I thought this quote from Eric Margolis was particularly important:
“Europe’s greatest triumph has been to rid itself of mankind’s greatest evil, nationalism.”
I don’t think Europe has indeed rid itself of that scourge. But I will agree that nationalism is indeed one of our species’ least useful and most destructive inventions.
It’s nationalism, for example, that is playing a part in the ridiculous “hostage” crisis in Iran.
Here’s my take on it. Many in the Middle East, and indeed around the world, maintain a strong distaste for Britain, due to her imperial history. It’s the British who re-drew the borders of the Middle East, who decided which families and institutions would rule, and who essentially decided many of the conflicts and oppressions that plague the region to this day. So it’s no surprise that British soldiers would be a target.
Secondly, many of the British elite have been among the few voices to side with the Americans in their call for sanctions against Iran. I’m not entirely sure why sanctions are being suggested for Iran; if they withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty, then they’d be breaking no international laws. But that’s another topic.
Third is the fact that, frankly, the British are weak in the region, relative to both the Persians and –most importantly– the Americans. There was almost no chance of the British responding belligerently to this provocation. Had the Iranians taken American prisoners, on the other hand, President Bombs-a-lot would have been right there with the Seventh Fleet and a barrage of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. So, if you’re going to antagonize a Western power who is already perceived to be anti-Muslim, it had better be the Brits and not the Americans.
Fourth, and least likely, is the possibility that the Iranians actually expected the Brits to apologize for their alleged infractions on Iranian territory. I really don’t see this as being likely.
Fifth, and most important, is that all politics are local. Iranian leadership has committed this “counting coup” in order to strengthen their image among their own citizens, and to position themselves as the singular defenders of non-Western independence within the Islamic world and beyond.
Was it a wise move? Only time will tell. All indications thus far point to…. no.