by Eric Walberg
Academics, activists, journalists and writers gathered in Tehran for a conference to discuss Israel’s war on Gaza, Islam’s relations with the West as well as the rise of ISIS and those behind the latest terrorist group. Eric Walberg was there.
Monday October 06, 214, 14:19 DST
The conference “New Horizon: the International Conference of Independent Thinkers” was held in Tehran, September 29–October 1, including more than 30 journalists, writers and academics from around the world presenting papers and arguing issues of world geopolitics, with a focus on the Middle East. I represented Canada, along with University of Lethbridge Globalization Studies Professor Anthony Hall, author of Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (2010). It was greeted in western media by hysterical denunciations, in the first place by the American Jewish Committee which accused it of “promoting hatred of Jews and Israel” and the Anti-Defamation League which accused it of “promoting anti-Semitic propaganda”.
The conference almost didn’t take place at all, having been officially cancelled, supposedly as a gesture to the West, after the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected last year. But after a flood of criticism at Iranian websites sympathetic to the organisers, the Iranian Foreign Ministry reversed itself. Nader Talebzadeh, the principle organiser, had had to lobby hard to reinstate the conference, calling the cancellation of the conference “a major mistake on the part of our government”. “Have our leaders given in so much to the world that they are even afraid of a conference that might hurt Mr Obama’s feelings?” asked one blogger sarcastically.
The First New Horizon Conference in September 2012 was denounced in the West when it was addressed by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, probably best remembered in the West for his 2005 soundbyte that Israel should be “wiped off the map”, referring to Ayatollah Khomeini’s prediction that “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” The translation of the Persian text was later corrected but this was ignored in the West, where Ahmadinejad was further accused of “holocaust denial” for suggesting the figure of six million as the number of Jews who died in the holocaust was exaggerated, and mocked for suggesting that 9/11 was a conspiracy.
Indeed, most Iranians see 9/11 as involving some degree of conspiracy by the US and/or Israel, but then so do, for instance, 55% of Egyptians. So, not surprisingly, prominent at the New Horizon Conference this year was the world’s leading 9/11 conspiracy theorist, France’s Thierry Meyssan, who in 2002 published what is still considered the classic work on the topic, 9/11: The Big Lie (L’Effroyable imposture), translated into 28 languages, arguing that the attacks were organized by a faction of “the US military industrial complex in order to impose a military regime.” Meyssan also argues that the attack against the Pentagon was not carried out by a commercial airliner but by a missile. Also present was American filmmaker Art Olivier, who produced the feature film “Operation Terror” (2012), whose scenario followed Meyssan’s.
In a YouGov poll last year, 60% of Americans rejected the official explanation as published in the 9/11 Commission Report (2004), so Meyssan’s call for a UN investigation of 9/11 and the recent petition signed by 100,000 New Yorkers for an investigation of the collapse of World Trade Center building 7 are surely legitimate, though they have been blocked by politicians as “absolutely ridiculous” and “wild fantasies”.
Iran’s current President Rouhani was not associated directly with this year’s conference, instead embroiled in a controversy with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who both extended his hand in friendship to Rouhani at the UN General Assembly in a “historic meeting”, and then slapped him in the face from the UN General Assembly podium, attacking Iran for its “support for terrorist organizations, its nuclear program, its treatment of its people”, called it “part of the problem in the Middle East”.
“On the contrary,” said a peeved Rouhani in his address to the UN, blaming the West and Saudi Arabia for sowing the seeds of extremism in the Middle East with “strategic blunders” that have given rise to the Islamic State and other violent jihadist groups. He also criticized the West’s sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program and reiterated his government’s desire to resolve the dispute, stating that no cooperation with the West against ISIS is possible until the sanctions are lifted. He called Cameron’s comments at the UN “wrong and unacceptable.”
Appropriately, the New Horizon Conference opened with the book launch of the Persian edition of US journalist Gareth Porter’s Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (2014). Porter told me, “Through painstaking checking with experts and an IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] official, I discovered that the documents submitted to the IAEA, which supposedly showed Iranian plans to put nuclear warheads on their missiles, were fabricated by the terrorist group People’s Mojahedin of Iran [referred to in Iran as the munafiqeen] and were passed on to the IAEA by Mossad. They were contradictory—clearly doctored blueprints for an obsolete missile system.” Porter was awarded the UK Gellhorn Prize for investigative journalism in 2012 for exposing official lies concerning US policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this latest expose, Porter did for the Iranian nuclear dossier what he and others did after 2003 in exposing the lies that prompted the US invasion of Iraq.
