Wafic Said, a British-Syrian billionaire and philanthropist, recently resigned as a director of the British Syrian Society (BSS). The problem is, he told the Guardian, “the BSS has buried its head in the sand, maintaining a policy of silence, which amounts to tacit support for the current regime in Syria and what is happening there”.
As the Guardian then reported, the BSS said it was “saddened and appalled at the violence and loss of life in Syria” – but the release was too little, too late for Said, who was also joined by the HSBC bank who said it would no longer represent the society in September 2011.
These decisions have not been helped by Dr Fawaz Akhras, the father of Asma Akhras, wife of President Assad of Syria. He is the co-chairman of the BSS. As well as comparing the Syrian uprising to the London riots, the recently “leaked emails published in the Guardian showed him advising Assad on how to handle the crisis.”
Akhras is now under pressure to resign his position by Sir Andrew Green, “a former British ambassador to Syria and co-chairman of the society.”
In other news, Akhras chose to compare the uprising to the riots in London last summer to the Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan. He told Gilligan “what would you do? Just watch them killing you?” justifying David Cameron’s threat to use the army.
The ever-diligent Private Eye reported last week that this was not the first time a Syrian has turned to Gilligan in “need of a sympathetic ear”, citing the time in October 2011 Assad was interviewed by him, where Assad pointed out that “[c]omparing Syria’s leadership with that of a Western country… was like comparing a Mac with a PC.”
The Eye, later in the article, asked why Gilligan, who “normally writes about Ken and Boris and isn’t known as a Middle East expert”, got exclusive access to Assad – before pointing out that last December Gilligan addressed a private meeting of the BSS to talk about, as PE put it, “his delightful chat with the president”.
Gilligan managed to body-swerve Mehdi Hasan’s question, in 2010, of when Gilligan will “quit [his] lucrative job at Press TV?” to which the answer then was 11 months ago, after quitting in opposition to the Iranian government’s increasing “Islamism”.
But can he explain away the relationship, with benefits, between him and Dr Fawaz Akhras?
The pop philosopher Slavoj Zizek, around the time of the 2009 elections in Iran, asserted that the Revolutionary Guard was not some working class militia but like a mega-corporation. Too, Zizek’s refusal to talk up the reformer candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi earned him much criticism from Ahmadinejad’s critics – but his criticism was mostly misunderstood. In Mousavi was not a radical who would solve the socio-economic problems Ahmadinejad presided over, but someone who would restore status quo, praised by the legions of mostly Middle Class supporters who took to the streets in what became known as the Velvet Revolution.
What Iran needed, rather, was somebody to tackle the social inequality prevalent in society. The worry that Mousavi was too Westernised was misjudged too – to the confusion of many, Iran is already rather Westernised, perhaps more so than the West would like to admit. President Ahmadinejad has before qualified the term “full liberal democracy” to Iran despite calls the 2009 election was rigged (though as was the case with Bush in 2004, suspicions of election rigging is not limited to non-democratic countries), while Saeed Rahnema, Professor of Political science at York University in Toronto, has pointed out that Iran has a ruling elite who are said to be “market-oriented capitalists”.
Further still Heydari Kord-Zanganeh, head of the state-run Privatisation Organisation Gholam Reza, delightedly announced in 2009 that “We have privatised $63-billion worth of government assets since 2005,” noting the goal of ridding billions more assets. What passes as Western has already been captured in today’s Iran.
In his wonderful book The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, Hooman Majd – Iranian by stock, now living and working in New York – chronicles other measures Ahmadinejad has taken, cynically speaking, to give the appearance Iran is a free and open society, deserving of its independence and dismissal of foreign interference. On October 29, 2009, the Supreme Leader addressed an audience of students at Sharif University, Tehran. During an opportunity for the audience to speak a student, one Mahmoud Vahidnia, launched into a tirade, subsequently receiving press attention and even making it on to the Supreme Leader’s own website. Such openness has caused many to assume he was planted, to show illusions of free speech at a time when Iran was conscious the world’s eyes were upon them.
Others felt such a move to be too sophisticated of the Iranian propaganda department, instead – and so much like the US – it has its own way to curb dissent in a way which doesn’t tend to upset the masses. While radicalism is no longer actively prohibited in America (gone are the days of McCarthyism) the American mainstream press acts like what Majd calls the “genteel and more subtler … version of Iran’s Guardian Council” (p.123).
