The 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement kicked off in the Iranian capital of Tehran on August 25 and the 120-member organization is slated to discuss international developments ranging from the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s nuclear program. During the summit, the rotating presidency of NAM will be conferred to Iran by Egypt. Consisting of nearly two thirds of the United Nations body, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is the second largest international organization and its members are said to be politically independent.
Cuba’s former president, Fidel Castro, stated that the ultimate objective of NAM is to foster “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.”
The United States and Israel have been intensively trying to dissuade world leaders from attending the summit through a media campaign aimed at derailing and undermining the largest diplomatic gathering in Iran’s contemporary history. This year’s summit is important for Iran for several different reasons. First, Iran can form regional and international alliances within the framework of NAM to circumvent biting economic sanctions. Second, by virtue of the summit, world leaders will be visiting Iran who mostly have shunned it over the past few years as a result of the negative publicity associated with conferring with Iran’s recalcitrant government.
In a move that is likely to raise eyebrows in several Western capitals, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to attend the summit. For the past several weeks, Western media have decried the fact that Iran had been selected to chair NAM. However, this decision wasn’t made to annoy the United States and its allies. Several NAM members rely on the West for aid, chief among them, Afghanistan, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan and Pakistan.
Some on the political right haven’t spared any effort to portray Iran in the least positive light. Laura Kam, the Executive Director of Global Affairs at The Israel Project, writes, “Do any of the Non-Aligned Movement member states recognize the infuriating irony that an organization seeking to solve the world’s problems and enhance its own stature in the international arena is choosing to hold its summit in one of the world’s most dangerous and problematic nations, not to mention the most blatantly anti-Semitic one, while simultaneously honoring the meeting’s hosts who regularly commit egregious human-rights abuses?”
Failing to separate her feelings towards the Iranian government and average Iranians, Kam called Iran “one of the world’s most dangerous and problematic nations.” However, such descriptions and attributions are not unprecedented. In an October 12, 2011 article published on Foreign Policy titled “A History of Violence,” Matthew Levitt, an American expert on terrorism posed the question, “Is there anyone who still doubts that Iran is a terrorist state?” and wrote, “Iran’s willingness to use brutal means to achieve its foreign-policy goals is nothing new. Since the creation of the Islamic Republic, U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly identified terrorism as one of the regime’s signature calling cards.”
Writing for The Daily Mail, British journalist Max Hastings pointed out on March 7, 2012 that “bombing Iran may appear justified,” adding that “[f]ew of us doubt that Iran is a rogue state led by dangerous fanatics. The world would be a safer place if Iran’s nuclear facilities disappeared beneath a heap of rubble.” Jonathan S. Tobin, the senior online editor of the Commentary Magazine wrote in a July 20, 2012 article after the deadly attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria that Iran should be held responsible, given its long history of “promoting terrorism.” Tobin writes, “Iran is a terrorist state, infused with Jew-hatred and determined to achieve its nuclear goal. Until the administration starts talking — and acting — as if it understands this, its Iran policy will remain a muddle of half-hearted and ineffective measures.”
Such statements are frequently heard from Western political commentators and officials. They tend to consider Iran’s government a threat to world peace and don’t refrain from calling for a military strike against Iran to eliminate this threat. However, importantly, they fail to separate their commentary about Iran’s government from blanket statements about the people of Iran. The NAM summit in Tehran will demonstrate that the term “international community” cannot be exclusively used to refer to the United States and its allies.