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Getting it Right This Time: The Curious Ambivalence of the Latest Anti-War Campaign

Fri 18th Jan 2008

We all recall the strange osmosis by which the idea of the Iraq war was injected with legitimacy over a period of debate and hype during which the prospect was transformed, in the powerful media discourse known inexplicably as “public opinion”, from being an unpalatable and ludicrous proposition, to being considered within the realm of legitimate action, albeit at the “controversial” end of the spectrum. The whole process took barely a matter of months.

The relatively swift mobilisation of the broadly-constituted Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) campaign in the UK appears to be a direct response to several months of certain very familiar-sounding noises from Washington and London, echoed in the national media of the US and the UK. This bubbling hype, characterised by threatening language, misrepresentation, half-truths and schoolboy chauvinism, recalls in uncanny detail the fanfare which preceded our entry into the greatest international outrage of the 21st Century so far, namely the escalation of the US/British war against Iraq in 2003.

Government planners, with their expensively-assembled teams of Public Relations advisors, will be sure to manage events skilfully to make sure that the desired action against Iran is undertaken at a point at which the prospect can safely by said to be “normalised” in the discourse of public opinion.

Perhaps, therefore, it is worth considering whether it is sensible to initiate such a concerted mobilisation as would seem to connote a level of urgency somewhat more advanced than that of the diplomatic impasse itself. In so doing, there is at least a risk of contributing to the general sense of hype which is aimed at softening up the public, as the idea of a war on Iran gains legitimacy through a period of earnest democratic debate, and the electorate is quite deliberately driven to distraction through the endless repetition of a debate which is deliberately skewed by the mainstream media’s acceptance of a set up assumptions designed to mislead, and deliberately designed to favour one outcome.

It is, however, in recognition of the power of this process that HOPI seeks to mobilise support at an early stage, and there is much to be said for favouring an assertive approach that provides a strong base of resistance which is prepared for the worst eventuality, and while this campaign might well add to the hype, the alternative - to say and do nothing - is surely unpalatable. However, while circumstances have made it necessary to accept that there is a debate to be had, it is important that the opposition to US and British militarism does not unwittingly accept certain assumptions that have formed a significant part of the militarist discourse over the past few yeas. With this in mind, the name of the campaign group is worthy of some consideration.

Why “Hands Off The People of Iran” rather than “Hands off Iran”? The emphasis on concern for the people, presumably as distinct from the state, may simply be symptomatic of an excessive self-consciousness that is not untypical among diaspora and exile communities. Many Iranians living in the UK and the USA are understandably keen to distance themselves from the oppressive and authoritarian Islamic regime and its venal ultra-conservative front man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Their sentiments are no doubt shared by many left wing activists who are involved in the anti-war movement. To indulge this sensibility, at this juncture, would however be a mistake, because we are living in a time when pro-war news management has entailed, among other things, a concerted effort to establish a delineation between a regime and its people, in order that the perception and understanding of the true horror of war by obfuscated or at least obscured, so that wars can be perceived and felt as a series of abstract tactical and strategic moves in which certain key state actors are “ousted” or “changed” or “removed” at will, while “the people” are quite distinct and, by implication, less harmed. This sanitisation of war in the public mind is essential to the workings of imperialism, and has a history which pre-dates the Bush administration by some considerable time.

To implicitly accept this delineation as a valid one is to pave the way for the eventuality that is perhaps most likely at any rate - the carrying out of so-called “surgical strikes” by the US (and possibly Britain), against key targets. The official line will inform us that this is not war - it is an “operation” or a “series of strikes”, aimed no doubt at key military or alleged nuclear installations. They would, in all likelihood, be sold to the public on the basis that only the infrastructure of the Iranian “state” would be affected, and not its people. Such strikes would of course amount to war by any proper understanding of the word, save in the lexicon of the US State Department and, on current indications, of HOPI, by whose reckoning the “People of Iran” would be largely unaffected. This pernicious distinction between a regime and its people is a marketing gimmick of imperialism, and it is essential that it is recognised as such. At the time of writing, it would seem that the situation appears to have abated albeit, in all probability, only temporarily. However uncomfortable it may feel, resistance in the face of any future crisis must be expressed in terms of unqualified support for the Iranian state.
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#8: Posted by Chris S on Fri 25 Jan 2008 00:00

Nathaniel Mehr’s article in London progressive journal ‘Getting it Right This Time: The Curious Ambivalence of the Latest Anti-War Campaign’ (London Progressive Jounral, Issue 2) is another demonstration of how some on the left are incapable of reading about an organisation before regurgitating the stupidity of others who fear our principled anti imperialist politics.

The first mistake cited is that HOPI was brought together quickly, and is a new organisation. A quick look around on how HOPI was established and the comrade would of come across Amir Javaheri Langaroudi article were he writes:

“HOPI was set up by Iranians in exiles in UK and USA, many of them activists and members of Workers Left Unity -Iran (Etehadchap Kargari) in response to calls by antiwar students, workers.

The first calls for such a campaign appeared in Farsi on the website of Etehadchap and Rahe Kargar in the summer of 2005.”

So instead of being set up after some “familiar sounding noises from Washington and London” It was actually set up to combat the apologist politics of the leaders of the anti war movement by comrades who have felt betrayed by the cheerleaders and apologists of Tehran.

