We’ve commented very little here about the Iran earthquake of December 26th, which could obviously be an earthquake in more ways than one. For several days now, I’ve been wanting to do a piece called something like “Now wait for the political tremors”. But hello, what’s this?
Here’s how this Economist piece concludes:
… the catastrophe may have one benign effect: a lessening of the Islamic republic’s distrust of foreigners. That distrust was evident in 1990, when the Iranians turned down many offers of outside help in the aftermath of a previous catastrophic quake and officials denounced sniffer dogs as “unclean”. Mr Khatami, in recent days, has showed no such qualms, appealing for help from all bar Israel. Some people in Bam were rescued thanks to the once-reviled canines.
Mr Khatami’s conservative rivals have mixed feelings about foreign help. During his trip to the area, the supreme leader did not deign to mention the mainly western countries that had rushed to Iran’s aid, let alone thank the rescuers in person. That is not untypical of Iran’s stand-offish conservatives. Last Friday, while survivors of the disaster surveyed the wreckage of their lives, Mr Khamenei found time to extol at length the merits of making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Yes, but setting aside how the conservative bit of the Iranian elite feels what is the Iranian elite as a whole doing that is any different?
This UPI piece is somewhat more informative on that score:
On the issue of a diplomatic thaw, Rashid Khalikov, a U.N. official, praised Iran’s quick call for help and opening of its borders. “They immediately opened up their airports for foreign flights, opened their consulates all over the world to issue visas for aid workers as fast as they could and have often waived them,” Khalikov said at a Monday news conference in Geneva.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in interview with the Washington Post, “There are things happening, and therefore we should keep open the possibility of a dialogue at an appropriate point in the future.”
The story seems to be that there are two kinds of attitude that are contending for supremacy in Iran, the one that says that Allah will see to everything provided only that we grovel to him in the precisely correct manner while wailing the precisely correct noises, and the one that says that if Allah wants this mess (and all the other messes around here) sorted, the way he’ll do it is by us sorting it on his behalf, by making use of such things as dogs, foreigners, etc. The former tendency wants the West to drop dead. The latter tendency wants Iran to come alive.
And this earthquake, paradoxically, plays right into the hands of the Come Alive party, because it shines a big public torch on which attitude saves lives and which one does not. For never forget that the key to how many people die in disasters is not just how many die in that first horrible few minutes, but how many more die of boring things like malnutrition, the cold, infection caused by lack of sanitation, infection of untended wounds, etc., during the days that follow. And that latter figure is determined by the attitude of those in power who are able to do something, and who either do that something or do not.
Personally I don’t think it makes much sense to moan about whether buildings were or were not earthquake proofed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but is no help in clearing up a mess right now. That stuff comes later.
But a ruling elite that sits on its prayer mats in the immediate aftermath of disaster but otherwise does nothing is definitely moan-worthy. Mr Khamenei and his ilk will surely not be looking good in the eyes of their fellow countrymen right now.