Iran negotiations with P5+1 Daricheh TV

July 1st, 2015

Videos from HOPI day school 30-5-2015

May 31st, 2015

Yassamine Mather :The current situation in the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Yemen, IS, Iran
Mike Macnair: US strategy in the region, inconsistencies and chaos. A sign of the decline or a deliberate policy?

 

Responding to the Debate

 

 

 

Moshe Machover : Israel’s future in the Middle East in view of changing US-Iran relations .

Responding to the debate:

Saudi Arabia: King promotes his favourites

May 7th, 2015

What is the significance of the power struggle within the Saudi dynasty?

11

Last week, in the middle of a war in Yemen, where Saudi troops are engaged in major battles, we witnessed a quiet but significant, not to say unprecedented, coup within the Saudi royal family.

On April 29, king Salman bin Abdulaziz dismissed his half-brother, sitting crown prince Muqrin, and appointed his nephew, former interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef, as his replacement. The 55-year-old Nayef is relatively young for the post, in a country where the average age of recent crown princes has been over 70 – Salman had that status in his late 70s. In a single move the king has decided the line of succession for the next few decades, on the same day announcing that his son, Mohammed bin Salman, 30, will become deputy crown prince.

The outgoing crown prince confirmed his departure, but failed to give any explanation for this obvious removal from office. The rumour mill in the Middle East has been claiming that his mother’s humble origins (as a Yemeni slave) had played a part in his downfall. The current holders of power in the Saudi court all come from the Sudairi section of the royal household. They share the same mother, Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi, who was the favourite wife of the kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz.

However, a more credible reason for Muqrin’s dismissal might be the widespread belief that he had doubts about the war in Yemen and believed Saudi forces were getting nowhere. The news came at a time when the Saudi air force is engaged in bombing Houthi rebels, including in the capital, Sana’a. The war is not going well for the Saudis and so far the weeks of air strikes have brought no tangible military success.

In April, Saudi Arabia tried to organise a coalition of Muslim countries to intervene in the war against its southern neighbour. However, a number of Sunni countries refused to join the war effort and on April 10 the Pakistani parliament decided against military involvement in the Saudi-led coalition. So far, apart from the other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain) and moral support from general Sissi of Egypt, the only military contingent has come from Senegal. The north African country is planning to send 2,100 troops to join the “international coalition fighting Houthi rebels”.

Although Iran’s claim that Saudi military intervention has been a disaster is just propaganda, the situation on the ground is not great. Last week the Sana’a-based Hisham Omeish, writing on the Al Jazeera website, summed up the mood amongst forces inside Yemen supporting Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the Sunni president favoured by Saudi Arabia:

the coalition’s campaign resulted in the Houthis taking far more hostile and aggressive steps than they ever dared before, expanding into more territories than when the coalition started its operation. The coalition’s blockade of airports and seaports; the collateral damage from the air strikes, both to infrastructure and in terms of civilian casualties; the multiple battlefronts raging across Yemen; and the overall devastating impact of war on the local population, eventually led to the local buy-in rapidly evaporating.

When the coalition announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm and the commencement of a new operation named Restoration of Hope, the vast majority of emotionally and physically drained Yemenis prematurely celebrated. Unfortunately, the air strikes continued, and public dissent grew. The coalition’s lack of a solid plan was now being starkly highlighted against the dangerously erratic and callous military actions. Furthermore, the realities on the ground for ordinary Yemenis have worsened dramatically since the bombing began.1

According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi-led coalition has used US-supplied cluster bombs during recent air raids. United Nations officials in the region have said that between March 26 and April 22 551 civilians, including 31 women and at least 115 children, were killed as a result.

On May 3, news agencies reported the arrival of a special forces contingent in the Yemeni port city of Aden – elite troops deployed to bolster the anti-Houthi forces,2 although Saudi Arabia denied the claims. By May 5 the situation had deteriorated further, with Houthis firing rockets and mortars into Saudi Arabia.

Many have called the current conflict in Yemen a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and there is no doubt that Iran has supported the Houthis. However, in recent weeks the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the conflict has been low-key, partly because of fears of jeopardising the nuclear deal with the P5+1 powers.

In addition to the war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s fears about such a deal with Iran, which would ultimately marginalise Riyadh’s influence in Washington, played an important role in last week’s royal appointments. The new appointees all have a record of opposing any deal with Iran – they are all considered hard-liners, at least in this aspect of the kingdom’s foreign policy.

In Saudi Arabia, power has always been determined by age, irrespective of the physical and indeed mental health of the post-holders. King Salman, who is rumoured to be fighting dementia,3 has changed all this, removing his youngest half-brother (apparently with his consent) and appointing a crown prince from the next generation. Hundreds of other princes amongst the 7,000 that form the Saudi royal household would have had seniority over Nayef, the man named as heir to the throne. Of course, at 79 the king might not have long to live and the Iranian press, for one, has been quick to point out that so many changes in a kingdom used to tradition will create uncertainty – one Tehran paper claimed this would mark the beginning of the end of the Al Saud dynasty. Of course, this is wishful thinking. In fact in Yemen Iran is as much of a loser as Saudi Arabia.

Newcomers

So who is Mohammed bin Nayef, the new crown prince? For many years he has held the post of interior minister and has been in close contact with US security forces. Because of his role dealing with ‘counter-terrorism’, his nickname in the Middle East is “America’s favourite Saudi”. He is credited with championing the so-called rehabilitation programme, Saudi Arabia’s well-publicised policy of ‘re-educating’ captured al Qa’eda members, including former prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay. Nayef is also credited with winning the war against al Qa’eda in Yemen, albeit with the help of US drones.

Nayef’s father was a reactionary even by Saudi standards, nicknamed the ‘black prince’. He was an advocate of Wahhabism, with a low opinion of fellow Arabs:

At an infamous meeting in February 2011, with the region erupting and the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia toppling, prince Nayef summoned the leading Saudi editors and columnists to a Riyadh dinner. In an extended tirade, he dismissed the Tunisians as basically French, and those in Cairo as louche urbanites, while arguing that the Saudis remained bedrock Arabs who held their traditional political system in high esteem, according to several accounts.4

The Saudi king’s second appointment – nominating his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince – has created more resentment. Previously a political unknown, he now holds the post of minister of defence, the youngest in the world to hold such a post, and so is in charge of the Saudi intervention in Yemen. This has led to accusations of nepotism – no other Saudi king has promoted his immediate family at the expense of older, higher-ranking princes. Both appointments are resented by other fractions of the Saudi royal family.

