I felt very uneasy when Britain’s ambassador to Iran claimed that the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran was state-supported. What does Dominick Chilcott not understand about people power? Hasn’t he learnt from the Arab Spring that when angry people rebel it’s impossible to stop them? To say that the Iranian police stood by and did nothing when our embassy was attacked is a bit like accusing the Metropolitan Police of deliberately looking the other way while students trashed the Conservative Party HQ earlier this year. It is simply not that easy to control rampaging masses hell bent on venting their anger.
Had the embassy attack really been organised by the authorities, the government in Tehran would not have been so quick to apologise. This makes the expulsion of all Iranian diplomats from Britain completely unjustifiable, and the British Government has now made itself deeply unpopular with ordinary Iranians. In doing so it has probably strengthened the regime which Cameron and his cronies hate so much.
I’ve visited Iran twice in the past few weeks and on both occasions I felt anger directed towards me purely because I am British. This was an alien experience; on previous visits people distinguished between government actions and those of ordinary citizens.
The first hostile encounter happened in the southernmost tip of Iran in Abadan. The population there is largely Arabic-speaking and if ever there was a hotbed of resistance Abadan is it. Workers at the massive oil refineries in the city have staged walkouts and strikes to protest against the non-payment of wages and the political situation in their country.
At the film festival I attended, several speeches contained blunt, anti-Tehran sentiments. One of the festival winners, however, used the platform to send a message to our British delegation and, in plain English, warned Britain, “Do not mess with Iran or you will receive a reply from an iron fist”. I am certainly no supporter of British foreign policy, which I believe is being dictated by Washington, so I was uncomfortable about this.
A couple of days later I discussed the uncharacteristic outburst with a distinguished intellectual at a dinner party in Tehran. He assured me that most Iranians, regardless of their political views, have a love of many things British. In fact, he lamented, “We love British trains and would love to have some for our own rail network but the trade embargoes and restrictions will force us to buy from China instead”.
If the editor of the Derby Evening Telegraph reads this, he could and should start a campaign to break the embargo that could save Bombardier, Britain’s last train manufacturer where 1,500 jobs were lost earlier this year and hundreds more are on the line (excuse the pun). The plant is in danger of closing because of a lack of orders.
On my second visit, this time to attend Tehran’s International Film Festival, I went to local markets and carpet factories, spending several hours taking tea and talking politics with an assortment of Iranians of different faiths and none. Some were openly critical of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his leadership but most were critical of Britain and what one man described as the UK’s “blind obedience” to America.
The hot topic was Iran’s nuclear ambitions and I can say without doubt that the majority of Iranians want their country to pursue nuclear energy. While there is still no concrete evidence that Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons, I was told: “So what if it turns out to be true? There are other countries in the region which haven’t signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but have nuclear weapons.”
Neighbouring India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers while Israel continues to deny it has gone nuclear, despite heroic whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu telling the world otherwise. The Zionist state is understood to have at least 200 nuclear warheads, but there’s no way of checking; even America and Britain are told to back off, and the very idea of weapons inspectors paying a visit to Israel is about as realistic as David Cameron increasing pensions and workers’ rights.
Back in London I attended a private function where one of the most distinguished military figures in Britain addressed the “Iranian question” over dinner. He said he doubted military action would be taken but thought the UK might pursue a “hearts and minds job” on ordinary people to encourage them to rebel against their government. He, like many of those in government has absolutely no idea of what the ordinary man and woman in Iran wants, needs or thinks. Any hope of regime change is far-fetched. Whether we in the West like it or not, the overwhelming majority of Iranians support the Islamic Republic. That’s why we haven’t seen an Arab Spring-style uprising in Iran. Yes, we have heard the large, but still minority, English-speaking elite complaining that their votes were stolen. What they really mean is that the peasant and working classes who supported Ahmedinejad in their millions should not have been allowed to vote at all.
