Monthly Archives: January 2012

Video: Syrian Khamenei supporters attack anti-war Iranians

On January 28 around 300 protesters gathered at the American embassy to oppose the increasingly bellicose rhetoric against Iran and Syria. Called by the Stop the War Coalition under the title of ‘Stop the war before it starts: don’t attack Iran/Syria’, the protest was in many respects something that seasoned activists in the anti-war movement would be all too familiar with. Well-meaning, if often slightly tedious and repetitive speeches, a few chants and the promise to build an enormous opposition that could finally scupper the imperialists’ plans once and for all. However, it soon became apparent that this was not going to be simply ‘business as usual’. In a somewhat embarrassing indictment to the approach of ‘as broad as possible’ typified by the coalition, several speakers were booed or chanted down, and fights broke out between protesters. At one point a group of Iranians from the London Green movement lined up against supporters of the Syrian Baathist regime under the sway of Bashar Al-Assad. It was not pretty.

The first indications that something was not quite right came when I was handing out Hands Off the People of Iran leaflets (‘Make your voice heard’: see here). The leaflets were readily snapped up, but it soon became apparent that several of the people I had handed leaflets too – particularly young men – were sporting baseball caps emblazoned with the Syrian flag (not that of the Syrian opposition) and a picture of Al-Assad in all his despotic glory.

At the same time, about 40 Iranian protesters were gathering behind banners reading ‘Free Iran’. From afar, this demonstration must have seemed like the prelude to some conflict, not a demonstration to oppose one.

When the rather compromised figure of Abbas Eddalat of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran spoke, noise erupted from the ‘Free Iran’ contingent. In the din it was not all clear what he was saying – though he went out of his way to assure the protesters that the theocratic regime in Iran was not interested in building nuclear weapons. It was obvious that the Iranians wanted their voices to be heard in a different fashion, by somebody else.

This angered the Syrians, and soon both groups squared up. They were separated only by police barriers and four or five rather dumbfounded police constables. Some of the younger male Syrians initially managed to get quite close to the Iranians. Wrapped in Syrian flags and with bandanas reading “labeik Khameni – I worship Khamenei” around their heads, they meted out some quite heavy blows to some of the Iranians leading the chants. Adding to the absurdity of the situation, the handful of Iranians waving the Islamic Republic of Iran flags then joined with their Syrian comrades. One woman joined the two together and waved them proudly. The Iranian Khamenei supporters were in a distinct minority – most were young men from Syria. Yet the Iranian Islamists were not coy, with one pushing Hopi chair Yassamine Mather as she was being filmed. This sets a rather distasteful precedent.

Chants of ‘Long live Syria’ were met with ‘Down with Hezbollah’. Some of the chanting being lead from the stage was utterly drowned out. Keen to find out just who some of these people were, comrades working with Hopi managed to speak to some of them, and were informed that it was actually acceptable for women wearing bikinis to be stoned.

There was a fleeting moment of humanity, however, when the clashes temporarily were broken off to remove a small girl from the crowd, who had been hurtled to the floor.

But from this point on things were really out of control. The stewards were quite rightly at a loss, and some of the protesters were calling in the police to break up fights.

Speeches from the platform were constantly interrupted: it seemed that the Syrians wanted to talk about Syria. Indeed, this demonstration was also supposed to be about Syria too. But the organisers were keen to play down the Syrian aspect and none of the platform speakers really discussed Syria at all. This obviously upset the al-Assad fans, leading to them disrupting the demonstration and letting loose on the Iranian oppositionists. They did their best to make it known just how much they loved al-Assad, instigating attempts by rather embarrassed Iranians to stop them .

One of the main organisers of the Syrian contingent could be seen handing out copies of the CPGB-ML’s publication, ‘Proletarian’. I therefore wondered whether some of the hostility towards StWC speakers also stemmed from the latter organisation’s unceremonious ejection from the coalition for their veneration of former Libyan despot, Colonel Gaddafi.

Opportunism is the handmaiden of inconsistency. After all, just a few months ago the leadership of Stop the War booted out these very same people for their fawning praise of Gaddafi, supposed man of the people.

So it was fine (indeed a precondition of membership!) to oppose imperialist intervention in Libya while supporting protesters against their own dictator, but when it comes to Iran … No, no comrades, we cannot allow forces to affiliate to the coalition (like Hopi) who have the temerity to oppose imperialism AND criticise the theocracy. Many platform speakers were absolutely correct to chastise the double standards of the West when lecturing Iran on the perils of nuclear technology. But we also have to look at our own movement’s double standards once in a while.

