By Paul Iddon
The storming of the British embassy in Tehran bears a troubling reminiscence to the infamous storming of the US embassy 32 years ago.
When a small group of radical Islamic students stormed the American embassy in Tehran during the 1979 revolution they started what would become a very turbulent and tense rivalry with the United States that has continued to this very day. It also showed that the new Islamic Republic was ready from the get go to disregard the common international diplomatic standards and instead radicalize a widespread revolution in a bid to suppress the many moderates and secularists that initially had filled the streets in opposition of the Shahs autocratic rule.
In Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi recalls how during the hostage crisis people from rural areas were bused into Tehran to make up the numbers of those gathering around the “nest of spies”. And as she recalls several of them didn't even know where America was, and some were under the impression that they were actually going to America. She goes on to describe how these people were free to reside outside the embassy, hold picnics and hang around and camp by the embassy grounds so long as they chanted “Death to America” and burnt the occasional US flag to keep up such radical momentum.
Just yesterday following the Majlis resolution to expel Britain's ambassador to Tehran following increased British sanctions a mob stormed the British embassy chanting Marg Bar Ingilis (“Death to Britain”). The majority of members of the Maljlis whom had voted in favour of expelling the British ambassador chanted the same slogan the day before, clearly creating a radical atmosphere. The scene at the embassy was reminiscent to the one of the initial storming of the US embassy in 1979. And is clearly a blatant attempt by the regime to incite radical action this comes at a time when the theocracy is showing visible signs of senility in the face of a continually disillusioned populace. Swift and organized radical reactionary action like this incident are essential for the theocracy to maintain a certain degree of control over the public imagination which must have a blurry and overall flawed outlook on the world if they are to see the theocracy as their ultimate governmental representative. Therefore it is necessary for the theocracy to up the ante with regards to such radicalism and fundamentalism in times of widespread disillusionment and discontentment.
Ayatollah Khomeini effectively directed a six year counter-war on Iraq and sent at the very least 300,000 young men (some as young as 13) to die in this poorly planned war of which Iran was ill prepared for, whilst furthermore reassuring those who would go on to be martyred in the suicide waves that God was on their side and that they were guaranteed victory as they were waging a war in the name of Islam. He was finally forced to accept the UN mandated ceasefire when Rafsanjani swallowed his pride and risked his own neck as it were by approaching the Imam and informing him of the raw reality on the ground. Iran had no chance of a tangible victory and to add insult to injury the Iraqi Army was proving to be capable of being able to once again launch substantial incursions into Iranian territory. Khomeini finally gave in and accepted the UN ceasefire agreement with Iraq, likening it to drinking a chalice of poison. In light of the fact that he had waged war in the name of Islam and subsequently lost he must have calculated that in order to retain any credibility he needed something else to point his divinely warranted judgmental finger at in order to ensure the discontentment that followed that fiasco of a war would not manifest itself in its immediate aftermath. So what followed was his issuing of the infamous fatwa against Salman Rushdie, condemning him to death for his book The Satanic Verses. His offering of money for murder was a squalid act and was also his last major political act before passing away later that year. British-Iranian relations had been restored the year beforehand and temporarily suspended by Iran after Khomeini issued the fatwa.
The regime to a very large extent has actually garnered a propaganda coup for itself, not in Iran and among the Iranian people (where as travel writer Rick Steve's pointed out the former US embassy compound sits in the public's eye like an unwanted call to battle) but in the west. Once again the regime has succeeded in getting images on western TV of radical Iranian Islamist' once again violently storming a foreign consulate, these images will once again reinforce the widespread illusion and irrational fear of Iran and Iranians that is prevalent in the west.
This in turn will inevitably prolong the lifespan of this archaic totalitarian regime which has once again purposely plundered and intentionally squandered any hopes of diplomatic rapprochement with the International Community for the foreseeable future.
Editor’s Note: Paul Iddon is one of the authors of Uskowi on Iran. His weekly column 'Broadened Vistas' appears here on Wednesdays.