There were other changes in the government. King Salman removed the powerful Saud bin Faisal, the world’s longest-serving foreign minister, who had worked for 40 years with successive US administrations and, according to the bourgeois press, was one of the world’s most powerful voices in international affairs.

The former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, was named as Saud’s replacement. Unlike holders of most other ministerial posts, Adel al-Jubeir, is not a member of the royal family – his meteoric rise is due primarily to his strong anti-Iran stance. In 2011, while he was the ambassador to Washington, the US administration charged an Iranian-American car salesman with plotting to assassinate him.

Some in Saudi royal circles have voiced their frustration with Washington’s foreign policy, blaming successive administrations for the disintegration of Iraq. In particular they round on Barack Obama for his failure to intervene militarily in Syria in 2013. The new team will look for allies amongst neoconservative Republicans, as well as pro-Israel Democrats, to consolidate its position as the main US regional ally, at a time when the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran is causing hysteria in Riyadh. Of course, Saudi fears of a US-Iran rapprochement are premature. Even if Iran and P5+1 succeed in signing a final deal, the two countries will remain regional adversaries for many years to come. Last week, for instance, Iran and the US were sabre-rattling over shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf.

Two weeks ago the US and Saudi Arabia threatened to board a flotilla of Iranian cargo and naval ships, accusing the Iranians of carrying weapons for the Houthi rebels. The ships were forced to change course to avoid a confrontation. Obama then asked the navy top brass to send a US aircraft-carrier to Yemen. In retaliation, Iranian naval forces seized a cargo ship, the Maersk Tigris, flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. They forced its crew to steer towards the island of Qeshm. The ship’s last port of call was Jeddah. The US navy responded by escorting all US-flagged commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz. All this is adding to the tension in the strategic waterways used for the transport of one-fifth of the world’s oil flows.

In addition Iran-US relations remain tense over Syria. The Obama administration is persevering with plans for regime change in Syria, in alliance with Saudi Arabia, the emirates of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Turkey, even though this policy involves tacit support for former al Qa’eda affiliates. Between them Islamic State and Al Nasr (the jihadi group supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey with tacit US support) control swathes of Syria. US troops stationed in Turkey are also engaged in training the Syrian opposition, including al Nasr. Meanwhile, Iran and its allies in the Lebanese Hezbollah continue to support the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad.

Yet another UN-sponsored conference is currently taking place, aimed at finding a solution to the Syrian crisis. As with Libya and Iraq, there is only one essential precondition for any solution to the conflict: an end to foreign intervention both by Iran and by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries. The civilian population in Syria and now in Yemen have suffered enough in proxy wars.

The changes in the Saudi court make the prospects for a resolution of the conflicts in the Middle East less likely l

Notes

1. www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/saudi-led-coalition-game-yemen-150504124934102.html.

2. http://news.sky.com/story/1476938/yemen-saudi-led-troops-deployed-on-the-ground.

3. www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21600180-king-abdullah-appoints-second-line-throne-next-after-next.

4.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/world/middleeast/saudi-crown-prince-nayef-dies-led-crackdown-on-al-qaeda.html?_r=0
.

Children of ayatollahs flaunt their wealth

May 2nd, 2015

rkotThree deadly road accidents in one week, involving expensive cars driven by super-rich young Iranians, have dominated this week’s news in Iran – especially after the country’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used a meeting with police chiefs to criticise fast-driving, wealthy youngsters. Khamenei said: “I hear that young people from the generation of wealth, a generation intoxicated by their money, are driving luxury cars and parading in the streets, making the streets insecure … This is an example of psychological insecurity.”1

The cars involved in these accidents were Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis driven by sons and daughters of ayatollahs or their cronies – people who live in multimillion-dollar luxury apartments, wear branded clothes and boast all modern accessories. An Instagram page, Rich Kids of Tehran, dedicated to the spending habits of this group, has gained notoriety as an example of obscene spending. The page shows young men posing next to private planes and helicopters, wearing expensive Rolex watches and holding gold-plated mobile phones, plus young women wearing ball gowns in luxury mansions with private cinema screens and swimming pools. A far cry from the lives of ordinary young Iranians, who need two or three jobs just to survive – and even then on incomes close to the state’s own poverty line.

According to Saham news, the owner of the yellow Maserati killed in last week’s accident was Mohammad Hossein Rabbani, the grandson of ayatollah Rabbani Shirazi.2 Rabbani is listed in the official media as a religious scholar who opposed the shah’s regime and became a servant of the newly founded Islamic Republic after 1979. However, most of us on the Iranian left remember him as the personal representative of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamist movement that overthrew the shah. Rabbani was sent to Kurdistan soon after the February uprising to uphold the rule of the “government of the poor and disinherited” by overseeing attacks on villages where leftwing groups who were fleeing the Islamic regime’s terror had sought refuge in Kurdish areas. It is also claimed that he played a part in show trials that led to the execution of communists in Kurdistan and Khuzestan.

How ironic that the grandson of this fine representative of “the poor and disinherited” should be killed driving a Maserati. It is also interesting to note that the supreme leader, who presides over a $95 billion foundation, is disturbed not by the excessive wealth gathered by clerics and their relatives per se, but by its ostentatious display in the form of expensive cars.

Rentier economy

All those studying the economic, political and social consequences of gross inequality should visit Iran’s Islamic Republic. In explaining the current economic disaster in Iran, bourgeois economists are quick to point out the rentier nature of the economy – the reliance on oil, the role of the Revolutionary Guards in controlling the black market … However, what they fail to point out is this is made possible and compounded by the fundamentals guiding Iran’s economic policies: unfettered neoliberal capitalism. Fast, expensive cars are not a major contributor to the “psychological insecurity” of the population. Low wages, job insecurity, systematic non-payment of wages, spiralling prices, food shortages, lack of basic medication are.

As elsewhere under neoliberal capitalism, there is no ‘trickle-down effect’. While clerics and their closest civilian and military supporters have made billions from sanction-busting and the black market, ordinary Iranians have faced hunger, abject poverty and death due to shortage of medicines and surgical equipment. No doubt the display of grotesque wealth is adding insult to injury, but the supreme leader should pay more attention to the injury. Shahrzad Elghanyan, a New York Timesreporter, was astonished by what she saw in a programme screened by the pro-government Press TV: “It was not just the wealth that struck me, but how freely Iran’s ‘one percenters’ flaunted the symbols of western decadence without fear of government retribution.”

She adds:

Thirty-five years after a revolution that promised an egalitarian utopia and vowed to root out gharbzadegi – the modern, westernised lifestyles of Iran’s cosmopolitans – how have some people become so rich?

