Tag Archives: war

Quotes: Why we don’t support the Iran Tribunal

Israeli socialist and found of Matzpen, Moshé Machover, believes that some of the organisers and participants have “acted with evident good will, but that is not enough. It often happens that people of good intentions lend themselves out of naivety to be exploited by evil forces. This is a danger that we must always guard against. Many good people, out of genuine and justified concern for women’s rights, were duped into lending legitimacy to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; and similarly good people, with genuine horror of Saddam Husain’s atrocities, were duped in 2003 into lending legitimacy to the disastrous invasion of Iraq.”

Norman Paech, human rights lawyer and member of Die Linke in Germany: “I have indeed supported the intention and the work of the committee to prepare this tribunal. I still think it is absolutely necessary that all facts about the horrific murders, the torture and the crimes of the 1980s are brought to light. But the background of the funding and the obvious links to the NED, of which I had no knowledge and which have only just been brought to my attention, make it impossible for me to continue this support. I find myself in particularly strong disagreement with the committee when it comes to my resolute opposition to sanctions and the threat of war on Iran. I do not want to be part of a project which is supported by the pro-war Mujahedin.”

John McDonnell MP: This tardy interest in “human rights” in Iran is clearly part of the US, Israeli and British governments’ drive to topple the theocratic regime – just like military threats and the vicious sanctions on the country, which are bleeding ordinary Iranians dry: food prices have rocketed, many workers have to be laid off as contracts with foreign companies are cancelled, hospitals cannot get hold of necessary and life-saving equipment. In this context, the refusal of IT’s steering committee to take a stand against the looming war and the calamitous effects of sanctions is a significant silence.

Mark Fischer, national secretary of Hands Off the People of Iran: “Financially and politically the tribunal is an integral part of the campaign for ‘regime change from above’.  This multi-front campaign utilises bombs, military threats, sanctions, killer commandos despatched by the Israeli secret service Mossad … and ‘human rights’ initiatives like the Iran Tribunal. For the sake of legitimacy – especially when it comes to ‘soft war’ initiatives like the IT or sanctions – the support of pliant politicians of the Iranian opposition is vital in this. Indeed, some of these forces have foolishly suggested that the worse the social conditions become in Iran, the weaker the regime.”

Mohammad Reza Shalgouni, a founder-member of Rahe Kargar, who spent eight years in prison under the shah: “It is inconceivable that a genuine tribunal of victims of the 1988 massacre would be associated with individuals or organisations who have such connections to the United States government.”

Professor Bridget Fowler, Glasgow University: I have read your very disturbing articles and support your anxiety about some of the funders to the Iran Tribunal, including – via the Abdorrahman Borroumand Foundation – the National Endowment for Democracy. I came to learn about the NED through discovering that it was one of the many organisations that had tried to destabilise the present Cuban Govt, so as to reinstate a regime which would back full privatisation as well as pursuing neoliberal demands.

Michael Parenti, US Marxist academic: Anti-imperialists and socialists should not take monetary or promotional support from organizations that are funded and directed by the imperialists. The NED and other such imperial interests are happy to undermine us with dollars as well as with brutal assaults. Never do they give anything that does not have strings attached to it. The imperialists have only their own self-interest in mind. The nectar they offer us is laced with poison. Build your own organizations as best you can, free from the infiltrations and subversion of those who preach democracy but who practice fascism.

Ruben Markarian, a leading member of Rahe Kargar: “The reality is that families of political prisoners who were seeking justice for their relatives have been delivered to the US and its allies.”

Professor Cyrus Bina, University of Minnesota: This so-called Tribunal is indeed a bashful front of US neocons and the Israel lobby in United States. Let’s not kid ourselves by walking on the eggshells on this and when it comes to Mr. Payam Akhavan.

Ashraf Dehghani, a prominent member of the Iranian People’s Fedayeen Guerrillas, has also come out strongly in opposition to the tribunal. “These days, we see that various imperialist powers are concerned about the issue ‘human rights’ and the defense of this or that political prisoner in Iran. One example of such concern by imperialist forces is the so called Iran Tribunal held recently in London.”

