombs. Why? Because we recognised that their bombs are, essentially, a continuation of the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine which, as a deterrent, kept us from nuclear Armageddon throughout the Cold War.

In fact, it could be argued that, not long ago, the M.A.D. doctrine actually kept Pakistan and India from going to war yet again over Kashmir.

So why shouldn't Iran have nuclear bombs to deter attack from the 'Great Satan', America, let alone the two 'Little Satans', Israel and Britain? Sounds reasonable. But that pre-supposes that the Iranian regime is reasonable. READ MORE

The mullah-mafia lied through their teeth for 18 years, denying they had a nuclear programme, despite their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And all the evidence shows that they are lying now when they say they only want nuclear power for 'peaceful energy purposes', despite sitting on some of the largest oil reserves in the world.

But, alas, there's nothing which we would recognise as 'reasonable' about President Ahmadinejad, the small, bearded blacksmith's son from the slums of Tehran - who denies the existence of the Holocaust, promises to 'wipe Israel off the map' and who, moreover, urges Iranians to 'prepare to take over the world'.

The UN gave him until August 31 to reply to its package of proposals designed to stop his nuclear programme. Significantly he chose yesterday to, in effect, reject the UN ultimatum because yesterday was a sacred day in the Islamic calendar.

It is the day on which the Prophet Mohammed made his miraculous night flight from Jerusalem to heaven and back on Buraq, the winged horse.

As one Iranian exile told me yesterday: 'The trouble with you secular people is that you don't realise how firmly Ahmadinejad believes - literally - in things like the winged horse. By choosing this date for his decision, he is telling his followers that he is going to obey his religious duty.

'And he believes that his religious duty is to create chaos and bloodshed in the "infidel" world, in order to hasten the return of the Mahdi - the Hidden Imam. So don't expect him to behave, in your eyes, "reasonably".'

So who is this Hidden Imam? He was a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed who, at the age of five, disappeared down a well around AD940. He will only return after a period of utter chaos and bloodshed, whereupon peace, justice and Islam will reign worldwide.

When I was in Tehran, Ahmadinejad was its mayor, and an Iranian friend with links to the city council told me: 'He's instructed the council to build a grand avenue to prepare for the Mahdi's return.

'I wouldn't mind that, because our roads are rotten - it's just that the motivation for this expensive avenue strikes me as completely crazy.'

On coming to power, in order to hasten the return of the Hidden Imam, the Iranian President allocated the equivalent of £10m for the building of a blue-tiled mosque at Jamkaran, south of the capital, where the five-year-old Hidden Imam was said to have disappeared down the well.

When the President drew up a list of his cabinet ministers, he's rumoured to have dropped their names down the well in order to benefit from its alleged divine connection.

Previous Iranian negotiators from the mullah-mafia elite were corrupt, sinuous and deceitful - but, when necessary, could be pragmatic. You could, to a certain extent, do business with them.

Many of these mullahs would not - despite their rhetoric - welcome the bloody destruction of the Western world, not least because they have stuffed their wealth into secret 'infidel' bank accounts overseas.

The Western-educated nephew of one such wealthy mullah said to me: 'Ahmadinejad's fruitcake theology scares us as much as it should scare you!'

But according to the political editor of Iran's Resalat newspaper, the President's apocalyptic mindset 'makes you very strong. If I think the Mahdi will come in two, three, or four years, why should I be soft? Now is the time to stand strong, to be hard'.

Warm and welcoming

Of course ordinary Iranians are not, on the whole, apocalyptic types: they are warm, welcoming to 'infidels' like me and, frankly, deeply fed up.

They don't obsess about the return of the Mahdi, they don't want nuclear weapons, and they certainly don't want an apocalyptic world war.

As one young Tehrani told me: 'I don't know why we are spending so much time antagonising he West. We're just getting more and more isolated, and our economy is in a complete mess.'

The young are not even that interested in religion: a recent poll of young Iranians showed that only 5 per cent watched religious programmes, and only 6 per cent said that they were interested in religion at all.

Seventy per cent of Iranians are under the age of 30, and what they want is to be able to have fun, to travel and, above all, to have jobs.

But the puritanism, corruption, cruelty and incompetence of the regime induces fatalisticdepression and drives all too many of them to drugs: Iran now has (and, surprisingly, has acknowledged) one of the highest drug addiction rates in the world.


So why is Ahmadinejad - as a result of this stand-off with the West - suddenly so popular among the grassroots?

It's partly a matter of Persian nationalist pride: Iranians - who are not Arabs - remember how they once possessed a great empire and were the supreme power in the Middle East.

They share with Ahmadinejad the yearning that they should be so once again. And they remember how the Western powers exploited and manipulated them in the past and fear they may do so again.

Even the most pro-Western of those I have met were horrified at the thought of America attempting to bomb their nuclear plants, let alone mount an invasion.

Ahmadinejad is triumphant about the 'victory' over Israel in Lebanon by Iran's proxy, Hezbollah.

But ordinary Iranians - while shocked at the devastation caused by Israel - have long felt resentful about the amounts of money, let alone weaponry, that Iran shovels into Hezbollah's armed 'state-within-a-state' in southern Lebanon.

After Friday prayers in Tehran one day, which included the ritual 'Death to Israel!' chants, one young graduate, with no hope of a job, told me: 'Look, I don't care about Israel. That's a problem for the Arabs, not for us.'

At a union May Day rally this year, one placard daringly read: 'Forget about Palestine! What about us?'

So what happens next? Sanctions, probably. But the kind of sanctions which hurt ordinary, poverty-stricken Iranians too much would be counterproductive. Those which most hurt the elite would be preferable: international banking restrictions will damage the corrupt mullahs, and a form of oil sanctions may also put pressure on them.

Despite those massive oil reserves, Iran actually has to import over 40 per cent of its refined oil because, thanks to its incompetence, it never got around to building enough refining capacity.

There are no easy answers. But nuclear-weapon technology in the hands of an Iranian President obsessed with ' fruitcake theology' and the destruction of all 'infidels' is something which should keep us all awake at night.