Much of Iran’s wealth, it turns out, is in the hands of the very people in charge of maintaining social justice. Hard-line clerical leaders, together with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards corps …, have engineered a system where it is largely they, their family members and their loyal cronies who prosper.3

I have previously written about the pro-rich policies under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, but there is no doubt that Hassan Rowhani is continuing along the same lines. What is different is that the current president is more ideological in his defence of neoliberal capital and, now that the nuclear negotiations have progressed, he is turning his attention to internal politics, with disastrous consequences for working people.

Iran’s super-rich, the one percent, are getting richer by the minute, because they thrive on neoliberal economic policies, implemented with the help of the state’s military and security forces. Ahmadinejad promised a situation where 100% of Iran’s workforce are employed on temporary contracts and this is one of the few aims that were all but realised during his presidency. Currently the overwhelming majority of the country’s workforce are employed on such contracts, deprived of any employment rights. Companies do not need to sack rebellious workers and those who organise protests: they just refuse to renew their contracts. In this respect Rowhani is merely following in Ahmadinejad’s footsteps.

Since 1988, when Iran first accepted International Monetary Fund loans, the IMF has sent a commission to Tehran every spring to verify the country’s compliance with global capital’s requirements. Every year by mid-summer the central bank and the government propose further privatisation in the industrial, banking and service sectors, bringing further misery to tens of thousands of workers, victims of subsequent job losses and casualisation. However, the level and scope of privatisation approved by Iran’s supreme leader in 2006 was unprecedented – Khamenei had to ‘re-interpret’ article 4 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution. The government initiated plans to sell off 80% of its stake in a range of state-run industrial companies, in the oil sector, banking, media, transportation and mineral sectors, thus contravening one of its own economic ‘principles’, as laid down in the constitution.

As early as August 2006, when Iran first entered nuclear negotiations, most of the 100 or so points raised in the document sent by Iran to the US administration read more like a begging letter. They called for the lifting of sanctions to allow US transnationals the kind of investment opportunities enjoyed by European, Japanese and Chinese companies. By 2007, sanctions imposed by the United Nations created a situation where European and Asian companies were also prohibited from dealing with Iran, leading to the desperate situation of the last few years.

Promises

In 2013 Rowhani’s electoral success came about because he promised to end the country’s isolation and the asphyxiating sanctions. The implication was that all this would inevitably lead to economic recovery, as Iran is integrated closely into the world capitalist order. It is therefore not surprising that, following the partial success in nuclear negotiations, Iranian capitalists and the Rowhani administration are eager to encourage western investment, with promises of a skilled and semi-skilled workforce at dirt-cheap rates, courtesy of the ‘economic restructuring’ programmes of the last two decades. Since the Lausanne deal in early April, the Iranian president and his ministers have only one item on their agenda: ‘foreign investment’, presented as the panacea for all the country’s economic woes.

As I have pointed out, previous Iranian administrations also presided over market-oriented capitalist economies. As state-owned companies were privatised, the main beneficiaries were regime insiders, so individual clerics, their immediate families, bazaaris, landowners close to the regime, as well as Islamic collectives, including sections of the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), grew super-rich.

The old bourgeoisie keeps referring to this stratum as thenouveaux riches, amidst complaints about their greed, corruption and pitiless exploitation. However, the reality is that all sections of the capitalist class benefited from and relied on government ‘restructuring’ policies to sack workers and re-employ them under temporary contracts. Successive administrations watered down the post-revolution labour legislation in favour of the factory owners. ‘White contracts’, where the worker signs a blank sheet of paper and the employer fills in the contract details, are now the norm.

All this has contributed to a massive gap between rich and poor. The Maserati driven by Shirazi’s grandson cost around half a million pounds – the equivalent of the monthly salaries of 2,500 industrial workers or 2,000 teachers. According to leftwing economist Parviz Raees,

Ahmadinejad supported semi-governmental capitalism – meaning corporations, organisations and semi-governmental military and non-military institutions – against a governmental, clerical and bureaucratic economy. All these factions existed before, but Ahmadinejad’s administration, a conservative administration with radical rightwing economic policies, was trying to strengthen this new faction and create a new layer of capitalists. This layer established itself and took over as the main agent for investments, civil projects, extraction of natural resources, civil-military projects and developmental contracts.

Rowhani’s administration has clearly accepted and recognised the existence, and the interests, of this new group. Right now, the problem is their disagreement regarding a portion of the resources and interests. We can see signs of this disagreement, for example, in [members of parliament] attempting to expose the supposed, not the real, corruption figures.4

In recent weeks, the issue of corruption and use of illicit funds (eg, from drug deals) in election campaigns has become a hot topic in Iran. In February 2015, the official news agency, IRNA, quoted Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, as saying that political life in the Islamic Republic was tainted by “dirty money”, including from drug smuggling. The minister gave the example of $600,000 spent by one candidate during a city council election as an example. The accusations ahead of crucial parliamentary elections were aimed at the more conservative opponents of the current administration and the minister faced an attack by 30 MPs, who accused Fazli of “undermining the healthiest and most transparent electoral system in the world”.5 By late April he was retracting his claims, but the damage was done – the minister’s comment confirms what most Iranian people have long known: the Islamic Republic is institutionally corrupt.

The Rowhani administration has made a number of claims about its policies aimed at improving the economic situation, not least in tackling the spiralling rate of inflation combined with stagnation. However, most of the publicity about the government’s Proposed package to turn stagnation to expansion is waffle. As Ismail Hossein Zadeh points out inCounterpunch, the document “turns out to be disappointingly devoid of any specific guideline or clear policy for economic recovery”. He goes on:

Slightly more than 40% of the package is devoted to a withering criticism of economic policies of the previous (Ahmadinejad’s) administration, which is not only full of factual falsehoods and distortions, but is also dubious on theoretical grounds. The rest of the package consists of a series of vague statements and general descriptions that fall way short of a meaningful economic plan or programme. Reading through the package feels like reading through lecture notes of an academic economist on neoclassical/neoliberal macroeconomic theory, not a policy prescription or an economic agenda.6

Rowhani’s economics

Over the last two years the international press and media have concentrated on Rowhani’s foreign policies, in terms of both negotiations with the P5+1 and confrontation with conservative figures internally. Outside Iran very few are familiar with the Iranian president’s economic vision. He is an avid defender of market forces and opposed to state intervention (unless it is directed towards helping the market). In a major speech delivered in August 2014 Rowhani claimed: “The state must stay out of economic activities, and place those activities at the disposal of the private sector … The private sector understands the economy much better, and it knows where to invest.”7

He has written extensively on this subject in National security and economic system of Iran (August 2010). According to this book, the economic hardship faced by the peoples of the third world has nothing to do the global economic order or imperialist exploitation. It is a direct result of their own isolationism and economic mismanagement. So recessions, joblessness and hardship have nothing to do with neoliberal economics.

In other words, Iranian workers can expect little help from Hassan Rowhani. He is opposed to “oppressive” labour legislation (ie, legislation that restricts the freedom of capitalists) and believes that low wages and temporary-contract employment helps promote prosperity. His book states: “One of the main challenges that employers and our factories face is the existence of labour unions. Workers should be more pliant toward the demands of job-creators.” The fact that there are no independent trade unions in Iran and that most of those who have fought to establish them are currently in jail escapes the president’s notice. The book should be read by neoconservatives in the Republican Party – surely they will appreciate many of the Iranian president’s comments.

According to Rowhani,

There is a close correlation between economic development and political stability, which means maintaining dialogue and friendly relations with the outside world. As stable international relations paves the grounds for economic development, economic development, in turn, makes a country more secure or stable, as it makes the country less vulnerable to external threats. Thus, there is a positive correlation, akin to a virtuous cycle, between the goal of economic development and the policy of establishing or maintaining friendly relations with the outside world.

For Rowhani, the man with an eye on the international situation, there are lessons to be learnt from the ‘Arab spring’. Economic misery, frustration with ever-increasing unemployment and a growing gap between rich and poor fuelled the revolt. In countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Syria the super-rich were identified as pro-western, decadent and anti-Islamic. Yet ruthless repression of the left had created a situation where Islamists, often supported by Saudi funds, could benefit from the political vacuum created when protestors took to the streets, expressing all the frustrations built up over decades.

In Iran, the Islamists have been in power for 36 years and no-one amongst the millions of unemployed or unpaid workers have any illusions about the regime. They have seen how Islam’s version of neoliberal economics works. The youth (some 78% of the population) – at least those not affected by drugs and addiction – can be divided into two categories: a minority who maintain illusions about the west and bourgeois democracy, hoping that full integration into the world capitalist order will bring prosperity; and a majority who reject current economic policies.

Protests

Since January 2015 we have seen a wave of workers’ protests for pay increases in line with the growing rate of inflation, against the non-payment of wages, against employers’ refusal to renew contracts and against mass lay-offs.

According to IRNA, Khatoon Abad Copper workers have gathered with their families on a number of occasions and at times for consecutive days in front of the governor’s office in Kerman province, where they were protesting against threats to their job security. Varamin Sugar Company workers took to the streets in January to stop the closure of the company and the loss of their jobs. Ahvaz Water and Wastewater workers and miners from Tazeh in Semnan province were amongst large groups of workers waging protests over the non-payment of wages, while Iranian cities have witnessed demonstrations by teachers over poverty pay. They refused to attend classes for two days in January and there were similar protests in February and April.

Meanwhile, thousands of nurses from across the country gathered in front of the parliament to protest against the government’s failure to implement regulated rates for nursing services. According to these protestors, although the new health bill has resulted in pay increases for doctors and surgeons, nurses have seen no significant improvement despite a substantially increased workload. This despite the fact that the country faces a serious shortage of nurses – the current ratio is only one nurse for every 1,000 patients.

On foreign trips the president and his foreign minister are eager to tell reporters that there are no political prisoners in Iran. However, those of us who are in touch with labour activists in Iran know otherwise. Despite the sackings and threats, many workers continue to organise and participate in demonstrations, strikes and protests and many are sent to prison. The long list of labour activists currently incarcerated include: Yousof Abkharabat, Sharokh Zamani, Vahed Sayedeh, Jafar Azimzadeh, Jamil Mohamadi, Rasoul Bodaghi, Abdolreza Ghanbari, Muhamad Jarahi, Mahmoud Bagheri, Kourosh Bakhshandeh, and Behnam Ebrahimzadeh.

And, as Iranian workers prepare for protests to be held on May 1, the authorities have arrested a number of labour activists, including Mahmoud Salehi and Ossman Esmaili, members of the union committee at the Vahed bus company in Tehran, as well as the secretary of Tehran’s teachers’ association, Alireza Hashemi.

Workers organising protests face sentences of at least four to five years. Many of those currently held suffer from ill health caused by poor conditions. Political prisoners also complain of kidney pain, gum disease, arthritis and stomach ulcers – all due to torture.

This May Day Iranian workers will demonstrate and celebrate where they can – openly in some major cities, elsewhere by gathering in secret locations. They all have one thing in mind: solidarity with fellow workers in Iran and in oyher places. In the midst of the ravages of neoliberal capitalism in the Middle East, they are a beacon of hope for all those fighting for secular, progressive and internationalist values.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. Quote from the Iranian leader’s website: www.Khamenei.ir.

2. http://sahamnews.org/2015/04/280950.

3. www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/opinion/clerical-rule-luxury-lifestyle.html?_r=0.

4. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/01/iran-parliament-corruption-mortazavi.html.

5. www.ibtimes.co.uk/iran-minister-accused-undermining-democracy-after-drugs-corruption-claims-1490765.

6. www.counterpunch.org/2014/10/17/neoliberal-economics-comes-to-iran.

7. ‘Rowhani explains anti-stagnation economic policies’:www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13930519000461.

Will the deal bring peace?

May 2nd, 2015

John Kerry: to the deadline and beyondFinally, after eight days of intensive negotiations, on April 2 Iran and the P5+1 powers agreed a statement of intent, which will become the framework for the final deal to be signed in June 2015.

This does not mean the US administration has decided on a strategy of rapprochement with Iran – the proposed ‘framework’ does not address any issues beyond the immediate subject of the country’s nuclear installations. However, if the final deal is reached, it will herald a new era in the two countries’ bilateral relations and for Iran’s economic and trade relations with the European Union. Sections of Iran’s industry, paralysed by sanctions, will resume operation, the rate of inflation might fall if the price of the rial rises, and the price of basic goods might come down if the internal mafia of black marketeers can be controlled.

It is too early to speculate how all this will play out in detail, but we can safely, I think, predict four things. Firstly, European companies will return in the hope of securing new markets and large profits. Secondly, the Islamic Republic will persevere with its neoliberal economic policies. Thirdly, in any ensuing economic upturn, the gap between the rich and the poor will get wider, non-payment of workers’ wages will continue. Fourthly, the ‘reformist’ faction of the Islamic regime will maintain power for longer than one presidential election.

Lengthy negotiations are in store until the agreement is signed. And already opponents of the deal, inside and outside Iran, are lining up to denounce what is known about the main points. On paper it looks like both sides have made concessions, while keeping to their ‘red lines’. As far as uranium enrichment is concerned, Iran has agreed to reduce its centrifuges by approximately two-thirds, from 19,000 currently to 6,104, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years, and at levels below 3.67% for at least 15 years. The country will reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300kg of 3.67% LEU, while excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in storage and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran will convert its nuclear facility in Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium, again for at least 15 years. However, the country will be allowed to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years, with excess centrifuges being handed over to IAEA inspectors. Iran has also agreed to destroy the original heavy-water reactor in Arak. It will redesign and rebuild this reactor so that in future the plant cannot be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and instead the facility will be used to support peaceful nuclear research and produce radioisotopes.

Sanctions

In return, according to the official White House statement, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.” However, “If at any time Iran fails to fulfil its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.” Furthermore, “The architecture of US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.” Finally, “All past UN security council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD and transparency).”1

The two sides have different interpretations of both nuclear decommissioning and the lifting of ‘all sanctions’. One of the red lines of supreme leader Ali Khamenei has always been the demand that all sanctions (it is assumed by this he means sanctions imposed because of the country’s nuclear programme) will be lifted in one go. The US administration’s interpretation is that sanctions will be suspended gradually after each step of compliance with the agreement and lifted permanently after Iran has adopted all the measures stipulated by the agreement. Either way, the majority of the Iranian people are facing years more of misery, economic hardship and high inflation.

In its first session of the new Iranian year (1394) the Iranian majles (parliament) was divided on the subject. President Hassan Rowhani and his foreign minister have hinted that throughout negotiations in Lausanne Khamenei was informed of every detail and therefore the signed statement and details released by both sides have his seal of approval. Of course, the fact that there is confusion about the thorny issue of sanctions does not help and Iranian opponents of the deal have picked up on this. A day after his triumphant return from Lausanne, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was heckled in a session of the security committee of the majles. The arguments became so heated that he threatened to leave the meeting and cameras were removed. A leading conservative figure compared the deal to “trading a saddled horse for a few broken reins”.

However, other conservative figures welcomed the agreement and congratulated the government. The supreme leader is likely to express his opinion later in the week and it is expected he will give it a guarded welcome. The leader of Friday prayers, ayatollah Emami Kashani, who is close to the more conservative factions of the Islamic regime, hailed the deal. And in a significant move, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, expressed support for the agreement: “With God’s grace, the revolutionary children of Islamic Iran have succeeded in defending the rights of the Iranian nation, and the Revolutionary Guards appreciate their honest political efforts.”

The Iranian parliament might insist on a vote regarding the delay in the lifting of sanctions, but the government is only obliged to place the issue of Iran allowing more extensive inspection of the country’s nuclear facilities, as well as related industries, before parliament.

Rightwing Republicans and pro-Israeli Democrats in the US congress and senate will also try to stop the deal. Scott Walker, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said he would – if elected – “renege on any deal with Iran”, while Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, alleged: “Iranian leaders will now find a nuclear weapon dangerously within reach.”

Responding to such claims, Barack Obama went on the offensive to defend the deal, calling it the best possible option: “Bombing the country” and starting a new war in the Middle East would only set back Iran’s programme a few years, while just continuing sanctions would not be sufficient, as they had never stopped Iran “making progress with its nuclear programme”.2

The Iranian people have suffered considerably from the sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy, isolated its banks and financial institutions, yet now we hear from the US president that they made no difference to Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian exiles (on the left and the right) who remain advocates of sanctions (or, as Hillary Clinton called them, “targeted sanctions”) should bear this in mind. By definition sanctions increase the power of the existing state, punish ordinary citizens and only result in two possible outcomes: regime change from above or the creation of a failed state, in both cases for the sole benefit of imperialism.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called the Lausanne agreement a “bad deal”, even though some, if not most, of his demands were added to the conditions by US secretary of state John Kerry, including the reduction of uranium stockpiles and the decommissioning of the current reactor in Fordow. So the Zionist leader is now forced to look for new demands. On April 4, he said the final deal must include Iran’s recognition of the state of Israel. A bizarre addition, given that these talks were supposed to be solely about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Hegemon

As negotiations dragged on in Lausanne, it was clear that all parties were desperate to reach a deal:

  • For Iran it was necessary because the economy is on its knees following the collapse of the price of oil.
  • For the EU because a new market desperate for goods and services in a semi-developed country, with a population of nearly 80 million, presents many ‘opportunities’.
  • For the US because it is facing so many challenges in that part of the world that reaching agreement with Iran could be presented as the Obama administration’s crowning success.

As Iranians celebrated the possible end of punitive sanctions, many commented on the billions of dollars spent on developing nuclear plants, a project that benefited from astronomic funds at a time when most people were suffering from food shortages, lack of medicine … all courtesy of the west. The Iranian people have paid a heavy price for the supreme leader’s ‘heroic flexibility’ regarding the nuclear issue. Contrary to silly comments by sections of the exiled left, the celebrations on the streets of Tehran last Friday were not in support of the government, but an expression of hope that the economic situation will improve after sanctions are removed.

For the EU, the prospects of new markets were making some capitalists salivate. The ink on the Lausanne deal was barely dry before Richard Branson purred with satisfaction: “Well done to Iran’s foreign minister … in bringing home an historic deal for Iran and the world. Commendations to John Kerry and the leaders from the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany in reaching an agreement … There are millions of young, ambitious, decent Iranians who can now start to enjoy some prosperity in Iran, as sanctions are lifted without the threat of war.”3

However, predictions that Iran will become the US’s best friend in the region, or a regional economic power allied to the US at the expense of Saudi Arabia,4 are premature to say the least. Since 2001 US policy in the region has been such a disaster it is difficult to see how a deal with Iran will improve the situation. The world hegemon has managed to create and oversee disaster in Iraq following the invasion and occupation, and it has inflicted poverty, hunger and the threat of war on the peoples of Iran. It egged on fundamentalist groups in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, only for them to end up fighting each other in a civil war. During the ‘Arab spring’ the US supported president Hosni Mubarak until it became obvious that his regime could not survive, so it then tried to make deals with the Muslim Brotherhood and finally supported a military coup. A coup that effectively ended hopes of radical change for millions of Egyptians and Arabs.

Since 2012 the world hegemon power and its allies, encouraged by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, have been pursuing one aim: to weaken Iran’s regional influence. That is why they have supported jihadists in Syria (the same jihadists who ended up as Islamic State). While the rhetoric was for democracy and civil society, in practice the three main allies of the US were reactionary religious and semi-religious states: Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. As far as relations with the arch-enemy is concerned, while the Iranian people were punished through sanctions, the US administration had no hesitation in coming to arrangements with the regime whenever their common interests demanded it, including in the 2003 war in Iraq, in Afghanistan since 2001 and now in opposing IS in Syria or Iraq.

