John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson

Let us discourse upon the world at large for a moment, shall we?

I rarely write about foreign affairs, mostly because there is far too much insanity and idiocy to be found within our own borders for me to bother with the rest of the globe.

But every now and then I think it’s helpful to lift one’s gaze above the local muck and take a look at something new, something alien, in the geophysical sense of the word.

Iran, for instance, that hotbed of geopolitical turbulence and misdirection, formerly known as Persia and said to be the 18th-largest nation on Earth in terms of land mass. It also is, according to my limited research, site of one of the world’s oldest, continuous major civilizations, going back to around 7,000 B.C.

More recently, it has earned the dubious distinction of being what is politely referred to as a “rogue state” and “sponsor of terrorism” by certain Western political leaders, past and present. Much of the present diplomatic animosity comes from the generally accepted belief that Iran is busily creating a nuclear arsenal, presumably to attack Israel, Europe, maybe even the U.S. if they can figure out how to launch a missile that will carry a bomb so far.

I can’t get into the ups and downs of all the theories and accusations flying around the globe about this distant country. They are myriad and hard to prove.

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But I’m intrigued that Iran seems to be taking on the same kind of sinister profile, in the minds of Western governments, that once was assigned to one of its neighboring states, Iraq.

We must remember that, decades back, well before the world changed on Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq was viewed as a client state of the U.S., recipient of our arms and support in its role as a spoiler in the Middle East and, most particularly, as a foil against Iran.

The late but scarcely lamented Saddam Hussein, in fact, was our boy in the region, and we blithely overlooked the fact that he held his population in a kind of permanent state of martial law based solely on raw, unadulterated terror and intimidation.

It also should be pointed out that Iraq was quite a civilized place, in terms of the standard of living enjoyed by its populace, the liberality of its social customs and the status of women.

A confusing place, to say the least, and one that we as a people knew very little about until Saddam had the temerity to invade another of our client states, Kuwait. That move aroused then-President George H.W. Bush into a paroxysm of self-righteous indignation that launched the first Gulf War.

Now, of course, we’ve had two wars in the neighborhood, thoroughly trashed Iraq and aroused just about every Muslim nation in the vicinity to a prickly, nationalistic and belligerent attitude toward us and our allies.

Hence, our leaders tell us, it is not at all unlikely that Iran has used its petro-wealth to cobble together the beginnings of a nuclear stockpile. And as the drumbeats rise on both sides, we even have begun laying plans to point a few missile-defense installations in Iran’s direction. 

All this is taken with huge piles of salt by those who have studied the Muslim world, its history, and the philosophies and religious tenets of Islam, the rather splintered faith that holds sway in that faraway neighborhood.

The vast majority of Muslims, some argue, are no more bloodthirsty than we of the Christian persuasion, meaning Europe, Russia, the U.S. and the bevy of related states that make up the West.

And if we can just figure out a way to talk with that vast majority in a sensible, understanding way, the argument goes, we can get out of this schoolyard standoff that characterizes relations across our cultural divide.

I don’t know if this is true, though I tend to believe reasoned dialogue is better than warfare at settling international disputes.

But it seems to me that the one thing I lack, as do most of my fellow citizens, is a thorough understanding of the history of Islam, of the Middle East, and of the people there.

This is something I intend to change, starting now, with the expectation that you, dear reader, will have to occasionally put up with the result.

Just wanted to let you know.

jcolson@aspentimes.com

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