Us… As Iran’s Living Space
Us… As Iran’s Living Space
Among the few virtues of Iran’s rulers is that they are fond of explaining matters that may seem contentious or obscure, clarifying issues that could be interpreted in contradictory ways.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a contribution in this regard through a statement he gave a few days ago. “The Americans have decided to paralyze neighboring countries, the Islamic Republic’s strategic depth, before deciding on the aggression against Iran.” He then added that “the Americans said: these six states have to be brought down, Iraq, Syria- Lebanon, Libya, Sudan and Somalia- before attacking Iran... But Iran has succeeded in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, which led to a defeat of the US in these countries.”
Of course, the US did not say the things Khamenei attributed to it, engaging in a habit we have grown accustomed to in our part of the world. However, this defamation does not make his words, which triggered a lot of uproar and even more commentary, any less significant. Indeed, we, the people of these countries, “the Islamic Republic’s strategic depth,” are thus obligated to shield Iran from the arrows supposedly aimed at it with our chests.
The most dangerous aspect of this rhetoric is that it establishes a hierarchical system like that which Stalin had implicitly built when he imposed his domination on the countries that came to be known as the “socialist bloc”: there is the country that is an end, a first class country, and there are the countries that are means, third and fourth class countries. There is a state that is the heart and head and states that are belts and helmets.
This assumption is reinforced by a history of positions and statements founded on the same premise: General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, has said that “officials in Iran had not expected the speed at which Islamic revolution would spread beyond its borders, extending from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen and Afghanistan.” The Iranian President’s Special Advisor for Ethnic Minorities Affairs Ali Younesi has made his own revelation, calling Iraq “the capital of Iran’s new empire.” The commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, for his part, has noted that “Iran continues its conquest of the countries in the region (...) it began by controlling Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine and is now expanding its influence in the other countries.” Haidar Moslehi, who was intelligence minister during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term, has stressed that “Iran does indeed control four Arab capitals”...
Such statements, when they are made by officials, including the Supreme Leader, suggest that the Iranian regime does not hold back, in moments of impulsiveness, enthusiasm, or apprehension, from sharing what are supposed to be “state secrets.” The current moment, because of the revolution that the regime has failed to quell, is one of apprehension.
Nonetheless, the “secret” that Iran is not shy about revealing can only remind us of the concept of “living space-” Lebensraum in the original German. The term was not coined by Hitler but by Friedrich Ratzel, a German geographer and ethnographer who died in 1904, when Hitler was fifteen. Ratzel developed this concept three years before he passed away- at a time when some Germans, having seen their country’s industrial revolution come a long way, had become obsessed with competing with Britain for foreign markets and expansion.
The idea that mesmerized Ratzel and many other Germans was that Germany should be self-sufficient in terms of territory and resources. As for the assumption that this idea is founded on, it is that they were in a constant state of war and that all is fair in war. It was built on a Social Darwinist vision of the world that implies a hierarchical system between states in which those that are less fit for purpose serve those that are more fit and worthy of life.
With the Nazis, “living space” became a strategic element in their theory that was simultaneously racist and expansionist. The expansion eastward and the Germinification of Russia were thus compared to the American expansion westward and Americanizing that West. This “living space” also played a role in justifying the Holocaust, which targeted “parasitic races that are not worthy of life and are sucking the blood of the German nation.”
Of course, with the Iranian regime, we are not faced with that kind of elaborativeness and coherence, nor with similar scientism lavishing false justifications.
However, we are dealing with a hierarchical and belligerent regime that demeans us and turns us into tools to serve it, just as it is turning our countries into arenas and our peoples into resistance movements. That is, turning us into functions that leave no room for building national communities and developing a shared life together.
The mother of all problems is that this is not Iranian occupation; it is much worse than that. Tehran does not have to send its armies, as it makes use of domestic cleavages and adeptly exploits the alarmed vigilance of small identities and their rivalries. And so, it finds, among the residents of those countries, people like the Syrian Bashar al-Assad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Ansar Allah, and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces to take on this task that looks down on and threatens us all, them including, seeing us little more than a living space for Iran.