Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Trecherous Alliance - Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US by Trita Parsi

So I googled the image for the next book Alex and I are going to do a tandem read on and googled 'Secret Alliance' instead of 'Trecherous Alliance.'

And I admit, part of me wishes we were doing a review/reading of The Secret Science Alliance rather than this one:

It's not just the attraction of goggles and welder hat but also the thought of plowing through almost 350 pages on a topic that is interesting but not fascinating to me might be a little more difficult than I'd thought. Murakami was a bigger book but it was so easy to read. While I do love non-fiction and am also currently on my fourth Hemingway bio, ultimately I do prefer fiction. I fear this book might stretch my brain a bit too much, or my tendency to lose interest rapidly in things that bore me, but Alex was a stick about Murakami so I will persist with this one. I've even started, and taken some notes.

Probably my reticence is because it will be a political book, and as well it will have US politics in it, and Israeli. I guess I'll be looking to see how balanced it seems (how can I really know if it really is?)

I also should declare my bias towards the Middle-East and away from Israel and the US, well documented over the last years on this blog. This bias stems more from my annoyance with American and Israeli politics rather than an active 'loving' of Middle-Eastern politics, people, religions, culture, ways and means.

If anyone else would like to join us for the read, or has read this book and would like to comment, please jump in.


My notes written over a wine in a funny little wine bar in Middle Park, which is run by alcoholics I think.

Preface xi Current hostility between Israel and Iran more to do with the end of the cold war and the defeat of Iraq in the first Persian Gulf war, than it does the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

pxiii credibility - "no argument in the book is dependent on one or two quotes alone"

- large pool of interviewees
- cross-checking of accounts. How? No detail about that.
- many  interviewees are recollecting (during the interviews) of times from 20 years earlier

pxiv The book "addresses the state of Israeli-Iranian relations from the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 to the present."

p1 "The Iranian president is a Persian version of Hitler" - Shimon Peres re Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

p2 suspect phrasing and imbalance? Para "on one side... [Israel's defender's position] and on the other side [Iran's enemies position]" - this doesn't leave a side or position that could possibly be positive to Iran and negative to Israel. Perhaps I'm jumping the gun. It's like 1 tick for Israel and 1 cross for Iran.

p3 - look up meaning of 'suzerainty'
[current note: meaning is the 'position or authority of a suzerain; "under the suzerainty of...".'

Hmm, helpful. What the fuck's a suzerain? 
1. A nation that controls another nation in international affairs but allows it domestic sovereignty.
2. A feudal lord to whom fealty was due.
Wow, never heard of it. But is this similar to the power the US had over Japan after WWII? Or Europe over Germany?
p4 refers to Bush administration in the present, this hasn't been updated and it's glaringly out of date. The preface was new.
p6 zoroastrian, I like this word. It's one I have heard of but I can't remember what it means.

Zoroastrianism "The religious system founded by Zoroaster and set forth in the Avesta, teaching the worship of Ahura Mazda in the context of a universal struggle between the forces of light and of darkness."
Wow again. Interesting how these definitions really are unhelpful sometimes.
Zoroastrian - "(Non-Christian Religions / Other Non-Christian Religions) a follower of Zoroaster or adherent of Zoroastrianism: in modern times a Gabar or a Parsee"
 Getting a bit more gen* now. 
Persian (Farsi) is closer to Swedish and French than Arabic, though it's written in Arabic script and contains many Arabic words.

Iranians largely follow the Shia line of Islam rather than the surrounding countries who follow the Sunni branch. (Interesting side note; Turkey is the other way around. Majority Sunni, minority Shia.)

- Saddam** invaded Iran - the UN didn't consider it a threat to international peace and security
- took 2 years to call for withdrawal (compared to 1990 Saddam invaded Kuwait, it took 12 hours to demand immediate and unconditional withdrawal)
- from 1980 (date of invasion) another 5 years passed before the UN addressed Saddam's use of chemical weapons. Even then Washington ensured UN resolutions were watered down to protect Saddam. (US and Western countries either sold directly or condoned chemical weapon use.)
- the US later used these crimes to justify its invasion of Iraq in 2003

(this is one reason the US shits me.)

p8 "Anti-semitism is not an eastern phenomenon, it's not an Islamic or Iranian phenomenon [it] is a European phenomenon."


That's as far as I've gotten but I will turn my mind back to it when I can.

Over to you, Alex.

* Like that? Gen is a Hemingwayism.

