D Guppy

What Britain can learn from Iran about sovereignty

What Britain can learn from Iran about sovereignty
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‘Great Minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.’ (Eleanor Roosevelt)

The essay which follows is about ideas, not people, for people – now more than ever – no matter what office they may hold, have far less agency than they imagine. It is ideas that change the world. Accordingly, the discussion below is not meant to constitute advice to any particular individual and should not be construed as such. The fact that a crisis in our diplomatic relations with Iran should have synchronised with a school chum’s appointment as Prime Minister is happenstance. To those trolls on Twitter who would wish to put a different spin on the facts, I refer them to the above quotation and can assure them that their hang ups will always be to me a matter of the most sublime indifference.

The year is 1964 and, at the behest of the United States and with the blessing of the Shah, Iran’s Parliament has approved a Bill granting American military advisers, their families and their support staff diplomatic immunity, prompting perhaps the most celebrated of Ayatollah Khomeini’s sermons, one that led to his exile a few days later and to the train of events that would end in revolution:

‘Does (the Iranian nation) know what crime has occurred surreptitiously?... Does it know that the Assembly, at the initiative of the government, has signed the document of the enslavement of Iran? It has acknowledged that Iran is a colony... By this shameful vote, if the Shah should run over an American dog he would be called to account but if an American cook should run over the Shah, no one has any claims against him... The misfortunes of Islamic countries have come from the interference by foreigners in their destinies.’

Clearly, the rhetoric is at least at nationalistic as it is religious.

Britain, and in particular an administration which claims to cherish national sovereignty, would do well to take a leaf out of Iran’s book.

Here then is the central point about Iran and the key to understanding its role in world politics: the fear its revolution engenders in the West derives not from the fact that it constitutes a religious project but that it comprises a nationalist one. And that is the whole problem. Globalisation has always required a hegemon to drive it. Invariably, that hegemon does not like those insubordinate enough to challenge its dominance. But Iran is no lap dog. By contrast, the Iranians’ term for the United Kingdom as ‘The Little Satan’ next to America’s ‘Great Satan’ shows how they view our relationship with the hegemon. 

Britain’s MPs may view with sympathy the cause of Hong Kong’s protests against a proposed Extradition Treaty with mainland China, for example, but they should consider their own equivalent legislation with the United States, the lopsided effect of which is that America can much more easily seek the rendition of a suspect from the United Kingdom than vice versa.

The symbolism is obvious: reciprocity has yielded to subservience. Little wonder that Britain should have acquiesced so slavishly to America’s request to commandeer an Iranian oil tanker in the Straits of Gibraltar. That is what happens when, unlike countries such as Germany and Japan, you abandon your ability to fend for yourselves in favour of the smoke and mirrors of the City of London: you become the puppet of other stronger economies. Hence the need to go cap in hand to America in search of a trade agreement because you are about to break away from your biggest trading partners in the name of so-called ‘autonomy’, and will do anything as a consequence, including engaging in acts of piracy.

How sad. Once upon a time Britain built things – a lot of them, and excellently. Tory Brexiteers must be reminded that it was, in fact, their party under Thatcher which engendered sovereignty suicide with its dismantling and selling off of Britain’s manufacturing base and its capitulation to a power far greater than the European Union could ever be: the so-called international ‘Free Market’, a market so ‘free’ that it has required state or supra-national intervention to prevent its collapse with every one of the multiple financial shocks that have led us to where we now find ourselves: from the 1982 Latin American debt crisis to the 2008 meltdown. So too it was the Tories who promoted a neoliberal agenda that encouraged mass immigration in order to suppress the wages of their country’s workforce, thereby complying with the demands of an international finance over which the state has no control.

Will such schizophrenics, whose instincts regarding Brexit I applaud, please explain to me: what is the point of attempting to reclaim ‘sovereignty’ from Brussels if you are only too happy to remain the slave of the banks on the one hand and of Washington on the other?

With regard to Britain’s relationship with a country that really does understand the meaning of reclaiming autonomy ever since it overthrew its American puppet Shah in 1979, we must start by swapping tankers. The Gibraltarian courts have just ordered the release of Iran’s tanker which may well lead to the very outcome I have proposed. Nevertheless, America’s last-ditch attempt to block that release proves my theory: the sequence of events originated in the United States, with Britain acting as proxy.

Next, we must drop the canard that Iran’s reprehensibility derives from its religious fundamentalism. Iran is not a fundamentalist country. And since when has religious fundamentalism ever been a problem for America or Britain, happy as they are to ally themselves with a country such as Saudi Arabia?

To date, the Saudis have not allowed the construction of a single church within their borders and are instead the propagators of a religious deviancy – Wahhabism – which originated in the 18th century and had itself been inspired by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, a renegade from the 13th and 14th centuries who had been imprisoned on numerous occasions for his heretical pronouncements, eventually dying in jail. It is this genuinely fundamentalist heresy that has re-branded Islam as the very thing the West is supposed to hate but is happy to have as its bedfellow. It was Wahhabis – sometimes citizens of Saudia Arabia – and many drawing their ideology from that country, who were responsible for the 11 September attacks as well as the Madrid, London, Paris and Brussels outrages. It was they who set up Isis – whose greatest enemy has been Iran, not the West. And it is the Saudis who like chopping up recalcitrants into fish bait in their Consulates. Not a single Iranian Shia is a member of Al Qaeda or was behind any of these acts of terrorism. Yes, Iran may well have been played a significant role in the defeat of Israel in 2006 when the latter invaded Lebanon, but that does not make it a ‘terrorist-sponsoring’ country; it simply makes it a nation that will not jump to the orders of certain powers that consider the region in which Iran finds itself, as their imperial domain.

