Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Ambassador and the Asylum Seekers

Long March Against War. Iranian, Iraqi and Kurdish socialists march in London during the Iran-Iraq war.

The Ambassador and the Asylum Seekers

Iranian exile Maryam Namazie was named Secularist of the Year at a ceremony in London recently. I don't always agree with Maryam, or the Worker-Communist Party of Iran of which she is a member. I thought the position they and their women's movement took on the hijab ban in France showed too much naievity about French secularism, and not enough suspicion of state power and racism. Maybe that's because they come from an Islamic country whereas I have lived all my life in an imperialist, and officially Christian one.

Anyway, I congratulate Maryam. Being a secularist and fighter for women's freedom takes some determination and courage, when you face not only the cruel intolerance of a regime like that in Iran, but the indifference, even hostilty, of much of the British Left, currently infatuated with "faith communities" and political Islam.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament(CND) has just held its annual general meeting in London. Like many of my generation, I took some of my first political steps as a teenager by joining CND marches with my pals, and sporting a CND badge to school.

Though past its heyday of massive marches and youthful enthusiasm (even a young Tony Blair was a member), CND's aims remain as important as ever. After all the talk we heard of a "peace dividend" from the end of the Cold War, Britain under Blair's government is spending billions more on refurbishing its nuclear arsenal. Nothing has been done to curb Israel's nuclear menace. In South Asia, two powers which cannot feed their people or provide clean drinking water, let alone cope with natural disasters, are both brandishing nuclear weapons. Iran's nuclear reactor could provide, if not the weapons of war, the pretext for launching one.

CND is an important component of the Stop the War Coalition(STWC). Kate Hudson of CND is on the Stop the War executive. Veteran CNDer Walter Wolfgang, the octagenarian who panicked Labour's conference, naturally had a warm welcome at the nuclear disarmers' conference.

But the Campaign also had a more questionable guest speaker, in Iranian ambassador Mohammad Hossein Adek. Presumably this was because of the continuing threat of war against Iran. The British government, after its troops destroyed a Basra police station to free SAS men who had been captured, disguised in Arab garb with explosives near a Shia mosque, accused Iran of smuggling bombs into Iraq. "Other countries have no right to interfere in Iraq", announced Blair, oblivious to irony. Now the US State Department claims Iran is stockpiling chemical weapons, as well as developing nuclear capacity. We feel we've heard it before.

But even if all the allegations are untrue, and Iran has no warlike aims, is the regime one peace campaigners should associate with? The Worker Communist Party of Iran says not:
"In July this year two gay teenagers – one under 18 at the time of arrest – were publicly hanged in the Iranian city of Mashad for having a sexual relation.
Last August 16-year-old Atefeh Rajabi was hanged in the city of Neka because she had slept with a man she was not married to.
In July 2001 31-year-old Maryam Ayoubi was stoned to death in Evin Prison in Tehran for sex outside marriage…
These are just a few examples of the unbelievably horrific atrocities going on in Iran. In Iran you are arrested, flogged, tortured and executed for being a socialist, a communist, a union organiser, a women’s rights activist, a dissident student, an atheist, a non-Muslim or just for having ‘illicit’ sex. Tens of thousands of political dissidents have been executed for simply not wanting this fascistic regime."

Not the best of company. What makes it worse is that there are plenty of left-wing Iranian refugees, comrades who have marched with us against war and racism, who oppose the imperialist war threat against their people just as they opposed the tyrranies of Shah or ayatollah. Couldn't one of them have been invited instead of an ambassador?

In March this year, a group of Iranian comrades boldly set off from Birmingham, marching through Middle England to join the March 19 Stop the War demonstration in London. They had support along the way from socialists and anti-war activists. But what about the Stop the War Coalition? Read this letter:

Dear friends,

You are aware that in an act of protest against the threats of military intervention by US and its allies in Iran, five Iranian asylum seekers have set off on foot from Birmingham on 12th of March to join the national anti war demonstration in London on 19th of March. They are undertaking this action both to highlight and oppose the US threats against Iran and to appeal to progressive and freedom loving people in Britain to support their struggle against the barbaric Islamic regime in Iran.
We phoned your office on Friday 11th of March to ask for support for the protest walk and to ask about the possibility of a representative from the walk to say a few words from the platform at the end of the march. We were told to explain our position and upon my explanation we were told that Stop the War Coalition "cannot allow any statement against the Islamic regime in Iran from the platform".
We see ourselves as part of a movement for democracy in Iran that is moving towards overthrowing the reactionary Islamic regime. We see any intervention or even threats of intervention by the US and its allies against Iran as detrimental for our movement. We will vehemently oppose and resist such intervention. The reality of our movement is such that we can not drop our opposition to the Iranian regime because of the threats by the USA or drop our opposition to US threats because of the barbarity of the Islamic regime.
We are aware that the campaign Action Iran that you are promoting on your website belives that ‘ordinary Iranians are making advances towards democracy’. We strongly disagree with this analysis which is promoted by the Islamic Regime and its agents internationally. We believe that while the movement for democracy is growing in Iran, democratic rights are suppressed in increasing measure in Iran and ordinary Iranians are not making progress towards democracy.
We believe that Stop the War Coalition should be a broad based campaign and should not exclude the views of opponents of the Islamic regime while promoting the views of the supporters of this barbaric regime.

From: Arash Shakib, Organiser of the Protest Walk, Political Association of Iranian Refugees (Birmingham)

Some of us met these comrades as we were gathering at Hyde Park for the demonstration. But it was not till later that I read this letter on the Labournet.UK website, and felt angry. I've not seen any reply let alone apology.

Didn't the Iranian comrades deserve some respect, and a hearing? Why couldn't the STWC allow any statement against the Iranian regime from its platform? Are they so in hock to Islamic organisations? Do they imagine Blair is waiting for some remarks at a rally to excuse making war on Iran? Or was it just assumed that we, the poor bloody infantry at these rallies , are too thick to understand that you can be against the regime making your people suffer, but also against the US and British war machines bombing your people to hell in the name of their "freedom"?

I'm proud to be among the mass of people marching against Bush and Blair's wars. But not proud of our anti-war "leaders", when they invite an ambassador from a reactionary regime, but snub our fellow-socialists forced into exile by that regime. Not in my name!

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At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Dr Brian Robinson said...

Absolutely, Charlie - brilliantly said. I've even sent a link to the National Secular Society (though whether that'll please you is another matter, hmmm....).

Brian Robinson (Milton Keynes)


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