The organisers did their best to calm the situation. But the arguments of the main speakers Lindsey German, John Rees and Andrew Murray were, as with their arguments against Hopi, largely mendacious.

“You are making the biggest mistake of your lives if on the basis of opposition you support the war”, Lindsey German shouted over the noise.

Quite right. In the past, the Iranian left has, of course, been tainted by the presence of all sorts of useful idiots lining up with the war drive. But the 40 or so Iranians at this demonstration were clearly, visibly anti-war. Most were keen to take a Hopi leaflet, and many carried official Stop the War placards reading ‘Don’t attack Iran’. Some of their supporters held up signs making the obvious point: ‘Sanctions and war kill Iran’s democracy movement’. If there is a criticism that can be made of the ‘London Green movement’, it is that their opposition to the entire regime came far too late. But now is the time to organise. The Iranians present on the demonstration should affiliate to the StWC and fight for basic internationalist principles.

German, Rees et al are actually going to fairly desperate lengths to dodge the issue at hand, ie the fact that they have consistently – both in the SWP and their new setup – opposed the affiliation of anti-imperialists critical of the Iranian regime. Hopi does not to make it a condition of entry that the StWC adopts the same policies as Hopi. We are in Britain and thus – yes – our main duty is to stop the warmongers. But we reject the notion that we must silence ourselves if we want to take part. Given that a section of the Iranian regime are not exactly indifferent to the prospect of war (desperate times, desperate measures!) this matter is hardly a mere trifle.

Indeed, I am also a bit perplexed by the notion that ‘the Iranian regime is a matter for the Iranian people themselves’. On one level this is obvious. Even though the clashes between Hezbollah supporters and Iranian democracy protesters may have made it feel like Tehran, the demo took place in London.

But is not the struggle against war in the Middle East – a powder keg of war and revolution – bound up with the strength and success of radical movements for change from below? Is it so heinous a crime to have platform speakers who have politics beyond ‘let’s all stop the war’? Fresh from a trip to Cairo, John Rees made this very point: the unfolding Egyptian revolution stood as an indictment of the arguments made by liberal and social imperialists about how US intervention brings democracy: the Egyptian military are shooting democracy protesters with US bullets! Indeed, but why does such a fundamental point only apply to US client states, and not those at odds with imperialism too? His logic shows something that far too many of the left (and on the far right) still cling too – the notion of an ‘anti-imperialist camp’ led, however imperfectly, by those like Al-Assad, Nasrollah or Khamenei.

Yet this flawed logic is increasingly at odds with reality. Indeed, there are encouraging signs that Counterfire’s erstwhile comrades in the SWP seem to be gradually turning away from their previous approach. (We should not forget that in 2006 SWP members Somaye Zadeh, Alys Zaerin and Casmi’s Abbas Eddalat led the charge against Hopi’s affiliation to StWC with very dubious, pro-theocracy arguments – see here: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker2/index.php?action=issue&issue=695).

But back in December, an Iranian SWP member, comrade Ali Alizadeh, gave a talk on ‘The lessons of Islamism’, in which he ended with a call to oppose any imperialist intervention without falling into the trap of allying ourselves with the regime. (His talk can be viewed online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn3__XoTlTk). For the moment his comrades do not seem to be doing much about fighting for this line in the StWC. Curiously, the report of the demo by Sian Ruddick in Socialist Worker online does not mention the stand-off at all (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=27366). SWP comrades obviously pretend this did not happen.

After all, Saturday’s sorry mess is just another tragic testament to the perils of popular frontism, of the poverty of political vision manifest in the StWC leadership over the years.

Hopefully there will be a rethink. But for the moment, the signs are few and far between. Chris Nineham could only roll out the usual call: put aside our differences and build the ‘broadest possible movement’. Always absurd, this message was rendered slightly more absurd by the fact that only state intervention could prevent what appeared to be a full-scale fight between the Iranians and the Syrians.

We in Hands Off the People of Iran have constantly pointed out the dangerous waters the anti-war movement will get itself into by putting narrow sect manoeuvering over politics and principles. We do not rub our hands in glee at the mess that unfolded before us on January 28, because it discredits our movement as a whole. Yes, we want the broadest, most militant movement of opposition possible. But we also want a movement that thinks and debates, that does not leave its politics outside of the movement, and that welcomes a whole range of critical views and ideas – not just those that are not too unpalatable for German, Rees and Murray.