Majd notes that the Iranian people are almost instinctively conspiratorial – something he implies throughout was absent in his own journalistic accounts of the run up to election 2009. He scoffed at notions that he was being followed, along with his friend Mohammed Khatami, son of reformist leader of the same name – while they were lunching together in the Yazd province, and laughed off opinions of Ahmadinejad’s “resurgent authoritarianism”. But today he takes these views a little more seriously, particularly as so many people were imprisoned for “treason” after flocking to the streets.
When the author discussed his book last year at the LSE he was introduced as someone who “travels back and forth quite freely to Iran” to which he quickly replied “so far,” before explaining he hasn’t been back since the election so he hasn’t had a chance to test whether he’s able to travel as freely as he used to. Given that in the book he describes Ahmadinejad as a “sitcom” (p.41) and “educated but unsophisticated” (p.163) his caution may be well-advised.
Unsurprisingly Majd’s book centres around the events leading up to the disputed election, and how encouraging, it was to see young people display such overt interest in national political matters. But clearly he is addressing an audience largely ignorant of Iranian culture (indeed he admits as much, referring to some American audiences who have just assumed Iran is a rogue dictatorship). His recalling Ahmadinejad’s more authoritarian features, for example, must not be an indictment on the nature of Iranian people. It is too simple to say the President is a fascist and the people beneath him sheep. A great example of this comes from Majd’s visit to the Yousefabd synagogue in Iran, then to the Dr Sapir Hospital to visit Dr Siamak Moreh-Sedegh, President of Tehran Jewish Committee. Despite government sponsorship of anti-Semitic conferences and Ahmadinejad’s own holocaust denial, Dr Moreh-Sedegh told Majd “anti-semitism can only thrive if there are roots. And there simply are no roots in Iran … we’re not in the least bit afraid of anti-Semitism in Iran”. (p.237).
The current regime in Iran may harbour unpardonable features, but the Iranian people are largely resistant to this and it says a lot about a nation, and the limits its government has in being able to control and dominate them.
Ahmadinejad may use rhetoric about the Islamic Republic to his advantage, but the Iranian revolution is the people’s and they know it. For this reason the rise of the green movement perhaps shouldn’t surprise us; what was a surprise was how the government reacted – this in turn marks a shift back to the days where leaders told Iranians what to do; the Ayatollah’s democracy. But if history is any judge this cannot last. Majd’s book serves not only to show the tragedy of Ahmadinejad, but to inform his audience that it’s not in the Iranian DNA (at least since the revolution) to be told “what is true”, or “what is forbidden”, and to warn the sitting government to do this at its peril.
I have a post up on the LSE blog reviewing Michael Dillon and Andrew W. Neal’s recent book Foucault on Politics, Security and War.
Read it by following this link:
In an attempt to demonstrate western hypocrisy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran – has spoken out at the lack of uproar levelled against the US and the execution of Teresa Lewis, the women convicted of plotting to kill her husband, Julian Lewis, and her stepson, Charles Lewis.
This tactic by the Iranian premier is designed to deflect criticism over Iran’s decision to prosecute Mohamedi Sakineh Ashtiani.
Reports in the BBC say no final decision on Ashtiani’s fate has been made, though some media outlets such as Mehr, a semi-official Tehran news agency, are reporting the judiciary in Iran as having convicted her of murdering her husband which carries the penalty of execution by hanging.
However reports from Isna suggest she has been given a 10-year prison sentence for complicity in her husband’s death.
During his UN speech, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying Ashtiani would not be sentenced to stoning, something he vowed to oversee in an interview with former UK Member of Parliament George Galloway recently.
But there had been no willing by Ahmadinejad to allow Ashtiani the opportunity to emigrate to Brazil or Turkey, where both President Lula and President Erdogan were willing to assist.
The charge levelled at Ahmadinejad that he has done far too little still holds. His office was quiet when it was revealed Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer of Ashtiani and human rights expert, fled the country after an arrest warrant had been issued against him.
Nor did the President appear to show any public distress when authorities arrested Mostafaei’s wife and brother-in-law, ransacked his office and carried out interrogation methods.
Today a media lens message board post discussed the case of Ashtiani. Some posters echoed the sentiments of Ahmadinejad saying this is only one case among many, and questioning why the same level of outcry had been absent in other cases; exemplifying the case of Al-Janabi, the 14 year old girl who was gang raped, killed and set on fire by U.S. troops in Mahmudiya, Iraq, in 2006.
Oliver Kamm, the Times leader writer and columnist, called the comments “Sub-Chomskyite” on his twitter feed.