Ervand Abrahamian, historian of Middle Eastern and particularly Iranian history: I think this is not a good time to focus on the prison massacres. A better time will come once the nuclear issue subsides. Incidentally, Moussavi had absolutely nothing to do with the killings. There is a vital need to differentiate between different sectors of the regime.

Articles from all over the world, criticising the tribunal and its organisers:

 

The 7 key arguments against the “Iran Tribunal”

1. Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government
2. The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran
3. Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?
4. The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal
5. Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn
6. Critical voices have been silenced
7. Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The arguments in more detail:

1.    Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government.

He is leading member of Iran Human Rights Documentation. This has received a large amount of funding from the US government.[i]  Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation).This is financed by a variety of American and European foundations, amongst them the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded in 1983 by former US president Ronald Reagan to spread his version of “democracy” around the globe

2.    The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran.

Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, has written to the tribunal’s steering committee, requesting that it takes a stand against the threats of war on Iran and the devastating effect that the sanctions are having on the country. She did not even receive a reply.

Organisers of the tribunal subsequently stated that the tribunal is “non-political.” Yassamine Mather has responded that, “without clear opposition to war and sanctions, the tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran. The danger of war grows every day. I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran who have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country.”

In contrast, Payam Akhavan is a keen supporter of sanctions on Iran. For many years, Payam Akhavan has been pushing his sponsors’ agenda for ever harsher sanctions. He is one of the authors of the International report published by the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which calls for “a comprehensive set of generic remedies – smart sanctions – to combat the critical mass of threat, including threat-specific remedies for each of the nuclear, incitement, terrorist and rights-violating threats”. This 2010 report was, incidentally, also signed by Tory MP Michael Gove and “Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy”.[ii]

(In an interview with a Canadian newspaper, Akhavan boasts: “After years of lobbying, we succeeded in persuading both the US and EU to adopt targeted sanctions against Iranian officials. Canada is far behind in this regard.”).[iii] On March 8 2012, he attended a meeting of the European Union to present a report he had co-authored that contains the proposal to blacklist not just “individuals”, but “the organisations and government bodies that commit these violations”, which “should also be put under sanction”.[iv]

Sanctions are supposed to destabilise the regime and prepare the ground for ‘regime change from above’. In reality, they impact below: first and foremost ordinary working people are harmed by them. There have been clashes on the streets of Tehran over the price of food – even stallholders at the Grand Bazaar are supporting the demonstrators- most Iranians will tell you that the sanctions are the main reason for their misery. In other words, they help deflect anger away from the theocratic regime. They weaken the only force that can deliver real democracy: the workers’, students’ and women’s organisations, who are today weaker than they have been for many years. Clearly, sanctions are a form of war.

3.    Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?

Sir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party; John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. Payam Akhavan was voted “young global leader” at the World Economic Forum in 2005. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers, who in the name of what they dub “the international community” have over the years confronted many dictators and government heads in international courts (generally when these have turned on their former sponsors in the US, of course).

Between 1995 and 2002, Maurice Copithorne acted as UN human rights rapporteur for Iran. “Some Iranians travelled to meet him in 1995 in order to get him to start an investigation of the 1988 massacre,” according to a member of the Norwegian tribunal support committee (which has since withdrawn). “But they weren’t even allowed to meet him. His aide told them that he would only deal with the current situation in Iran and was not interested in things from the past.” Of course, this was at a time when the US was making efforts to stage a rapprochement with Tehran and to enlist it as an ally in the fight against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. It was in this geo-political context that Copithorne’s 1998 annual human rights report was seen as a political whitewash of the theocracy’s oppression. For example, in that report he opines that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is making progress in the field of human rights”.[v].

Why is Copithorne interested in the massacre now? And why have members of the Conservative Party donated their services for free? After all, this is the same Conservative Party that was in government in 1988 and remained ostentatiously silent as leftists and democrats were systematically culled by the theocracy. This is the same Conservative Party that supports harsh sanctions on Iran and continues to rattle the war drums.

