Keith Ellison’s Iran Forum and the June 10 Call-In to Congress
By Lydia Howell
On May 28, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., hosted Iran scholars for a community forum in a packed hall at the First Unitarian Society church in Minneapolis. The focus was on the U.S.-Iran relationship, estranged for over 30 years, which many fear may become the next chapter in the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism.”
“Nary a day goes by that someone isn’t saying something abut Iran in the media. Part of my responsibility as a U.S. congressman is to be a forum to discuss the critical issues we face and to promote dialog about the most pressing issues,” said Ellison. “To quote [African-American writer] James Baldwin: Anything that cannot be faced cannot be fixed.”
In the first half of 2008, newspaper front pages and television news have begun repeating a message about a Middle Eastern country that has not attacked the United States but which allegedly “poses a grave threat,” “may build nuclear weapons” and “must be prevented from making war on its neighbors.” In 2002-3, such stories were about Iraq; now, Iran is being described in similar ways. No actual evidence is given for the frightening allegations about Iran—which are too often made by unnamed “Pentagon officials” or the same members of right-wing think tanks that previously pushed the disastrous attack on Iraq.
Ellison said the forum was in preparation for a national call-in June 10, when Americans are urged to phone their representatives and senators, urging that the U.S. not attack Iran. (The toll-free phone number to Congress is 1-888-851-1879.)
University of Minnesota professor William O. Beeman is that rare American: fluent in Farsi and a longtime scholar of Iran’s history and culture. His observations on the mounting crisis with Iran were drawn from his newest book on Iran, The Great Satan vs. Mad Mullahs, in which Beeman debunks the main myths being perpetrated by neo-conservatives who are pushing for a U.S. military attack on Iran before George W. Bush leaves office.
“There are three important myths being pushed by the Bush administration in the press and in speeches,” Beeman told the audience.
“First, that Iran has developed an illegal nuclear program. But, the fact is, the United States started Iran’s nuclear power program in the 1970s, and Iran has simply continued the U.S.-sponsored program. There is absolutely no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on May 26,” said Beeman, chair of the U. of M.’s Anthropology Department.
Last December, the U.S. government’s National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE, a collaboration among 15 U.S. intelligence agencies) concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and had no nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007. The December 2007 NIE disavowed the 2005 NIE as “inaccurately reported.”
“The newest argument is that Iran is responsible for American deaths in Iraq. No evidence has been provided to prove that,” Beeman continued.
In fact, in May, the Pentagon had to retract statements about insurgents’ weapons being from Iraq. As the Los Angeles Times reported May 8 on its web site: “neither the United States nor Iraq has displayed any of the alleged [Iranian-originated] arms to the public or press, and lately it is looking less likely they will. … Iraqi officials lately have backed off the accusations against Iran. A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran.” Yet most media continue to repeat the allegation that Iran is supplying weapons to insrugents. (Gary Leupp, professor of history at Tufts University, regularly reports on foreign policy and writes extensively about the disinformation campaign against Iran on the web site CounterPunch: See www.counterpunch.org/leupp02172007.html and www.counterpunch.org/leupp06042008.html.)
Overlooked in the current drumbeat is that the Bush administration willfully wasted a chance for harmonious relations with Iran, Dr. Trita Parsi told the forum.
“In May 2003, Iran made a proposal delivered by the Swiss Ambassador, who is the official “stand-in” for the United States, about all but one of the issues that separate the United States and Iran. There was no response from the U.S. to that proposal,” said Parsi, Iranian-American author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States.
Parsi summed up Iran’s proposal: full openness of Iran’s nuclear program; pressure on Hamas to end violence; co-operation against Al-Qaida; help to the U.S. in stabilizing Iraq; and signing of the Beirut Declaration that recognizes Israel when a Palestinian state is established. Only human rights abuses in Iran were not included. But the U.S. ignored Iran’s proposal. The White House felt regime change was better than anything they could get through negotiation. “The 1939 Hitler analogy [that diplomacy equals appeasement] is intended to eliminate diplomacy and make war inevitable.”
Finally, Dr. Cyrus Bina, professor of economics and management at the University of Minnesota-Morris, author of Economics of the Oil Crisis and an Iranian exile for four decades, echoed Parsi’s concerns about human rights abuses in Iran, but, passionately stated his position” The United States has no right to bomb Iran, regardless of [Iran’s] human rights [record].”
Bina, along with the other two Iran scholars, emphasized that history plays a strong role in Iran-U.S. tensions. After World War II, when British colonization of Iran ended, the U.S. overthrew Iran’s nationalistic progressive President Mosaddeq and installed the infamous Shah, who brutalized Iranians until the Islamic revolution in 1979, which included the hostage crisis where U.S. diplomats were held for over a year.
“The U.S. started this game in 1952. The hostage crisis was the reaction that started this chain reaction. There’s so much misinformation about Iran.” Bina said. “The American people must do their duty to prevent another tragedy.”
From this winter’s Pentagon videos, determined to be faked, about alleged “threats” from Iranian speedboats against U.S. warships (see www.democracynow.org/2008/1/11/us_backs_off_claim_of_naval and www.alternet.org/story/73618/) to Israel’s Prime Minister asking Bush last week to enact a naval blockade against Iran, the U.S. seems to pushing for an attack on Iran.
Iran’s statements against nuclear arms
What is not mentioned in the major media is that Iran is among the 189 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Only four nations have not: U.S. allies Israel, India and Pakistan, all of which already have nuclear weapons, and North Korea, which may have been secretly trying to build them. The United States possesses 10,000 nuclear weapons—more than any other country—and is also the only nation to actually use nuclear weapons on human beings. While raising fears about non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration is pushing Congress to authorize billions of dollars to build a new generation of smaller, “tactical” nuclear weapons.
On August 9, 2005, it was announced that the highest authority in Iran (above President Ahmadinejad) the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa (religious edict based on primary sources of Islam and scholarly thinking) which stated tnat The production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Republic of Iran shall never acquire such weapons. This position is echoed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has pledged to pursue only Iran’s legal right to nuclear power under IAEA protocols. Western media, especially in the U.S. and Iran’s historic colonial ruler Britain, have misreported this religious prohibition against nuclear weapons to say its complete opposite. Most media have not mentioned the Islamic condemnation of nuclear weapons.
Most Americans know as little about Iran as they did about Iraq before the U.S. invasion. Given the continual revelations that the arguments for the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq were built on sand, will the American people be more skeptical about attacking another Muslim country who has done nothing to the United States?
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis-based independent journalist and winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She also hosts Catalyst: Politics & Culture, Fridays at 11 a.m. on KFAI 90.3/106.7 FM, archived at http://www.kfai.org/node/57.