Does This Aggression Call for an Intervention?

There is a couple at the next table at the cafe, having lunch together. The guy has been going on about how the president of Iran has called for "exterminating the Israelis." Of course, this has shown to be a lie many times, and it's a dangerous lie, since it is a pretext for a war with Iran that might kill millions of people.

So, what would you do? Do you interrupt these strangers' lunch to stop the spread of this vicious rumor? Or let them eat in peace, and figure correcting the error with just this one person is only a drop in the bucket, and not worth the breach of etiquette involved in intervening?


  1. When one realizes that the task is minimizing coercion, rather than avoiding coercion (an impossible task!), life indeed gets more complicated.

    This is why I wear headphones and listen to music in cafes. Blissful ignorance of the existing of coercion is an underrated solution to the problem.

  2. I will pretend that I did have earphones on! Anyway, they are leaving, so much choice has been made: I typed this post as a compromise measure between doing nothing and interrupting them.

  3. There's too much stupid in the world not to carry some sort of musical device with you at all times.

  4. I would have said yes, but do you think someone who has jumped to this extreme conclusion so readily would actually reconsider their position on the issue?

    I heard evidence that might have damaged my conclusions a fair bit when I was an Israel partisan, but it was all a fake distraction because the Iranians (or whomever Israel was bickering with at the time) really really were the party of absolute darkness.

  5. Well, Warren, I didn't know the guy from Adam. Perhaps he was a committed ideologue who would have been deaf to contrary evidence, or perhaps he was an open-minded fellow who simply had been taken in by propaganda. Ultimately, I decided that, by blogging the moment, I could debunk the lie better than I could by confronting this one person. But I'm not sure if that choice was right! Perhaps I was just cowardly.

  6. I read both of those articles, and they seem to focus on one particular misquote -- admittedly a very bad one -- but act as if this is the only hostile statement ever recorded.

    Are there not other examples of this kind of thing? Aren't Israel and America referred to as the Little and Great Satan, respectively? What about the 'Death to America' chants?

    I'm not saying invade tomorrow or anything, and I'd like to see things turn out peacefully, but the laser-like focus on the one particular translation looks fishy to me. If it were really a warmongering ruse, I would think there is quite a bit more conspiracy to explain here.

  7. I'm Israeli. For some unexplicable reason I don't think inviting Iranian president for tea and biscuits will be sufficient.

  8. That's tough Gene. I personally hate awkwardness and conflict, so I never pipe up in situations like that. But, if others do so in a polite way, more power to them.

  9. Anonymous4:55 PM

    As a man who is self-described as "tactless", I have found in more recent years that it is best to choose your (intellectual) battles wisely. Further, I've learned that you never know who/what you're dealing with until you get to know the other side.

    However, I have found that injecting a completely unrelated topic ("how's about that weather?") or simply being personable and polite, often leads to inroads, as well as friendships.

    Certainly my former-self and my present-self would not have been good company.

    Nobody started out knowing what they know, that is for certain. It would be presumptuous of (any of) us to assume that others are entirely ignorant.

  10. Anonymous10:58 PM

    JEK, I am afraid you are viewing opponents with a cracked mirror.

    If you believe in intervention and action, then it would be a mistake to believe that all opponents or people who disagree are exact 180 degrees opposite of you - appeasers or surrendering cowards.

    While it may be important to consider an impending threat and prepare for it, it is also important to understand the resources at your disposal and their ability to solve a problem without aggravating it.

    If pacifism and non-interventionism is the "ideology of Western suicide", then so must be reckless intervention and thoughtless battles. For the exact same reason.

  11. "JEK, I am afraid you are viewing opponents with a cracked mirror."

    Yeah, Prateek!

    The cracked looking glass of a servant?

  12. @JEK: "I'm Israeli."

    Good of us to let you know you are biased right off the bat.

  13. "but the laser-like focus on the one particular translation"

    But the neocons "laser-like focus" on repeating the lie again and again and again does not look fishy to you?

