Controversy when it’s backed by old animosities acquires a life of its own. Iran’s dispute with the West is wrapped in age-old conflicts of religious and otherwise natures. Here where what appears on the surface may not be all what is causing the hullabaloo. Centuries of conquerors and conquered, with all the middling, muddling, and behind the scenes manipulation, form the background to today’s mistrust. What made matters worse is the stubborn avoidance to recognize what brought the sides to this stage. While Iran’s theocratic regime is a known quantity, the West’s moral crusading against it views as the forces of darkness, mixed policy with ideology. Theocratic regimes maybe an anathema to the West - though what still underlays its social fabric in spite of more than two centuries of secularism is the Judeo-Christian heritage- in many parts of the Islamic world are a fact of life. When it comes to the Muslims, the West’s mundane relativism is still entangled in moral absolutism. For, it’s a historical fact most Faiths’ baggages have a melange of cross purposes claims, where antecedents, historical experiences, etc. vie with cultural stereotyping. Such claims and counter claims have always fed a good deal of mutual mistrusts, which left to their devices will only further complicate any attempts to set the relationships between the Wets and the Islamic nations on new grounds.
There’s no way to avoid the past. For it’s also a fact that Muslims and Islam’s retreat, in the last few centuries, has been met and indeed was a boon to the West in its rapacious pursuit for its supremacy and total dominance. For the West’s blundering, if one time demanded total surrender, now is demanding an embracing of its notion of MODERNITY. Thus at the heart of the conflict between the West and the peoples of the Middle East is the question of the later’s so far refusal to modernity, tout court. This may owe a great deal to a variety of reasons, not the least, the West’s latest double whammy of blatant aggression packaged as liberation. The West’s continuous unrelenting campaigns into the Mideast made the acceptance of modernity equivalent to conceding the West’s civilization superiority. At time when almost the entire world has come to grips with contemporary civilization the Middle Easterners is perhaps the only region still skeptical of the West’s civilization intentions. Despite Mideast’s heavy dependence on all things Western, its partaking in the material artifacts is held separate from the values imbued in such products - the strands which are weaving the fabric of its civilization, as worldviews, values, and behaviors. Hence, modernity and modernization seeds inability to strike roots in such a parched terrain. The ‘mission civilizatrice’ to the Middle East had tinged modernity’s universal values of secularism and freedom with Western behavioral excesses.
Iran, since the "Islamic Revolution" has been viewed by the West, as the enfante terrible in the Middle East. This transition took place almost overnight when Iran went from a client-state and a closely trusted ally to the West to its declared nemesis numero uno. Iran has been treated as a persona non grata and suffered from a pariah state status. Ever since the Revolution the West and its local collaborators have done their best to isolate Iran and to leave her outside the tent of Mideast’s affairs. Thus, Iran, as an outlier, to counter all the dealings and wheelings going on -and the plots woven too!- against her, was forced to concoct a role usually played by the untouchables and rejectees, that of the spoiler, so to speak, if for nothing else, to keep herself in the news, if not in the game of nations. Otherwise, Iran would have long ended up in or been relegated to the category of irrelevant countries. For this, with plenty of other reasons, Iran is still doing its utmost to remain in the game by stretching its paws wherever they could reach. For Iran knows very well that without some local allies that can stir some pots, as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Shia in the Gulf, etc., it’d have no card to trump nor a stake to claim nor a role to play- and would have been just another Stan-on-the-map. Thence, Iran may not have cherished the role of a spoiler but circumstances and short-sighted views have pushed her to be the muck rouser of the area? Therefore, to change this behavior and to induce Iran to make an U-turn, there must be some changes in the other sides’ assessments of Iran, and the whole area too. Not only Iran needs to be given some bone to chew on, that would give her some illusions of face-saving, but also to meet some of her expectations, as treating her a responsible stakeholder albeit of second-rung. However, on a closer look, this is not case instead things appear less rosy than what pundits’ speculations may suggest. The ongoing efforts seem to aim more at curbing Iran’s influence and hindering its nuclear pursuits than to give her any tangible benefits or due respect. It appears the plans to taming the ’Persian Beast’ consist mainly of how to clip its paws so it can be brought back inside the tent. The West’s short sighted views are at work again. In dealing with things Middle Eastern, the West’s pragmatic realpolitik comes wrapped in age-old prejudice of caricatures, stereotypes, and trite cliches. For instance, among these, is the contrived generalizations on so-called cultures of ‘honor and shame!’ Since these put more stock on appearance than substance, therefore, the policy may skirt substance and instead emphasize more symbolism and face-saving devices to do the job.
The groundwork done so far was strong on easy talk and weak on substantive proposals to overcome the hurdles which kept the Middle East where it’s today. Iran is only one link in a long chains made out mostly of Gordian Knots. To cut one is only a start for untangling the mesh still standing in the way of bringing some reason and making the area see the world as it’s rather as it imagines it to be. If in fact the Arab-Israeli conflict is a hard nut to crack, modernization and democratization of the Arab World would be even harder. A culture of archaic political structures, poverty, and a host of post-industrial type problems may be today the most stubborn challenge to any policy of piecemeal accumulative steps aiming to make some visible differences.