Killing Iranian scientists: Overland editor’s unintentional Orwellian irony

Killing Iranian scientists: Overland editor's unintentional Orwellian irony

Jeff Sparrow, the editor of literary journal Overland, has written a missive in The Drum today on the “terrorism campaign” going on in Iran. This refers not to what first comes to mind when one reads “Iran” and “terror campaign” in the same sentence, but rather a horrendeous campaign of murder and intimidation against scientists being waged, of course, by Israel: (emphasis added)

Last Wednesday, a motorcyclist attached a bomb to a car carrying a man called Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, killing him instantly, and injuring his two companions.

That was merely the latest atrocity inflicted upon individuals and facilities associated with nuclear physics in that country … this is terrorism, pure and simple – the systematic infliction of deadly violence launched against civilians and their families so as to create a climate of fear among Iranian physicists and other nuclear personnel. 

As Sparrow explains, the assassinations of Iranian nuclear physicists cannot be justified by pointing out that they are working towards a nuclear weapon. You see:

Osama bin Laden could not have composed a more classical apologia for terror. For if, then, the physicists of Iran are individually responsible for the policies of their regime, one presumes the scientists of the US might be held to account for the high-tech weapons used by America in Iraq. And why stop at scientist? Anyone employed by a government – whether a technician or an accountant – facilitates, in some measure, that government’s actions. No innocents, no civilians, no compunction …

If you are still following, Iranian nuclear scientists are civilians and nothing but. This is especially true since, so far as Sparrow is concerned, Iran is not really trying to develop nuclear weapons; a point that he makes by quoting Leon Panetta, the US Secretary of Defence, and then entirely misrepresenting what Pannetta had in fact said. (emphasis added)

“Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon?” he said.

“No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability, and that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us.”

In other words, Panetta confirmed that Iran was not, as the hysterics in the opinion pages seem to think, on the cusp of launching a doomsday missile. Rather, it was developing, entirely legally, a nuclear industry, precisely as the regime has always insisted. (We might also ponder that, in other contexts, Australia – a major supplier of uranium – loudly insists that nuclear reactors should never be equated with nuclear weapons.)

Note that Panetta certainly did not say that Iran’s nuclear program is “entirely legal” – Sparrow has cherry-picked a quote and added his own poorly-supported interpretation. In reality, almost everything else to have come out of the US regime recently would entirely vitiate what Sparrow is suggesting here.

Sparrow is not even very skilled at picking cherries. While he seems to have taken Panetta’s reference to a “nuclear capability” to mean a “nuclear industry”, it is quite clear that Panetta was in fact speaking about the capability to produce nuclear weapons. This can be clarified fairly easily by looking at what other US officials have said, such as this recent statement from Hillary Clinton (emphasis added):

“There is no plausible justification for this production. Such enrichment brings Iran a significant step closer to having the capability to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium.”

In Foreign Policy last week, Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, explained this further. As he outlined, Iran is enriching vastly more uraniam than would be required for its civilian nuclear program and is doing so to 20% purity, which has very few non-military uses. By current predictions, Iran will have enough enriched uranium stockpiled to make four or five weapons by the end of this year, meaning that it would have the capability to assemble a crude nuclear weapon in around a month, should it choose to do so.

Sparrow does not dwell on such details however, because his piece is not really about Iran or its nuclear capability; he is writing, rather, about the true enemy: Israel. Of course, even he admits that there is no proof that the assassinations were entirly concocted by the Jewish state, however this is beside the point.

Oh, of course, Israeli responsibility cannot be absolutely proved. That’s the nature of covert operations: they are meant to leave a certain wiggle room.

But what matters more is that the vast majority of mainstream commentators believe Israel responsible for the murders – and, like Blair, they have no problem with that.

In actual fact, Israel’s guilt is far from certain and even if Israel were partly responsible for these assassinations, it is highly unlikely that Israel would be acting in isolation. But then, who needs proof when mainstream media pundits are pointing fingers?

Apparently, this is proof enough for Sparrow to justify boycotting Israel in its entirety. This is the crux of Sparrow’s polemic and is by far the most concerning point. In just a few short paragraphs, we have gone from Iran’s nuclear program to boycotting Max Brenner because far be-it for Sparrow to mention Israel without cataloguing its supposed evils and tacitly supporting calls for its destruction (such as the boycott campaign). It is difficult to see this as anything other than blind predjudice; it certainly is not reflective of extensive research into the subject at hand. The very real threat posed to the world by the Iranian nuclear program does not even seem to be a concern, at least, not enough to actually do even a little research – such as reading the actual IAEA report – before coming to his conclusion.

No, here is a chance to again tell the world how evil Israel is, how Israel has concocted a grand conspiracy that has sucked in the rest of the world’s governments in order to wage a campaign of terror on the hapless Iranians who have done nothing wrong but still managed to raise the ire of the malicious Jewish state. It all sounds so terribly familiar.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz