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Joseph Willits: The Iranian regime's comments on the UK riots should not sidetrack more important issues


By Joseph Willits 
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Some of the most ridiculous comments concerning the recent rioting and looting across the UK have come from the Iranian government and their President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad lambasted the “silence” from the UN and human rights groups, urging the UN’s Security Council to take action against the way in which David Cameron’s government has handled the riots. 

"If one per cent of this happens in countries that oppose the West [the UN and human rights bodies] scream until they are hoarse," Mr Ahmadinejad said.

Inevitably, the ironies and hypocrisies of his statement are flying around.  Most, it can be said, are aware of this.   It follows a regular pattern of seemingly comic Anglo-Iranian diplomacy/theatre.  For example, the same tract was used during the student protests back in November 2010.  In this case, the then British ambassador in Tehran, Simon Gass was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry.  Another example is the 15 British marines seized in disputed waters in 2007.  Jokingly, Mr Ahmadinejad said something on the lines of “I hope you enjoyed your holiday in Iran” on their departure.  This followed an outrageous propaganda battle between British and Iranian foreign ministries, which we may similarly be recurring now.

An Iranian lawmaker went so far as to suggest sending special rapporteurs on behalf of the UN to assess the situation in London and the rest of the country, and another suggested that Iran was likely to close the British embassy in Tehran.  Britian’s top diplomat in Iran, Jane Marriott, welcomed the proposal on the condition that the UN special rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed could address his grave concerns about human rights violations in Iran.

Could we argue that this is a new low in Anglo-Iranian relations, or is it simply last chance populist opportunism during extensive Middle Eastern unrest and declining Iranian influence across the region?

Whether or not we should be taking lessons from the Iranian government, or finding amusement from their criticisms, is largely irrelevant.  So too is the volleying which is currently taking place, which has very little other purpose than to satisfy those brandishing far fetched comments.  Now would not be the right time for British diplomacy to bite.  What is resurfacing however, particularly in this current international climate, are memories of Iran’s somewhat forgotten own post election crackdown of 2009, and their supposed involvement in crushing Syrian dissent which has seen more than 2000 peaceful Syrian protestors killed by the regime.  We cannot deny either, this climate, which has seen even more death and destruction across the region in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain.

As the UK is reproducing CCTV images of those who looted and caused riot, their faces posted across blogs, police websites, newspapers and Twitter, the equivalent for Iran is an ongoing list posted onto Enduring America, of 100+ journalists that have been detained in the country since 2009.  These individuals are somehow forgotten during diplomatic tension over riots and suchlike.  Back in 2009, the Iranian opposition was largely crushed, that is not to say defeated, but the two main figureheads, Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi of the Green movement have placed under house arrest since late February, and calls for their execution have continued.  They have not disappeared, but have been forgotten in our discussion of Iran.  It would be difficult to forget the iconic image of Neda Soltan, who was shot through the head by government forces, and the huge crowds of green, young and old Iranians, peacefully protesting a disputed election, and being shot down for it.  It hardly seems appropriate that in the context of riots in Britain, attention is taken away from the reality of human rights abuse and the suppression of political and journalistic freedom.  It becomes somewhat alarming that our discussion of Iran and the wider Middle East, is focused on the comments of those with disputed human rights records, interpreted comically, and how it somehow relates to us in our time of riot.

We should not forget, particularly with ongoing events in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, that a brutal police and military crackdown has the rank consequence of death.  Unfortunately Britain has successfully on occasion over the past few days, entered into lynch mode.  Rightly, we wish to bring the looters and rioters to justice, but in our discussion of heavier police presence, talk of water cannons, rubber bullets, the death penalty, jokingly remarking about shooting the perpetrators, sometimes some have forgotten a sense of decorum, and we risk trivialising the issue as a whole.

Human rights in Iran, and governmental crackdowns on dissent may not be an interest to some, and the issue as a whole may lack relevance and resonance, but for those who it is of consequence to, we cannot simply forget, or let the issue be sidetracked into frivolity. 


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