Why the Antiwar Movement Must Defend Iran

by Faline Bobier

Faline Bobier is a leading member of the International Socialists and a frequent writer for Socialist Worker. This article is abridged from a talk she gave to an IS forum in Toronto on April 10.

It’s been clear for at least a year and longer — remember Bush’s famous speech where he first used the term “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address in January 2002, where he targeted Syria, North Korea and Iran — that Bush and his cabal have Iran and “regime change” in their sights.

Seymour Hersh, in two interesting articles in the New Yorker magazine in April 2006 and March of this year, paints a scary picture of just how much Iran is in the sights of the neocons in the White House — even more so since Bush’s strategy has been shown to be a complete failure in Iraq. He wrote, for example:

“’This is much more than a nuclear issue,’ one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. ‘That’s just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.’ ”

The rhetoric that Bush and others have been using to ratchet up the call to war has been based on the so-called threat of Iran building its capacity for nuclear weapons and how dangerous it will be for a “terrorist” regime to have nuclear weapons.

But the charges, from all evidence that we can see, are false and are being used to try and create the same kind of “consensus” based on lies that we saw in the lead-up to the war on Iraq.

The countries that actually have nuclear weapons are the U.S. and Britain and their friends. Both India and Pakistan have developed their nuclear weapons secretly and in defiance of the treaty. The Pakistani military dictatorship has exported its nuclear technology. And Israel has between 200 and 500 thermonuclear weapons targeted at Iran and other Middle Eastern states.

Indeed, the bellicose posturing of the U.S. may push the Iranian government toward developing nuclear weapons capacity. One of Israel’s leading military historians, Martin van Creveld, wrote recently: “Obviously, we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons and I don’t know if they’re developing them, but if they’re not developing them, they’re crazy.”

The recent capture of 15 Royal Navy personnel by Iran was used to ratchet up the threats against the country. The U.S. sent two aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf, with a third battle group on its way last week. All three are nuclear armed.

The whipped-up “hostage crisis” led some pro-war voices to call more loudly for intervention in Iran, particularly after the British sailors and marines were returned to Britain.

War drums being beaten

We can’t let ourselves be fooled by the rhetoric of Bush and Blair yet again. Just as all the justifications for the war and occupation of Iraq were proven to be nothing but a pack of lies, the same is true of the war drums being beaten for Iran.  Bush’s designs on Iran are of a piece with his ambitions in Iraq, which are about re-drawing the map of the Middle East in the image of U.S. imperialism.

Ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, in which vast numbers of ordinary Iranians mobilized against the hated regime of the pro-U.S. Shah of Iran, the U.S. ruling elite has worked to regain its lost hegemony in the region.

And the U.S. government is not beneath fomenting sectarian divisions within Iran, as anyone familiar with their strategy in Iraq could guess. The ABC TV network in the U.S. recently revealed that the U.S. has been funneling funds to an armed group operating out of Pakistan. The U.S. has been funding bomb attacks and the seizure of hostages inside Iran.

U.S. officials in Washington had previously linked this group — called Jundullah (Soldiers of God) — to the Taliban in Afghanistan. More than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials have been killed or kidnapped by the group, which operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.

The U.S. media has also reported that American intelligence teams have been operating with Kurdish groups, carrying out attacks from northern Iraq across the border into Iran.

Meanwhile an Iranian diplomat who was abducted in Baghdad and held for two months claims he was tortured by his CIA captors. The diplomat, Jalaf Sharafi, says he was seized by members of the Iraqi military who were driving U.S. coalition vehicles. He was held at a base near Baghdad airport where he was questioned in Arabic and English about Iran’s influence in Iraq. He was then released by being dumped from a vehicle at the back of the airport complex.

U.S. considers nuclear option

Perhaps most frightening are the revelations in the pieces by Seymour Hersh, which have been echoed elsewhere, about the U.S. considering the option of using nuclear weapons to launch an attack on Iran — the biggest irony of all. “We’ll prevent them from gaining nuclear weapons [dangerous in the hands of terrorists like the Iranians] by bombing them with nuclear weapons” — Dr. Strangelove logic at its worst.

In some ways it’s hard to judge how serious the Bush administration is in its threats to spread the chaos and slaughter to Iran.

There are disagreements within the ruling class inside the U.S. about whether this would not be the biggest piece of folly yet perpetrated by the Bush administration. But no one should hold their breath while waiting for the victory of the pragmatists. As Noam Chomsky pointed out in a recent article in the Guardian. “A predator becomes even more dangerous and less predictable when wounded. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might risk even greater disasters.”

It’s very clear that the disaster that Iraq has become is pushing the U.S. administration into a corner in terms of what to do next, if they don’t want to relinquish their status as the world’s cop and therefore as the controller of the world’s resources.

One million Iraqis demonstrate against occupation

But even four years of death and destruction didn’t stop almost one million Iraqi citizens turning up in the streets of Najaf April 9, demanding an end to the U.S. occupation of their country on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

Demonstrators came in convoys of cars and buses draped with Iraqi flags. They traveled from across the country, including from Latifiyah and Mahmudiya, areas that have witnessed sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The Najaf march was called by rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whose Mehdi Army has launched two insurrections against the occupation since 2003.

In an attempt to counter recent sectarian fighting between Shia and Sunni, Sadr issued a call to his followers not to attack other Iraqis but to turn all their efforts to driving out the occupation. “God had ordered you to be patient in front of your enemy, and unify your efforts against them — not against the sons of Iraq.”

The struggle for unity among Iraq’s resistance organizations was symbolized by the presence of Sunni Muslim delegations on the march, with a Sunni cleric marching at the front of the demonstration.

