Ever since the so-called Islamic Revolution of 1979, certain nations and institutions thereof in the West have sought to establish Iran as a perpetual enemy. We’re led to believe that Iran represents all manner of evils and antitheses that threaten the very foundations of our civilisation, a mantra that is fiercely championed by Europe’s neoliberal establishment and its cohorts in the mass media industry. But it’s time we put these assertions through some simple tests to see if they hold water, or if they crumble at the first sign of scrutiny.
First, it’s important to establish exactly to whom Iran poses a threat, real or imagined. This is unequivocally the United States of America. Ever since the regnant theocracy came to power in Iran in 1979, the Americans have been the chief advocates of this “us against them” theory, with administrations of both parties consistently portraying the Middle-Eastern nation as an enemy to the west. Of course, the new regime hardly endeared itself to the United States when it stood by and allowed students to take a number of Americans hostage at the latter’s embassy in a situation that lasted 444 days (1979-1981). As one would expect, this left a sour taste in the mouths of many Americans in terms of their opinion about Iran. Arguably, this set the tone for diplomatic relations between the two nations ever since. However, this is hardly the full story of that particular situation, and most certainly not the only charge America levels at the Iranian state.
The full story of that fateful hostage situation actually begins in 1953, when the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup d’état. Usually in US-backed coups abroad, there is some ostensible domestic justification, however in the case of the 1952 Iranian coup, there simply is none. In 2013, to nobody’s surprise, the CIA admitted to being in charge of both the planning and execution of the coup. Events leading up to the coup involved the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), whose activity had been restricted by Prime Minister Mosaddegh’s government in order to restrict its monopoly over oil exports from the country. When these moves were met with a hostile British reaction, the Iranian parliament voted to nationalise the nation’s oil industry – which, by the way, is well within its rights as a democratically elected parliament. Of course, the British government took exception to this, and ordered its agents in the region to undermine the democratic government. These events culminated in the coup of 1953, which allowed opportunistic generals to strengthen the powers of the Shah, who was conveniently a free-marketeer who opposed nationalisation of the oil industry.
An important point to understand is that the Iranian people at no point supported the coup. The reigning Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a deeply unpopular autocratic monarch, whose security forces employed severe repression against political opponents and dissidents. His commitment to Neoliberal economic theory had also failed the nation’s poor, causing widespread relative poverty and discontent amongst the working classes. Indeed, this commitment to free-market policies despite their evident failure led many to view the Shah as an American puppet. Whilst this may be too strong an accusation, it is true that Pahlavi was always careful to toe the US party line and ensure that nothing impeded Anglo-American exploitation of Iran’s oil reserves.
By 1979, discontent with the Shah’s rule reached breaking point. However, the revolution that ensued was like many other revolutions throughout history, in that the end result did not necessarily match the intended aims. It’s referred to, in retrospect, as an Islamic revolution, but in reality, this can best be described as an anti-American, anti-Shah revolution. A disparate group of dissidents joined together to demand the overthrow of the existing order; some were democrats, some communists, some Islamic fundamentalists, some were students and some were simply the working poor. That the end result was a theocratic regime is something of an accident, and a result of the nation’s clerics – historically very powerful – being in the right place at the right time. It’s also in no small part because the Iranian theocrats were one of the most vocal anti-American groups, which enabled them to unite the revolution and channel it through this one specific cause. Ayatollah Khomeini, the nascent Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, was particularly critical of American interference in Iranian affairs, and he greatly improved his prestige by not intervening when a student group occupied the American Embassy in November 1979.
The embassy hostage situation in itself is not as black and white as the Americans always seek to portray it. The student groups – supporters of the revolution – were greatly angered by the American move to offer asylum to deposed Shah Mohammad Pahlavi, whom they wanted to return to Iran to stand trial for crimes against the people committed during his reign by the secret police (SAVAK). They also feared an American attempt at counter-revolution and the reinstallation of the despised Shah by the CIA – a fear not without foundation, given the events of 1953. Thus, whilst the hostage situation was unfortunate in the extreme, it was not the unprovoked, spontaneous outpouring of anarchy and barbarity that the Americans describe today. Indeed, all Americans taken hostage were eventually freed unharmed.
