Killing of top Iranian scientist: Lessons for developing nations

By Ameen Izzadeen
The killing of Iran’s top scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27 is not an isolated incident only for Iran to worry about. It should be a concern for every nation that is struggling to free itself from the neocolonial yoke and assert its sovereignty in the international arena.
Fakhrizadeh was a gifted nuclear physicist, who taught and researched at Imam Hossein University in Tehran. He was a key member of Iran’s COVID-19 research programme aimed at finding a homegrown vaccine. His assassination is a major blow to the Iranian people, though it was an embarrassment to Iran’s security apparatus. The assassination had exposed the security soft spots that gave ample room for fifth columnists to operate in collaboration with Iran’s external enemies. His death was a second devastating blow to Iran this year. In January, Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US missile attack while he was on an official visit to Iraq.
Iran accuses Israel of carrying out the killing of Fakhrizadeh. Israel had named Fakhrizadeh as the key scientist behind Iran’s nuclear programme. According to Iranian sources, Israel had in the past made several botched attempts to kill the top scientist who was also a deputy defence minister. On November 27, the enemy used Artificial Intelligence and a hi-tech satellite controlled machine gun mounted on a double cab parked on the roadside to kill him.
It is believed that Israel’s timing of the assassination was to sabotage proposed moves by the United States President-elect Joe Biden to return to the seven-nation Iran Nuclear Agreement and, depending on Iran’s compliance, lift the economic sanctions on Iran. If Iran had retaliated against Israel or an Arab nation that is cozying up to Israel, it would have given the outgoing US President Donald Trump and Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the opportunity they are waiting for to declare a war on Iran. Such a development will put paid to Biden’s conditional rapprochement moves with Iran.
Probably, Iranian leaders understood the Israeli plan and decided not to get provoked. Iran’s main aim is to get the crippling US economic sanctions lifted. But with Biden indicating that his administration’s return to the nuclear agreement will not come without fresh conditions, Iran is upping its ante and moving in the direction of higher uranium enrichment.
Like the brain drain, targeted assassination of intellectuals is a neocolonial tool that supports an immoral international order designed to make poor nations poorer and rich nations richer or weak nations weaker and strong nations stronger.
Losing intellectuals either through targeted assassinations or a brain drain causes intellectual poverty, which in turn leads to economic poverty, instability, political unrest and even a regime change that will see neocolonialist puppets in the seats of power.
If a country loses its intellectuals to the bullets of an enemy nation or even through the subtle process of a brain drain, only dimwitted leaders will be left to run the government of that country. They will not be taking intelligent decisions on behalf of the people. Statesmanship will disappear, with corrupt leaders turning the country into a failed state. There will be no honest intellectuals to advice the rulers on the importance of democratic institutions and good governance principles such as transparency, free speech, accountability and judicial independence. In the absence of intellectuals as rulers or advisors, the government will be run by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous people. In politics, such a system is called kakistocracy.
As a result, the country suffers, unable to map out the strategies required to extricate itself from the debt trap which often makes a weak nation become increasingly dependent on a rich nation that doles out aid with the ulterior motive of keeping developing states in its thrall. With intellectual poverty increasing, a victim nation’s sovereignty will increasingly be undermined while national security will become vulnerable to external attacks and plots.
A nation is pushed into intellectual poverty when it loses its learned — doctors, healthcare professionals, scientists, engineers, professors, or financial professionals — through targeted assassinations or a brain drain. When a nation loses its experts and academics, the knowledge-flow from one generation to another generation gets disrupted. A country which is serious about its national interest can ill afford to keep its knowledge industry closed or in a state of disruption. According to a conservative estimate worked out by Brookings scholars, the global economic loss due to the disruption of academic activities in schools and universities during the COVID-19 pandemic this year is more than US$ 10 trillion.
Developing nations spend their rare resources on educating their citizens not only to produce the workforce to run the state administration service but also to benefit from their advice, expertise and knowledge required for the development process. Rich nations fish developing nations’ intellectual resources by dangling as baits bigger salaries and higher living standards. For the preying nation, this is a cheaper way of building up its intellectual resource pool.
However immoral this may appear to be, the brain drain is tolerated on grounds of freedom of movement and free market principles which make labour, intellectual or otherwise, a commodity subjected to market forces.
But depriving a nation of its intellectuals through targeted assassinations is reprehensible and should draw international condemnation. With Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, Iran, in the past decade, has lost at least five top scientists to the enemy bullets. Their contributions have enabled Iran to take major strides in scientific and defence fields despite the crippling sanctions.
Iran is not the only country that had lost its scientists in targeted assassinations. Studies show that after the United States invaded Iraq, more than 300 top Iraqi scientists and academics – some reports give the figure in thousands — have been mysteriously killed. This crippled Iraq’s ability to come up with homegrown plans during its post-war rebuilding process and made it increasingly dependent on companies and expertise from the very nations that destroyed its infrastructure. And that too at a huge price.
World renowned journalist Robert Fisk, who died last month, wrote in 2004 that the Iraqi university staff suspected that there was a campaign to strip Iraq of its academics, to complete the destruction of Iraq’s cultural identity – a process that began when the American army invaded Baghdad in March 2003.
His article quoted a lecturer as saying, “May be the Israelis are trying to make sure that we can never have an intellectual infrastructure here.” Fisk drew parallels between the killing of Iraq’s academics and the 13th century invasion of Iraq by the Mongols who stained the Tigris black with the ink of the Iraqi books they destroyed.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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