Peter Tatchell says solidarity with the Iranian freedom struggle is non-negotiable, no matter how much the US threatens a military strike
Principled, consistent left-wingers do not base their politics on the unprincipled, inconsistent geo-political manoeuvres of western powers. We stand with the oppressed against their oppressors, regardless of what the west (or anyone else) demands or threatens.
US sabre-rattling against Iran is worrying. A military attack must be resisted. However, opposition to Washington’s war-mongering and neo-imperial designs is no reason for socialists, greens and other progressives to go soft on Tehran.
Iran is an Islamo-fascist state – a clerical form of fascism based on a confluence of Islamic fundamentalism and police state methods. It differs, of course, from traditional European-style fascism, being rooted in religious dogma and autocracy. This makes it no less barbaric. Iran under the ayatollahs has a history of repression that is even bloodier than Franco’s clerical fascist regime in Spain. Sadly, it merits far less outrage by the left.
Tehran’s tyrannical religious state embodies many (though not all) the characteristics of classical fascism: a substantially corporatist political and economic system maintained by a highly centralised repressive state apparatus. This repression includes bans on non-Islamist political parties and free trade unions, and a regime of unfair trials, detention without charge, torture, executions, media censorship, gender apartheid, violent suppression of peaceful protests and strikes, and the persecution of left-wingers, students, feminists, journalists, gay people and religious and ethnic minorities. Even lawyers and human rights defenders – are imprisoned and tortured.
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also pursuing a racist, neo-colonial policy against Iran’s minority nationalities, such as the Arabs (who are abused even more harshly than the Israelis abuse the Palestinians), Kurds and Baluchs.
It used to be axiomatic that left and progressive movements fought fascism, wherever it is found and whatever its form. We do not appease or collude. Well, not until recently. Nowadays, there is a whole section of the left that has abandoned the freedom struggle in Iran. It goes to extraordinary lengths to downplay the excesses of the tyrants in Tehran.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament invited the Iranian ambassador as a guest speaker to its 2005 annual conference. It preferred to host the representative of an Islamo-fascist regime, rather than the leaders of Iran’s left-wing opposition and anti-nuclear peace movement. Indeed, CND members who objected to the feting of the ambassador of a dictatorship were forcibly ejected from the conference.
A similar fate befell Iranian refugees who joined the Stop the War Coalition marches. When they backed the call ‘Don’t Attack Iran’ they were welcomed, but as soon as they also condemned Tehran’s depotism they were denounced by some of the left and shoved out the of the demonstration by thuggish StWC stewards.
We are told by these muscular leftists that Iran is a democracy and that President Ahmadinejad is elected. Nonsense. But even if this were true, so what? Tony Blair was elected but that did not make the Iraq war right. Israel is a democracy but this is no justification for its indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and its occupation of Palestine.
The truth is that Iran is no democracy. Liberal, secular, green, socialist and national minority political parties are outlawed. All candidates for election are vetted by a clerical council and those who dissent from the mullah’s orthodoxy are barred from standing for public office. Moreover, the conservative media favours establishment candidates and denies, or restricts, coverage of reformists and progressive ideas.
Human rights abuses in Iran are often dismissed by sections of the anti-imperialist left as ‘exaggerated’ or ‘neo con fiction’, despite incontrovertible evidence from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and from Iran’s underground left-wing, student and trade union movements. This shocking denialism is wholly divorced from reality and is a sordid betrayal of the Iranian people’s struggle for liberty and justice.
Some left-wingers argue that since the US is the main upholder of the unjust global economic system we must therefore support those who oppose the US. Because Tehran is against the US, we should support, or at least not undermine, the Iranian regime.
The left groups and activists who hold this view are the mirror image of the neo cons. Their stance on Iran is determined by an international political agenda and power play, not by the interests and rights of the Iranian people. They have allowed opposition to US imperialism to trump social justice and human rights in Iran.
For nearly 40 years I have campaigned in solidarity with the Iranian people, supporting their struggle against dictatorship – first against the western-backed Shah and then, since 1979, against the ayatollahs.
The Shah was bad enough, but the Islamists who overthrew him are far worse. They have out-butchered the Shah many times over; executing or assassinating an estimated 100,000 Iranians in the last 30 years. Many of those murdered – usually after gruesome torture – were left-wingers, trade unionists and other progressive Iranians.
The traditional socialist maxim used to be: fight the tyrants, support their victims; solidarity with oppressed people everywhere. This was the response of the entire left to the Shah’s brutal misrule. It stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Iranian freedom struggle.
But in 1979, defying all its historic values and ideals, large chunks of the Iranian and international left backed the Islamist revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. Their reasoning was that by supporting an anti-US movement this would help weaken US global hegemony. Many of us warned at the time that this opportunistic alliance with fundamentalist Islam would spell disaster for the Iranian left and progressive movements.
Sure enough, beginning a couple of years after the Islamists seized power, tens of thousands of leftists, workers, secularists, students and women’s rights campaigners were arrested, tortured and executed.
