Cock-Fights And Fandangos
In The Persian Gulf
By Mathew Maavak
08 May, 2006
Fifa World Cup begins next month. It's a quadrennial event that grips
the entire world in a month-long state of sustained frenzy. Football
- or soccer as it is known in the United States - unites the world like
nothing ever does or did. The sole exceptions are a few Europeans who
can transform a place like Belgium's Heysel Stadium into a shrine for
the art of ripped-up concrete warfare. Yes, in Old Europe, people do
kick the bucket before the ball.
Call it a clash within a
Yet, it is quite ironic that
German cities like Munich and Berlin will host this universal sublimation
of man's atavistic energies. Seven decades back, in these very places,
one guttural voice roused a nation to do just the opposite. He marched
them off to a titanic world war.
But wars and games are inverse
sides of the same passion. While the ball is being kicked in Germany,
both the United States and Iran may be facing one big showdown.
For now, it's still tentative,
much like roosters squaring up before pecking the daylights out of each
other in a cock-fight.
In an April 7 column, headlined
A Global Game of Chicken, Fred Kaplan described the possible confrontation
between both nations in game terms:
Two cars speed toward each
other, head-on, late at night. There are three possible outcomes. One
driver gets nervous and veers away at the last second; he loses.
Both drivers veer away; the game's a draw. They both keep zooming straight
ahead; everybody dies. Back in the early '60s, the flamboyant nuclear
strategist Herman Kahn wrote that one way to win at chicken was to detach
the steering wheel and wave it out of the window; the other driver,
seeing you can't pull off the road, will be forced to do so himself.
The dreadful thing about the current showdown between America and Iran
is that both drivers seem to be unscrewing their steering wheels; they're
girding themselves so firmly in their positions—the Americans
saying Iran's enrichment is an intolerable threat to security, the Iranians
saying it's an absolute ingredient of national integrity—that
backing down is a course neither is willing to take.
There's another dangerous
thing about chicken. One or both drivers might intend to veer off, but
they know they don't have to until the last second. They might accelerate,
to step up the pressure, as the cars approach each other; miscalculations—of
time, distance, and intentions—could ensue; a collision could
happen by accident.
Accidents can be triggered
through a variety of ways. With saber-rattling expected to reach fever
pitch in the coming days and weeks, nerves will be frayed close to the
war zone. A tensed commander from a US or Iranian vessel might fire
a torpedo or missile at an adversarial vessel floating too close for
comfort. Something could be accidentally fired across from the Iraqi
Or Al Qaeda might help along
by dispatching its camel brigade, decked in Iranian uniform to add some
color to the morbid drama. Call that Osama bin Laden's idea of a costume
party, replete with bangs, pow-wows and fireworks. It will be a strictly
all-male stag affair, with neither Shi'ites nor infidels nor anyone
not circumcised with a box-cutter on an airplane allowed in. Outsiders
would be restricted to the belly dancers platform, where they can swish
daggers in sync with lethal gyrations. This is already happening in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
And this may be an excellent
variant to the game of chicken by borrowing elements from bull-fighting.
Here, the turbaned matador can kill two bulls at one go by waving a
red flag at horns charging from opposite ends, exiting in time for the
There can be escalated attacks
against US forces in Afghanistan, where some unfortunate soldier could
be unwittingly invited into a Talibanized version of buzkashi - the
Afghan traditional game where "goat dragging" beats out polo.
Genghiz Khan and those Somalian warlords would be put to shame. If such
horrors are televised, it can be blamed on Iran, the same way 9/11 was
magically pinned on Saddam Hussein. Or some lunatic, dreaming of Saddam's
good ole days, may carry out a spectacular terrorist attack on a major
US base in Iraq. It can also be blamed on Iran. Haven't you heard of
elite Revolutionary Guards performing pirouettes in camouflaged tutus
and bal masques in Najaf and Basra? It doesn’t take much for ballet
to go ballistic; both derive from the word ballo, the former from Italian
(ball) and the latter from Greek (throw).
