New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 November 2015
Behind Putin and Khamenei’s courtship
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Turkey’s gift to Assad
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
The Paris attacks did not take place
By Hamid Dabashi
Behind Putin and Khamenei’s courtship
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
27 November 2015
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rarely meets with world leaders, but this week he hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin, who made his first visit to Iran since 2007. Putin held talks with Khamenei and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
Moscow and Tehran are attempting to build a closer relationship. As part of the charm offensive, Moscow lifted the ban on tech imports to Iran on the same day Putin arrived in there, with a copy of an old handwritten Quran as a gift for Khamenei. Iran’s hardline media outlets, including Keyhan, raved about the successful meeting.
Although some policy analysts and scholars say Moscow and Tehran are allying to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, the cooperation is nuanced and multifaceted. The question of how long this intensified bilateral relationship will last should be asked.
The timing of Putin’s visit is crucial. Both countries share a common interest in counterbalancing and scuttling U.S. foreign policy in the region. Putin and Iran’s hardliners need each other more than ever before.
He also wants to reassert his global leadership after tensions between the West and Russia raised and economic sanctions were imposed on Moscow, primarily due to its annexation of Crimea. Moscow’s closer ties with Tehran extend its regional influence, and give it leverage that can be used to push the West to lift sanctions.
Russia and Iran are attempting to intensify their military cooperation in Syria, as their interests are being threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other powerful Syrian rebel groups.
While Russia relies on airstrikes, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, can provide the required boots on the ground to make territorial advancements.
Russia favors Iran’s hardliners over its reformists. Hardliners, including Khamenei and IRGC officials, are less likely to undermine Moscow’s global influence by having rapprochement with the United States.
Improving ties with Tehran has been a major pillar of Putin’s foreign policy. It was under his leadership that Mohammad Khatami became the first Iranian president to visit Russia since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
After the nuclear deal between six world powers and Tehran, the latter’s improved ties with European countries and its rapprochement with the United States raised Russian fears that Tehran was leaning toward the West.
Moscow is attempting to cajole Tehran by offering several irresistible deals. Putin announced that Russia was ready to provide a $5 billion state loan to Tehran, and increase trade in several fields, including energy and railway electrification. He also said his country would resume exporting nuclear technology to Iran, modernizing the heavy water reactor in Arak, and support Tehran in exporting additional and highly enriched uranium.
One of Russia’s main concerns is that the West might decrease its energy dependence by tapping into Iran’s oil and gas sectors. Iran seeks a larger role in the gas market, and is welcoming Western partnership. Moscow and Tehran have the first- and second-largest gas reserves in the world.
Improved ties between Tehran and the West could endanger Russian exports to Iran (mainly petroleum), as former Soviet states could become better alternatives for Tehran to purchase petroleum. Iran is playing its cards wisely. By playing the West and Russia against each other, Tehran is advancing its regional hegemony.
Although Russia and Iran are expected to become closer, there are still limitations. Moscow does not want to damage its ties with other regional powers and Iran’s rivals, including Israel and Turkey. Protecting these relationships would create obstacles between Moscow and Tehran.
However, since the geopolitical and ideological gaps between the United States and Iran are too deep to bridge, Moscow and Tehran will continue to seize the opportunity by relying on each other due to their convergence of interests in the region and their shared antipathy toward Washington.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.
Turkey’s gift to Assad
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
Friday, 27 November 2015
From the moment the news came out, political analysts knew that it did not matter whether the Russian plane had violated Turkey's airspace. Moscow said it had not, while Ankara and its NATO allies said it had, but it was clear that what would happen would not be influenced by the technical issue of airspace. Talk of Turkey's right to protect its airspace was only for diplomatic rhetoric and official statements. Also, no one expects a war to erupt - neither country wants that.
What I personally suspect is that Turkey may have wanted was to bring NATO to its side. This seems the only reason that makes sense. I don't know why would Ankara shoot down a single plane that reportedly spent about 17 seconds in its airspace, especially that it was allegedly not flying further into Turkey. Perhaps Ankara found this violation an opportunity to escalate in a way that invoked the NATO charter?
I assume this because since Russia started its operations in Syria, the Turks have felt helpless as they watch the rope becoming tighter around the necks of their allies in Syria. Moreover, Ankara knew that continuing support for its allies would have to result at some point in a confrontation with Russia. It also knew that this confrontation would only happen in Syria, and thus not oblige NATO to act. As such, downing the plane was not a tactical military action, but a strategic one.
Change of tune
After much pomp about Turkey’s sovereignty being violated and the right to protect itself, Ankara now says it did not know it was a Russian plane. It is as if Turkey is saying if it knew it was Russian, it would have tolerated the violation of its airspace. What happened to explain this change in tone? Washington was supporting Turkish claims of airspace violation and the right to retaliate. Why then come out so apologetic and in a very unsophisticated fashion?
Well, NATO did not jump in. Various members simply called for de-escalation. NATO is more worried about escalation in Ukraine, and about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), than an accident on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Moreover, Turkey had long been known to support ISIS, and for a while the world, including NATO, looked the other way.
After the Paris attacks and U.N. Security Council resolution 2249 - which targets ISIS and its supporters - this was no longer the case. Now France and the world want to eradicate ISIS once and for all, and Turkey’s support for the group will no longer be tolerated. Turkey realized very quickly that downing the plane was a mistake.
