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Summary

Belgian Parliament's choosing of the "lesser evil", approving the "Prisoner Swap Treaty", and falling into the Islamic Republic's trap of "choosing between bad and worse", a trick used by the dictatorship for decades, led us to read from Hannah Arendt!

Iran Deal: The Rise of “Lesser Evil” in Belgian Parliament

Overnight, a bill was approved in the Belgian parliament, which makes it possible to exchange prisoners between Belgium and the Islamic Republic in the form of a treaty. The Belgian media generally call the agreement “Iran-Deal”. Others call it the “Prisoner Swap Treaty”. Most of the Islamic Republic media, including IRNA, the government’s official outlet, used the phrase “Assadollah Asadi extradition treaty” as the headline for their articles. Of course, a few hours later, IRNA changed its headline to “Extradition Plan of Criminals in the Belgian Parliament”. Now, according to the decision issued by the Brussels court, yesterday, Friday, July 22, 2022, regarding the prohibition of the transfer of Assadollah Asadi to Iran, it should be seen what new name the regime’s media will give to this bill.

The IRGC media, Fars News Agency, in explaining the treaty wrote: “The draft law on the exchange of prisoners between Belgium and Iran has been prepared with the goal of releasing another Belgian NGO worker who is detained in Iran.”

On the other hand, Darya Safai, an Iranian-Belgian representative in the Belgian Parliament, called this treaty a “deal with the devil” (an allusion to Mephistopheles’ deal with Faust):

Saeed Bashirtash, a political activist living in Brussels, tweeted about the “approval of the bill for the release of terrorists”.

At the same time, Francois De Smet, another member of the Belgian parliament, tweeted: “The majority of the parliament voted in favor of the agreement that allows the extradition of a convicted terrorist to Iran. DeFI (Independent Federalist Democrats) voted against. By approving this plan, Belgium sends this message to the world that its justice is for sale.” “Those who choose the ‘lesser evil’ very quickly forget that they chose the ‘evil’.” Hannah Arendt

The reason for using this sentence of Hannah Arendt in relation to the approval of this plan in the Belgian Parliament by François De Smet, is the statements of Alexander De Croo, the Prime Minister of Belgium, and Vincent Van Quickenborne, the Minister of Justice of his cabinet, in defense of the said bill during the debates that took place in the Parliament of the country. According to media reports, De Croo has always answered the criticisms of the representatives against the deal by arguing that the approval of the deal is the only possible way to release Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian citizen imprisoned in the Islamic Republic prison. Opponents of the plan accused De Croo of paying ransom, and he angrily told the opposition representatives: “What do you say to the Vandecasteele family? Let him rot in his cell, you say? Belgium does not leave its citizens alone!” On the other hand, Van Quickenborne warned the representatives that “every one of the 200 Belgian citizens who are currently in Iran, could be the next person to be imprisoned. Vandecasteele’s release is our priority.” This way, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Justice have encouraged the representatives to choose a “bad” between the “bad and worse” options; “the release of a terrorist” which is a “bad choice” or as Hannah Arendt says “the lesser evil”, against “the risk of Vandecasteele remaining in prison and the arrest of more Belgian citizens present in Iran” which is a “worse choice” or in Arendt’s language, “the greater evil”.

The sentence that François De Smet quotes from Hannah Arendt in this regard is taken from the writing that was jotted in 1964/1965 and published after her death. This writing titled “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” by Hannah Arendt is actually the text of a lecture. The class or group of the audience of this lecture remains unclear. But because these days the majority of politicians in the Belgian parliament have accepted the “lesser evil” fallacy of “choosing between bad and worse” with the same catastrophic reasoning that made the Third Reich a reality, an argument that Hannah Arendt was surprised to see it had survived after it led to the Third Reich and the Second World War, and since the technique of “choosing between bad and worse” by the Islamic Republic in the past few decades, at least for the majority of Iranian people, has become an obvious trick, the audience of Hannah Arendt is us; We in a dictatorship.

Islamic Republic especially uses this technique in its sham elections. In 2009, the system promoted Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of its main oppressors in early years of the revolution, as a “reformist” against a boogeyman like Ahmadinejad, choosing between “the bad and the worse!” The next round was between Rouhani, a “reformist”, against another monster like Ebrahim Raisi, again providing the people with “bad and worse!” However, Iranians have learned their lessons. They began by not participating in 2019 “parliamentary elections” which then evolved into least participation in Islamic Republic hisoty in 2021 “presidential elections!” Belgian politicians, and in general, the West, needs to heed people of Iran and their reactions to the dictatorship’s actions.

Therefore, it may be appropriate to read a few lines around the quote that Mr. Francois De Smet included in his tweet, from the work of Hannah Arendt:

[…] there were very few people even in the Third Reich who wholeheartedly agreed with the late crimes of the regime and a great number who were perfectly willing to commit them nevertheless. And now every single one of them, wherever he stood and whatever he did, claims that those who, under one pretext or another, had retired into private life had chosen the easy, the irresponsible way out. Unless, of course, they had used their private station as a cover for active opposition-a choice which can be easily dismissed since it is obviously not every- body’s business to be a saint or a hero. But personal or moral responsibility is everybody’s business and there, it is argued, it was more “responsible” to stay on the job no matter under what conditions or with what consequences.

In their moral justification, the argument of the lesser evil has played a prominent role. If you are confronted with two evils, thus the argument runs, it is your duty to opt for the lesser one, whereas it is irresponsible to refuse to choose altogether. Those who denounce the moral fallacy of this argument are usually accused of a germ-proof moralism which is alien to political circumstances, of being unwilling to dirty their hands; and it must be admitted that it is not so much political or moral philosophy (with the sole exception of Kant, who for this very reason frequently stands accused of moralistic rigorism) but religious thought that most unequivocally has rejected all compromises with lesser evils. Thus the Talmud holds, as I was told during a recent discussion of these matters: if they ask you to sacrifice one man for the security of the community, don’t surrender him; if they ask you to give one woman to be ravished for the sake of all women, don’t let her be ravished. And it is in the same vein, and clearly remembering Vatican policy during the last war, that Pope John XXIII wrote about the political behavior of Pope and Bishop, which is called the “practice of prudence”: they “must beware of … in any way conniving with evil in the hope that by doing so they may be useful to someone.”

Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil. Since the evil of the Third Reich finally was so monstrous that by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a “lesser evil,” one might have assumed that this time the argument would have collapsed once and for all, which surprisingly is not the case. Moreover, if we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of “the lesser evil”-far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite-is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of the lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such. To give but one among many examples: the extermination of Jews was preceded by a very gradual sequence of anti-Jewish measures, each of which was accepted with the argument that refusal to cooperate would make things worse-until a stage was reached where nothing worse could possibly have happened.


Translation of this post by Sahar.

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