There is no Western-designed plot to single out Iran, and even if there was, the most effective campaigns to save Ashtiani’s life have come through grassroots activism such as from Avaaz and the International Committee Against Stoning – by no means front organisations for imperialism, or groups whose interest it is to engage in armed conflict with Iran in the future.
The excuse being spun by Ahmadinejad that Iran is being treated unfairly is down to the extreme measures with which they choose to condemn innocent people such as Ashtiani. Even under Islamic law – professed to be the mode practiced in Iran – adultery cannot be satisfactorily proven before the perpetrator has confessed under free conditions on three separate occasions, or if four males, whom the court are happy to trust, actually witness the act of penetration.
It seems very unlikely that Ashtiani confessed to her husband’s murder under free conditions. Amnesty International, in August, reported that:
televised “confessions” have repeatedly been used by the Iranian authorities to incriminate individuals in custody. Many have later retracted these “confessions”, stating that they were coerced to make them, sometimes under torture or other ill-treatment.
The case of Ashtiani is a reminder of the suspect justice system operating in Iran. It is a foolish position to take, thinking opposition towards her execution is somehow a justification of similar methods used in the US; in fact hostility towards state sanctioned murder ought to be levelled against any country operating it.
The world has turned upside down, at least that was what we thought. Tony Blair and George Bush were liberal heroes in the Middle East while the left back home were doing their best to excuse Islamic fanaticism as a response to imperialism.
More sense was being spoken by Sarkozy on the economy than many of our left-leaning economist MPs, and while US politicians were all bending over backwards to seem the most comfortable with a mosque within three minutes walking from the site of 9/11, while reminding us of the peaceful message of Ramadan, radicals such as Hugo Chavez and that Scottish hottie George Galloway were cuddling up to an Iranian president so seemingly nonchalant that a woman in his country could be stoned to death for a crime, proof of which would not fool a duck on acid, one wondered whether the world would soon just burn up and implode.
But, behold, some sense has been restored. Think what you will of Castro, I remember in my own days of ardent support, all I had in my intellectual toolbox to return the question of human rights was something along the lines of: well it’s better than the record of Saudi Arabia, and imperialist countries trade with them, don’t they!
A fair point, even to this day, but only serves to criticise the west’s stupidity for trading with Wahhabi catastrophists, does not in any way, shape or form exonerate Cuba’s own dissenter prison population.
In fact, Castro has recently come out against Ahmadinejad calling him an anti-Semite for “denying the holocaust” while urging “Tehran to acknowledge the “unique” history of antisemitism and understand why Israelis feared for their existence”.
Some have rightly commented that this could put Hugo Chavez – who will soon meet Venezuelan Jews to prove once and for all that he is not an anti-Semite – in a peculiar situation with the Iranian premier. Might put Galloway in the doghouse too, as in 2006 he published the Fidel Castro handbook while calling him the “the living person he most admires“.
While this isn’t gamechanging stuff, it certainly does restore faith that international leftism is not a catch-all attachment to the underdog – which in recent times has meant all manner of disparate politicians and politics uniting under the flimsy banner of anti-Americanism.
Such a union was destined to fail, and this is preferable too, for we can’t have good progressives mixing with election-fiddling theocrats with a bent for killing innocent women – that just wouldn’t do.
Nothing has changed my feelings towards Castro, but I’m glad he has done this, because many socialists look up to him – Chavez and Galloway noted – and this might provide a necessary blow to the head for those whose oiled-gloves are trying to juggle egalitarian principles with Islamist horse feathers.
I’ve seen George Galloway argue with heavyweight Christopher Hitchens for two hours on whether it is right to invade Iraq, I’ve seen him wax lyrical over the injustices sanctioned by the Israeli government, I’ve seen him talk at length on the miscarriages of justice felt by Muslims in this country, I’ve even seen Galloway talk about why Jade Goody was not being racist as such in the Big Brother house, but rather, reacting to a series of overlooked class prejudices bestowed upon her by Shilpa Shetty.
Each time I’ve ever seen Galloway speak, despite not being his biggest fan, I’ve always been quietly impressed, and moved in some respects to the anger and fire that he has in his voice.
Which is why I am very surprised that during his light touch interview recently with, effectively his employer while being at PressTV, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the interview amounted to niceties and nothingness.
Although, quite why I should be surprised is beyond me. Galloway, after all, is obviously keen on Ahmadinejad – who he calls “his excellency” – and the President’s commitment to the poor of Iran.