The comrade again shows his lack of understanding of HOPI when writes “it is worth considering whether it is sensible to initiate such a concerted mobilisation ……In so doing, there is at least a risk of contributing to the general sense of hype which is aimed at softening up the public, as the idea of a war on Iran”

Well the concerted mobilisation we are making is absolutely directed against imperialist intervention be it bombs or blockades. In our founding statement we set out the tasks for the anti war movement.

“The task of the anti war movement in Britain and HOPI is threefold. One to fight against any imperialist attack on Iran and support the Iranian peoples right to defend themselves by any means necessary. Secondly not to flinch from publicising the reactionary nature of the Tehran regime and its attacks on the workers and democratic movement. Thirdly to build links with all progressive forces fighting the regime – workers, women, trade unionists, socialists.”

It is folly for the anti war movement to purvey illusions about the Iranian regime. Yes the hawks in the Whitehouse and their stooges in Whitehall are undertaking a massive PR campaign to legitimise the current sanctions and a future war. It is here that the anti war movement must step forward and clearly say no to war and no to theocracy: regime change has to come from below. It s not a hard argument to win. Luckily those of us in HOPI do not suffer from the same social imperialist disease as Martin Thomas of the AWL who has called for a “surgical operation” to “take out the foul Ahmadinejad”.

Do you think our movement looks anything but a joke when we have half baked comrades running around shouting “We are all Hezbollah!” and other idiotic comrades calling for support of the occupation of Iraq and the bombing of Iran? Is it a wonder principled anti imperialists took up the call by our Iranian comrades to forge an anti war campaign the stood firmly in solidarity with the Iranian people?

Comrade Mehr goes on to say “it is important that the opposition to US and British militarism does not unwittingly accept certain assumptions that have formed a significant part of the militarist discourse.”

It is absolutely essential. The assumptions on which HOPI is founded on is that it is only the Iranian masses that can smash the Iranian regime and it is only the Iranian masses who will fight the imperialists after the clerics have fled. This is why we are first and foremost an anti war campaign.

The name of our campaign falls under spotlight next when comrade Mehr thinks that our campaigns name is wrong because “we are living in a time when pro-war news management has entailed, among other things, a concerted effort to establish a delineation between a regime and its people.”

Well unless we are to follow the a similar line to the one the WRP took over Libya in 1986 then it is important to give our support to the only real and consistent anti imperialist force within Iran. Ill give comrade Mehr a clue it isn’t the regime.

Again it is painfully obvious that comrade Mehr did no homework before writing this article when he writes. “To implicitly accept this delineation as a valid one is to pave the way for the eventuality that is perhaps most likely at any rate - the carrying out of so-called “surgical strikes” by the US (and possibly Britain), against key targets. The official line will inform us that this is not war - it is an “operation” or a “series of strikes”, aimed no doubt at key military or alleged nuclear installations. They would, in all likelihood, be sold to the public on the basis that only the infrastructure of the Iranian “state” would be affected, and not its people. Such strikes would of course amount to war by any proper understanding of the word, save in the lexicon of the US State Department and, on current indications, of HOPI, by whose reckoning the “People of Iran” would be largely unaffected.”

HOPI recognises that it will be the people of Iran that would suffer the most if any military attack was launched. HOPI sees the current sanctions as a prelude to war which is starving and freezing the people of Iran, whilst the clerics and army live in comfort. Comrade Mather when discussing sanctions writes “things will only get worse once the proposed sanctions take effect. It will be the workers, the poor and the underclass who will pay for the UN-imposed sanctions approved on December 23 2006”

It is pretty simple that the anti war movement should stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and not the regime. We have nothing in common with the Iranian government who kill our comrades, hang homosexuals, women’s activists and imprisons dissidents.

I find it pathetic when comrade Mehr call’s the distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people a “marketing gimmick of imperialism” when anyone with two brain cells and the ability to read the news can clearly see that the Iranian people are waging their own war against the theocracy. Its something us Marxists call the class war, comrade Mehr may have heard of it? To make the point as simple as possible, in a class war there are two contending classes. In Iran like the rest of the world you have the working class taking on the ruling class. Now I know which side ill throw my lot in with.

Would comrade Mehr and the dubious elements which write similar crap give “unqualified support for the Iranian state ” as the same state is killing our comrades, if they take Mansour Osanloo out to be hung for being a threat to national security, who will you be supporting the executioner or comrade Osanloo? Comrades who shirk their responsibilities to internationalism or to anti imperialism are nothing more than a cancer on the movement to be wiped out.




#572: Posted by Nathaniel Mehr on Wed 5 Mar 2008 00:00

Thank you for your comments.

I was quite clear in the original article about how I felt about the Iranian regime, so to describe the article as a piece of apologism is a gross misrepresentation.

The state/people distinction should of course be respected in every context. There is one glaring exception to this general rule, namely war. However offensive its leadership, Iran is a sovereign state. It is this fact, above all others, which will make any aggressive war an outrage. The internal politics of Iran, as with Iraq, is an irrelevance. So the anti-war movement must seek to defend Iran as a sovereign state. I refer you to the original article for the argument in full. When/if Iran is attacked, the Iranian resistance will be first and foremost of a nationalist character, not a class character: for better or worse (and I'm sure we can both agree it's for the worse), national feeling is stronger than class feeling in most parts of the world at this moment in time.

The rhetorical flourish at the end of your letter (indicating that, for having put forward this view, I am "nothing more than a cancer on the movement to be wiped out") clearly belongs elsewhere, outside the domain of sensible discussion.

NM