Told you didn't I that games
and wars didn't differ in essence. And dances too, and I checked that
connection at Oxford's Concise Ninth Edition on a hunch. There was an
old classic case where a fight over a chicken led to a vendetta, and
a duel over the honor and reputation of a lady at a promenade. And then
it went back to vendetta and chickens. Don't believe me? Read Alexander
Dumas' The Corsican Brothers!
One could fight for the less
noble oil and nukes as well; ugly items more inviting for the golden
pheasants of the Gulf Arab states. Many of them are itching for this
geopolitical cock-fight as the Persian rooster still struts like a proverbial
What they couldn't achieve
through Saddam's genocidal war against the Iranians - with chemical
weapons no less - could be wrought through the Americans, even after
their societies supplied most of the 9/11 hijackers. They prefer an
Iran destroyed more than Israel, as the latter unites the Arab world
like nothing ever did or does.
Der Fuhrer must be squirming
in the river Styx. Here are Semites, Arab and Jew, united in pitching
one Aryan nation against the other.
Mustafa Alani, a military
analyst at Dubai's Gulf Research Center, captured the general Arab mood
over Tehran recently.
"If the Security Council
imposes restrictions on Iran, these (Gulf Arab) countries will be happy
to join those sanctions or boycott against Iran."
That's just days away, by
latest calculation, though those deadlines for Iran keep getting stretched
because never in history has one nation held an entire world to ransom
without those conventional qualifications like a strong military, economic
or technical muscle. This, after all, is the birthplace of Purim, where
an endangered minority managed to turn the tables all of a sudden.
Still sanctions will bite.
Among the top five oil exporting
nations, Iran is the only one with a major budget deficit. Sanctions
would be more than a kick in the teeth. It provokes hunger, anger and
If an accident happens, God
only would know who drew first blood. The United States -- post-Korean
war -- had fallen for every short-term interventionist trap the world
could offer. It's neo-liberal, free market fandango at the expense of
democracy in Latin America and elsewhere have been blunders of such
colossal proportions - and loss of lives - that Secretary of State Condoleeza
Rice had to publicly refurbish Uncle Sam's new benign foreign policy
"The United States has
no trouble, no difficulty, dealing with countries from either side of
the political spectrum," assured Rice just before attending the
March inauguration ceremony of Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet
in Valparaiso. She cited Chile and Brazil as leftist-oriented governments
which enjoyed good ties with Washington. "The issue for us is that
when you're elected democratically that you govern democratically."
Fair enough. US citizens
are asking the same of their current president and people elsewhere
are still seeking the mere privilege of asking the same.
Let's hope it's not too late.
For Latin America still views the US with deep suspicion. Hugo Chavez
has not ceased taunting Uncle Sam with his muleta. There are just too
many of them being flailed on the global arena, with too few bulls available
for the show.
After Osama bin Laden kicked
off the game on 9/11, the bulls veered off their objective and geography
to perform a bloodsport in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Iran may get into
Bulls don't die in this sport;
people and soldiers do. The chickenhawks and longhorns will indeed be
safe in Crawford (Texas!), Pennsylvania Avenue, and some cavern in Waziristan,
where, a bearded goat often appears for an Internet show, bleating and
gloating over the gored and slain. It has been ruminating this way for
the past five years, regurgitating its cuds in peace, and possibly perplexed
by the war on terror supposedly unleashed in its name.
Time to separate the goats
from the sheep, and stop this charade?
Sounds like a passage from
the Good Book but it is our misfortune that the United States and Iran
are now led by messianic poseurs, each eager to hasten the return of
either the Savior or the Imam Mahdi. But not before one almighty Armageddon
both feel to have a prophetic role in fulfilling. The heavy thuds of
a stampede are afoot and it behooves us to rally for peace. At least
some of us.
Let us hope both parties
chicken out in time, or limit their duels to nothing more than a diplomatic
is a Malaysian journalist and a recent visiting fellow at Jakarta's
Centre for Strategic and International Studies. He was trained in psychological
warfare, propaganda, crisis management, media crisis and security-related
issues at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Contact him at email@example.com