Clearly, all these people are ideologically committed to the trial – which explains why the organisers refuse to come out against war and sanctions. This effectively contradicts the tribunal’s claims that they are “non-political”.

4.    The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal

For the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the overthrow of the regime has always been the key objective and it explicitly supports sanctions and war to achieve it. (In the first Gulf War, it famously sided with Saddam Hussein and supported his attacks on Iran, including active participation in military operations). The Mujahedin’s backing for the Iran Tribunal is actually disputed by the tribunal, yet the involvement of people with close MEK links seems to tell a different story. Hardly surprising: after all, the US government has recently announced that it has removed the Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organisations.Leila Ghalehbani (who is featured in a video on the tribunal’s front page) is the sister of a number of Mujahedin prisoners who were killed in 1988. Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of the massacre, describes himself as “a former member” of the organisation. The website of the pro-Mujahedin organisation, Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, has just published a very sympathetic interview with Payam Akhavan, in which he is sympathetically prompted to tell readers how he feels about being “slandered” by the British leftwing paper, Weekly Worker, in its critical coverage of the IT. [vi]

5.    Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn.

The organisations that have withdrawn their witnesses, support for and cooperation with the tribunal include Rahe Kargar (Komitee Ejraai) and the communist organisation Charikhaye Fadai Khalgh (one of the offshoots of the original Fedayeen). Others, like the Communist Party of Iran, have dropped their support. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Iran (Maoist) has split over the issue, as has the Iranian Left Socialist Alliance in the US and Canada. The most ferocious criticism has come from the tribunal’s Norwegian support committee, which has since dissolved because it felt “duped” by the tribunal organisers.

6.    Critical voices have been silenced.

A number of tribunal witnesses have used their statements to condemn the links of the committee to the NED and publicly stated that they are against war and sanctions on Iran. In two highly critical statements the Norwegian support committee describes how all IT witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing session, where they were explicitly asked not to raise any politics during their session. They would not be asked the name of their organisation or their political views, as this was “not a political tribunal”. One witness wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole statement was excluded from the tribunal’s report.

7.    Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The tribunal is part of a campaign that includes sanctions and the threat of war: they are designed to destabilise the theocratic regime, so that it can be easily toppled. But such a regime change from above cannot bring democracy, as the most recent examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove.

Hopi is campaigning for a real tribunal that can investigate the crimes of the Iranian regime – but which at the same time takes an implacable stand against war and sanctions. Democracy in Iran will come from below, from the struggles of its working people themselves; they need solidarity, not the pro-imperialist bleating of Johnny-come-lately ‘democrats’ like Cooper, Nice and Copithorne. 

Audio interview with Yassamine Mather

In-depth interview with Yassamine Mather, chair of the Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) with the American ‘Stop Imperialism’. They discuss the geopolilitical issues surrounding Iran ranging from the controversy regarding the nuclear program to Iran’s relations with the West and the SCO. In addition, they examine some of the internal politics of Iran, including the competing factions of the ruling establishment and the role of the working class in that country. Also, they address some of the pressing economic concerns including inflation, the effect of sanctions, and the future of Iranian economic development.

http://ericdraitser.podbean.com/interviews/interview-yassamine-mather-05-03-12/

 

Yassamine Mather: Our duty to Iran’s working class

(This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

It seems such a long time that there have been threats of military action against Iran without them being followed through that some people may have become a bit blasé. It is a bit like the boy who cried wolf too many times perhaps. However, the reality is that his time the threats are very serious.

The reasons why there are serious threats now have very little to do with the Iranian nuclear programme. Most people agree that the Iranian government exaggerates the stage it has reached and the west also exaggerates this – in regard to uranium enrichment, for example – both for their own reasons. I am not dismissing the nuclear issue altogether, but I do not think it is the reason why we are facing these serious threats.

