If you were a clergyman high up in the political ranks of the Islamic Republic of Iran – hypothetically speaking, of course – or perhaps even the Supreme Leader himself, would you use the atomic bomb if you had it?
If prominent British human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson was still hosting the long-gone television series Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals on ABC today, he would force you into Ayotallah Khamenei’s shoes and robes and probe you about nukes.
The world is closely watching the Cold War-esque war of words between the US, Israel and Iran, and Robertson weighs in on it in his newly published book, Mullahs Without Mercy. The alliterative, catchy and, well, controversial title of the book sums up Robertson’s opinion of the entire fiasco: Iranian mullahs are merciless. He argues that Iran cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons because of its long list of human rights abuses.
I agree that the Islamic regime is not a bastion of human rights, but if Iran can't be trusted, how in the world can the United States and Israel be trusted?
I haven't yet read the book, but in recent interviews with ABC’s Lateline and the BBC, Robertson sounds almost conspiratorial. He is absolutely sure – fervent head nodding and all – that Iran will acquire an operational nuclear bomb within a year or two, maybe three. He also says that current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be re-elected this January and will strike Iran in “spring or early summer”. Robertson seems to have prophesised and laid out an itinerary for a looming World War 3. And I can’t help but scrunch my nose up a bit.
At this point, one of his predictions might materialise – the re-election of Netanyahu. Bibi will, without much doubt, serve another term, particularly after Israel's November assault on Gaza, aka “Operation Pillar of Defence” as the Israeli Defence Force calls it, or “Operation Pillar of Racism, Occupation and Bibi To Get Another Term” as I call it.
Robertson’s strong emphasis on Iranian nuclear acquisition downplays the west’s nuclear arsenal and "the empire's" historical relationship with nukes. The US and Israel are culpable of far more crimes against humanity than Iran, which is currently suffering from crippling economic sanctions and embargoes enforced and tightened by the US, the EU and Australia. Ordinary Iranians are bearing the brunt of rising food prices, a 40% drop in the value of the rial and a crumbling pharmaceutical sector, which I posted about earlier.
I’m not vindicating Iran’s stained human rights record and brutalisation of dissenting citizens and political opponents whatsoever. But what irks me is Robertson’s selective internationalism.
Have we forgotten Truman’s mercilessness when he used atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or the many wars and invasions America has waged? Its coups and installations of friendly leaders (otherwise known as ‘spreading democracy’), like, hmm, Shah Pahlavi?
Keep in mind that the US has approximately 5000 nuclear warheads today. It has 900 military bases – and counting – in almost 150 countries. Obama has authorised extrajudicial killings, and has approved predator drone attacks that have left civilians dead in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.
And then there’s Israel, an apartheid state with its own nuclear arsenal that colonises and occupies indigenous Palestinians and Palestinian land and resources. Both Israel and the US are not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, along with Pakistan, India and North Korea. And Iran’s the overshadowing nuclear threat?
This isn’t to say that Robertson isn’t critical of the west’s hypocrisy; he is a little in this instance – but not enough. Robertson doesn't seem too fussed about America's nuclear arsenal. He seems content enough with Obama’s promise to disarm. He also isn’t exactly disapproving of Britain’s Trident weapon program because, according to him, it’s a “refurbishment of an existing program”. Furthermore, he supports NATO intervention, just as long as international law is not breached. In other words, America can police the world and violate the sovereignty of states as long as its strikes are "surgical". In the case of Iran today, he thinks the US won’t be "surgical" and will hit hard if it leads an invasion, and thus believes that NATO should stay out otherwise we will witness something reminiscent of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But what he fails to see is that invasions, in general, are never "surgical". I wonder why he thinks there are exceptions.
These sentiments and this kind of selective internationalism is evident in his foreword for the Melbourne University publication A Question of Zion too. He applies moral equivalency to Palestinians and the state of Israel, when it is unarguably an uneven conflict. His foreword is laced with a kind of neutrality that dismisses the occupier/occupied state of affairs. He writes: “Both sides are under a duty to negotiate but neither has been prepared, at least simultaneously, to give peace a chance.” This is extremely biased political rhetoric that is disguised as objectivity. How can Palestinians bargain and negotiate their rights and land with the very entity that is compromising those rights and stealing their land? Why is a human rights barrister overlooking justice?
Robertson also once said that international law is for all and that the International Criminal Court is a court for the whole world, but the reality is that it isn’t. Western powers are above the law and are excluded from accountability. The ICC is a racist institution and has only ever tried African leaders - from Congo to Sudan to Uganda. The west is not subjected to any trials and tribulations for its own crimes.
Scrutiny of Iran is valid, but it is examined with a colonialist slash post-colonialist attitude that the brown man is more trigger-happy and ruthless than the white man. Robertson should be more critical of the west and maybe even pen a book about Congressmen and Members of the Knesset without Mercy. I will read his book and report back with more.