Avoidance of trouble

Imam Ali, the first holy successor to the Prophet Mohammed, is supposed to have said:

A tyrant is better than trouble.

Does this explain why tyrants are the norm in the Islamic world, including the world of Sunni Muslims? Would it not be better occasionally to take a little trouble and devise a society more in line with the wishes of those who must live in it?

How to undermine yourself

Much of the Republic’s efforts are going towards blaming the British for undermining the regime by fuelling street protests? One hopes that diplomatic vocabulary nowadays encompasses the equivalent of ignoring these efforts rather than reinforcing by paying attention to them.Greens of London

One cannot help but observe that the whole situation in which the regime has been caught with its pantaloons down arises from the incredible catalogue of political errors committed by its own leadership, a posse of people miraculously transported by Doctor Who from the stone age who now stand, blinking and humourless, in front of the world’s media. Of course they do not want to take responsibility for the undermining of their own power, so they must find some scapegoat who, it can be said, has done the undermining for them. One error, as so often, leads to another.

Continuing protest

Now the 18th Tir – the tenth anniversary of the student uprising in 1999 which led to deaths and torture – has been and gone. Incredibly, thousands showed up to protest, not carrying weapons of any sort. Nowadays, demonstrations are not for the faint-hearted. It is reported that some stayed at home, readily confessing their fear; others assembled and dispersed rapidly at one or another location, showing military-style tactics to outwit the Basiji, who will always attack a larger crowd. Reportedly shots were fired in the air but not at protestors.

One stands in awe at the endurance, courage and wit of this generation of Iranians. They now write ‘Mousavi’ on banknotes and at a given time switch on all their electric appliances, causing a city-wide crash in power supplies. They are now the true government.

Film testimony

By far the most close-up film account I have seen of the protests and the repression is ‘Iran – inside the protests’, shot by Manon Loizeau, a French-Canadian journalist, for Al Jazeera (available here, re-voiced in English, though with colleagues translated as colleges). A student died when attacked with an axe by a Basij in a dormitory at Tehran University. Other students, rounded up and corralled for group humiliation, were sexually abused. A man lies spread-eagled on the street, his head a mass of bloody pulp.

A laughing matter

In the UK a favourable reception has been accorded to an Iranian comedian, Shaparak (Shappi) Khorsandi, who has commenced a series of four programmes on BBC Radio 4 on Thursdays at 18:30 (listen here). She tends to make the same gags on different occasions, but as she is both funny and quick, one may need to hear them more than once in any case. Shappi left Iran at age six when her satirical poet father, see photo, incurred the wrath of the unsmiling regime. In West London schools she learnt to be English, as her new book describes.Hadi Khorsandi

Shappi’s humour does not, as yet, address the current, deadly serious events, but is relevant in the larger context described by one commentator as follows:

Suddenly, the human face of Iran has surfaced internationally, and for the first time it is not clad in swathes of black cloth — it is young, savvy and framed in green, it has an opinion and rights, and the simple desire to have them respected.

The negative perception of foreigners from the Middle East is one theme of Shappi’s, though the BBC’s emphasis on racism seems a bit de rigueur.

92 and counting

Most death toll estimates are highly inaccurate and err on the low side. The countrywide total killed according to human rights sources inside Iran, who are painstakingly documenting each case, is 92 . . . and rising. About 3,500 people have been arrested, some released, others tortured.

We salute the suffering of their astonishing sacrifice.Green uprising

BBC Persian Service has turned its face away

The BBC’s record in the face of Iranian tyrannies of all kinds is honourable. The Shah tried to get David Owen, then foreign secretary, to close down the (radio) Persian Service in the late 1970s, just as the Peacock Throne was losing its feathers. Today, the resolutely factual coverage of the Green Protest has drawn the ire of the mullahs and, indeed, the provision of information feedback to actors is itself catalysing.

But Iranians are currently furious that the (TV) Persian Service ignored the 18th Tir (9th July) protests, arguably the hardiest of the lot so far (see above). Apparently even CNN covered these events creditably. Protestors are seeking to encourage a permanent Tehran office for CNN on the strength of this. Presumably the Beeb didn’t have any film to show, but this did not stop much of the mainstream media providing accurate and credible eye-witness accounts.

Has the BBC been got at? Iranians are reluctant to believe that, with foreign office funding, it could be truly independent. Whatever the truth, David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, and the BBC honchos will be judged on their performance at this sensitive historic moment, in which a people’s mass movement for democracy breathes information as its life’s blood. In a crisis, every action and motive become crystal clear.

Inexorable events

A patient, rewarding analysis of the present ‘green wave’ in Iran is provided here by Asef Bayat, writing in the stalwart Open Democracy. Marxism, with its leisurely turning of abstractions, its distant and unvarying certitudes, has always appealed to the aloof scholar in each of us. It feels as if Bayat is some kind of Iranian ex-leftist, and he rides a slowly advancing tide of categorisations, but he places the development of the present rising in the context of the longer struggle for reform.

Phantom mammoth

Ahmadinejad has surfaced this week, claiming that “we have the healthiest and most open election in the world”. He has cancelled most engagements for fear that his audience would walk out. This they duly did on one occasion he did not cancel. How he fears to lose face, Mamouti (“mammoth”) Mahmoud.Iranian woman gives finger

After only a month, the election can be seen clearly for what it was – a fantasy, like the previous one in 2005.

Uighur resonances

Iranians are asking of their government, You always support Palestine and condemn Israel. Why do you keep silent about your suffering Uighur Moslem brothers in Urumqi? Do you have a secret relationship with the Chinese government?