There was an extraordinary meeting of the Juche Ideas Study Group (England) in London last week, held to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army. For various domestic reasons I was unable to be present, but I think it went off quite well. Sandwiches, tea and coffee were served after the various speeches. Juche is the political ideology of North Korea, emphasising a steely self-reliance in the face of Yankee and Jap imperialist aggression. The meeting was taken by a chap called Dermot Hudson, who may or may not have recited the poem he wrote a while back about Kim Il Sung, the founder of the DPRK. I hope he did, because it deserves to be recited whenever three or four people are gathered together. This is how some of it goes:

Ever victorious iron-willed
brilliant commander, heroic patriotic -partisan
the illustrious General Kim Il Sung fired
the shot that tore Jap imperialism into
a million and one pieces.
Oh worthy warrior of Mt Paekdu
leading the stout-hearted partisans of
the mighty KPRA to shatter the chains
of Japanese imperialism, shock brigade of
world fascism, to dispatch
the murderous Japs to their doom.

Anyway, whether he read it out or not, Dermot was there, along with members, or member, of the only British political party to offer North Korea unequivocal support — the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). I met its leader recently, an absolutely charming and erudite Punjabi man, now well into his seventies, called Harpal Brar. I felt Harpal had allowed his principled support for North Korea to blind him a little to what many people would argue are some of the regime’s minor deficiencies, but he denied this. ‘But it’s a Stalinist state,’ I suggested at one point. He smiled. ‘Yes, Rod. And that, for me, is a badge of honour.’ We’re going out for a curry soon to carry on the debate.

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It is good, in a democracy, to have people prepared to stand up for very unpopular causes, no matter how deranged they might be. So we should be delighted to hear Peter Oborne, once of this parish, standing up for President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who he thinks is a peaceable soul who is desperate to build bridges with the West, has no intention of building a nuclear weapon, has lots of respect for Jews and doesn’t wish Israel to be wiped from the face of the earth — contrary to the popular myth. Perhaps Peter will be moved, like Dermot, to put his admiration into verse:

Oh valiant, peace-loving bearded leader,
Our brave Persian Gandhi in a neatly -buttoned shirt,
Smashing together atoms of enriched uranium
Only to ensure your great people have sufficient electricity
To watch The Vicar of Dibley on their television sets
And definitely not to roast the Jews.

And so on. Oborne and a chap called David Morrison have written a pamphlet entitled ‘A Dangerous Delusion’ which seeks to temper the present hunger for confrontation with Iran. There is much to commend in this position and it is true that we hear such arguments stated too rarely, especially from the British political right. The howling and fury this little billet-doux has occasioned in neocons and the hyperactive My Israel, Right or Wrong lobby merely confirm, for me, the necessity to state the argument in the first place. It seems to me, further, that the aggressive intent of Iran has been serially overstated, the rhetoric from Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, and that we are being shepherded towards a position where military action against the country becomes both desirable and inevitable. The only alternative to war with Iran is to talk to them, as Oborne and Morrison aver, to engage a little. But engagement cannot take place when the mood here is so unvaryingly hawkish.

However, Oborne has been afflicted by Harpal Brar syndrome, to the effect that he has been captured by his argument and thus hugely overstates the case for trusting what is, by current standards, a foul and unpalatably powerful theocracy governed by an avowed anti-Semite. Oborne and Morrison attempt to acquit Ahmadinejad of this last charge but they cannot possibly do so, because even leaving aside his (misunderstood, according to the apologists) quote about wiping Israel from the face of the earth, the Iranian president is also a holocaust denier. It is all there in black and white.

Oborne and Morrison also argue that Iran is not a highly militarised state. Well, OK, it is not North Korea. But it has the seventh largest navy in the world (larger than Russia’s), the ninth largest armed forces, the fifth largest fleet of submarines, the tenth largest amount of anti-aircraft weaponry (figures from Global Firepower). It is more highly militarised than any country in the region, then. And of course it is trying to build itself a nuclear weapon; to deny this is, I think, a more dangerous delusion than the one which Oborne and Morrison believe afflict their opponents. The reasons for the country wishing to do so may be more defensive than offensive — and it may well be the case that the country has every right to enrich uranium for, uh, peaceful purposes. But it is not enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, otherwise the country would be rather more transparent when it comes to letting the inspectors have a nose around. And it’s a shame the two writers have felt it necessary to swallow this guff, because it diminishes what would be a convincing polemic.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Iran, Israel, Kim Il Sung, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea, Peter Oborne