** Has anyone else ever noticed that Saddam Hussein was always referred to as Saddam rather than Hussein. I've always thought it's strange. Like saying 'John invaded Iran... John's use of chemical weapons...'


elaine said...

I think I would like to read this book.

Additional fact re: zoroastrianism. They have traditionally left their dead out to be pecked at by vultures (this practice is now banned in Iran but, from memory, in Mumbai there is still a place where the parsees can lay their dead for this purpose). A priest would watch the corpse until the first of they eyes was pecked out. If it was the right eye, the person was to go straight to heaven.

Melbourne Girl said...

Hi Elaine, you can get an e-version of it like Alex, or hard copy comme moi. Come on, join us for a tandem read.

Also in Bali there is/was a village near the lake near one of the big volcanoes (Batur?) where they left corpses in bamboo cages, on top of the ground, to decompose.

What would be the rationale behind the vultures? I guess it might be seen as cleaner than burying in ground?


Melbourne Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

Yes Elaine, do join us. I don't mind waiting and it doesn't sound like Melba's in any rush.

Thoughts on preface and chapter 1:

• The thing about nothing being based on one or two quotes caught my interest too. But at least in the early stuff, I'm not really getting any indication that he isn't doing exactly what he said he wouldn't.

• A lot of the language strikes me as being more flippant than what I expected; and I think the author may have decided against going too far into facts and figures in order to tell a story that is more widely accessible.

• At one point, it says that Iran was Islamized in the seventh century B.C. I hope that's a typo and not a sign that the author is getting too lose with facts.

• Did the Saddam thing come about to differentiate him from another Hussein? Like how Hillary Clinton is often "Hillary" because people got used to "Clinton" meaning Bill?

• I found this map on the distribution of different Islamic faiths.

• It seems to me that the Arabs are getting quite the shafting so far. Like, I'm getting this picture of two islands of middle eastern civilisation surrounded by a sea of barbarians. I wonder to what extent this is a reflection of the attitudes of common Israelis/Iranians.

• I find the idea of Taarof intriguing.

Probably my reticence is because it will be a political book, and as well it will have US politics in it, and Israeli. I guess I'll be looking to see how balanced it seems (how can I really know if it really is?)

My general theory is that nations, much like people (and governments -- and the three are largely connected) tend to act in their own self interest and then create narratives and justifications that paint those actions as righteous or well intentioned. Hence, I don't think US and Israel are any more corrupt or "evil" than any other nation, I just think that their power and influence has allowed them to get away with a lot more (on a global scale) than what most countries do.

Also, while it's nice to think about getting a "true" perspective of history, I don't know if you really can. Furthermore, if you're talking about how it relates to current events, I'm not even sure how useful it is. Current actors act according to their own perceptions of history; so perhaps it is more useful to understand each of those.

I notice the idea of ideology vs strategy is mentioned a few times. One thing I'm interested in is how often you see groups claim that their political ideology is based on religious principles, yet seemingly whenever it becomes convenient to adopt a change in political direction, the religion is re-interpreted and the weighting of the principles shifted. An example I can think of is Christian conservatives who conjure up all manner of obscure old testament bullshit to rail against abortion and homosexuals but seemingly forget that whole bit that Jesus said about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. I hope they get into this sort of thing.

And Secret Alliance does look pretty good.

Melbourne Girl said...

Agreed Alex I'm in no hurry but it will be an interesting stroll I think.

I need to catch up, I didn't read about taarof.

And yes, you said: At one point, it says that Iran was Islamized in the seventh century B.C. I hope that's a typo and not a sign that the author is getting too lose with facts.

Has to be a typo, I haven't reached that bit yet, but it kind of makes you wonder about the quality of the product? It's like yesterday I watched a program on The Age TV thingy, about 50 years of the pill (it's still up, v interesting if anyone has 43 mins to look at it, here's the link: http://www.theage.com.au/tv/show/the-pill-atom-bomb-of-contraception/the-pill-atom-bomb-of-contraception-20120504-1y30g.html

But my point is there's a lot of German in there and therefore lots of subtitles. I saw spelling errors (dosse instead of dose, dossage instead of dosage, and the fact that a vaginal ring known as the Nuva ring in Australia is inserted into the uterus (where it's not, it's inserted into the vagina.) Immediately these errors made me doubt the quality of the other information. I think there is a big responsibility to have impeccable quality of information, if you are purporting to disseminate facts.

Good point about history - of course, there are many histories to any one event. One person can even have multiple perspectives and responses.

Oh goody, I hope Elaine joins us.