This isn’t really a post about racism, as much as one about the idea of an ‘artificial’ state. According to the Iranian state, Israel is “an artificial creation of the West”. It is an alien entity with no right to exist in Arab land.
Now this is, in a sense, true. Israel was created by a sort of ‘artifice’. But it applies equally to Iran and every other state in the region.
What would be a viable criterion of ‘artifice’ vs. ‘nature’ in the formation of political set-ups? As in many areas, we have to move away from external impressions, judgements of naturalness that come from looking at the region and feeling something – that it is ‘natural’ for Christians to live there but not Buddhists, Arabs but not Turks, theocracies but not secular dictatorships, etc. Everyone can give a different judgement of that, we would never be finished.
An objective criterion of artificial/natural would have to come from the experiences of the people involved. And I can think of no better criterion than violent/voluntary change. A political change that results from people doing what they themselves want to do is a natural change, while one that results from people being compelled to do what they don’t want to do by the threat or reality of violence is artificial. Do we not often speak of sudden unexpected events as ‘violent’?
Now by that criterion the State of Israel is undoubtedly an artificial creation – not specifically of ‘the West’, but of a confluence of forces, among which the British and Americans were prominent alongside Zionist leaders. They expelled by violence a great number of people, and settled their land. They changed the demographic and political situation by a grand act of violence. And they maintain and extend that change by violence; and hence by ‘artifice’.
But Iran was created how? By a succession of wars and revolutions, in which the losing side was at each point violently suppressed. That is how there came to be a state and government of the sort that there is over the territory that it holds. And every minute of every day, that situation is maintained by an act of violence against everyone who breaks that state’s laws.
So the Islamic Republic of Iran is an artificial creation of Iranian politicians and soldiers and state functionaries. So is the state of Jordan and the state of Turkey and the state of Oman. By what seems to me the most obvious criterion of ‘artifice’, statehood in general is artificial: it is an active and deliberate imposition of something on people against their will – an imposition which has always been and is constantly in a million little ways resisted.
Similar things could certainly be said about capitalism. Many people protest against socialism that capitalism is just ‘natural’, an inevitable product of humans doing their respective thangs. But then why was so much rapid, wrenching, violent change needed to make that happen? Why did people have to be forced off their land and driven into proletarianity? Why did masses of people resist?
What’s so interesting is how this can be concealed. The Iranian government is at pains to insist that it is not like the Israeli government: it is ‘natural’, an organic expression of the Iranian people. If possible, it would quite like to suggest that it’s not even really a government, or a state – it is the Iranian people, it is ‘Iran’. And it does so, in fact, very successfully – our language is thoroughly attuned to using a single word, ‘Iran’, to mean both the government, the state, the geograhical area and the population there (rather like how the word ‘man’ means both all humans and all adult male humans).
And the great victory is that this makes the acts of violence, and the acts of resistance, that constitute the continued artificial creation of the Iranian state, invisible. Making the nakbah, the dispossession of the Palestinians, stand out as a crime against nature, serves to normalise and naturalise the continuing statedom of the rest of the Middle East, and its violent, artificial nature.
It suggests that those who resist the ‘natural’ authorities are only hurting themselves. The blasphemer and the shoplifter is just a child throwing a tantrum – the blessed ‘Iran’ that they reject and dissent from is a natural outgrowth of their own identity, and so by attacking it they cut themselves off from themselves. Could anything then be kinder than to imprison them for their own good?
It also has the useful effect of blurring together several questions into the horrible phrase ‘Israel’s right to exist’. Clearly the inhabitants of Israel have the right to exist, as do all human beings. Clearly they have the right to organise themselves voluntary in whatever way they choose, with however many Synagogue services and pledges of allegiance of ‘Jewish National Culture’.
But they have no right to impose that by force either on other ‘Israelis’ or on anyone else. But the state of Israel is precisely that imposition by force. Saying ‘Israel has a right to exist’ is like saying ‘No-one is here’ (where is she? I can’t see her) – its grammatical structure is deeply misleading. What looks like a statement about something called ‘Israel’ existing is actually a statement about some people using violence against other people in a certain way (as is the claim that ‘Palestine has a right to exist’ or ‘Tamil Eelam has a right to exist’ or ‘Sri Lanka has a right to its territorial integrity’).