Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Hitler couldn't have put it better

Israel exists. And it is vital for progressive Muslims to stand up and say so

Ahmadinejand said Israel should be "wiped off the map". Hitler couldn't have put it better. The Führer would have played the audience similarly - a conference of emotive students marking Jerusalem Day, who would readily rise to imagine the glorious obliteration of the Jewish state. You know the type, furious people like millions of others across the Middle East, disenfranchised and stamped on by their own leaders, who displace their anger by turning their eyes on Israel, lusting for its annihilation in a kind of political pornography which provides temporary relief but can only lead to a greater sense of hopeless impotence and homeless rage.

So the president picked the right crowd for his demagoguery, the right place too. Tehran is always willing to join in with "spontaneous" agitation, flag burning and marches to register defiance of the West while their own liberties are strangled noiselessly.

It is not wrong to deplore the way Europe created Israel and the brutal cynicism with which the anti-Semitic European continent deported its own guilt to the Middle East, stealing the land of Palestinians who were not responsible for the Holocaust but were asked to pay for it with their lives and their inheritance. It is also legitimate strongly to criticise the actions and policies of successive Israeli governments. But Israel exists, and it must, a post-Second World War sanctuary for Jewish people persecuted for 2,000 years. And it is vital for progressive Muslims to stand up and say so.

The president's remarks have been condemned by the righteous across the globe, and by individuals who like to believe they are righteous. The UN, the EU, our Parliament, Russia, China, even the new sober generation of civic Palestinian leaders, Israel obviously, and reformers within Iran have come out to express their alarm and dismay, clear rejoinders to the speech made by a leader who was once Mayor of Tehran and was elected to his present position only three months ago.

The hateful Ahmadinejad is the worst thing to happen to Iran in recent years. A mean, lean little man with little parts and even less imagination, his restless inadequacy grasps at cruel despotism, nuclear military ambitions and religious certainties. His best friends are the Revolutionary Guards and "immorality" police who are once again beating up women and girls who dare let a wisp of hair escape the hijab. To see him isolated is heartening.

But when Blair and Bush and the grisly John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN, start to strut and warn Iran off with imperial arrogance, my outrage against Ahmadinejad is overwritten by fear and revulsion provoked by these leaders who have already led Iraq into such bloody chaos that it isn't even a state any more. There it is again, that glint in Blair's eyes, seeking another folly, another chapter for his dodgy legacy, another theatre to use our weaponry and wealth to show upstart nations who is boss.

Domestically, commentators talk of Blair as a busted flush, a leader whose hold on his Cabinet is slipping away. On this week's Any Questions, poor Tessa Jowell tried pathetically to defend Blair's authority. He was one of the all-time great leaders of the Labour Party, she claimed devotedly. You felt for her as the audience and the other panellists laughed in her face, especially as she attempted to remind people that we have a UN and that reactions needed to be modulated and agreed by that august body. Yeah, right.

Bush is in serious trouble too, in Iraq and at home, and may well choose to galvanise and distract Americans by attacking Iran, admonitory blows similar to those used by Reagan against Libya and by the adulterous Bill Clinton against Iraq when he was in trouble over Lewinksy.

Then there is the Israeli leadership, buoyed up by this escalating situation, rushing to and fro making demands which I hope will be put down firmly. The foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, has said on Israel radio: "We have decided to open a broad diplomatic offensive. I have called on all my counterparts through the world not to turn a blind eye and to stop once and for all the Iranian games."

They want the UN Security Council to meet, to take tough actions against the republic of Iran. Their political allies are already supplying aggressive postures and assembling "evidence" that Iran is likely to use nuclear weapons. In truth, there is only one country which has the capacity to use nuclear weapons in the region, and that is Israel, a nation that flouts all international directives and UN resolutions on nuclear weapons and on its policies in the occupied territories, which have victimised generations of Palestinians.

The really terrifying fact is that nobody knows how big are the stockpiles of these weapons, not even the US, even though it freely supplies what it can to a country in which many volatile and unbalanced politicians get themselves elected. Nobody inspects Israel's nuclear capacity; the subject is never openly raised domestically or internationally.

If the heat continues to be turned up by hardline leaders on all sides, we could get "pre-emptive" strikes by Israel, now that the principle has been established by the allies who embarked on the illegal war on Iraq. They may be unwise enough to think that such an action would secure Israel, and that the world would approve of it; in reality, it would only strengthen the already bellicose anti-Semitic heroes of the Middle East, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad foremost among them.

And where is the proportionality? The Iranian president said dreadful and dangerous things. He will have encouraged suicide bombers already in the pipeline, waiting to shatter their lives and those of others. So in that sense, these weren't only words. But other powerful Iranians have intervened to cool the flames. The nicely named Expediency Council has said Iran wanted a fair two-state settlement for Israel and Palestine.

So the thoughts knock about in my head, and I find once again that it isn't possible to emit simple outrage against one party or to agree that powerful and supremely armed, confrontational nations can do what they will, but that less powerful, well armed and confrontational nations must be punished. And the headache pounds away.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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