Beyond a Military Response!
Beyond a Military Response!
There were many ill-guided Iranian reactions to the death of Qassem Soleimani and his comrades. His funeral, meant to be a huge popular response to the Americans, ended in tragedy. The missiles that were fired on two American bases left no casualties. The rumor spread about 80 American fatalities that Washington had covered it up was quickly withdrawn. The excuses that were mentioned about distinguishing between killing soldiers and hitting bases were as convincing to the audience as they were to those spreading them. The Ukranian civilian aircraft tragedy was almost certainly those missiles’ most important achievement.
The verbal responses to the Americans were more potent, as words became more active than actions. The quotes by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and some Iranian military commanders that were circulated alongside fiery statements by Arab journalists politicians and strategists affiliated with Tehran outdid those miserable missiles. They promised us a response that would end American presence in the region and would pave the way for nothing less than ‘liberating Palestine and erasing the Jewish state.’ This was, by the way, an enormous ‘tactical’ mistake as it raised expectations too high for anybody to actually catch up with. So we can imagine the psychological result when the response was not that serious?
Some may say: Iran will respond later, and its response will be painful for the Americans. Perhaps. But what has happened before and is happening now is part of a legacy that is familiar throughout the modern history of the region, and it warrants a revision of the notion of “response”. It goes beyond military action, whether successful or not. Its background is much richer than the purely military dimension and its effects are much more dramatic.
In other words, we have been promised a response to the West and the US for decades: A ‘civilizational’ response. A cultural response. An economic response. A political response. And a military response. Some wish to respond to the last 150 years of imperialism, at the heart of which is the establishment of Israel in 1948. Others even want to respond to the Crusades and the struggle over Spain - Andalusia. The dates are unimportant. What is more important is this collective enthusiasm for a response.
This demand for a response that the military operations are trying to meet is one of the central ideas in Arab and Islamic thought since the ‘Nahda’ [Arab Renaissance in late 19th and early 20th centuries]. Despite this, no substantial victory has been achieved on any front whatsoever. What happened was the exact opposite: We have become much worse, ‘civilizationally,’ culturally, politically, economically and militarily. Only regression is progressing.
This fixation on a response, a painful pathology in itself, is a result of another no less painful pathology that dominates us: Our inability to deal rationally with the real reasons behind the “West’s superiority” and to consequently address them. Reducing it to military power, or ‘imperialist looting,’ or ‘conspiracies’ is not conducive to such an understanding; it renders it much more difficult and far-fetched. We have resorted to flattening an extensive and dual history that extends, on the one hand, from the agricultural revolution to the industrial revolution to economic globalization to the post-industrial revolution, and on the other, from religious reformation and the enlightenment to parliamentary democracy. This flattening has in turn flattened us as well, as it does not allow us to gain a better understanding and serve our lives in a way that is at peace with this world. While our people held on to this thread of rage that is only soothed by a “response”, rulers reaped both the benefits of this rage and the delayed benefits of the “response”. Authoritarian regime after another gained fragile legitimacy by claiming that they will respond, while in the meantime, the distance between us, the respondents, and them, those whom we will respond to, grew. A quick look at significant turning points in our region reveals the form that our map of responses, however different, takes: With Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad, Khomeini, and Khamenei, in addition to al-Qaeda and ISIS — a map oriented towards degradation, our degradation.
Because we hold ‘responding’ so dearly, while the shortage in the tools needed to execute it is so huge, sacrificing people, either by suicide or slaughter, has become one of our very few industries. People who are promised a response die by this industry, while rulers who make those promises become historical heroes.
What happened a few days ago between the US and Iran deserves to be another occasion that invites a revision of this miserable harvest. To have a higher degree of peace within ourselves and with our own world; to limit the number of people who die in order to satisfy the desire for a response, deserves a bit of fresh reflection.