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Bomb Psych, 101: The “Sacred Value” of a Nuclear Iran

Posted on January 9 2010 4:30 pm
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We’ve long known that those willing to terrorize civilians using their own bodies as lethal weapons hold a particularly irrational worldview.  We understand that somewhere, there is a disconnect with the mind and true value of the human body, not mentioning the intrinsic worth of others. We’re continuing to discover the complicated relationship between that disconnect, that actualized disdain for the world and its affections, and Islam.  How we assimilate and rationally deal with this on an International scale (while protecting our homeland and interests) is, of course, a long-standing diplomatic and national security debate.

As if a global network of hyper-religious kamikazes weren’t enough to contend with, there is the race against the Iranian bomb. Newsweek columnist Sharon Begley probes the distinct melding of national pride, religion and enigmatic psychology behind the nation’s nuclear ambitions.  She explains,

[…]Iran’s nuclear program has, for many Iranians, become a “sacred value.” That term has a specific meaning in social psychology. Sacred values are those that trump rational cost-benefit analysis. Specifically, the more someone is offered in return for giving up a sacred value, the less he is willing to do so. That’s the opposite of how people treat other values, where the more we are offered for our old car, our house, an article of clothing, our place in a line, or any other “secular” holding, the more willing we are to give it up.

In essence, an object or belief which transcends normative possessive estimation constitutes a sacred value.  What the actual object or belief is would dictate a personal or corporate reaction, and certainly raises questions of self-sovereignty and civil rights. For instance, my faith in Christ is a sacred value.  To seek to abolish this value is an affront to personal liberty. However, if that faith in Christ also included mass murder via suicide bombing as a sacred value, my right to believe would intersect another’s right to exist. Thus, the former must be controlled to protect and conserve the latter. We can see this dynamic in myriad social  and geopolitical dilemmas, specifically in Iran.  According to Morteza Dehghani, a researcher at Northwestern University:

“These Basijis [a volunteer militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards] really see Khameini as their religious father and Ahmadinejad as a person who has been faithful to the poor.… For them, the nuclear issue is a religious matter, a duty. So maybe we can speculate that many more of them hold the issue to be a sacred value.” If so, then getting Iran to give up its nuclear program will be an even greater challenge than many in the West understand.”

Given the existential threat posed, and indeed promised, by the Iranian regime toward Israel and the West, our continued preservation is of utmost importance.  At all costs, we must prohibit Iran from possessing a nuclear weapon.  However, understanding our adversary is crucial, and Begley offers insight into the ever more complex crisis we find ourselves in, even if no prescription is offered. When the lines of liberty and what we deem sacred intersect with others’, how do we choose?

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