There are other reasons. First and foremost there is the world economic crisis and the fact that the United States is in economic decline. It is feeling the pressure of both the crisis and the partial erosion of its hegemonic position – not to the extent that its hegemony is threatened by some competitor seeking to take over that role, of course. Because of that it cannot tolerate states like Iran – despite the fact that it follows every neoliberal instruction dictated by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and so on. The problem is that politically Iran is not playing the game that the hegemonic power wants it to play. For that reason it has to be taught a lesson.

Let me stress here – because within the Iranian left and opposition in general there is some confusion on this issue – I am not saying that the United States is threatened by China as a new emerging political power. China’s economic dependence on the US is well known, but, most importantly of all, China’s economic reserves are held in US dollars and in US banks: it would not be in the interest of the Chinese to wage an economic war against the United States; quite the reverse. And China too is very much affected by the economic crisis, just as many countries in the developing and emerging economies are facing its effects.

Leaving aside the effects of the economic crisis, the political reason the US needs to exert its power in the region arises from the fact that its position has been damaged by the two wars it has waged in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I am not using the word ‘defeat’ in this context, as it is more complicated than simply saying the US was defeated in Iraq: clearly it was not. But the outcome is certainly not what anyone in the US political establishment would have wanted: a political regime totally allied to the Iranian government. That must have been the worst-case scenario for American strategists. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq under the Ba’athist regime was a staunch opponent of the Iranians and its downfall has strengthened Iran. The same is also true of Afghanistan. Iran was no friend of the Taliban, but the Karzai regime has distanced itself at times from the US and has moved to find better relations with Iran – both with the supreme leader and with Ahmadinejad. The rapprochement between Iran and Afghanistan gives Iran influence in a very strategic part of the world. This strategic importance is not simply about oil (though there is the additional issue of the oil-rich Gulf region), but about its geopolitical significance.

As the Saudis keep telling the US, the two wars have produced Shia governments all the way from the borders of Iran to the Levant, and that is a serious matter. In the regional context I know that some people in the Stop the War Coalition have said that if Iran is attacked we will see demonstrations in every Arab country, not least Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood will be up in arms. The reality is that there is now another very forceful voice in addition to Israel telling the United States to go to war against Iran, and that voice is Saudi Arabia – and, by extension, some of the Sunni Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Anyone who has any understanding of the Gulf, who knows the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, will understand that would be their position as well – the MB has expressed this in various interviews. The opposition to Iran from the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is poisonous and vehement: you can hear it and you can feel it if you watch Al Arabiya television for 10 minutes. For them it is clear that Iran is the main enemy; they have forgotten about Israel. In fact Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC now have a common enemy: Iran.

Also we have now seen Hamas distancing itself from both Syria and Iran, contrary to what hopeful, and I assume uninformed, members of the STWC are telling us. Hamas has been issuing statements saying that if there is a war between Iran and Israel it will stay neutral. As someone who has never supported Hamas it frightens me that it would make such a statement. But that is the reality of the regional context and no manner of wishful thinking can change this. Iran has influence in the Middle East, but also many enemies, and the United States knows it.

In addition to all this the US is in an election year and there is not a single primary where the Republicans do not voice concern about Obama’s ‘irresponsible’ attitude and ‘softness’ on Iran, which adds to the pressure. It is not simply a matter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee supporting a Republican candidate instead of Obama: I assume AIPAC-influenced votes are divided between both parties. But constant allegations in an election year that the administration is not doing enough, that it is not showing its muscle and that it is displaying weakness can be added to the reality of a superpower feeling threatened by the economic crisis and its political position.

Sanctions

So the threat of war should be taken seriously. The people of Iran are certainly taking it seriously and for them it is a nightmare, a disaster. Whatever political opinion Iranians may hold, they consider the threat of military action a terrible reminder of the Iran-Iraq war – but they realise that this time it could be far worse and on a far larger scale. And in many ways it seems the war has already started because the majority of the people are suffering from the severity of the sanctions. These are not sanctions like those applied against South Africa. They are really affecting ordinary people in their day-to-day lives.