Despite this bloody history of tyranny, some left-wingers and anti-imperialists still shy away from campaigning against the Tehran regime.
The police-state oppression in Iran is some of the worst in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, in March 2008 an Iranian parliament member, Hossein Ali Shahryari, confirmed that 700 people were awaiting execution in Sistan and Baluchistan province, which is only one of Iran’s 30 provinces. Many of those on death row are Baluch political prisoners. This staggering number of death sentences is evidence of the intense, violent repression that is taking place under the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The regime’s terror is wide-ranging. Student leader Meisam Lofti was executed in 2007 on false charges of being a gang member.
The regime’s crackdown includes the enforcement of harsh morality laws. In 2004, in the city of Neka, a 16-year-old girl, Atefah Rajabi Sahaaleh, who had been raped and sexually abused by men for many years, was convicted of ‘crimes against chastity’. She was hanged by the method of slow, painful strangulation, hoisted by a crane in a public square. This strangulation technique, sanctioned by the Iranian President, is deliberately designed to prolong the suffering of the victim. As you can see here, the hanged person is left dangling and writhing for several minutes before they eventually asphyxiate and die. Truly barbaric.
On 5 December 2007, Makvan Mouloodzadeh, a 21-year-old Iranian man, was hanged in Kermanshah Central Prison, after an unfair trial. A member of Iran’s persecuted Kurdish minority, he was executed on charges of raping other boys when he was 13. In other words, he committed these alleged acts when he was a child. According to Iranian law, a boy under 15 is a minor and cannot be executed.
At Makvan’s mockery of a trial, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch, the alleged rape victims retracted their previous statements, saying they had made their allegations under duress. Makvan pleaded not guilty, telling the court that his confession was made during torture.
He was hanged anyway, without a shred of credible evidence that he had even had sex with the boys, let alone raped them. The lies, defamation and homophobia of the debauched Iranian legal system was exposed when hundreds of villagers attended Makvan’s funeral. People don’t mourn rapists.
Labour activists are also victimised. Mansour Osanloo, leader of Tehran’s bus workers syndicate, remains in jail – together with other trade unionists. He was sentenced to five years jail in July 2007 for his peaceful, lawful defence of worker’s rights.
Oppressing his own people is not enough for Ahmadinejad. His regime also exports terror abroad. It supports the Hezbollah fundamentalists in Lebanon, who, like Israel, indiscriminately attack civilian areas. In addition, many of the death squads in Iraq are trained, armed and funded by Tehran. These include ex-Badr Brigade members who, during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, lived and trained across the border in south-east Iran. Nowadays, they assassinate political, sexual and religious dissidents; usually gunning them down in their home, workplace or street. No trial. No evidence. Summary execution, aided by Ahmadinejad’s government.
Regime change from within
The case for regime change in Iran is overwhelming, but it must come from within – by and for the Iranian people themselves – not as a result of US neo-imperial diktat.
Many Iranians hope for a non-violent Czech-style ‘people power’ democratic revolution, involving mass strikes and street protests by socialists, liberals, secularists, democrats, women, students, trade unionists, religious dissenters and minority nationalities. Others believe that the nascent insurrections by Arabs, Baluchs, Azeris and Kurds will burgeon into full-scale revolutionary war that will encircle and topple the Tehran regime.
Progress towards securing a democratic, progressive Iranian government is one of best ways to thwart a possible military strike by Washington. Such a government would pose no threat to anyone. This would make it much harder for the neo cons to persuade the American public and military to go to war. They would no longer have the excuse that Iran is a terroristic, fundamentalist, anti-semitic dictatorship that is striving to develop nuclear weapons and which poses a serious threat to international peace and security.
If Iran ceased to be a fanatical religious tyranny, the case for war would be seriously weakened. The pro-war Republicans and Democrats in the US would lose the battle for hearts and minds. Most public opinion would desert them. Anti-war US politicians and activists would be empowered and enhanced.
In contrast, a US military attack on Iran would strengthen the position of the hardliners in Tehran; allowing President Ahmadinejad to play the nationalist card and portray himself as a heroic war leader. It would also give him an excuse to further crack down on dissent, using the pretext of safeguarding national security and defending the country against US imperialism. This would set back the Iranian struggle for democracy and human rights.
Moreover, a US attack on Muslim Iran would increase the sense of grievance felt by Muslims worldwide; radicalising Muslim youth, fanning the flames of fundamentalism, increasing support for Islamist parties and resulting in thousands of new recruits to the ranks of Jihadis and suicide bombers.
Tragically, the leadership of the UK and US anti-war movements have been sleep-walking into making the same mistakes over Iran as they made over Iraq. They are silent about the regime’s despotism and oppression. Mirroring the neo con indifference to human rights abuses in Iran, they refuse to show solidarity with the Iranian peoples’ struggle for secularism, democracy, social justice, human rights and self-determination for national minorities. There is nothing remotely left-wing about this is sad and cruel betrayal. Put bluntly: it is collusion with tyranny.
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