Whilst this brief history lesson does little to analyse contemporary Iranian relations with the West, it is important in understanding the beginnings of the diplomatic rift. It’s also important in understanding who made the first move, as it were, and who, if anybody, is to blame. It suffices to say that persistent American meddling in the region, particularly the unpopular CIA-instigated 1953 coup, demonstrates that it was the Americans who fired the first shot as it were. Of course, it’s not possible to condone the violations of diplomatic immunity and other related international law implications, but one can understand the anger of the revolutionary students who saw once again the Americans interfering with domestic due process, amongst other things.
Moving on to more contemporary affairs, it’s time to analyse some claims made against the Iranian state and nation. First and foremost, the Americans often describe the Iranian state as terrorist, or at least ‘sponsors of terrorism’, which has become a popular description particularly amongst the George W Bush-style neoconservatives. However, this doesn’t stand up to the mildest of scrutiny. The neoconservative establishment plays on their population’s ignorance of Islamic sects and denominations in order to ensure this claim is believed, yet what people must understand is that the Muslims who took down the World Trade Centre, the Muslims who bombed Madrid and Paris and London, amongst other atrocities, practise Sunni Islam, and in particular Salafist Islam of the kind invented and disseminated by Saudi Arabia. The Iranian nation is 99% Muslim, yet they practise Shia Islam, the kind responsible for absolutely no real terrorist activity – ever. To the Shia, jihad is taken in its original context, to mean the personal struggle against inner demons or as applied to other struggles in public or private life. They absolutely do not interpret this as an instruction to blow up shopping centres like their Sunni counterparts. Indeed, you’re invited to research all incidences of Islamic terror in Europe and the United States since 9/11; you’ll notice that without exception, these were committed by Sunni Muslims who pledge their allegiance to Sunni groups, such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Al Nusra and so on. Interestingly, the more extremist Sunnis view the Shia with as much contempt as they view the “infidel”.
Undoubtedly some of you will point to Iran’s creation of Hezbollah as a prime example of the nation sponsoring and supporting terror. Hezbollah is a political and paramilitary organisation created initially with the purpose of influencing domestic politics in Lebanon, a country in which they hold 11 seats in government. It’s also active in Gaza and the West Bank, although the governing group in this part of the world is almost exclusively Hamas. The military wing of Hezbollah has been active in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The group is officially designated a terrorist organisation by the world’s major powers, including the USA, UK, France, NATO, the European Union and Israel, despite being responsible for none of the major terrorist atrocities in Europe or America in the last few decades. In fact, Hezbollah’s status in the eyes of the world is defined exclusively by Israel, who deem the group a threat to its existence due to its militant anti-Zionism and Islamic nationalist ideology. However, one could reasonably dispute this classification. An objective analysis would describe Hezbollah’s activity in the wider Israeli-Arab conflict as that of a revolutionary liberation movement, fighting for justice for the Palestinian peoples. It should also be noted that Hezbollah is not an exclusively Islamist organisation – its military wing has Christian battalions and has been known to protect churches in Syria from its Sunni enemies. Indeed, counted amongst Hezbollah’s enemies are Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the Taliban. Whilst the enemy of my enemy is generally a poor methodology, it’s hard to denounce as Islamic terrorists the group whose sworn enemies are radical Islamic terrorists. Thus, as Hezbollah are the only “terrorist” group supported by Iran, it’s unfair to say that the nation is a sponsor of terrorism.
