Once again tense United States-Iran relations are being brought to a crisis point, and in ways that pose threats to both Middle East stability and to an already fragile world economy.
Amidst tightening European Union and US sanctions on Iran, the US is blacklisting countries dealing with Iran’s central bank. This would effectively stymie payments for Iranian oil. Iran in turn is threatening to prevent ships traveling through the Straits of Hormuz, through which a sixth of the world’s oil is transported.
In response, a spokesman from the US fifth fleet in the Middle East has declared that such action in international waters would put Iran “clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated.”
Iran for its part has abilities to bring sensitive Middle East issues to crisis point. For instance, by encouraging Shia Islamist Hezbollah members in Lebanon to fire missiles it has supplied into Israel, and/or by encouraging its very powerful Shia connections in a very unsettled neighboring, post-US occupied Iraq to press difficult issues. As noted in the previous blog on Iran, the Israelis have for some time been preparing, with European Nato support, for long-range bombing missions to Iran.
So conflicting parties are, between them, building up tensions that could result in many deaths and much local and wider economic damage. The price of oil recently shot up over $100 when the Iranians threatened to block the Hormuz Straits, and came down again only when Saudi Arabia promised to pump out extra oil to make up any shortfall.
Even more deeply concerning is how similar this scenario sounds to one that began to be played out a few decades ago in which neighboring Iraq was accused (falsely as it is now well known) of having a nuclear weapons development program, and to be behind the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Reasons for this concern deepen when one looks at the Iraq that has emerged from attempts to solve the problems it was perceived to have and to have caused; namely, a highly unstable Iraq that will need lots of good will, skilled leadership and good luck to avoid sliding into endemic social conflict, terrorism and even chaos. Nearby, attempts to resolve issues to do with Afghanistan are not looking any more promising.
Directly and indirectly, massive human and material resources have since the end of the Cold War been put into military “solutions” to deal with problems from Somalia across to Pakistan, while the US had also encouraged and resourced neighbouring Mexico to deal with its drug problems by adopting its “war on drugs” concept. That war is now producing bodies by the dozens, by the day, a great many of whom do not have any connection with drug-dealing or use.
Have those who have advocated and implemented these wholesale military “solutions” begun yet to notice that their formula is not working as they intended?
Like the proverbial hammer for which every problem can look like a nail, nations with large military resources can slip into habitually defining problems as situations that need to be addressed by making military threats.
Perhaps it is time for everyone to take a fresh look, together, at different ways of framing, addressing and resolving differences and problems?
Ways that do not prioritize looking for solutions by finding enemies to destroy. Ways that perhaps, instead, prioritize building effective and productive connections and relationships across cultural and social boundaries and across the world.
New and effective ways of communicating and building understanding are very badly needed.
For instance, could there be new and more effective ways of bringing the intelligence, resources and good energies of people and institutions in more fortunate and stable parts of the world to bear on the problems and possibilities of other, less stable societies in the likes of the Middle East?
Particularly through innovative projects that involved interactive technologies that people now have, or could be helped to have, in their hands, laptops or on their desktops in their day-to-day village, city and organizational lives?
Projects that blended technological innovation with a new form of social innovation. This social innovation would be both local and global.
Essentially, it would involve creating better-connected localities in parts of the world where the stability and resources needed to do this existed, and “twinning” them with localities in other areas.
Then within these twinned local-to-local or village-to-village relationships , creating peer-to-peer organizational relationships. These peer relationships could be very productively developed between educational organizations (including at class-rooms) at all levels as well as citizen, local authority, and business chamber organizations.
Sister city programs exist in many parts of the world, and perhaps it is now time for many of them to catch up with what interactive technologies have to offer. These could include exploring new possibilities for productive peer-to-peer connection-building between organizations in more developed with their counterparts in other, culturally different, and sometimes less well-endowed, parts of the world. (cf village-connections blog, Innovative Sister City Networking for Global Solutions)
Let’s have some political and opinion leaders in the Western and the Middle Eastern countries begin to comprehend, flag and promote such visions so that people, and relevant decision-making committees everywhere, can begin to focus on the new possibilities they could begin exploring to good effect.
The process could start with attentive listening to parties by New Zealand diplomats with nuclear-free, peacemaking credentials based already in Tehran, Washington, London, and Europe, and of course the United Nations, as a preliminary to new talks between the parties such as has now been called for by Iran.
Moves could then be taken to give new impetus to dialogue, including a reinvigorating of “Dialogue of Civilizations” programs that have since 2001 been promoted through the United Nations initially at the behest of the then Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. He also set up a centre in Tehran to support such dialogue.
Why not also, this time around, bring fresh new insights and energies into the conversations by adding a “dialogue of villages?”
This project could involve sensitively and progressively building up local, grass-roots “village-to-village” connections between citizens, and civic, educational, community service and trade organizations, in New Zealand and elsewhere in the West with peer counterpart organizations or incipient organizations in, for instance, Middle Eastern and other Islamic countries such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan (from which New Zealand is about to withdraw its commando unit).
Especially where common interests emerge, including where education and trade are involved, more people from diverse parts and cultures can find themselves more motivated than otherwise to learn and benefit from new cultural contact.
Language need not be an insurmountable barrier at least for English speaking countries. There is a widespread knowledge of English and an interest in learning it in many parts of the world. More otherwise monolingual English speakers could also find themselves stimulated to learn and enjoy other languages and cultures.
Such inter-village initiatives could also help to give valuable support and civic know-how to Arab Spring movements whose futures are, currently, hanging very much in the balance.
There is clearly much to lose by struggling on with present costly and failing paradigms, but there could be much to gain by discussing and exploring some promising-looking new ones.
Any feedback most welcome (below in comment section), or send in your own contribution