The effects are both psychological and material. For a few years there have been shortages of surgical equipment, of medication, of certain types of spare parts for cars and planes and so on. If your car needs a spare part and the part is on the US list of equipment which could potentially be ‘used for nuclear arms acquisition’, you will just have to write off your car. Alternatively people have attempted to make their own spare parts – and the state has attempted to do the same thing for aircraft – which has made things extremely unsafe. There have been serious accidents, with people endangering their own lives and their surroundings, as they try to work round the sanctions in various ways.

However, the most serious effects of the sanctions have been felt since January and there are two reasons for this. One is that the banking and foreign exchange measures have really hit home. Swift (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), through which credit/debit transactions are run via member-banks, is now removing Iran from its list, which means that credit cards can no longer be used in Iran from next month. This is problematic for ordinary Iranians, but also makes it difficult for industry to buy raw materials. I was talking to some people who work in a factory and they were saying that the owner cannot get any of the material he used to buy. They said that usually the capitalists make up such stories as an excuse to sack workers, but in this case the stories are true – they cannot perform the necessary transactions. There have been some smaller banks prepared to bypass these sanctions, but these are being forced to comply.

Banking sanctions have affected the Iranian currency dramatically since January of this year. This was added to the EU decision to stop buying Iranian oil from July. But just the announcement of the banking sanctions brought the Iranian currency to its knees – it lost half its value in 10 hours. Apart from the psychological effect, this shows us how the capitalists both within and outside government circles have been losing confidence in their own state – so much so that suddenly nobody wants to keep their money in tomans (one toman equals 10 official Iranian rials). One dollar is now worth 2,000 tomans – up from 1,200 before the announcement. The state intervened, restricting currency trading and increasing interest rates, but, of course, none of this has had the desired effect and the value of the rial has almost been halved.

Iran’s economy is now one of an importing country, apart from oil. This has resulted from neoliberalism, as well as the land reform and privatisation that has taken place. Agriculture in Iran has been destroyed. The country now imports most of the fruit and vegetables that used to come from within. In most ‘third world’ countries you can usually say, at least food staples are relatively cheap, but this is not the case in Iran. Land reform has driven the peasantry off the land and into shanty towns in the urban areas. What is left of mechanised agriculture is utilised for export crops, which provide good foreign currency returns. Privatisation has resulted in widespread destruction of sections of the food industry, affecting staple foods. The price of rice doubled in January and the same is true for other grains.

In addition to that, imported food is being held up. Shipping companies have been told that if they offload their goods in Iranian ports they will be put on sanction lists. They are taking this very seriously and mostly complying. There are reports, for example, of a ship full of grain from the Ukraine refusing to offload its goods once it had docked. Its owners had second thoughts and told the crew to leave. It was better for the company to do this than be on the US blacklist.

These sanctions have nothing to do with stopping Iran’s nuclear programme. They are for regime change. The US has made up its mind to flex its muscles in the region and install a more compliant regime in Tehran. Now, many Iranians are very sympathetic to the idea of regime change, but they most certainly do not want this to come about through outside interference. Ironically a notion that is so distasteful to ordinary people inside Iran has appealed to certain organisations in exile, some of whom are so desperate for regime change that they do not stop and think about the implications of military action, or what would come afterwards. Could it be worse than the current situation? Yes, it could. The examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove it.

National fragmentation

Things are indeed very bad for workers in Iran. Unemployment has rocketed, with youth unemployment particularly serious. Many workers are on contracts that allow for instant dismissal, and are often not paid for months. In addition to this, the struggle of Iranians against their own religious state is intensifying. What was, in some senses, a pluralistic dictatorship, is now becoming much more monolithic. This can be seen in the recent election results, combined with the defeat of the green movement in 2009.

Of course, there is strong opposition to the regime. But people do not want another state to decide the fate of their country, and in that sense I think the opposition to the war is so strong that it might actually strengthen the regime and help it survive. It is one of those cases where one does not know how far that process might go. Some say that the US is betting on the fact that the stepping up of sanctions will make the people so desperate they will rebel. But in my view they are wrong: it could have completely the reverse effect.

