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Interview with Christopher de Bellaigue

HarperCollins, New York (2005)

HarperCollins, New York (2005)

To continue with this theme: I have to say that you appear rather contemptuous of the way survivors and family members speak to you of martyrdom in the context of this war. What accounts for this? In other words, what makes the willingness to die for faith in God worse than the willingness to die for faith in the nation?

Well, first, I would take issue with your ascribing of "contemptuous" tones to my writing! I wasn't trying to be contemptuous; I may have been a little abstracted from the idea but I certainly didn't mean to be contemptuous.

In some ways, I find it remarkable - and even admirable - that people are willing to die for an abstract idea, and not merely just for material gain. But what I think sets that aside, what distinguishes this idea of dying for your faith from dying for your country is that if you die for your country, there's no necessary reward in that, in terms of what happens to your soul after you have died. Whereas, in this case - in the case of people who go to war believing fervently that if they die in the right way, they will go straight to heaven - then there is that sense of reward. If you die for your country, that's reward in itself, but for people who die for their faith, there is an extra reward.

You say towards the end of the book that Israeli and American claims that "Iran's interest in nuclear weapons was offensive in design" are false and that in fact, Iran's interest in nuclear weapons was really "an insurance against regime change". What do you think the prospects are now, in the second Bush administration, that the Americans will actively pursue "regime change" in Iran? And even if not, do you think it is likely that either Israel or America will launch targeted military strikes against Iran's nuclear installations in the near future?

I think it's much more likely that they'll do the latter than the former, but you can never put anything past this administration. I do think though that the latter is far more likely and all the more so since it seems that the Bush administration will probably fail to garner sufficient support in key international institutions, such as the UN, for concerted diplomatic action against the Iranians. So, no, I don't think they will pursue regime change now. But at the same time even targeted strikes would seem to me to be very, very dangerous, fraught with uncertain consequences for American interests in that region but obviously, most important of all, for the people of that region.

And how do you see the Iranians reacting in the event that this occurs?

Well, they have hinted broadly that they would create chaos in Iraq, that they would create chaos in Afghanistan, create more chaos in Palestine. I don't know if they would be willing to carry out that promise, but it's certainly something worth taking into account.

Do you think that the Americans are likely to join the Europeans in their negotiations with Iran?

It seems very unlikely if you've got a Secretary of State that tells French intellectuals that Iran is totalitarian, when it clearly is not totalitarian, it's a semi democracy. It seems very unlikely that someone with that kind of moral clarity or vision is going to sit down and do business with the Iranians. Although the Iranians, I think, would be receptive if the Americans were ever to make such a gesture because they do feel vulnerable.