Atomic Elephants

The expression “the elephant in the room” is deeply irritating to me. I admit that this is partly because elephants scare me, but it is also because the ubiquitous phrase has become so very fashionable at every level of conversation. Political analysts use it, church members at the monthly meeting use it, even zookeepers use it (though I may cut them some slack). I swear, last week as I passed a mother arguing with hertoddler outside a kindergarten I heard the child say “but mummy, I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room: I want cake!” So it pains me to say: I think we’re ignoring the elephant in the room regarding Iran. Last week the news was full of reports of offers, rejections, predictions about the Iranian programme to enrich Uranium (which would could be used for nuclear power, or with a lot more enriching, for weapons). Newsrooms filled with moral outrage as analysts and commentators discussed carrots, sticks and negotiations with Iran. All the while a sad-looking pachyderm called “Why Not?” sat in the corner feeling neglected.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of nuclear weapons. When the wind blows scared me even more than Dumbo and the idea of bombs or missiles with the power to kill millions and spread radioactive fallout all over the world does not please me. If it were my decision I would stop Iran making more. But before you pat me on the back and say “hear-hear, good chap”, ask yourself: isn’t it a little silly and hypocritical to be outraged at Iran? I mean, the UK and USA are hardly poster-children for Greenpeace. The UK had, at last count, about 200 nuclear warheads. The USA has over 10,000. France has loads of them, Russia, according to the statistics, is awash with nukes and in China it seems that all you need do is throw a Hans Blix-shaped stone to hit one. So why, asks my big grey friend, is it such a problem that Iran might (despite Iranian denials and even though the Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons) develop nuclear weapons?

Brazil (a signatory, like Iran) is also enriching Uranium, claiming, like Iran, that it has no intention of developing weapons. Yet, there have been no warnings from Condoleeza Rice about that, because it is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The popular argument seems to go that Iran is not to be trusted (“Iran is shifty, man, look at his eyes”). But hang on, the one nation actually to have used nukes in war is the USA. Iran may not have a track-record in terms of peace-making that inspires trust, but then the UK and US are hardly spotless, not to mention nations like India, Pakistan and Israel, who have not exactly kept out of conflict over the last few decades. And those nuclear powers have not even signed up to the NPT.

Is this hypocrisy? Probably. But does it make sense to keep your perceived enemies from arming themselves? Probably again. The question is, for Christians, do we only oppose countries other than our own and our allies having the power to kill millions, or is it a bad idea generally? Let’s add that to the pro-life agenda.

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