On the eve of the protest Sheikh Harith al-Dari, the head of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, blamed the occupation for being behind the “discord” in the country. He said Iraq has become “a vast prison, a graveyard that is devouring hundreds of thousands”, and that the U.S. wants “to silence any voice of opposition and to put an end to the Iraqi people’s resistance to the occupation.”

There is no doubt that the level of sectarian violence has increased since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq by U.S. and British troops. But we have to be aware of how the occupation forces have fomented and encouraged that sectarianism and how their very presence can only increase the violence.

The Iranian people are not passive and backward

One of the strong themes of this anti-war movement has been our opposition to imperialism — that is, our opposition to the idea and it’s bloody realization in practice — that Western governments and corporations have the right to attack and occupy other countries when there has been no threat to us from those countries.

Just as we have fought the U.S./British/Canadian occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to be vigilant about a possible attack on Iran, for all the same reasons. And we also need to be aware of how our governments and media will use racist propaganda to further their war aims.

One of the ways that Western politicians and media have tried to make the idea of an attack on Iran more palatable is to focus on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the so-called “mad mullahs” that they claim are in power in Iraq. Bush is couching his attacks on Iran as the U.S. attempt to promote “democracy” and to oppose “Islamic extremism.”

The Iranian government is demonized while the people of the country are portrayed as powerless victims in need of rescuing by the West. The picture of Iranians as passive, cowed and backward is a travesty of the truth. Some 70 percent of Iran’s population are under 30 years old, and they are prominent voices in a vibrant culture of political debate.

Today Farsi is the world’s fourth most frequently used language for keeping online journals. The growth of weblogs in Iran is phenomenal (700,000 of them last year), incorporating anyone from female taxi drivers to established clerics. You can find postings on issues such as the hijab ban in France to the legacy of political figures such as Mohammed Mossadegh, the nationalist president of Iran overthrown by a CIA-backed coup in 1953. These young people constitute a large section of the grassroots support for Iran’s democracy movement.

Women are active participants

We must also forcibly reject the myth of Iranian women as victims. They are active participants in civil society where they form a third of all doctors, 60 percent of civil servants and 80 percent of all teachers. This is not to paint the Iranian regime in rose-coloured glasses. Ahmadinejad is a social conservative, and although he promised to tackle the corruption, unemployment, and inequality that has characterized Iran’s economy since the introduction of neoliberal reforms in the 1990s, he has by and large failed to deliver.

The key civil rights movements in Iran involve women, students and workers. Some 64 % of the country’s students are women. These movements are demanding more democratic rights, especially for women, but they also want jobs and an end to economic inequality. They are also adamantly opposed to U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.

In fact, the threat of a U.S. attack on Iran is only allowing right wing elements in Iran’s ruling class to crack down on the country’s mass movements under the pretext of national security.

Simin Royanian, an economist and 37-year veteran of the anti-imperialist and peace and justice movement in Iran and in the U.S., cofounded Women for Peace and Justice in Iran. She wrote the following in 2003 in response to the assertion, “Under the Shah women had all the rights. When Islamic radicals took over they lost them. How is that U.S. imperialism?”

After explaining that women did not have all rights under the Shah, she discussed the process of fighting for women’s rights in post-Shah Iran:

“As a result of the combination of all these efforts within and in opposition to the system women have made progress in many areas. Today, female students form more than half of the entering class in Iran’s universities. There are many more women in Parliament than there ever were during the previous government; there is a well developed birth control program in place which received an award from the UN about five years ago.

“According to UN WHO statistics, infant mortality and teen-age pregnancy rates in Iran are much lower than those in most third-world countries. For the last two years several women’s organizations have publicly celebrated March 8th as International Women’s Day in Tehran and other cities around the country. Now, there are women publishers and all-women publishing houses, printing books and pamphlets on women’s issues from secular and even left points of view.

“All of this in spite of, not because of the form of government in Iran.

“This is true of all rights movements of people around the world. People have always struggled hard and long to gain their human rights.…

“Colonialism and imperialism have always impeded the struggle of ordinary people to better their lives economically, socially, and politically. That is why the main impediment to the progress of human rights, including the rights of women is the intervention of U.S. imperialism in the affairs of the people of the third world.

“The imposition of the autocratic rule of the shah on the people of Iran through the 1953 CIA coup, the complete repression of any movement by the people, postponed the advancement of rights in Iran for decades. In addition, the elimination of any secular and left opposition to the rule of the Shah and U.S. imperialism, contributed greatly to the superiority of the Islamic forces when the revolution was eventually won.

“This is what imperialism does. It supports the fundamentalist rule in Saudi Arabia, builds and arms the Taliban to overthrow a government friendly to the Soviet Union, arms and helps Saddam Hussein against the Iranian people for eight years, supports the Turkish military massacre of the Kurdish people, assassinates democratically elected leaders in Latin America, and on and on. That is why U.S. imperialism has been and is the main impediment of peace and justice for people all over the world.”

There will be pressure on the global anti-war movement to side with Western governments against the Iranian regime, which has persecuted left wingers and civil rights activists. This pressure must be resisted.

It is only the power of grassroots movements against imperialism and neoliberalism that can bring peace and human rights to the Middle East.

One of the main responsibilities of the antiwar movement in the West and here in Canada, is to side with the people of Iran against the forces of Western imperialism now — and even more in the event of an attack on Iran — and to resist the racist and Islamophobic distortions of politicians and media alike.

(This article includes information from the British Socialist Worker weekly newspaper.)