Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Perfect Birthday Gift

March 25 marks my birthday and as a gift, I dream of getting a nuke. A cute, cuddly nuke. I promise not to bully my pals with that, just to deter their dirty intimidation tactics and to keep my pride intact.

Forwarding Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council has incurred a national shame on Iranians. It's just like having your teacher kick you out of the classroom for chitchatting. Now you are standing, unrepentant and enraged, behind the principal's office, waiting for a harsh punishment.

The shame makes you sweat minute by minute. Passing students can't help sneering at your embarrassment. The very naughty boys, who always seem to have a sly way of getting away unpunished, make faces.

Apart from the shame, I am utterly glad, however, that Iran has been finally reported to the big boss. As the Persian saying goes, death once, wailing once. We still have our fate at our own hands: either persist on having peaceful nuclear energy and put up with the possible sanctions and even nuclear bombing, or surrender.

The problem is I can't choose for you and you can't impose your choice on me. For it's unfair and dangerous. As we stay undecided, however, our defenseless nation would be plundered again, by both corrupt rulers and greedy superpowers.

Americans claim Iranians have a right to use nuclear energy, but not under this undemocratic regime. There is a truth and a fallacy.

The truth: the current government of President Ahmadinejad has acted as a rogue student in the international classroom. Others fairly demand a commitment to good manners.

The fallacy: the West never wants Iranians to have nuclear reactors. They wasted billion dollars during the reign of Shah to build the Bushehr power plant. The Russians are now milking the project.

Another fallacy deals with democracy and freedom. Since when democracy is a yardstick for having the right to exploit nuclear technology? A decade after dropping A-bombs on the Japanese, Americans were still forcing their black minority to give their bus seats to the white. It took another decade for black Americans to become legally equal with their white neighbors, though they still suffer from discrimination.

I know one thing for sure: Iran will always remain a sitting duck for resource-guzzling powers unless it is armed with nuclear weapons, just like India and Pakistan. Till then, I want to keep dreaming of getting my perfect birthday gift.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blaming the British

It's a fine piece about Iranians' suspicion that everything in their country is materminded by, well, the British.

Watching his fellow countrymen observe the annual Shia Islamic mourning ceremony of Ashura, the disaffected Tehran taxi driver voiced a wish to convert to Christianity that may not have been as sincere as it was incongruous. But whatever his true ecclesiastical leanings, his beliefs about the source of the religious tyranny that so irked him about Iran were real.

"It is England that has imposed these mullahs on us," the cabbie mused, resisting all protestations at the notion's absurdity.

The idea that the Islamic revolution was a plot hatched in Whitehall, and that its spiritual leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was some sort of heavily disguised 007 in the secret service of Her Majesty's government does indeed seem weird. But not to many Iranians.

Suggestions that the convulsive events of 1979, which ushered in the Islamic republic, were manipulated and orchestrated by the British are widely accepted here as a given. It is a belief held, even before his reign was swept to oblivion in a revolutionary tidal wave, by the last shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Resentful that the British had deposed his pro-German father during the second world war, the shah commissioned a television drama, My Uncle Napoleon, whose main character's catchphrase was: "The British are behind everything". The shah echoed this mantra during his reign's last desperate days, telling the American ambassador, William Sullivan, that he "detected the hand of the English" behind the street demonstrations raging against him. Sullivan surmised that the teetering monarch had lost his mind and, with it, the will to survive.

But the shah was reflecting a broader mindset. The sun may have long set on British imperial might but in Iran it has been replaced by an enduring mirage of dominance which still shines brightly. If the rest of the world has become accustomed to the American hegemonic age, to Iranians Inglestan still wields the true power, albeit stealthily. Behind events great and small, they are ready to perceive the sleight of a hidden British hand. Belief in the "old coloniser's" diabolic powers unites Iranians in a way matched by no other issue, including the Islamic regime's pursuit of nuclear technology.

The regime's staunchest supporters cling to this belief with equal tenacity. Demonstrations by student Basij (Islamic volunteers) outside the British embassy in Tehran occur with bewildering regularity. The most recent railed against Britain's alleged responsibility for last week's destruction of the Shia shrine in Samarra, Iraq.

More generally, the Iranian authorities blame Britain for a wave of bombings that has killed more than 20 people in the southern city of Ahvaz over the past year.

It can be a bit of a jolt to Britons reconciled to their country's reduced global status to be instructed by Iranians of no particular ideological persuasion to "tell your government to leave us alone". It came as such to no less than Jack Straw. Having invested much energy and political capital cultivating a relationship aimed at breaking the ongoing nuclear imbroglio, the foreign secretary was said to be dumbfounded to discover the standard Iranian belief in his government's almost supernatural powers. He shouldn't have been.

For the all-consuming suspicion of British motives is rooted not simply in outlandish superstition, but in solid historical fact. Iran is hardly the only country where imperial Britain has form, but in few places are the memories - or wounds - so raw.

Top of the Iranian grudge list is the 1953 coup that toppled the nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, and cemented the rule of the shah. The coup was executed largely by the CIA but its genesis lay with the British secret services.

The British had been infuriated by Mossadeq's nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian oil company, a move prompted by widespread anger at its refusal to share a fairer proportion of its profits (vital to Britain's tax revenues) with Iran.

Having taken the matter to the UN security council and lost, Churchill's government persuaded the Eisenhower administration, then paranoid about the spread of communism, that Mossadeq was a dangerous radical who should be toppled. The resulting chicanery destabilised Iranian politics for the next generation and resonates to this day.

But it is just one among many historical grievances. Britain's dubious distinction is to have alienated just about every identifiable group in Iran. During the 19th century, Iran was a pawn in the Great Game played out between Britain and Russia for power and influence in central Asia.

The ruling Qajar dynasty of the time was bullied into a host of humiliating territorial and economic concessions to each side. The abuses continued into the 20th century and extended to interference in Iranian internal politics.

"Historically, people believe Britain engineered the coup which brought to power Reza Khan, who became Reza Shah [the last shah's father]," said Mohammed Hossein Adeli, until recently Iran's ambassador to Britain.

"His ruthless rule made people blame the British for interference in Iranian affairs. Later, the British deposed Reza Shah. As a result the shah's royal family and the elite affiliated to them were alienated. This united the people and the elite, both of whom became very suspicious of the British."

British policy makers should be sobered to learn that the one thing that unites Iranians is us. If, one day, the taxi driver gets his wish and the rule of the mullahs should end, there is no doubt who will get the credit - or the blame.

(Guardian, Robert Tait)