Such elitism is to be reviled, yet these self-serving voices are given a platform on BBC Persia, a service costing British licence-fee payers millions, but while departments across the Corporation are being axed or told to save money there’s no such budgetary demands on the Persian service. It is treated with the utmost suspicion by Tehran and not without good reason. Just recently the BBC finally acknowledged the role it played in the toppling of the government in Iran in 1953. The service broadcast secret codes for the coup d’état which overthrew the then Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and led to the restoration of the monarchy under Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi. His brutal dictatorship was toppled by the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
In a documentary aired earlier this year, the BBC admitted for the first time its role as the propaganda arm of the British government in Iran. After years of denials a well researched programme detailed exactly how the BBC Persian service broadcast anti-Mosaddegh programmes to undermine his government.
America has already apologised for its own role in the 1953 coup but the secret files in Britain’s National Archive in Kew remain classified; even now nearly 60 years on we do not know exactly what sort of subversive activities were carried out by British intelligence in Persia/Iran.
Despite this history, Iranians have always reached out to Britain and been eager to re-establish cultural, trade and business links. Sadly, though, the latest aggressive acts by London have only served to push the people of Iran closer to their government and we have to wonder who is advising the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The hardliners in Tehran must be rubbing their hands with glee because tougher sanctions against Iran will make the regime stronger, bring the Iranian people closer to their government and isolate Britain even further from Europe. A split is already opening up, with Greece, Italy and Spain refusing to agree to Britain’s request for a tougher approach.
Calls have been heard for the closure of Press TV’s London office; it’s a global, English-language news network funded by Iran, but there is a difference between state-funding and state control. There is no place for that sort of Big Brother censorship in the UK and even the most serious detractor of Press TV would prefer to exercise personal control over their own viewing habits. And yet, right-wing political think-tanks like the Henry Jackson Society want to remove personal choice from the masses and turn Britain into a passive, nanny state. Sorry, but we Brits don’t do passive! I don’t like Fox News but I don’t want some meddling US think-tank telling me that I can’t watch it. The Englishman’s (and woman’s) home is still his castle and the thought of arch-Zionist Michael Weiss and his cronies at the Henry Jackson Society dictating what we can and can’t watch is intolerable.
As Britain sinks deeper into recession, this is no time for our government to be making more enemies around the world and dragging us into what has the potential to be another costly – in every sense – war. Iran is not Iraq; it is armed, it is dangerous and it will hit back if attacked.
If Iran has as much influence among the Shia populations in, for example, Iraq and Lebanon, as Britain and America claim, has it not occurred to those advising Foreign Secretary William Hague, or Hague himself as he parrots the words written for him, that just one missile landing on Tehran will create a tsunami of outrage across the region? What effect will that have on British and American citizens living and working in the Middle East? Or in Afghanistan and Pakistan where NATO troops and many Western civilians are still mired?
Iran does not have a history of attacking or invading other countries and Iranians are not naturally aggressive. It knows only too well the futility of war and the cost in terms of human life following the 8-year conflict with Saddam’s Iraq during the first real Gulf War. This should not be taken as a sign of Iranian weakness by the US and UK and an open invitation to attack. To poke a stick into a wasps nest and expect not to be stung is foolhardy and reckless. All options are not on the table, despite what Barak Obama says; the US does not have the money, the stomach or the will for yet another war it can’t possibly hope to win. Come to think of it, when was the last time America won a war outright on its own? Obama is firing blanks and everyone knows it, so let’s drop the macho rhetoric in Washington and in London; Obama and Hague are holding a busted flush and look increasingly ridiculous.
All is not lost and the facts are plain to see. Economic cooperation can succeed where diplomacy and hard politics are failing; the Iranians want to buy top quality trains. Britain’s Bombardier factory can fulfil that order and save jobs and an entire community in the process. If ever there was a glimmer of hope for re-kindling diplomatic and economic relations between Britain and Iran, this is it. That would be real fast-track diplomacy.
*Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women’s Union, Vice President of the European Muslims’ League and the presenter of a weekly current affairs show for Press TV called The Agenda.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.