Dismal political failings

There can be no excuse for taking money and doing the bidding of neocons and reactionaries. Yassamine Mather savages the so-called ‘people’s tribunal’ which took place in London last week

Near-empty conference hall
London’s Church House conference centre: not exactly packed out, not exactly cheap to hire

When Iranians ask me why the European and US left seems to have nothing to say about workers’ protests in Iran and at times appears to support the Islamic Republic, I give two answers:

1. The international left fails to look at events in any depth, with its simplistic acceptance that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ (in this case, if Iran is opposed to the US, UK and EU governments, then it must be ‘my friend’);

2. The sheer bankruptcy of large sections of the former left in Iran has meant that some have actually become paid agents of various western governments and agencies – many parading as ‘human rights’ organisations and openly supporting plans for regime-change measures in Iran carried out by the US and its allies in the form of increased sanctions, or even war. In fact, contrary to their claims, such groups play a crucial part in increasing internal support for the Islamic regime, yet their endless efforts – financed by a plethora of European and American neoconservative organisations, or by Saudi Arabia and Israel – are no longer even reported by the western media.

Last week there was an event organised by one such group of Iranian ex-leftists in London, heralded as a ‘people’s tribunal’. This took place over five days and dealt with the regime’s attack on protestors in November 2019.

Let me start by emphasising the fact that these were protests by the poor and dispossessed inside Iran and the regime’s brutal suppression resulted in a large number of deaths, injuries and subsequently the torture of those arrested. All this should obviously be condemned: one day the Iranian people will put those who ordered such an outrage on trial; they must pay for their crimes.

The 2019 protests involved tens of thousands and lasted almost a week. They were sparked by the huge increase in the price of petrol – Iran’s oil minister and the country’s ambassador to the UK both claimed that the measures were good for ‘the environment’. Although there is no doubt that Iran’s heavy traffic is creating pollution, no-one believes claims like that from a government that has constantly failed to take a responsible position regarding nuclear waste and radiation. Its lack of any proper environmental policy has led to catastrophic weather conditions in the south of the country and it stands idly by, as major lakes dry up, while water from rivers is diverted to the highest bidder. We should also remember that successive Iranian governments have shown complete willingness to adhere to every diktat of the International Monetary Fund and global capital.

Earlier in 2019 hundreds of thousands of Iranians received the following text message from government agencies: “Dear head of household, your subsidies have been eliminated.” This was a reference to the monthly sums paid to many families. The government claimed that in order to determine whether a household was still eligible to receive them it would take into account all income and assets, as well as the ability to spend – for example, the number of foreign trips undertaken. Note once again the contradiction between this adherence of the entire regime (including all its factions) to the diktats of global capital on economic issues and its repetition of anti-US slogans ad nauseam.

Showing unbelievable levels of stupidity, sections of the Iranian opposition have been calling on western governments and ‘human rights’ organisations to punish Iran for attacking protestors who opposed the abolition of subsidies. Why do I call this ‘unbelievable stupidity’? Because we no longer live in the ignorance of the late 20th century. Most people no longer have any illusions in imperialism’s hollow claims of concern for ‘human rights’. While such propaganda might have worked during the cold war, the atrocities of the ‘war on terror’ ended such simple-mindedness. When the US military and air forces open fire on civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc, when western governments support (or at least remain silent about) Saudi atrocities, when they fail to charge those responsible for torturing prisoners in the Middle East and beyond, when ‘extraordinary rendition’ becomes part of international politics … would any respectable left organisation support them in their claims?

Two causes

Economic hardship in Iran has as much to do with the US-imposed sanctions (which increased tenfold during the Trump presidency) as the regime’s own economic failings, yet the pro-‘regime change’ left, such as the organisers of last week’s events, fails to condemn them.