In some ways we saw this in the election results at the beginning of March. Of course, the regime exaggerated the turnout – I would say that at most one third of the electorate voted. This was despite the fact that the government did its best to make it an election against the war, claiming that voting was a matter of honour, of preserving the nation. One can see the how serious the situation is by the following conundrum: on the one hand, the regime stays in power and the threats increase. On the other hand, the regime change planned by the US would almost certainly involve the dismantling of the country we currently know as Iran.

Take Balochistan. The US is clearly looking to separate it off. It has emerged that Israeli Mossad agents have approached the Balochi opposition pretending to represent the CIA and it was only a year later that the US found out. Then, of course, there was the flood of denials. The US is doing this with more subtlety than the Israelis, but the idea remains one of creating a ‘greater Balochistan’ standing between and in opposition to both Iran and Pakistan.

The Kurdish issue is also an obvious one. There is strong opposition to the repression of the Iranian state. But some of the Kurdish groups would be happy to see a Kurdish republic created under US supervision, presumably not realising where that would lead. It would be a worse outcome for the Kurdish people than the terrible situation they already have to endure under Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

It goes without saying that I support the Kurds’ right to self-determination. Kurdish areas in Turkey and Iraq, as well as in Iran, have been deliberately kept more undeveloped than any other part of those countries, first by western client regimes and then by subsequent governments. As a result there is a very small working class in these regions. For example, working class Iranian Kurds tend to seek employment in Tehran or Azerbaijan.

I would argue for a united socialist Iran with a united, autonomous Kurdistan as a federated part of it. That is a much more attractive proposition for the Kurdish working class than the establishment of a small independent country based on three separate, economically undeveloped regions all with a very weak proletariat. Because of the absence of a strong working class, the Kurdish nationalist parties tend towards pre-capitalist, feudal methods in order to maintain their support. It would be possible to unite these three enclaves into a single state, but that state would be dominated by reactionary forces. Would that be progress for the Kurdish people or the Kurdish working class? I do not think so. As much as I defend the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination – and it must be their choice – I would advocate a federal arrangement within a socialist Iran. That would be better in the long run than a small, impotent Kurdistan state.

Similarly the separation of the Arab regions of Iran has always been on the agenda of neighbouring Arab countries. There is strong sentiment involved: Iranian Arabs speak a different language, they have been repressed. Even when oil prices were at their peak the region was deprived, with people being racially abused and so on. However, becoming part of Saudi Arabia or other states of the Gulf Cooperation will not do them any good either, yet that is the plan. And then there is the idea that a big chunk of Iran should be incorporated into Azerbaijan – there is an understandable sentiment amongst some Azeri Turks in Iran that the idea of joining a bigger Azerbaijan republic would be better than remaining part of Iran.

But all of these scenarios would be profoundly negative – not just for the Iranian peoples, but for the broader region and the world as a whole. Decimating a country in order to make sure that the hegemonic state remains powerful and has no headaches in the region is not a solution. The fact that national minorities in the region have been badly treated is well established and this is a serious issue that must be resolved through the right to self-determination. However, as communists we must be honest and state clearly that the fragmentation of Iran into small, weak units would produce a far worse situation than the present one. As in occupied Iraqi Kurdistan, it is likely that lackeys of the US would be in charge – no-one can claim that Kurds in Iraq are in control of their own destiny. The demand should be for the voluntary union of Iran’s peoples on the basis of democracy and equality.

Anti-regime, anti-war

There are those on the left who say that now is not the time to raise our voices against the Islamic Republic. But opposing this war does not mean suspending our opposition to the theocracy. Within the Iranian opposition there are very few – whether on the left or right – whose opposition to the war leads them to cease opposing the regime. It is the Islamic regime which has created this appalling situation for its own people. The regime itself has imposed neoliberal economic policies that have produced the situation where sanctions are so effective now. It is the state that is responsible for this economically disastrous situation, where the country is becoming utterly dependent on imports for every basic food item. So we cannot say that it is not about the regime.