In Syria the regime of Bashar al-Assad remains the main enemy – because, according to many in and around the administration, Iran is more of a threat than IS. In the last few weeks there have been many days when the US army was bombing IS forces in northern Iraq, while using drones to attack pro-Assad forces in Syria and sending arms to jihadists fighting the Assad regime. In the first instance the enemy was this major threat to world peace, IS, while in the second it was about undermining Iran’s regional ambitions. All this while Obama’s secretary of state was engaged in the nuclear negotiations.

Muddled and ineffective US foreign policy in the region has been disastrous for the peoples of the Middle East and north Africa, those who have to live with the subsequent chaos. Many have argued this is symptomatic of a superpower in decline and there is historical precedence to validate such an argument. On the other hand, it could be that there is method in this madness, that the world hegemon power is deliberately following a policy of producing failed states: Iraq, Syria, Libya , Yemen … Far from seeking stability, it could be that the US actually wants to spread chaos, hoping to benefit from national, regional and religious divisions, thanks to the good old tactic of divide and rule. With current US policy there is the prospect of decades of war, civil strife and regime change in the region.

The deal in Lausanne has done nothing to change this.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program:www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/04/240170.htm.

2. www.yourhoustonnews.com/spring/opinion/obama-s-weekly-address-reaching-a-comprehensive-and-long-term/article_c8387e5c-db26-11e4-b8aa-b3ddb21d2b97.html.

3. www.virgin.com/richard-branson/iran-nuclear-agreement-is-an-historic-opportunity-for-peace.

4. See Robert Fisk The Independent April 7.

John Kerry: to the deadline and beyond

May 30: Hopi day school with Moshé Machover , Mike Macnair and Yassamine Mather

April 29th, 2015

Saturday May 30, 11am-5pm
The Cock Tavern, 23 Phoenix Rd, London NW1 1HB 

Read the rest of this entry »

پرگار: آینده دمکراسی BBC Persian

March 16th, 2015

آیا جوامع دمکراتیک دچار بحران دمکراسی نشده اند؟ به این معنا که کیفیت شاخص های دمکراسی در آنها افول نکرده است؟ ولی چرا این موضوع برای کسانی که در جوامع غیردمکراتیک زندگی می کنند باید مهم باشد؟

36th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution

February 14th, 2015

BBC Persian 

36th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution

ym-re

CIA roots of Islamist fundamentalism

January 29th, 2015

Did outrage caused by the provocations of an irreverent magazine provoke the Paris attacks? Yassamine Mather looks beyond this simplistic myth

Afghan mujahedin: paid for by Washington

first published in the Weekly Worker

On Sunday January 11, according to France’s ministry of interior, at least 3.7 million people marched across France to support the freedom of the press. As many on the left have pointed out, the demonstration in Paris was led by some of the most appalling political leaders in the world – some of them war criminals, others responsible for a long list of crimes against humanity, others authors of legislation against freedom of speech in their own country. But all were apparently united by their desire to defend freedom of the press, following last week’s horrific attacks in Paris.

No-one in their right mind can believe that that the attacks were simply the result of Islamists’ reaction to the cartoons printed by the Charlie Hebdo authors, yet the bourgeois media have done such a good job of manipulating the headlines that millions of people throughout the world, including many on the ‘left’, are under the impression this was simply an issue of ‘freedom of the press’. Rarely in recent years have we seen such oversimplification and indeed misrepresentation of facts, leading to mass hysteria.

Don’t get me wrong: there was no conspiracy here. The misrepresentation was an inevitable consequence of the way the bourgeois media simplify complicated stories, using attention-grabbing headlines, which may be glanced at on mobile devices and social media by people who do not read the full story.

There were exceptions to this rule and, as Robert Fisk reflected in The Independent,

Maybe all newspaper and television reports should carry a ‘history corner’, a little reminder that nothing – absolutely zilch – happens without a past. Massacres, bloodletting, fury, sorrow, police hunts (‘widening’ or ‘narrowing’, as sub-editors wish) take the headlines. Always it’s the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ – but rarely the ‘why’. In this case the situation was worse – the why wasn’t what the headlines wanted us to believe.1

Of course, no-one is claiming that “the why” should be used to justify these horrific murders, but in this particular case the media’s version – shootings caused by cartoons disrespectful of Mohammed – is just plain wrong. In fact, had they paid any attention to “the who”, they would have found better answers in regard to “the why”. We now know the event had everything to do with previous and current wars in north Africa and the Middle East. The gunmen had military training, they were associated with one or more al Qa’eda group in Algeria and Yemen, they also had connections with Islamic State and/or al Qa’eda in Syria.

A video released on January 11 shows Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who seized hostages in the kosher supermarket, pledging allegiance to IS. He says he was working with Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, those responsible for the Charlie Hebdo outrage: “We have split our team into two … to increase the impact of our actions.”2 These claims were repeated in an interview Coulibaly gave to an affiliate channel of CNN during the siege. There is some confusion about this, because the Kouachi brothers said they were sent by al Qa’eda in Yemen, otherwise known as al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has now claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks. In his own, separate interview with BFM TV, Chérif Kouachi also explained that he had been in contact with Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP cleric.3

As Frank Gardner points out in BBC online,

Despite sharing a violent, west-hating jihadist ideology, the two organisations have largely been in competition. In Syria this has sometimes erupted into open warfare, as their respective followers jockey for territory, while their leaders jockey for global influence …

So is it possible that leaders of the two most dangerous jihadist organisations have agreed to bury their differences and cooperate in a joint attack on France? It is not inconceivable, but it is unlikely. Far more plausible is the idea that, with or without the tacit blessings of both al Qa’eda and IS, the three attackers decided to pool their resources and form a plan on their own.4

The brothers had allegedly attended a mosque in a northern suburb of Paris, where they came under the influence of a radical imam called Farid Benyettou and through him came into contact with Boubaker al-Hakim, a militant linked to al Qa’eda in Iraq, according to Middle East expert Jean-Pierre Filiu. Hakim had recruited jihadists to fight in Fallujah in the mid-2000s.5

Politicisation

Moreover, the brothers were not ‘radicalised’ because of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons: they were politicised by the wars in the Middle East. So why did they choose the offices of a satirical magazine as a target? Because it was a soft target and was very convenient. For them it was a military operation – this was confirmed by comments made to hostages they took in both the Charlie Hebdo offices and the print works where they later took refuge. The two brothers told a salesman that they did not kill civilians! According to an interview given by the manager of the print works, “I brought them the coffee and they were very respectful, calling me monsieur, like gentlemen.”

