by Ton van der Kroon

It is a proven method by boys in the schoolyard: you keep on pushing and provoking your victim till he reacts, and then you can beat him up. It is what Israel, Saudi Arabia and The US are doing at the moment with Iran.
Iran is economically weak, as a result of the international sanctions, and before Trump will be replaced by Joe Biden they are trying to target their arch-enemy in Teheran. A week ago Benjamin Netanyahu secretly visited crownprince Mohammed Bin Salman, better known as MBS, together with the US secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Yossi Cohen, the head of the Mossad, to plot against Iran. Both Bibi and MBS denied the meeting took place, but officials confirmed Netanyahu flew to the Saudi city of Neom. Straight after the meeting, Israel made some airstrikes near Damascus, killing a few Iranians. The latest provocation is the killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last week, hoping Iran would take the bait. But president Rouhani of Iran seemed to understand the tactics of the countries that bully him. He said: “The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos.” But the murder plays into the hands of Iranian conservatives and hardliners, who want revenge. Especially since it is almost a year after another killing; the death of Iranian general Soleimani by a US drone in Iraq on januari 3, 2020.

In the meantime in Israel thousands of people demonstrate against their prime minister every day for more than a month: ‘Bibi, Go away,’ they say. Many people in Israel have had enough of the endless bullying, the aggressive defense of their country, realizing that this provocative behavior is endangering Israeli citizens. And what’s more: They realize that the fight against the Iranian government has become a cover-up to keep Netanyahu in power. Where would he be without an enemy? It is the same strategy he deployed against Gaza and the Palestinians for years.

On the Iranian side the conservative forces within Islam and the government do the same thing: holding on to Israel and the United States as their number one enemy. By using the isolationist sanctions against Iran as an excuse they can continue their patriarchal and suppressive actions towards the Iranian people. The hardliners and radicals on both sides, who are keen on an outright conflict, create a tinderbox that could explode any time.

In the United States Trump is happy to approve the international murder. He retweeted a post by Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who wrote: “Fakhrizadeh was head of Iran’s secret military program and wanted for many years by Mossad. His death is a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.” Fighting Iran has been one of Trumps missions during his presidency, kicking them out of an international nuclear deal and trying to force all other western countries to isolate and sanction Iran.
Before Biden will take over in januari Trump might have one last trick upon his sleeve. He changed many top officials of the Pentagon lately, and asked his cabinet what the chances are of attacking Iran. It would top-off his presidency, which has fueled already so much conflict in the world. Trump has broken and stained many international relationships for instance with Europe, while on the other hand befriending dictators like Kim Yong Un, Putin and MBS.
One of his first acts as president was to make a multi million dollar deal in weapons with Saudi Arabia, who was happy to use them in its war on Yemen. The people of Yemen have suffered so extremely over the last four years that they are at the brink of starvation. The rest of the world was standing by. Critical journalists of Saudi Arabia, like Jamal Khashoggi, were brutally killed. The bullies don’t like being criticized. They simply kill their adversaries.

With populists being in power – be it Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu or others – we seem to loose the basic principles of democracy and regress to medieval practices. The strongest man wins. Their major goal in life is winning, and for winning you need another party to loose. It is the macho-dogma. Underneath every bully is an insecure little boy, trying to survive in the world. You become great by making other people small.
It is one of the greatest risks during crisis and change: that we regress into the idea that a ‘strong (masculine) leader’ will fix all of our problems. We put all of our hopes in him. But it seems the archaic idea of masculine force has become outdated. To hit someone else with a club on their head to show our strength doesn’t work anymore. We live in an age of cooperation, not of competition. Scientists discovered that species that cooperate have a much higher change of survival. Women seem to understand this much better, and they take the lead in many new developments. In Israel for instance there is a broad movement called ‘Women Wage Peace’, in contrast to the militaristic and masculine dogma of ‘men wage war’ of their government.

If we want to survive as a species we need to reach out and understand our enemy. In buddhist philosophy they even advocate to embrace your enemy. For men, who have been raised and taught to defend their wife, their village, their country and their flag, this might be a very difficult switch of mind. We need to re-learn our most basic concepts of what it means being a man. Most men fear that loosing will destroy their identity as a man. Loosing is the worst thing that can happen to you. Everything is aimed at winning, becoming bigger, stronger, faster, wealthier. It is the mantra of our economy and our financial system. We go for the climax, the orgasm, the top, the moon, the stars and beyond. But what if this attitude implies our downfall?

With the bullying of Iran we regress into the archaic structures of masculine dominance. Hopefully there are enough people to call for a stop on this behavior, and start to reach out to an islamic regime that we might not like, but that we need to include instead of pushing them with their back to the wall, like we have done over the last decennia. If only, for the Iranian people, who suffer most from the international sanctions.

Maybe we can find inspiration form an old medieval epic, the story of Parcival. While searching for the grail he has to fight many battles. Tired of all this fighting he comes to an old wise woman, who tells him he has to fight one last battle. He agrees and sets out on his quest again. While coming to a narrow bridge, he sees a black knight approaching from the other side. The bridge is too small for both of them, so they start fighting. But neither one of them is able to win. After three days of fighting they are so exhausted that they give up. They both put down their helmet and look each other in the eye. They are stunned because they look so much alike. Parcival discover that the black knight is his islamic half brother Feirefiz. They embrace and set out on the quest together. Finally they are able to find the grail, the cup of healing.

It might be an old tale, but it contains a lot of wisdom. Jews, christians and muslims seem to be arch-enemies for ages, and many a war has come out of this conflict. It might even be the most dominant reason for many conflicts all over the world. But in essence, it is nothing more than a fight between three brothers, born from the same father: Abraham. All three claim their own God and their own religion is the best. But when we look deeper, of course we see that Allah, Jahweh and God are one and the same. It just shows we have lost our connection to the source and have ended up in separation and sibling rivalry.

The Quran contains a very interesting prophecy: during the end times, when chaos and war is destroying mankind, and brother is fighting against brother, a redeemer will come. It is the Mahdi, the grandson of Mohammed. But he is not coming alone: he is fighting side by side with Christ. Could it be that the Mahdi, Christ and the jewish Messiah are just metaphors for a new masculinity: a man who acts from his heart, not from his mind or his ego?
Maybe it is time we start to understand the scriptures in a brand, new way. They could give us a higher perspective on what is means being a man, and how we can end these endless fighting between countries, governments and religions. By consequence we would choose different leaders than Netanyahu, Trump or a bearded imam like Ayatollah Khamenei.

It would free both Iran, Israel, the Palestinians and the western countries from an age-old paradigm of sibling rivalry and endless terror. It requires men all over the world to re-evaluate the principles of masculinity and raise their sons in a new way, so we avoid the mistakes from the past. It might be our only hope for the future.

Ton van der Kroon
author of ‘The Return of the King, Being a man in the 21st century’