Russia has taken advantage of the situation. It started to formally expose Turkey’s relationship with ISIS, and it intensified its bombing of the border region. Most importantly, Russia has brought in an air defense system, ending all Turkish dreams of ever flying into Syria again, and permanently killing the idea of a no-fly zone.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could not be happier. He needed Moscow to fight on his side, but he needed more to feel confident that the Russians are stuck. They were in Syria fighting ISIS, but he wanted them to be there as a matter of Russian national pride. Assad wanted the Russians to need him, not just to want to support him. For Moscow, he has now become it way of getting revenge for the shooting down of the plane. This is the gift Turkey gave Assad.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1
The Paris attacks did not take place
By Hamid Dabashi
27 Nov 2015
Between early January and late March 1991, the distinguished French philosopher Jean Baudrillard published three essays in the French daily Liberation, which he sequentially titled, "The Gulf War will not take place", "The Gulf War: Is it really taking place?" and finally, "The Gulf War did not take place".
He subsequently published the three essays in a 1991 book, of which an English translation appeared in 1995 as The Gulf War did not take Place.
The dates of these essays are important if we remember what is now called the "Gulf War" occurred between August 2, 1990 (when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait) and February 28, 1991 (when a US-led coalition forced him out).
In other words, Baudrillard was writing and publishing these essays precisely at a time when the war was taking place, when the US and its allies were raining death and destruction on Iraq, and soon after it had just ended.
An unfolding media event
The temptation that Baudrillard could not resist in writing these essays with these deliberately provocative titles was the manner in which the unfolding events leading up to, during, and soon after the Gulf War provided him with a perfect example for his ideas of "simulacra", "simulation" and "hyperreality".
He wished rhetorically to register the fact that the Gulf War was an unfolding media event, a virtual reality, with simulated reactions masquerading for the real human experience of being at war. In the midst of this hyperreality, the reality of the Iraq war was drowned.
At the heart of Baudrillard's exquisite insight into the nature of simulacrum and hyperreality was a cry for the real, together with the fear that we had altogether lost the possibility of real fear, real despair, real agony - for ourselves or for others.
Some 25 years after the first US-led military operation in Iraq and the publication of those essays, the hyperreality of that Iraq war has come to haunt the reality of the Paris attacks on November 13 in Baudrillard's own country. The irony should not be lost in the terror of that evening in Paris.
The philosopher's home on fire
Were he still alive, would Baudrillard today have written a similar essay titled "The Paris attacks did not take place?" Would it have been possible for the French philosopher to be as playfully insightful when the terror was inflicted on himself, his neighbourhood, and his own people?
Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But one thing is sure: the enduring insights of Baudrillard into the nature of simulation and hyperreality were as evident in Paris as they were when he theorised during the Gulf War.
When the Paris attacks occurred, BBC World News - as the best example of other globalised media - became the picture-perfect proof of Baudrillard's insight into the nature and function of hyperreality.
The BBC was so thoroughly fixated on the events in Paris that its coverage became positively prosaic, formulaic, utterly inane, overwhelmed by vacuous images to such an extent that they became bereft of meaning.
The world ceased to exist for the BBC. And in the hermetic seal that it created around the horror of Paris, there was no way for the terror in Paris to be registered and analysed by the world at large - the magnitude of its terror humanly perceived and understood by non-Europeans.
The BBC would momentarily break from Paris to go to its "Focus on Africa", for example, but only to ask its reporters to go and collect words of sympathy from Africans for Paris - not for Africans to talk about their own terror so the report could underline the Paris attacks.
It would say something about the identical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attack in Lebanon, but not before prefacing it by saying how the Lebanese were sending their condolences to Paris.
The focus was so intensely on Paris, that Paris lost its reality as a city in France, in Europe, on this planet, and imploded into a meaningless simulacrum of itself.
A new philosophical age
Paris needed a comparative and global long shot to make its suffering meaningful, but the BBC producers, reporters, and cameramen - again as the best example of other Eurocentric global media - were so intent on extreme close ups of Paris and nothing else, cutting it off from the rest of our humanity. Paris on BBC became a digitised photoshop of itself.
The magnificent French philosopher Baudrillard was crying in his grave for his beautiful city and laughing at the BBC coverage at one and the same time.
But, and there is the rub: The world does not stop for the BBC to recover from its nervous fixations with one European thing or another. Before long, the Mali hotel attack happened, and before that atrocity was finished Brussels was under siege, and then the Russian fighter jet was downed by Turkey.
The BBC was now falling flat into its own trap, and a textbook example of Baudrillard's notion of simulacrum. Its aggressive transmutation of the reality of Paris into a vacuous hyperreality had now metastasised beyond repair.
The theorists of the hyperreal war and the philosophers of fearful simulacra are no longer safe in the sanctity and serenity of their home. Walls and borders have collapsed - the East is in the West, the West already in the East.
This is the dawn of a new philosophical age, where the European philosopher is no longer safe from the consequences of his own theories. The task for philosophy today can no longer be split along false civilisational divides.
The fighter jets flying over the Mediterranean to bomb Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Mali and the refugees boarding a boat and then walking to Europe have now created an entirely different factual geography overriding the imaginative tyranny of "the West and the Rest".
That terrifying Paris attacks did take place, entirely independent of the BBC's hyperreality overwhelming the terror of the event to nullity, as did those in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
Baudrillard anticipated and theorised the plasticity of the simulacrum of this frightening reality when he said "the Iraq war did not take place" long before his own Paris was under attack for real, through the smoke and mirrors of all hyperreality and simulacra.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.