For all their barbarism all three believed themselves to be soldiers of Islam. The younger brother, Chérif, had a long history of jihadism and anti-Semitism, according to documents obtained by CNN. In a 400-page court record, he is described as wanting to go to Iraq through Syria “to fight the Americans … I was ready to go and die in battle,” he said in a deposition. “I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television … I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.”6

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the preferred target of the jihadists was the US embassy. However, the three knew that they would get nowhere near the well fortified US building in Paris. To a lesser extent the same argument is valid in terms of targeting major government ministries and offices – although, as many leftwing commentators have pointed out, why target a government whose agencies had until recently supported Islamic groups? France was promoting the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, long before the United States got involved and supported anyone who fought Bashar al-Assad in Syria (both are countries with a history of French colonial intervention). So the jihadists were looking for an easy target – a building where there was no security, easy to access and easy to escape from.

The brothers had military training in Yemen: they were volunteering and recruiting others for jihad in Iraq and later in Syria, while in their youth they had had a life very similar to many second-generation immigrants before they changed. Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books summarises this well:

The circumstances that attract young men and women to these groups are creations of the western world that they inhabit – which is itself a result of long years of colonial rule in the countries of their forebears. We know that the Parisian brothers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, were long-haired inhalers of marijuana and other substances until (like the July 7 bombers in this country) they saw footage of the Iraq war and, in particular, of the torture taking place in Abu Ghraib and the cold-blooded killings of Iraqi citizens in Fallujah.

They sought comfort in the mosque. Here they were radicalised by waiting hardliners, for whom the west’s war on terror had become a golden opportunity to recruit and hegemonise the young, both in the Muslim world and in the ghettoes of Europe and North America. Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively. Back home they got ready to deploy this knowledge against those who they believed were tormenting them in difficult times. They were the persecuted. Charlie Hebdo represented their persecutors. The horror should not blind us to this reality.7

The Kouachi brothers were indeed politicised by the war in Iraq, by atrocities in Abu Ghraib, by the carpet bombing of Fallujah. At a time when anti-war movements had fizzled out or been rendered useless by soft politics, and in the absence of a revolutionary left, they signed up to the Islamists. Nothing justifies the horrific crimes committed in Paris last week, but the ‘international community’ and to a certain extent we on the international left must take a share of the blame. Where were the demonstrations when Fallujah and other Iraqi cities were being bombed? What have we done about war crimes in Iraq? In Afghanistan? So far only the whistleblowers – those who exposed the torture – are in jail, while war criminals from Bush and Blair to the CIA directors in charge of that torture remain at large. There is no justice for the victims of Abu Ghraib or for the survivors of Fallujah.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, writing in the Huffington Post, sums it up:

And when the horrific assassinations of 12 media people and the wounding of another 12 media workers resulted in justifiable outrage around the world, did you ever wonder why there wasn’t an equal outrage at the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed by the American intervention in Iraq or the over a million civilians killed by the US in Vietnam, or why president Obama refused to bring to justice the CIA torturers of mostly Muslim prisoners, thereby de facto giving future torturers the message that they need not even be sorry for their deeds (indeed, former vice-president Cheney boldly asserted he would order that kind of torture again without thinking twice)?

So don’t be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media circus surrounding this particular outrage, while the western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that western countries have been involved in. Or perhaps a bit less convinced that western societies are really the best hope for civilisation

…. the violence is an inevitable consequence of a world which systematically dehumanizes so many people who are made to feel powerless and despairing and deeply depressed about the possibility of finding the milk of human kindness anywhere.8

The reality is that capitalism has created this atomised world, where the life of a European or American is valued more than that of hundreds of victims of the war on terror in the Middle East, Afghanistan and north Africa.

Media role

A significant contributor to this situation is the mass media and the way they report war, terrorism and murder, which has a crucial role in the subsequent mobilisation of public opinion. Early in the Iraq adventure, the BBC tried to express a slightly more balanced view of Tony Blair’s reasons for wanting to go to war, by exposing the ‘dodgy dossier’ prepared by Alistair Campbell – let us remember what happened to that exercise. The director general of the BBC was forced to resign, the broadcasters involved were replaced, the journalists sidelined. The Hutton enquiry legitimised this novel way of dealing with the issue of freedom of the press. No wonder we no longer see and hear any investigative journalism from that quarter. As I have often told Iranian comrades, in the west there is no need for censorship of the media: the prevalent unconscious self-censorship guarantees their compliance with the status quo.

Of course, in the Middle East the official and unofficial media have their own problems of state and religious censorship and, in the absence of a media outlet trusted by the majority of the population, exaggerated news of massacres and torture found on social media or jihadi websites substitute for facts. Whatever the number of those killed in Fallujah, most Iraqis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc believe it to be 10 times more. Most of us have had to look away when the horrific images from Abu Ghraib torture chambers have appeared. However, none of those images equal the Photoshopped versions that went viral in social media and unofficial websites in the Middle East. Whoever was circulating that particular video was intent on creating as much disgust as possible so as to incite a reaction. While barbaric wars are sanitised for western audiences, citizens of Middle Eastern and north African countries are exposed to exaggerated and at times false reporting of their horrors. This has contributed to the irrational response to capitalist barbarism by the jihadists.

The email sent to his staff by Al Jazeera English editor and executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr has been circulating on the web: “Please accept this note in the spirit it is intended – to make our coverage the best it can be. We are Al Jazeera!” he gave his “suggestions” as to how the Qatar-based news outlet should cover the story. “Khadr urged his employees to ask if this was ‘really an attack on free speech’, discuss whether ‘I am Charlie’ is an ‘alienating slogan’, caution viewers against ‘making this a free speech aka European values’ under attack binary [sic]’ and portray the attack as ‘a clash of extremist fringes’.9

Of course, Al Jazeera is in an unenviable position – caught between, on the one hand, the sensitivities of Qatari rulers, who have contributed or at least turned a blind eye to funds sent to IS, and, on the other, a loyal audience gained through better representation of the Arab world than what western-based media feed us. In fact for all its many faults, the channel remains one of the more reliable sources of information about the Middle East.

Islam and violence

The events in Paris, as well as the well publicised beheading of western prisoners by IS, have initiated a debate about the inherently violent nature of Islam. If you read recent comments on this subject, including some from Iranian ‘lefts’, you might come to the conclusion that violence is a genetic characteristic among Muslims, irrespective of their nationality.