Successive Iranian administrations (‘reformist’ and conservative alike) have followed every IMF and World Bank diktat to the letter – they removed subsidies, so that they could be recognised as flag-bearers for a neoliberal economy. But if you are holding an event supported by the imperialists, like the organisers of the ‘people’s tribunal’, don’t mention IMF rules. Note, by the way, that there was hardly any mention of this event by the media in Britain, where it was held, let alone elsewhere in Europe – although I believe it was big news in the Farsi section of Saudi Arabian and Israeli-financed broadcasting stations (while BBC Persian, not wishing to be labelled ‘left’ or ‘liberal’, took the lead from these disreputable media outlets).

But, apart from such outlets, the media clearly decided it would be hypocritical to go on about the Islamic Republic opening fire on its citizens, when the abolition of subsidies was enacted in accordance with IMF and World Bank demands. They know full well what kind of brutal measures the regime will adopt if the financial distress caused by such action provokes protests.

Contrary to the deluded Iranian opposition, the media is also aware that after the death of tens of thousands of civilians in the Middle East as a direct or indirect consequence of imperialist interventions (after all the reports about Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition …) no-one is interested in third-world countries torturing their own citizens, are they? And these days it is only sections of those deluded exiles from dictatorships like Iran who still have the mindset of the 20th century and take western claims about concern for ‘human rights’ seriously!

The tribunal’s web page tell us that the organisers – the London-based Justice for Iran, Oslo-based Iran Human Rights and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty – are following in the footsteps of Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, who campaigned for investigations into the war crimes committed in the Vietnam war. Please give us a break: that was an anti-imperialist, anti-war campaign and both of them, for all their various shortcomings, were very open about the financial backing for their campaign, insisting that they did not accept funds from imperialist states. Shame on those Iranian groups, funded as they are by such states, for abusing the names of Russell and Sartre.

New cold war

One of the co-counsels last week was Hamdi Sabi, who is also acting on the ongoing Uyghur tribunal, while a number of others have affiliations to international courts regarding China and the former Yugoslavia. While, of course, I know that the Chinese government is repressing the Uyghurs, we can see the political agenda here – all part of a new cold war.

Amazingly the three organisations listed above have all wiped out previous information about their financial sources. A quick search on Google will tell you that Justice for Iran, for instance, is a dormant company whose income in the last few years has been zero, yet we are supposed to believe it paid for very expensive international lawyers, the hire of a large hall in central London, and the travel costs for witnesses at last week’s jamboree.

One of the organisers was also actually a ‘witness’, while a number of people claiming to be former security agents of the Islamic Republic appeared on video camera, their faces covered by a mask and wearing dark glasses. Of course, this is understandable, as their lives would be in danger, should they be recognised. However, no-one but the dubious organisers can vouch for their true identity and no-one can take their claims seriously.

An Iranian comrade was telling me that I should be more understanding of the ‘ex-leftists’ who are part of these set-ups: unlike myself, said the comrade, many exiled Iranians have not had the ‘privileges’ I was born with; they do not have well-paid university jobs and all they can do is get paid by organisations set up or financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (a US neo-conservative outfit), the US government, west European rightwing parties, Saudi Arabia, Israel … or whoever is willing to pay.

I reject such a view. Those who regard the plight of the Iranian people as a business opportunity should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Yes, the atrocities committed by the Islamic Republic should be exposed, but not at the expense of basic principles. I would be very much in favour of a genuine people’s tribunal of the Iranian regime – but not one that hides the political and economic context in which its crimes have taken place. It would be one that deals with the issue of sanctions and the diktats of the organisations of neoliberal capital as well as Iran’s brutal dictators.

In addition to the obvious political problems mentioned above, such tribunals (like the previous Iran Tribunal dealing with the mass execution of political prisoners in the late 1980s, which concluded by deciding to support a Saudi-led ‘Cooperation Committee’ to investigate Iran’s crimes against political prisoners), are so blatantly associated with disreputable groups and their backers that they end up creating positive publicity internationally for the reactionary Islamic Republic.

First published here: https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1372/dismal-political-failings/

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