The conference sessions were varied. “The Gaza War and the BDS Movement Strategies” was addressed by Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin, who has been arrested dozens of time for her plucky protests at Congressional hearings against the war in Iraq, and who famously interrupted a speech by President Barack Obama in May 2013 protesting his continued use of drones against civilians. (She is barred from entering Canada.) Benjamin suggested a new project to highlight illegal Israeli settlements: activists hope to target one of the largest US-based real estate firms, RE/MAX, which “operates in over 90 countries, including Israel, where it sells homes complete with swimming pools in the West Bank to Israeli settlers in defiance of international law. Every Sunday tens of thousands of “open houses” are held by RE/MAX around the world.” Benjamin hopes activists will picket these open houses to embarrass RE/MAX into ceasing their West Bank activities.
A session on Islam and the West, “Postsecularism and its Discontents”, emphasized the importance of ethics in Islamic civilization which makes subservience to market diktat unacceptable, and is a major stumbling block to understanding between the West and the Muslim world. “There is no teleology in western society, no guiding morality, only an obsession with materialism, with logos,” argued organizer Arash Darya-Bandari. “We believe it is necessary to control the negative tendencies in culture, such as pornography, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, to strive towards a more moral and justice society.”
“The ‘Islamic’ State Meme, its Precursors, and the US-Israel-Saudi Triangle” heard frontline reports from Meyssan and others about the intentional destruction of the Iraqi and Syrian states by the invasion of Iraq and ongoing western and Israeli support for insurgents in Syria, directly resulting in ISIS’s phenomenal success. “The West has abetted Sunni-Shia differences in the process to keep Muslims divided and allow continued western penetration and control of the growing chaos there,” charged Meyssan. Rouhani’s comment at the UN—”Certain intelligence agencies [who] have put blades in the hands of madmen, who now spare no one,”—is hard to argue with.
In the session “The Israeli Lobby in England”, Stephen Sizer, Anglican vicar and author of Christian Zionism—Road Map to Armageddon? (2004), explained that the vast majority of Zionists are not Jewish, but Christian. This prompted him in 2006 to draft what became known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism signed by four of the Heads of Churches declaring Christian Zionism a heretical belief, both immoral and a contradiction of faith. The rector of the University of Middlesex was pressured to rescind Sizer’s PhD but the examination committee wouldn’t budge. Nor has Sizer been cowed by constant harassment, including a break-in and the theft of his computer.
Contrary to the shrill cries in the western media that the conference was anti-Semitic, it was unique in my experience in addressing Zionism and US imperialism forthrightly and intelligently, without a hint of racism. The issue of anti-Semitism was addressed and dismissed, as “There is no issue with Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” explained Darya-Bandari, “but rather with Zionism, that secular distortion of Judaism that itself is racist, and has been used as a pretext to dispossess and kill Palestinians.”
The American Defense League loudly attacked the conference for focussing on Zionist control of western media and the outsize influence of the Zionist Lobby in the US and around the world. So what’s wrong with that? There is more than enough documented proof of this, as I discover when I researched Postmodern Imperialism. The ADL labelled several of the delegates as anti-Semitic, including ex-US Marine Ken O’Keefe, who has led several relief convoys to Gaza, has appeared several times on BBC’s Hardtalk in support of Gaza, and famously renounced his US citizenship in view of US crimes around the world. It should be remembered that the ADL was successfully sued in the 1990s for false accusations of anti-Semitism.
The conference issued a resolution condemning ISIS, Zionism, US unconditional support of Israel, Islamophobia, and calling for activism locally to boycott Israeli goods and to promote understanding between the West and the Muslim world, and to fight sectarianism. “This was a great opportunity to meet anti-imperialist activists from around the world, to bring Russians, Poles, western Europeans, North Americans together with Iranians and other Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, in a forum without sectarianism, truly supporting peace and understanding,” said delegate Mateusz Piskorski, director of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw and former MP in the Polish Sejm.
Eric Walberg wrote for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo and is author of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games (2011