Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A skeptic's guide to President Obama's "Nowruz Address"

On March 20, 2009 President Obama delivered an address to the Islamic Republic of Iran on the occasion of Nowruz (the Persian New Year). This bit of appeasement rubbed me the wrong way. It would take a feature-length film or perhaps a university-level course to deconstruct the absurd piece of post-modern street-theater that our President just unleashed upon us.

Instead I stuck with one dimension of criticism and focused on two or three relevant points among dozens. I didn't like President Obama's YouTube video so I made a YouTube video in response. Here it is, savor it:

A full transcript with sourcing follows:

"Today I want to extend my very best wishes to all who are celebrating Nowruz around the world."

Mr. Obama must be aware that about six million of those celebrating Nowruz around the world today are Bahai. The Bahai faith originated in the mid-19th century in Shiraz, Iran. Its prophet is regarded as the most recent in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. The central theme of the religion is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society.

Islamic persecution has driven the Bahai faithful to all corners of the world. Today ironically, or rather fittingly, the Bahai World Centre is located in Haifa, Israel where they have thrived clinging to this small island of religious tolerance in the Islamic Middle East. They preserve beautiful shrines and holy places and maintain the stunning hanging gardens on the slopes of Mt. Carmel. But even in this far corner of the Middle East the long arm of the Islamic Revolution haunts them, and was able to reach them in the summer of 2006, when the Iranian proxy Hezbollah bombarded Haifa with hundreds of rockets.

Despite constant attrition about 300,000 Bahai's miraculously remain in Iran, constituting the country's largest religious minority. They have been systematically persecuted since the Islamic revolution of 1979. More than 200 have been executed, hundreds have been imprisoned, and tens of thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities. All national and local Bahá'í administrative institutions have been banned by the Government, and Bahá'í holy places, cemeteries and community properties have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed.

Mr. Obama's cordial message to the Islamic regime of Iran is a slap in the face to millions of Bahai's across the world.

"Here in the United States our own communities have been enhanced by the contributions of Iranian Americans. We know that you are a great civilization, and your accomplishments have earned the respect of the United States and the world."

Indeed, the United States has been enriched by the creativity and productivity of the approximately half-million Iranians who live among us; but the very reason they are here is that the Islamic regime Mr. Obama addresses so politely drove them out of their ancestral homeland. The majority of Iranian-Americans arrived after the 1979 revolution; these were the intellectuals, physicians, engineers and businesspeople who saw their livelihoods threatened by a totalitarian Islamic regime. About 100,000 or 20% of them are Iranian Jews, who were eager to avoid a life of Dhimmitude under a radical Shi'ite regime governed by Shariah Law.

"Nowruz is just one part of your great and celebrated culture. Over many centuries your art, your music, literature and innovation have made the world a better and more beautiful place."

Indeed, Iranian culture stretches back thousands of years, well before the armies of Islam conquered Persia in the 7th century AD. Art, music and literature once flourished there but the regime Mr. Obama graciously addresses in his video has taken all those things away.

I quote from a 2006 study (HTML) published by the global free expression group, ARTICLE 19 (PDF):

"The direct censorship instruments at the State’s disposal are blunt and wide-ranging: these include highly repressive laws, supported by an array of regulations and guidelines that delineate and restrict what can be expressed, and how it should be done, assisted by a multitude of censors – diverse institutions that will intervene at different stages of the artistic process by assenting to or denying the much needed authorisation.

In the event that the government censorship apparatus presents some small cracks through which “controversial” expressions may be let free, vigilante groups intervene, self-mandated to protect society against “damaging influences” including through the use of force, threats and intimidations. Most powerful, however, is the culture of censorship within Iranian society that has blurred the line between what is imposed by the State and what has become inherent to society itself.

This has resulted in the powerful exercise of social censorship, as well as self-censorship of and by the artist. . In more ways than one, censorship in Iran is the extension of physical power into the realm of the mind and the spirit"

"In particular, I would like to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran... The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization."

Obama goes out of his way twice to mention the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is the official name of the regime in Tehran. This is a symbolic recognition of the Islamic republic as the rightful heir to the ancient Persian civilization. This only bolsters the power of the regime. As the New York Times noted, this language offered the first clear signal from the Obama administration that it would not pursue a change of government in Iran.

In summation, Obama's communiqué to Iran is not the manifestation of a new era in foreign policy. His is a well-worn foreign policy of appeasing implacable enemies. Obama is insisting to himself and to us as a nation that his peace overtures will somehow be received productively by a regime whose constitution is based directly on the Quran and which has contempt for our very notion of what life is and should be. And so the mutual respect Obama apparently seeks with Iran is by definition impossible. The United States is simply treading water, albeit more eloquently under Obama than under Bush, while our destructive and ultimately self-destructive enemy strengthens itself and prepares for the inevitable conflict.

We have learned that our President can pronounce "Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak", but we have not been given any compelling reason to hope for a non-violent political solution to the confrontation with Iran. It is the most dangerous foreign policy conundrum of our time, and will become increasingly dangerous if Mr. Obama's friendly orations continue with no political horizon in sight.


costin said...