Then there is the idea that I hear from some Stop the War people that the streets of London are not the place to fight the Islamic Republic. This is an insult to us Iranians. I fought the Islamic Republic in Tehran, but I was forced into exile. I fought the Islamic Republic in Kurdistan, but I could not stay because of the war being waged there. It is my right and my internationalist duty to fight the Islamic republic on the streets of London and no-one from Stop the War can tell me otherwise. Yet it is very often the same people who then tell us that “We are all Greeks today” when it comes to the protests in Athens and elsewhere. What is the logic of that? How come we are “all Greeks”, or “all Egyptians”, but we must not be all Iranians. Oh no – better not say anything about the Islamic regime! Needless to say, I do not accept this argument.

However, I also do not underestimate those sections of the Iranian opposition that are soft on the threat of war. The danger posed by such oppositionists is a very serious one for the Iranian people. I have no expectations otherwise of the right – the royalists have been dreaming from their comfortable homes in Washington or California of regime change imposed by the US for 33 years. But there are groups even among left opponents of the regime that now say, maybe the sanctions are a good idea, because perhaps it will force the hand of the Iranian government. Whether they have that effect or not, they may well destroy the country and starve millions of Iranians in the process. Hardly a useful way to change a regime. You might end up with one that is even worse – perhaps a military dictatorship with a ‘reformist’ Islamist figurehead. Would this be a solution to the problems facing Iran?

There are also sections of the Iranian left that take the opposite stance. Time and time again we have told organisations that defend the Iranian working class – and there are many who have done a good job in raising the issue of workers being attacked and arrested, etc – you cannot do this effectively unless you also raise the issue of war and sanctions. They never took this seriously until this year. However, I am very glad that the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran has now issued a very clear statement against war and against sanctions. That is a good step. However, I must say that if they had joined us two or three years ago to build a serious campaign in defence of Iranian workers, while at the same time opposing war and sanctions, we would have been in a much stronger position.

I think, because of our principled position, Hands Off the People of Iran is in a unique position to lead the fight against this war. Now is the time to build Hopi, not as an alternative to the Stop the War Coalition – what a ridiculous suggestion – but as an organisation that has built up a reputation precisely because of that principled position. Personally I thought there was no point in Hopi applying yet again to affiliate to STWC, to be honest. But we can build Hopi because the Iranian working class needs us to and it is our duty to provide them with internationalist support and solidarity. But this is not just about Iran. It is about maintaining principle in terms of internationalism, in terms of dealing with the crisis, in terms of not falling for superficial slogans.

This is not just a repeat of the Iraq war: it is perhaps even more serious in some ways. These threats come at a time of economic crisis and it could turn out to be a war aiming to save capitalism. So let us build Hopi, make it stronger. Let us go nationwide. We have the politics, we have the comrades who have stayed loyal to the campaign and we have the correct arguments.

Jafar Panahi released on bail – but the struggle continues!

Hands Off the People celebrates the fact that Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi has been released from prison after more than two months. For the last week, he has been on hunger strike to protest against the conditions in the notorious Evin prison that he and his fellow prison mates had to endure.

A picture of Panahi taken yesterday
A picture of Panahi taken yesterday, May 25

He was arrested in March, apparently over plans to make a new critical film about the protests that sprung up in Iran after the rigged presidential elections in June 2009.

International pressure, including the protests staged at the Cannes Festival, as well as the campaigning work of organisations like Hopi (which, amongst other things, organised solidarity screenings of Panahi’s film ‘Offside’), have clearly played a role in him being freed. Panahi’s family and friends have told us how heartened he was to see that there were people fighting for his freedom.

He was released on a bail of $200,000 (£140,000).

A picture of Panahi taken yesterday
A picture of Panahi taken yesterday, May 25

But the struggle continues: his case has been referred to a revolutionary court, and he will still face trial, the official Irna news agency said. And hundreds of activists still remain behind bars. At least nine have been sentenced to death, and two have been executed already.

Hopi will continue to fight for the release of all political prisoners in Iran. Sanctions and war are not the answer to deal with the theocracy in Iran. Real democracy must come from below, from the workers’, the students, the women and unemployed in Iran.

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