Iran’s assurances

April 14, 2006

Fascinating discussions about Iran’s nuclear intentions abound. On April 14, Jim Lehrer’s News Hour interviewed two Iran experts. Iran’s side was represented by William Beeman, a professor of anthropology at Brown University, according to whom there is nothing to worry about, because (1) Iran’s government says that its program is strictly peaceful and (2) Iran’s religious authorities declared the nuclear bomb un-Islamic.

Sounds good – yet, let’s take a look. Here are two scenarios. Scenario one: Iran does not intend to develop a bomb. What will Iranian government say? “Our program is strictly peaceful.” Scenario two: Iran does work on a bomb. What will Iran say it that case? “Our program is strictly peaceful.” Why so? Because the moment they declare, “we are making a bomb,” sanctions are slapped, facilities come under attack, regime is toppled.

So what does Iran’s statement “Our program is strictly peaceful” mean? That Iran either works on the bomb, or does not. If the Iranians said nothing on the subject, what would it mean? Same thing – that Iran either works on the bomb, or does not. So, does it make any difference what Iran says on the subject? No. Should we, therefore, take into consideration Iran’s pronouncements? Not really.

Next, to the pronouncements of Iran’s religious leaders. Because of the problem of the third party, anything and everything can be declared God’s will, to the satisfaction of the declarer. A few years ago, the chief Egyptian cleric declared suicide bombings un-Islamic. Did it stop them? Turn on your radio to hear the answer. Why did his declaration produce no practical effect? Because, while his research into the matter was satisfactory to him, suicide bombers and their supporters did their own research – which showed beyond the shadow of doubt that suicide bombings are Islamic all right. Because of the problem of the third party, whatever one thinks is True Religion, is True Religion. So, when it suited Iran, its religious scholars declared the bomb un-Islamic. When the opposite will suit them, they’ll declare the bomb to be Islamic all right.

Some things are important, others are not worth paying attention to. The assurances of the Iranian government and clergy clearly belong in the latter category. Professor Beeman would be well advised to learn some logic – and some religion – before making his statements.

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