Tag Archives: United States

The Iranian Question: Nuclear Power or Nuclear Warheads?

By Leigh Nusbaum

Watching what’s happening from the Middle East to the Midwest over the past few weeks, it seems that everyone has an opinion about Iran today, including the Iranian government.

Iran has held a fascination over people from ancient history—including empires such as that of Cyrus the Great—to the modern era, with the rise of the Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Today, that focus is on Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran insists that the program is for peaceful purposes, but the regime’s opponents, including the Israeli government, argue that the program has a more sinister objective—nuclear weapons.

What’s so fascinating about this debate is that despite how long Iran’s nuclear program has been around, the debate on ending it makes it seem as though it is a recent phenomenon.  Iran’s nuclear program was actually started by the United States in the 1950s. A 2007 Chicago Tribune article detailed the “Atoms for Peace” program, the U.S.’s plan to give satellite countries nuclear reactors. It was a move in a nuclear chess game between the Soviet Union; they sent reactors to North Korea, Libya and Bulgaria, while the U.S. sent reactors to Pakistan, Iran and Columbia.

In fact, type “Iran’s nuclear program” into Wikipedia and you will see a photo of the Shah in an American pro-nuclear power advertisement. “The Shah knows that nuclear energy is not only economical, it has enjoyed a remarkable 30-year safety record. A record that was good enough for the citizens of Plymouth, Massachusetts, too. They’ve approved their second nuclear power plant by a vote of almost 4 to 1. Which shows you don’t have to go as far as Iran for an endorsement of nuclear power,” the advertisement said.

Granted, the Shah was considered an American as well as an Israeli ally, but still it should give pause to anyone in either country who disapproves of any nuclear program in Iran. The fact is: The United States of America and their allies, with tacit Israeli approval, built Iran’s original nuclear reactors. Meanwhile, both the United States and Israel are themselves nuclear powers—the U.S. has perhaps the largest stockpile in the world, while the exact number of Israeli warheads is unknown.

What fuels the recent anger towards Iran is a combination of several issues.  The short version is: Iran wants to enrich its uranium, while countries like the United States oppose it, because they are concerned that uranium enrichment will lead to nuclear weapons.

There’s also a fear of what the nuclear weapons will be used for, if Iran ever gets them. Will the weapons be used as leverage in geopolitics? Will it encourage other neighboring countries to openly pursue entry into the nuclear club? Or given the incendiary statements of Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, regarding the Holocaust, Israel and the United States, will the weapons be used for a more sinister purpose, detonating over Tel Aviv or some other U.S.-friendly location?

This November, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report claims that there was reliable evidence that Iran was carrying out experiments aimed at making a nuclear weapon.  Iran has weathered both substantial criticism as well as new sanctions by the U.S., UK, and EU. Many of these sanctions are directed towards the Central Bank of Iran, which will likely cause a much more crippling blow to the Iranian economy than previous rounds of sanctions.

In response to UK’s round of sanctions, student protesters stormed the UK’s embassy in Tehran. Conjuring up images of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, when Iranian students held hostages in the American Embassy for 444 days, the UK pulled its diplomatic staff out of Iran and closed the Iranian embassy in London. Several EU countries, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands pulled their envoys from Tehran as well.

So the question is, what is the proper response to Iran’s nuclear program? One response that should not be actively pursued is military action. It’s premature and those who advocate for it at this moment are dangerously overlooking the consequences of such action. If anything, it could be worse than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Fareed Zakaria puts it best, “Let’s be clear: We are talking about a preventive war against a country that has not attacked us. We are talking about war on the basis of intelligence reports. It is easy to start a war. It is very difficult to predict how it will go and where it might end. I think we need to ask some hard questions before we start launching the missiles.”

 

A Boy Named David

by Symi Rom-Rymer

David, the recently released feature film directed by Joel Fendelman and written by Fendelman and Patrick Daly, sets out to tell one story, but ends up telling two. The first is about the accidental meeting of two boys, Daud and Yoav, one Muslim, and one Jewish, from the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn who manage to break out of their religious bubbles and form an unlikely friendship. The second is the story of the accidental meeting of the same two boys, one the son of immigrant parents and the other of American parents.

In the first story, religion plays a complex role: at once uniting and dividing the protagonists. Initially, it is the reason Daud and Yoav meet. Eleven year-old Yoav forgets his prayer book on a park bench after studying with his friends.  Watching from afar, Daud, a somber and often lonely child, is curious about the boy who seems as intent on his religious studies as he is on his. Noticing the forgotten book, Daud tries to return it. Unfortunately, Yoav is too far away to hear him. Daud follows him to his yeshiva only to find the door locked. When he returns the following day, he is mistaken for a lost pupil and shepherded into a class.

Now calling himself David, he suddenly finds friendships in the yeshiva classroom that had previously eluded him. Soon, his life is full of basketball and splashing in the waves at Coney Island. As euphoric as he is with his new friendship, Daud is still insecure, driving a wedge into the boys’ otherwise genuine friendship. Daud is fearful to admit the truth about his religion. He remembers his father’s admonition that “Jews don’t like Arabs” and does not believe that his new friends would accept him if they knew who he really was.

That fear is present throughout the film. Indeed, one could come away from the film thinking of Muslims as dour and Jews as joyful. The main Muslim characters seem to have little happiness with their lives, grappling as they are with seemingly insurmountable obstacles: traditional parents, feelings of exile and heavy spiritual responsibilities (Daud’s father is the Imam for their community). Daud’s interactions with his parents are serious and reserved. By contrast, the Jewish characters seem to be the picture of confidence. Yoav jokes easily with his family and friends and laughingly drags Daud on various adventures around New York City.

What saves the film from falling into simplistic clichés is that there is a larger context for these behaviors. The boys are not only of different religious backgrounds, but also have vastly different connections to the United States.  Daud’s immigrant fammily and the serious atmosphere of his home life underscores the struggles newcomers to America often face. How will religious and other traditions be passed on from one generation to the next in a country that prides itself on its plurality? Will family ties be broken if one member leaves home to go to college? What is the best way to keep a family together in the face of an unfamiliar culture?

Yoav and his parents, on the other hand, appear to face few, if any, of these existential concerns.  Instead, they exude instead a more light-hearted demeanor that suggests a sense of security and well-being in the United States.

According to the filmmakers, they set out to tell the story of what happens when two boys from Muslim and Jewish backgrounds become friends in the absence of political and historical baggage—building from the premise that the power of basketball is stronger than that of religious stereotypes. Yet as they show it, while a love of sports and a case of mistaken identity may mask the boys’ overt differences, they cannot escape their backgrounds. Daud’s struggles with internal doubt over who he is casts a pall over his growing friendship with Yoav, who cannot understand his friend’s personal turmoil.

The filmmakers may have missed the target of their original conceit, but they have succeeded in presenting a heartfelt coming-of-age story about a young boy searching for what it means to live in the United States as the child of immigrants and as a Muslim. Hopefully one day, he will figure it out.