The Islamic Republic of Iran was born in a hostage crisis which has never really ceased. Since 1979, the Iranian regime has repeatedly employed the abduction and arbitrary arrest of foreign nationals, frequently targeting those with dual Iranian citizenship, as a matter of state policy. There are several interpretations as to the rationale. The most obvious is material cynicism; prisoners arrested on bogus charges of espionage are a source of bargaining power with the international community; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband believes his wife was taken as leverage in Iran’s dispute with the UK over an arms deal dating back to the 1970s. Alternately, there is evidence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards have escalated the taking of foreign hostages as part of an internal power struggle with other parts of the regime. The most disturbing interpretation is one of the regime’s millenarian convictions; when Iran accuses Zaghari-Ratcliffe or hundreds of others of being CIA or Mossad agents, the charges are not entirely bogus fictions but sincerely-held delusions of a regime governed by thought disorder. It represents a disturbed pattern of thinking which has many sympathisers in the rich world. Any government that institutes ‘Death to America‘ as an official public slogan can reasonably expect a little help from left-wing friends in the West.
The Islamic Revolution of 1979 was an early harbinger of what would later be dubbed the ‘regressive left’ or more fittingly, the ‘tyrannophile left‘; the emergence of a Western socialist left so desperate for allies against capitalism and liberalism that it saw embracing a neo-feudalist theocracy as a virtuous act. A regime led by a Supreme Leader and unchallengeable priesthood which executed trade unionists and social democrats by firing squad, hanged gay people from construction cranes and banned countless books and works of art became a cause célèbre for some of the most vaunted intellectuals and political figures on the left. Michel Foucault, the godfather of post-structuralist theory which has saturated academic departments since the 1980s, declared the mullahs of the Islamic Revolution could execute and torture whoever they liked, because Islam does not “have the same regime of truth as ours.” Foucault, the architect of queer theory now proverbially applauding the mass execution of gay men, was not alone. David Greason’s article ‘embracing death: the Western left and the Iranian revolution, 1978-83‘ covers much of this deeply unsettling ground, as do the themes of Paul Hollander’s recent book on ‘Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship‘.
Jeremy Corbyn’s hosting of a phone-in show on Iran’s state-controlled Press TV, a gig which netted him a total of £20,000, was not merely motivated by greed or vanity (the more likely motive for Alex Salmond taking a lavish new hosting job with Russia Today). Corbyn might have found presenting gigs or newspaper columns elsewhere; working for the anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist information arsenal of the Islamic Republic was just too appealing. George Galloway, a long-running presenter on the network, described the English-language propaganda channel Press TV as a “voice for the voiceless”. The voices of Iran’s political prisoners were unavailable for comment. Press TV’s website published lurid Jew-baiting editorials by Holocaust deniers before, during and after Corbyn, Galloway former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone were on their payroll – perhaps the network’s fixation on ‘Zionism’ earned Livingstone’s goodwill?.
Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-American journalist whose imprisonment, torture and false confession was facilitated by Press TV at the same time Corbyn was presenting his talk show. After Ofcom revoked Press TV’s right to broadcast on UK satellite and cable channels due to its involvement in Bahari’s torture, Corbyn continued his presenting gig for another six months. Bahari’s description of Western leftists, including Corbyn, Livingstone and Galloway, was of a new generation of “useful idiots”, adding:
“These are people who have a grudge against the US government or capitalism as a system, and as a result, they embrace whoever is against the American government. This means that sometimes they embrace regimes with atrocious human rights records like the one in Iran.”
Most British discussion of the imprisonment and maltreatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe this month has focused on the careless talk of the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and subsequently Michael Gove. However, a regressive myopia has affected discussion of the issue, wherein Johnson’s bungled response is believed to hold greater importance than a dictatorship’s policy of arbitrarily imprisoning and executing civilians using show-trials. The height of this disorder of accountability was the granting of an Observer editorial to none other than Jeremy Corbyn, who demanded Johnson’s resignation for, among other things, potentially condemning a British citizen imprisoned in Iran. The regime in Tehran has long proved it will domestically do what it wants, when it wants. Although Johnson’s words are now being quoted with delight on Press TV, the greater material prize for any propaganda channel is always the enthusiastic Western voices lining up to praise the regime. The selective myopia and amnesia of left-wing politician and their surrogates now attacking Johnson would be comical if not undercut by the sordidness of their own involvement with the Islamic Republic and its state media.