    That the Iranian government does not *like* the US or Israeli governments is pretty clear. But the important point is do they plan to act on that dislike? Yelling "Great Satan" doesn't say much about that. If the president had really called for "wiping Israel off the map" it sure would!

    Other countries can hate yours, but as long as they don't plan to attack it, you should leave them be.

  14. Anonymous6:51 AM

    There is also the fact that the office of President in Iran doesn't have any control over the armed forces.

  15. Well, I don't agree with attacking, either. I'm just saying that finding that this one statement is a lie -- which I'm glad you pointed out to me, for sure, but all the same -- does not change my view of the nature of the character of Iran or its intentions in its relationship to others, and I doubt it would have for the people you were listening to, either. I don't see how you can claim that Iran's words have given little other indication of aggressive intent, when you see a president leading a mob of people in chanting "Death to America!", and a government sending money to organizations like Hezbollah. Actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to intentions to attack, which one wouldn't speak about in public if he had any sense, anyway. And even when it comes to words, do you really think that they mean "Death" in the passive voice? If yelling "Great Satan" gives no indication of an intent to act, yelling "Death to America" certainly does. If our president was leading a bunch of Americans in such chants, you'd be doing a backflip over it!

    So, here you will be interrupting their conversation to point out an error, which, while interesting, and while we'd like to give as much credit where credit is due, and know the facts of the matter as well as possible, that doesn't much materially change how they would view the situation, and you don't really have much else to go on to convince them that Iran really doesn't mean anyone any harm because you can't negate the other evidence. So, I don't think you'd have much chance to use your fact to change their position and take the opposite (non-interventionist) view, because I don't think your fact really speaks much to that. You'd do better just to point it out casually, as a point of conversation, if you just want to clear up that one point, or to take some other line of argument if it's their overall position you are interested in. If that's what you were thinking, then it was probably a great intention, if you have the art of conversation to do it well. But if you think your 'fact' is going to change their minds, and attempt to do so using it, you are probably going to come off as an obnoxious hippy-type and harden them in their positions.

    BTW and OTOH, I'm totally with Murphy on people enhancing their confrontationalism generally, although obviously being too confrontational or inappropriately so isn't necessarily great either. But it seems to me that many of us are non-confrontational purely because we are shy, or 'afraid,' and I have been convinced that shyness is a manifestation of pride that too often goes unconfronted because it isn't recognized as such. Shyness is a behavior motivated by a desire to protect one's ego from the possibility of embarrassment or loss of status in the eyes of others, which causes him to act in a way he knows to be wrong or inappropriate. Of course, if one has been shy his whole life and hasn't learned much of the art of conversation, then I suppose he'll come off as irritating and obnoxious, at least for awhile.

    But even so, I suspect that is actually an improvement...

  16. "yelling "Death to America" certainly does."

    Codswallop. How many of the people yelling this intend to do anything at all about it? Almost none, I'd say.

    And maybe if we didn't have the CIA overthrow their elected government, they wouldn't chant that?

  17. "Codswallop. How many of the people yelling this intend to do anything at all about it? Almost none, I'd say."

    Pikespittle (or some other equally germane reference to piscine bodily fluids). On those grounds one might as well throw out almost everything that both sides have said. Which might actually a be a profitable suggestion.

    Iran has given the most solid evidence anyone could ask of its proclivity to act on its 'dislikes.' It has a long history of using proxy groups to physically attack Israel -- not even on its own behalf, but on behalf of the Palestinians, exactly the type of thing you do not approve of from the US. That does not mean Iran will necessarily nuke Israel, of course. Probably not. My guess is that they'll use their nukes in a similar manner to Pakistan, as a shield to hide behind so that they can ratchet up conventional attacks with confidence. But to think that they harbor no intention of hurting others, they just want everyone else to leave them alone, or that we have no reliable indicators of their violent proclivities, strains credulity.


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