Great video! I was looking at reactions to Obamas disgusting piece of appeasement and the progresist media was praising his good intentions and waiting for good reactions from the islamic world (that was Solana from the UN saying this)

The Venerable 1st Earl of Cromer said...

I too thought this was a good video, Occidental. This is the sort of response we should be seeing elsewhere, rather than th pretence that this will change everything.


Solana will be waiting a long time then! Some days having to be so wilfully ignorant must drive some of these people mad.

Others obviously are simply ignorant, so they'll fit right in.

Steve Marshall said...

Hi Abraham,

You write:

Mr. Obama's cordial message to the Islamic regime of Iran is a slap in the face to millions of Bahai's across the world.

I'm unaware of any negative response from the Baha'is to US President Obama's cordial message to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its people. Just the opposite, in fact.

Moreover, the Baha'i administration, at its top level, has recently been sending similar cordial-but-assertive public messages to high-level individuals in the Islamic republic. Here's a recent example:

Baha'i International Community sends letter to Iran's chief prosecutor

You're free to believe that President Obama's message is a slap in the face to us. However, you are, in effect, asking your readers to believe that he has fooled all of the Baha'is all of the time.

Abraham said...


Neither am I aware of any official Baha'i reaction, negative or positive, to Obama's message. I consulted the history of Baha'i persecution in Iran and inferred what they might feel about a sitting US President respectfully addressing the theocratic police state that has terrorized them for the past 30 years.

That being said I do not discount your reaction as a Baha'i or as a human in general, and of course no community of millions speaks with one voice on such a controversial issue. Just look at the Neturei Karta Jews who are buddies with Ahmadinejad.

The letter you linked to outlines the very same discrimination and oppression of Baha'is I mention in the video. Of course they must be cordial in their message to the gov't to some extent, they are a tiny minority under a totalitarian regime that can take punitive action against them at any time.

In contrast, Obama is a sitting President of the most powerful nation on earth. He is not obligated to show respect to the Islamic regime nor should he.

kaweah said...

I for one found it refreshing that an American president would extend such a warm greeting to the people of Iran (and actually utter the term "Now Ruz"), and a stern overture to dialog to the Ayatollahs. Forgive me for being tired of the axis of evil rhetoric. If you want to look for a nation that the American government might snub for righteousness' sake, try China. I, a former Baha'i who was raised on horror stories of persecution and martyrdom, believe we have a chance to see change in Iran. The Islamist paranoia that seeks out scapegoats like the Baha'is will only be exacerbated by the continuance of alienation.

Freedomnow said...

The hordes of nuanced intellectuals who desire to embrace the Iranian Regime so it can assume its “rightful place” in the community of nations, should examine the possibility of critical thought as an alternative to making judgments solely through wishful thinking.

Iran’s ruling theocracy is not sick because it is unfairly treated by Western countries. It is sick because it harbors a barbaric ideology of religious fanaticism and intolerance.

Legitimizing the regime will legitimize its oppression of its people and its export of violence and instability throughout the Middle East.

The regime will not relax its oppression of its people if bestowed with appeasement from the West. Iran’s ruling class suppresses indigenous Baha’i and Persian cultures for the same reason it suppresses Western culture... It is non-Islamic. Western culture is not suppressed because of Western aggression, it is suppressed because the government is an intolerant Islamic theocracy. Since Western culture promotes secularity and celebrates themes that Islamic conservatives consider to be un-Islamic… Iran’s leaders do not tolerate it.

Those who view America as the problem have no concept of why the Mullahs oppress their own people. The proper term to describe such a mistaken viewpoint is... IGNORANCE

Charles & Sholeh said...

The Islamic world generally will take no heed of anything, however well written or presented unless it finds its roots and authority from within Muslim scripture.

To this end, appeals to conform with the declaration of human Rights will fall on the same deaf ears as it did when Iran and other Muslim nations refused to support it because for Muslims, Shariah law is the ultimate standard.

I hope therefore that Muslims everywhere will note the following passages from the Hadith when considering their attitude and behaviour towards non-Muslims of all faiths, or can explain why this passage is not honoured in Iran:

"He who hurts a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state – I am his adversary and I shall be his adversary on the Day of Judgment."

"Beware on the Day of Judgment, I shall myself be the accuser against him who wrongs a non-Muslim citizen (of a Muslim State) or lays on him a responsibility greater than he can bear, or deprives him of anything that belongs to him."

Altar Ego said...

As a former Baha'i of many years - I always found it surprising that a faith that mandated non-involvement in elections and political campaigning of any sort, should be surprised that a political body would not provide support or protection for their causes. Unfortunately, the history of all the great prophets shows that they mostly lived in conflict or oppression from the government and powers that be. Why do the Baha'is expect things to be different? The World View of the Baha'i Faith stands in contrast to the present world system - it should not be surprising that the world system does not endorse or protect this view. Just my two cents. Love one another...love your enemies too.