Suri Bandler

In a recent visit to Italy, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a group of Italian business leaders that Iran is the “safest and most stable country of the entire region.” Why, then, are leading global players tiptoeing around the regime? In the past month, four major world players — Italy, the U.S., France, and the U.K. — displayed conciliatory attitudes to Iran in different events.

Italy — On January 26, Rouhani visited Rome, a key capital of the western world, and signed business deals with Italian firms worth a total of 17 billion euros. Afterward, he and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke at one of Rome’s most prominent museums, the Capitoline. In order to avoid offending Mr. Rouhani, several nude statues were hidden with plywood boxes.

United States — In that same meeting with Italian business leaders, Rouhani emphasized that economic growth is the most important countermeasure against extremism, declaring that “unemployment creates soldiers for terrorists.” This statement entirely ignores the well-known fact that the Iranian state sponsors terrorism. In fact, in a CNBC interview released on January 21, Secretary of State John Kerry said that it is expected that some of the money freed up by the Iran deal will end up in the hands of terrorist groups.

Rouhani and Renzi meet in Rome
Rouhani and Renzi meet in Rome on January 26th.

Even now, Iran continues to grow its ballistic missile program, entirely disregarding U.S. threats of financial sanctions that are legal under the guidelines of the nuclear deal. In fact, last December Rouhani expressed on Twitter that because of the threatened sanctions, and not in spite of them, he instructed Iran’s Ministry of Defense to accelerate the development of ballistic missiles.

The day after Rouhani visited the Capitoline was January 27, International Holocaust Memorial Day. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei marked the day by releasing a video in which he spoke about the Holocaust and stated that “[i]t is not clear whether the core of this matter is a reality or not. Even if it is a reality, it is not clear how it happened … This is the ignorance that exists in today’s world.” The Iranian leader denied the genocide that killed over 11 million Jews, homosexuals, Romani, and mentally disabled people on previous occasions as well, and the banner used to promote the video on the Ayatollah’s website went so far as to include a photo of Adolf Hitler. Also in recent news, the Ayatollah awarded victory medals to the commanders in charge of seizing the U.S. navy boats last month, saying that Iran should remain wary of its “arch-enemy,” the U.S., even after the nuclear deal.

France — Also on January 27, France hosted Rouhani in the hope of securing a deal to sell military equipment to Iran. During a Holocaust memorial service in France, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and current Israeli politician Michael Oren criticized the negotiations with Rouhani on International Holocaust Memorial Day, stating, “How can Europe honor the memory of the Holocaust, and on the exact same day host the leader of the Iranian regime, which denies that the Holocaust actually happened?”

United Kingdom — Rather than criticize denial of the Holocaust, the U.K.’s representative to the European Council, Alex Salmond, ironically criticized Israel, stating that there is a “time and place for international politics” and that Oren should not have criticized Rouhani “during a solemn commemoration service.”

Iranians protest Rouhani's visit in Italy
Iranians protest Rouhani’s visit in Italy

Meanwhile, many citizens across Italy and France protested Rouhani’s visit to their countries. In Italy, protesters objecting to Rouhani’s visit gathered in Rome’s Pantheon Square. Many Italian citizens took to Twitter using the hashtag #statuenude, meaning naked statues, and they included photos of Roman nudes and unclothed figures in Iranian artifacts to protest the decision to cover their historic art. In France, in order to protest Iran’s appalling human rights record, a woman from the feminist group Femen France pretended to hang herself from a bridge, topless, with the Iranian flag painted on her chest. A banner above declared, “Welcome Rouhani, executioner of freedom.” The group later revealed that they organized the display to bring attention to Iran’s numerous death sentences.

The question remains: why are major world powers treading so carefully around a regime that denies the Holocaust, has an appalling human rights record, continues to grow its offensive capabilities despite legal consequences, and ignores its own role in global terrorism? Could it be purely economic reasons? Naiveté? Fear of the deal collapsing? Perhaps it is fear of the reality: Iran is currently a dangerous force. Many of the world’s citizens already know that, and it’s time for their leaders to behave accordingly. Historically, appeasement hasn’t worked, and we shouldn’t expect it to now.

Contributed by MIT Camera Fellow Suri Bandler.

Originally published in The Tech.

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