Tuesday, March 03, 2009

iran, the jews, and germany

NYTimes | So a Jerusalem Post article says that I’m “hardly the first American to be misled by the existence of synagogues in totalitarian countries.”

The Atlantic Monthly’s Jeffrey Goldberg finds me “particularly credulous,” taken in by the Iranian hospitality and friendliness that “are the hallmarks of most Muslim societies.” (Thanks for that info, Jeffrey.)

A conservative Web site called American Thinker, which tries to prove its name is an oxymoron, believes I would have been fooled by the Nazis’ sham at the Theresienstadt camp.

The indignation stems from my recent column on Iranian Jews, which said that the 25,000-strong community worships in relative tranquillity; that Persian Jews have fared better than Arab Jews; that hostility toward Jews in Iran has on occasion led to trumped-up charges against them; and that those enamored of the “Mad Mullah” caricature of Iran regard any compromise with it as a rerun of Munich 1938.

This last point found confirmation in outraged correspondence from several American Jews unable to resist some analogy between Iran and Nazi Germany. I was based in Berlin for three years; Germany’s confrontation with the Holocaust inhabited me. Let’s be clear: Iran’s Islamic Republic is no Third Reich redux. Nor is it a totalitarian state.

Munich allowed Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland. Iran has not waged an expansionary war in more than two centuries.

Totalitarian regimes require the complete subservience of the individual to the state and tolerate only one party to which all institutions are subordinated. Iran is an un-free society with a keen, intermittently brutal apparatus of repression, but it’s far from meeting these criteria. Significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist. Anything but mad, the mullahs have proved malleable.

Most of Iran’s population is under 30; it’s an Internet-connected generation. Access to satellite television is widespread. The BBC’s new Farsi service is all the rage.

Abdullah Momeni, a student opponent of the regime, told me, “The Internet is very important to us; in fact, it is of infinite importance.” Iranians are not cut off, like Cubans or North Koreans.