By Mehdi Sepahvand, Tehran Times Political Editor

Iran as the nuclear ‘other’

December 13, 2017

Ever wonder why U.S. President Donald Trump called the Iran nuclear deal the “worst deal ever” for America? It would be a remote proposition to say that the deal has not met its claim to being a good non-proliferation agreement. The thing about the deal that stings Trump and his fellows may be that it came across the idea they wanted Iran to represent.

To make my point, let’s have a detour to the postcolonial field of study and the process called ‘othering’ as a mechanism of imperialism to sustain its domination. The colonized subject is characterized as ‘other’ through notions such as blackness, primitivism, etc., to help establish the binary separation of the colonizer and colonized, wherefore to assert the naturalness and primacy of the colonizing culture and world view, as well as to create the right for the colonizer to change - under such pretexts as education, economic development, or containment of threat - what it wishes about the subject.

The term ‘other’ in postcolonial studies derives from French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s notion of the other which the child realizes when it looks in the mirror and recognizes itself as a separate being. For the child, its image becomes the source of hope for, as Lacan says, an “anticipated mastery,” which lays ground for the formation of the ego. 

In postcolonial terms, the ‘other’ has come to be used for the colonized subjects who are marginalized by imperial discourse, identified by their difference from the center and existing as subjects of mastery to the imperial ego.

Indian scholar Gayatri Spivak took the notion of the other to introduce the verb “othering” to denote the process by which imperial discourse creates its others. Here again the other is the excluded or mastered subject created by the discourse of power. The otherness of the other, in fact, owes its existence to the colonial discourse.

Now, back to Trump’s track, the Iran deal can be seen as running across the discourse that was trying to cast Iran out of the ‘civilized’, ‘educated’, ‘peaceful’ category of nations. The outcasting was surely not technical in terms of nuclear science, i.e. attempt was not here to get away the knowhow from Iran, which is practically impossible. The attempt was rather to create a notion of Iran as a country that cannot have this or any other technology on the grounds that it is the ‘other’, the ‘primitive’ in imperial discourse that just is not entitled to mingling in with the ‘us’, the ‘center’.

This is the reason why the International Atomic Energy Agency’s official reports that Iran is complying with the deal, as well as the European Union’s repeated emphasis that the deal is working and should be preserved, are nonsense to the United States. Washington’s expansionism cannot have Iran as a neutralized state. But why?

How and why imperial discourse creates its others is well shown in “Waiting for the Barbarians”, a novel by the South African novelist John Maxwell Coetzee. The magistrate who tells the story is situated at one of the contact zones of the empire running the business of the outpost town in a mostly tranquil atmosphere. The turn of the story comes when Colonel Joll of the Third Bureau (i.e. the secret police) is commissioned there to beat out of the ‘barbarians’ any information that can be gathered. It is not hard to imagine that there has been no threat and therefore no information to draw from the nomadic people before the arrival of Colonel Joll. However, the Colonel is in the business of creating the enemy, of patching up some opposition that must exist so that the empire is able to define itself on grounds of difference with the other, and then to justify its workings against it.

Now, no matter how much the Old Continent prefers peace and quiet with a neutralized Iran, the American empire cannot miss having a nemesis. A neutralized Iran would mean less legitimacy for America as the serving soldier of the “global community” deployed anywhere a threat peeks.

A more pessimistic view of the situation, nonetheless, can be one of the old good cop/bad cop as an attempt to nullify, in practice, Iran’s military threat, if any, while keeping the idea of its threat alive. This view may be justified by the fact that after they stroke the nuclear pact with Iran, Western powers are stoking the furnace with claiming fresh concern over Iran’s missile program, the status of human rights in the country, or economic transparency.


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