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March 04, 2009

Roger Cohen: Middle East "Too Sophisticated" for Double Standards

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New York Times columnist Roger Cohen was apparently so impressed by the "warmth" with which he, a Jew, was treated in Iran, he decided to write a column defending the country, its treatment of Jews, and its virulent rhetoric.

Cohen suggests that readers not take at face value Iran's "death to Israel" chants (he ignores the country's more explicit incitement to anti-Israel violence), its Holocaust denial and its old-fashioned antisemitism. These statements shouldn't be seen as Iran's fault or the responsibility of the individuals who uttered them, Cohen argues, but rather should be blamed on Israel for, among other things, its "Hamas denial" (?!), and perhaps on the West for its "double standards":

I asked Morris Motamed, once the Jewish member of the Majlis, if he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling. “I don’t,” he replied. “In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews.” He said “Death to Israel” chants bother him, but went on to criticize the “double standards” that allow Israel, Pakistan and India to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran.

Double standards don’t work anymore; the Middle East has become too sophisticated. One way to look at Iran’s scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel’s bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace — and engagement with Tehran — will have to take account of these points.

Much can be said about this passage, and the piece as a whole. But one of the things that jumps out most — and not only because I bolded it — is Cohen's bizarre statement that the Middle East is too sophisticated for double standards.

What would he call the violent protests in the Arab world following the publication in a Danish and other newspapers of cartoons caricaturing Muhammad, even while that same Arab world's press continues to repeatedly publish anti-Semitic cartoons?

And what about those in the Middle East who self-righteously complain about Israeli occupation while looking the other way when it comes to occupation by Iran?

And what of those (in the Arab world if not technically the Middle East) who call for Palestinian independence while simultaneously brutally suppressing an local independence movement in territory they occupied?

Or the support for suicide bombing that target civilians by those who think Israel has no right to defend itself with passive measures like checkpoints and barriers, let alone active measures like striking at rocket launchers or terrorist leaders?

There are surely many more examples of Middle Eastern double standards that Cohen doesn't notice.

(Nor, apparently, does Cohen notice that it isn't a double standard to seek to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb even while Israel, India and Pakistan have one. For one thing, the latter three countries are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran is. Secondly, it isn't as if the international community was supportive of those countries' quest for nuclear technology. India was slapped with a 34-year nuclear embargo; Pakistan was also sanctioned and pressured in an attempt to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power; and Israel's nuclear program had to be, and in fact still is, secretive. Most importantly, though, Iran openly belligerently calls for Israel's destruction and is described by the State Department as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism." An Iranian nuclear weapon is also likely to set off an arms race across the Middle East. Seems like a good reason to try extra hard to prevent them from getting the bomb.)

For a different view on Iranian rhetoric, see Tim Rutten's column from a few months ago in the LA Times.

Posted by GI at March 4, 2009 11:31 AM

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