We are potentially heading into extremely dangerous times. More than ever, a clear message of working class internationalism is needed in our movement. We call upon all anti-imperialists to fight for the right of Hopi to affiliate to the StWC – and for a clear change of strategy. The times demand nothing less. Join Hopi’s campaign and fight for anti-imperialism in the anti-war movement.

Ben Lewis

Make your voice heard: No war on Iran! For regime change from below!

John McDonnell MP

The war drums against Iran are beating ever louder. The new embargo on Iranian oil, to come into force on July 1, is only the latest in a long list of measures imposed by US and EU imperialism. It bans all new oil contracts with Iran, and cuts off all existing deals. Also, all of the Iranian central bank’s European assets are to be frozen.

We are told that the sanctions are designed to weaken the regime and “force Iran back to the negotiating table” over its nuclear programme. This is clearly nonsense:

  • In reality, the ‘nuclear danger’ is used by imperialism as an excuse to deal with an increasingly unstable situation in the Middle East. Imperialism has recently lost a number of friendly regimes in the region (like Egypt) and needs to reassert control in this oil-rich area. War is also a useful distraction from economic misery and the current crisis of capitalism.
  • Former International Atomic Energy Agency analyst Robert Kelly has debunked the latest report purporting to show that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Of the three pieces of ‘evidence’ that are not out of date, two are entirely unverifiable, and one an obvious forgery (see http://hopoi.org/?p=1841). But the regime draws sustenance from these rumours: the threats against Iran help the theocracy to stay in power, neutralise the opposition and unite the people behind a regime under attack from imperialism.
  •  The new sanctions will make it even more difficult for Iran, Opec’s second largest producer, to be paid in foreign currency for its oil exports (which were worth more than $100 billion in 2011). Previous rounds of EU and US sanctions targeting Iran’s financial system have already caused a shortage of foreign currency. A shortage of foreign currency means that Iran cannot import food at a time when food prices have already risen to astronomical levels. The Iranian rial has tumbled to a new low.
  • But the sanctions are unlikely to dramatically weaken the regime. The rich and powerful are able to protect

    Tony Benn

    themselves to a large degree from the effects. In fact, leaders of sanctioned regimes are almost always strengthened (and enriched) by sanctions.

  •  However, the sanctions will mean even more misery for ordinary Iranians: many workers will not receive their wages in time (if at all) and even the BBC has warned that social security payments and the remaining food subsidies could be the first to be cut by a theocracy under financial pressure. This will only increase the hardship and miserable conditions that our brothers and sisters in Iran have had to endure for many years.
  • Further, the military provocations of US-led imperialism – assassinations, sabotage and preparatory military manoeuvres in the region – have also dramatically upped the tension in the country and are being used by the theocracy to increase repression.
  • As the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove beyond doubt, democracy can only come from below, from the people themselves. But a people driven to their knees by brutal sanctions are hardly in the position to overthrow dictatorship.

Yassamine Mather

We know from history that sanctions are only the first step in wars being waged against ‘unfriendly’ regimes. A military attack against Iran is very much on the agenda. Should the regime in Tehran really decide to close the Strait of Hormuz, this could happen sooner rather than later.

That is why it is so important that we side now with the people of Iran in their struggle against their own theocracy and the threats by imperialism!

Make your voice heard now! Send us a message in the form of an email, voice mail, short video or a photograph holding attached poster and encourage your comrades and friends to do the same. We will post all messages on a special section on Hopi’s website and on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. Plans are also afoot for solidarity events, film screenings and fundraising events. Can you get involved? Donations are much appreciated too!

In solidarity,

Yassamine Mather

Chair, Hands Off the People of Iran

office@hopoi.info

  • Download HOPI posters:

Recommended readings by Iraj Seif

Iraj Seif is an Iranian economist and blogger.

His recent articles include:

– The risk of famine in Iran:  http://www.viewpointonline.net/risk-of-famine-in-iran.html

– A dangerous game in Tehran (about the conflict between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad: http://www.viewpointonline.net/a-dangerous-game-in-tehran.html

– The political economy of contemporary Iran: http://iranistudies.blogspot.com/2011/09/political-economy-of-comtemporary-iran.html

More articles on http://iranistudies.blogspot.com/

Former IAEA analyst debunks Iran report

In this article on Bloomberg, Robert Kelly, who now regrets being part of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team, debunks the latest report purporting to show that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. Of the three pieces of ‘evidence’ which are not out of date, referring to Iran’s previous weaponisation program, two are entirely unverifiable, and one an obvious forgery.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-11/iran-nuclear-weapons-charge-is-no-slam-dunk-commentary-by-robert-kelley.html