As a lifelong communist opponent of the Islamic Republic in Iran, I have no sympathy with political Islam. However, it would be a mistake to claim that Islam is more violent than other religions. It is wrong to talk about the recent violent attacks by Islamists without looking at contemporary precedents. One can easily trace al Qa’eda violence, later taken up by IS, to the Afghan war of the 1980s and in this respect there is no more authoritative commentator than Hillary Clinton, who in December 2011 admitted that that the US government created and funded Al Qa’eda in order to fight the Soviet Union.10

According to Joe Stephens and David Ottaway, CIA-supplied school books depicting violent images have played an important part in promoting jihadist violence. Writing in the Washington Post, they say:

The United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings – part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

One page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier’s head is missing. Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujahedin, who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says.11

The CIA was also concerned about tribal and regional factionalism in Afghanistan and decided that Arab zealots who joined the jihad were more reliable and easier to train than the rivalry-ridden Pashtouns, Daris, etc. So Osama bin Laden, along with a small groups of militants from Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, became the agency’s allies in the war against Moscow.

According to veteran journalist Robert Dreyfuss,

For half a century the United States and many of its allies saw what I call the ‘Islamic right’ as convenient partners in the cold war. In the decades before 9/11, hard-core activists and organisations among Muslim fundamentalists on the far right were often viewed as allies for two reasons: because they were seen as fierce anti-communists and because they opposed secular nationalists, such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh.12

That was not all. After the coming to power of the first major Islamic state in the Middle East, Iran’s Islamic Republic, for all the anti-Iran rhetoric we heard from the US and its western allies, they took a very ‘pragmatic’ line towards the violence meted out by that regime against its leftwing opponents. In the early 1980s, and later in 1987, Tehran executed large numbers of communists and socialists – the figures are unreliable, but conservative estimates would be that at least around 8,000 were killed by the Shia regime. Did the western media sympathise with them? No, that violence was not considered a problem. In the same period, Alan Clark, Margaret Thatcher’s close advisor, boasted about selling arms to both Iran and Iraq, in a war where half a million people lost their lives. Ronald Reagan and Oliver North were involved in the arms trade with Iran under the auspices of Irangate.

Iran’s violence against its own citizens continued into the 2000s . In the autumn of 2001, ‘rogue’ elements from Iran’s ministry of intelligence executed a number of secular/leftwing writers in what became known on the Iranian left as serial political murders. This was an unprecedentedly violent campaign against innocent individuals.

In December 2001, I received a recording of secret interrogations held by Iran’s ministry of intelligence. With help from the National Union of Journalists we showed those DVDs at a press conference in the union’s headquarters in London. They show forced confessions, how some of the agents of the ministry of intelligence, including the wife of prime suspect Saeed Emami, were beaten, flogged and humiliated until they confessed that they worked for foreign powers, including the US and Israel. The NUJ and various Iranian leftwing groups had sent invitations to the media to attend the press conference, but the only British reporter present, apart from the representative from BBC Persian service, was from Indymedia. No-one from the major media outlets seemed concerned that Iranian writers were being executed on the streets of Tehran by religious zealots. Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, was then considered an ally, so no-one cared about those writers in Tehran, or about press freedom in Iran.

It is incidents such as this that makes me very cynical about the outpouring of sentiment over Charlie Hebdo.

Islam and tolerance

Zealots in every religion hate ridicule directed against their deities, but the current consensus is that Muslims are more intolerant than others. But, just like jihadi violence, such intolerance is yet another gift from the CIA guidebooks of the 1980s. In order to whip up anger, the jihadists were encouraged to react to any infringement of Islam by secular governments in Afghanistan with violence. Intolerance of others, as propagated by political Islam, is a modern phenomenon.

During my childhood , one of my mother’s best loved books was Twenty-three years: a study of the prophetic career of Mohammed. The author, Ali Dashti, disproves through rational argument the miracles of the prophet Mohammed – events that are central to the Islamic faith. He argues against the commonly held Islamic myth that the Quran was the work of god, a divine inspiration sent to an illiterate Mohammed. Dashti also points out that the stories in the Quran are all identical or slightly varied versions of those in the Bible or the Torah, that Mohammed had heard these stories during trade trips he made to what is now Syria. More damaging than that, Dashti claims Mohammed married a rich old widow, Khadija, in order to gain financial advantage and subsequently married a number of younger women, including a very young girl who was supposed to have been his daughter-in-law. Dashti’s book could be found in many Iranian households, and even religious Shias had no problem discussing its contents.

My uncle, who was a practising Shia, kept a copy of Maxim Rodinson’s 1961 book Mohammed on his bookshelf. Rodinson, a Marxist and professor of oriental languages, wrote this biography of the prophet’s life from a sociological point of view – it was clearly blasphemous, as far as believers are concerned.

So how did today’s Islamic intolerance begin? We can trace its beginnings to the infamous CIA guidebooks for jihadists, written by Saudi/Wahhabi fundamentalists, with the purpose of inciting hatred against leftwing forces.

Yet, irrespective of this history, we have to say there can be no exceptions, as far as freedom of expression is concerned. There is no reason why Islam should be a special case in this regard. In fact to call on publications not to make derogatory remarks about Mohammed, as opposed to Jesus or Moses, is to admit Muslims are less tolerant than other believers. Such an attitude would pave the way to further discrimination against Muslims.

Notes

1. www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/charlie-hebdo-paris-attack-brothers-campaign-of-terror-can-be-traced-back-to-algeria-in-1954-9969184.html.

2. www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/01/video_shows_terroris.php#ixzz3OcllUpo8.

3. http://blogs.rue89.nouvelobs.com/jean-pierre-filiu/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-paris-et-tunis-les-memes-assassins-de-la-liberte-234030.

4. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30789123.

5. http://europenews.dk/en/node/88717.

6. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/charlie-hebdo-paris-shooting.

7. www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n02/tariq-ali/short-cuts.

8. www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/mourning-the-parisian-jou_b_6442550.html

9. www.nationalreview.com/corner/396131/i-am-not-charlie-leaked-newsroom-e-mails-reveal-al-jazeera-fury-over-global-support.

10. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqn0bm4E9yw.

11. ‘The ABCs of jihad in Afghanistan’ Washington Post March 23 2002.

12. www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/11/israel-and-the-u-s-created-hamas-hezbollah-and-other-terrorists-via-blowback.html.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yassamine Mather and Paul Mason on “Beneath The Surface” with Suzi Weissman

January 17th, 2015

ymatherYassamine Mather (chair, HOPI) spoke on the roots of Islamist fundamentalism and the myth that the Paris attacks were caused by outrage from the provocations of an irreverent magazine. Read the rest of this entry »