But what of the charge that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to world peace? This is a particular favourite of the Pentagon’s, to decry the Iranian nuclear program as a threat to stability in the Middle-East and, even, to world peace itself. However, a little-known fact regarding this issue is that the Iranian nuclear programme began in the early 1950s as a joint venture… with the Americans! When their friend the Shah was in charge, the Americans were perfectly content with Iran having a nuclear programme. The nation ratified the Non-proliferation Treaty in 1970, yet the Americans cut all ties with Iranian nuclear development after the 1979 revolution. Iran continued to develop this programme independently, reaching agreements with France and Argentina on nuclear cooperation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It has been alleged that Iran’s uranium enrichment programme was intended for non-peaceful purposes, and an investigation was launched in 2003. However, a further International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation in 2011 found that, whilst Iran’s nuclear activity could have been designed to create a nuclear weapon, any large-scale research of this sort ceased in 2003. In any case, even if Iran was attempting to build nuclear bombs, what business is it of anybody else’s? Nobody is threatening war or insisting on international sanctions on India or Pakistan, despite them being in possession of confirmed nuclear weapons. On the subject of non-NPT recognised nuclear states, it’s an interesting point that Israel is in possession of ‘as many as 400’ nuclear warheads (more than the United Kingdom), yet nobody is even concerned with accurately counting them, let alone restricting their development. But again, this boils down to backroom deals and dodgy alliances. The only reason America has a problem with a nuclear-powered Iran is because its greatest ally, Israel, feels threatened. Why should the whims of the Israeli state dictate who should and should not be able to develop nuclear energy?
Finally, we come to the accusation that the Iranian state does not uphold human rights or the rule of law. Ironically, this is the charge with the most truth attached, for the Iranian state is a theocracy, with very limited democracy and some quite backward and draconian punishments by Western standards. For instance, adultery is still a crime punishable by death on the fourth occurrence, and homosexuality is totally prohibited as per Islamic law. Iran has executed a high number of prisoners in recent years, bringing into question its legal provisions for appeal. There is also the fact to consider that freedom of speech is severely limited. Certain international news sites, as well as television services like Netflix, are completely censored, and any attempts to access these are met with redirection to the government website. Even fashion is restricted, with women having to observe hijab by wearing a headscarf in public at all times. Yet whilst we can all condemn such restrictions, we must bear in mind that every nation has its own customs and peculiarities, and that Western liberalism is not necessarily applicable in the universal sense. Additionally, how can we overlook the rank hypocrisy shown by the major Western powers in this instance? Are we not closely allied with Saudi Arabia, a nation that was most accurately described on a British talk show as ‘ISIS with an embassy’. This is a nation that executes homosexuals in a similar manner to the Islamic State, prevents women from driving – Iran, by the way, has a female Vice-President – and murders Yemeni children with White Phosphorus (sold to them by the United States). Yet this nation of extremists is our ally, apparently, whilst the somewhat more moderate Iran is our mortal enemy. So to conclude this particular section; yes, of course we condemn human rights abuses in Iran, but we cannot seriously use this as a tool to manipulate our own population whilst still maintaining civil relations with the No. 1 exporter of terror Saudi Arabia!
As the title suggests, the question we are asking here is whether the Iranian nation is a friend or foe to the West, and more specifically to Europe. The reality of the situation is that Iran does not export terror to our nations, it does not pose a threat to us militarily, and whilst its human rights record does not match our liberal European sensibilities, this is really none of our business or concern. The only reason for the current rift between Europe and Iran is because of American pressure to maintain it. Being an ally of Moscow, Iran poses a threat to the “New World Order”, or as its more accurately described, US imperialism. This is the true reason for the cold war engineered between Europe and Tehran. And as an additional point, we must not allow Israeli foreign policy to dictate our geopolitical strategy as a continent, because this will drag us into endless and pointless war in the region. War with Iran, in this case, would be incredibly detrimental to our nations, not least because the number of troops who would die for the cause would be staggering. On balance, we can clearly see that Iran is definitely not a foe. Is she a friend? Not particularly, no more so than Moscow or Beijing, but the Iranian state could be a key strategic ally for the West, especially if we come to our senses and move against the terrorist state of Saudi Arabia. One thing’s for certain: the neoconservative sabre rattling of American imperialism against Iran can only have negative outcomes for the rest of the Western world.