So too, those at the helm, if they are Christian, should understand that Iraq and Syria, which have always boasted healthy communities of their co-religionists would not a have single Christian living in them now, nor a single church standing were it not for Iran and her proxies, including Hizbollah and Iraq’s Shia militias, who have fiercely protected these countries’ Christian populations.

It was not America nor Britain nor even Russia which only appeared comparatively late on the scene that prevented the region from becoming a giant fundamentalist Caliphate, the creation of the United States and its Middle Eastern allies – a swathe of land in which every single Christian would be crucified and every Christian building raised to the ground. It was, in the main, Iran.

Then, we must apologise. For eight years, Saddam Hussein pulverised Iran’s cities with missiles supplied by East and West, often employing chemical weapons, about which America and Britain – Iraq’s supporters in its war against Iran – were fully aware, while no country furnished it with the means by which to defend itself. Is it really any surprise that Iran should develop its own armaments industry?

That is what real nations, which understand the meaning of autonomy, do when they are threatened. How many Iranian warships patrol the Gulf of Mexico and how many of its troops stationed next to America’s borders poised to invade? Now let us ask these questions in reverse. Incredibly though, we seem surprised by Iran’s insecurity. Britain does not like it when dozens of its citizens are killed by (non-Iranian) terrorists but not so long ago 300,000 Iranians lost their lives in a Western-sponsored war against their country. Who should be feeling ‘insecure’? Even Iran’s football team is world famous for its unusually defensive style of play – conforming to the national character.

And thank God for Iran. For someone, surely, must resist the planet-wide imposition of a banal and dangerous culture that has made money its deity.

Iran has exercised considerable patience. We know that it could very easily have developed a nuclear arsenal many years ago. It has demonstrated its technological proficiency repeatedly. More impressive for example than its recent shooting down of an American drone was when it took over a similar vehicle engaged in espionage in its airspace in 2011 and landed it safely. The fact that it has not developed nuclear weaponry to date is therefore the best evidence of its credentials, such apocalyptic technology being considered anti-Islamic by its clerical hierarchy. Nor is it certain that America would have particular difficulty with Iran acquiring such technology per se, just so long as it accepted its former vassal status which would, of course, include compliance with America’s support of Israel.

After all, we rarely hear about by far the most dangerous nuclear power in the world, namely Pakistan, a country whose political and military classes have no end of Wahhabis within their ranks, but which happens to be an ally of the United States. To borrow from Roosevelt, the problem arises not when a country is a ‘sonovabitch’ therefore, but when that country refuses to be Uncle Sam’s sonovabitch.

Iran must use the very reasoning employed by both final candidates in the recent Tory leadership race with respect to Brexit: it is only by going to the negotiating table with an option your opponents do not want you to exercise that you have any chance of success. It must build the bomb, and quickly. Once you are in the Club, you are in. When it has the bomb, its enemies will be far more likely to deal fairly with their fellow club member.

In the interim, slow learners among our allies like John Bolton imagine that sanctions will make the Iranian people rise up against their Government and effect ‘regime change’. Quite the reverse.

While the average Iranian may grumble because of an economic situation imposed largely from without, nothing could be more calculated to unite the population in its sense of injustice than America’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, despite Iran’s compliance with its terms.

In fact, unwelcome as sanctions are, their salutary effect has been the creation of greater economic and thereby political independence. And war with Iran would not be easy.

Yes, the usual strategy of vandalism from the air conducted by generals in their armchairs would do terrible physical damage to a priceless culture – much worse than the mindless destruction perpetrated by Isis on Palmyra and other treasures in the region, which, reputedly, the West deplores – but when it comes to putting boots on the ground, adventures in Iraq, a country a quarter the size of Iran, would be remembered with nostalgia.

Israel may well conduct air strikes, but as long as Iran keeps its important hardware deep within its mountains, it will absorb the blows as it has always done. Then, when it announces that it has developed the bomb, its enemies will come to their senses. Indeed, one already detects the dawning realisation among Britain’s politicians that in Saudi Arabia they have backed the wrong horse.

If Britain seeks to reclaim its sovereignty then it must welcome such aspirations in other nations. With respect to its own ambitions, there is cause for pessimism, for those at the helm are Thatcherites inspired by a globalising economic ideology that is the antagonist of the nation.

But there is also room for optimism. The opponents of Brexit may whine about a few years of economic uncertainty that would in all likelihood follow secession from an increasingly dictatorial regime in Brussels, but Britain would endure nothing next to what Iran has had to contend with for four decades. If properly managed – by focusing on rebuilding our country’s manufacturing base and re-examining the neoliberal nonsense that our politicians were taught at university and which they have not had the imagination to question – the process could lead to a genuinely independent and invigorated nation.