In the video (below) Galloway’s last question directed to the Iranian President concerns the stoning of Sakine Mohammadi Ashtani, the woman in Iran due to be put to death by stoning for supposedly committing adultery.
Final question Mr President, every so often an issue comes along, which is seized upon by the enemies of Iran, and magnified, and it becomes a heavy problem. One such is the punishment, scheduled originally against a woman convicted of adultery. The so called stoning case. I see that president Lula from Brazil has asked Iran if he can take this woman into exile there, to solve this problem. Can Iran agree to this?
Ahmadinejad answers by saying little more that the courts are separate, he hopes to see the matter resolved soon, and on the point of whether President Lula of Brazil – who along with President Erdogen of Turkey recently – should offer asylum to Ashtiani, Ahmadinejad says he would prefer to export technology, not such people to Brazil.
The interview finishes there, no more is said, and Galloway in his closing comments back in the studio has the cheek to say “The president gave me the indication that this matter would be resolved.”
This is not something that could happen in the future; it is something that is happening now. Galloway shouldn’t just let Ahmadinejad get off by saying the courts are separate, but then what more should I expect from Galloway – whose sick perversion of politics and commitment to appealing to his enemies enemy as a friend has seen him “glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and [him] glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah – who was reported to have said the numbers of Jews who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated, and has shown courtesy to Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
In fact, Galloway made no mention of Ahmadinejad’s view that the figures of those who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated. Galloway didn’t even touch on the subject of homosexuals, and how not only do they exist in Iran (see below), but they are frequently hanged in public for being so.
On the subject of Ashtiani, Galloway made no mention of how Iranian courts exploit Article 105 of the Islamic Penal Code which states “The Shari’a Judge can act upon his own knowledge in the cases of [defending] the God’s Rights and People’s Rights and carry out the punishment constituted by the God and it is necessary that he documents his knowledge.”
The sheer openness of this article means that judgements can be made entirely on interpretation rather than documented evidence, which is the case for Sakineh where forensic evidence of her adultery is missing.
Galloway made no mention of the fact that even within Islamic law itself, adultery cannot be proven satisfactorily before the perpetrator has confessed under free conditions on three separate occasions, or if four males, whom the court are happy to trust, actually witness the act of penetration – rendering the charge of adultery almost impossible unless these things have been satisfied.
Galloway made no mention of Mohammed Mostafaei, the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtani, who is on the run from Iranian authorities after receiving a course of intimidation from them, who also pray on his wife and his brother in law who have been arrested.
Galloway did not mention the human rights abuses, particularly of women; in fact Galloway missed an opportunity so golden, I fail to see why we should listen to a single further word he has to say.
Mr Galloway knows how to make a clear, tangible argument, and is normally not afraid of doing so. But if he thinks he has satisfied his critics by asking Ahmadinejad a few soft questions, and not challenging him or his legitimacy as both President and bringer of justice, then he is wrong.
Mr Galloway is a coward and no element of the left wing in this or any other country should have anything else to do with him. He represents a perversion of politics based upon befriending those who his enemies distrust, and no sensible political theory or action can rest upon this.
I read an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune today. In December the IHT reported on a group of five hundred Marxist students who held a protest in Tehran University – mirrored by other similar groups of students across the country. They held up pictures of Che Guevara and were protesting against President Ahmedinejad.
The current article revisited that report (the article can be read online here).
An interesting comment from Morad Saghafi caught my attention; “Radicalism emerges when there is no agenda.” Apparently these students are a little like our own student radicals caught up by the vacuity of the SWP and such groups. Or so Saghafi would have us believe.
Yet the importance of these young people can all to easily be underestimated. Former President of Iran Mohammad Khatami has denounced all the leftist groups and called for a crackdown, declaring that these leftist groups are similar to those who opposed the radical religious agenda of 1979.
It is also clear that these groups have gone beyond mere anti-Americanism. They are clear in their denunciation of falling standards of living not just in Iran, but critical of poverty in the West also.
These students must live under a terrible fear, and the regime in Iran must be of two minds about them. Marxist ideas were definitely a part of the milieu which gave birth to the 1979 revolution, much watered down with pan-Arabian socialism and combined with Islamic ideas and then quickly and brutally suppressed.
Yet Marxism also forms a stark and unforgiving criticism of the current Iranian regime. With pressure on Iran mounting internally, it will be interesting to see what happens next and what effect it might have on the situations elsewhere in the Middle East.