imagesRedline’s Philip Ferguson recently interviewed Yassamine Mather, chair of the British-based Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) movement.  Yassamine is a long-time Iranian Marxist and a former activist in the Fedayeen (Minority).  She is also deputy editor of the academic journal Critique.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell us a bit about your political background and how you came to get involved in revolutionary politics in Iran?

Yassamine Mather: I come from a privileged background and I was unaware of the inequalities in Iranian society until I reached my teenage years. I went to a French private school frequented by the upper classes and it was quite by coincidence that I realised the divisions in Iranian society, poverty in the countryside and around Tehran. However my family were very political (although mainly right wing) and conversation around the table was often about politics. It was the shooting to death of a school friend Catherine Adl (the daughter of the Shah’s physician and close ally, Professor Adl) by security forces in 1971 that made me politically active. When I started university in the UK, I joined the Confederation of Iranian Students Abroad, a leftwing student organisation opposed to the Shah’s dictatorship and it was through them that I came in contact with left-wing organisations inside Iran. Membership of the Confederation was illegal and I was on the regime’s blacklist.  I was in Iran in 1979 but I was not in a member of any organisation and my political activities were limited to attendance of political meetings, demonstrations.

PF: So how did you come to join the Fedayeen, as opposed to some other group?  Could you tell us a bit about its politics and activities?

YM: I only joined the Fedayeen after the Majority-Minority split. Before that time Fedayeen had a centrist position regarding the Iranian regime and it was only after the split with the reformist, pro-Soviet  Majority that I joined the Fedayeen. They organised workers’ groups in factories, amongst oil workers, they had student supporters on campuses and a women’s organisation .  All this in Iranian cities (until repression made it impossible); they also organised peasants in Kurdistan and Torkman Sahra. The organisation had a history of being an armed guerrilla organisation, however post-1979 it was mainly a Marxist political group with the exception of Kurdistan where a civil war was going on and the Fedayeen used liberated areas in the mountainous regions for publications, a radio station and political organisation. As repression in Iranian cities got worse, from 1980 onwards, members and cadres of the organisation were sent to stay in Kurdistan.  (For more about this period see: Marxism and the Iranian revolution.)

PF: How do you think the Islamists were able to outmanoeuvre the radical, secular forces in the anti-shah struggle?

YM: The Islamists were powerful before the uprising. Left-wing activists were the last prisoners to be released. Islamists had faced far less repression during the Shah than the left. Holding meetings in mosques and other religious institutions had been tolerated. They were also much better off financially, benefiting from donations from the bazaar.  That is why the religious movement was far better organised than the left and other secular forces. However the left was politically confused, made many mistakes and allowed the Islamists to out-manoeuvre them even further; it would be a mistake to think the left was in a position of dual power. At that time the majority of the population had illusions about Islamists.

PF: What remains of the left forces from that era?

YM: Very little of any significance. The largest group of the left, the Fedayeen, split between the Majority (who supported Khomeini and the religious state until 1983/84) and Minority who had dozens of subsequent splits, all currently in exile. The Maoist groups have all had many splits. The Trotskyist Fourth international had some presence in 1979 but split as a considerable section of this organisation supported the Islamists’ ‘anti-imperialism’.

Some of the Kurdish organisations are now part of US-sponsored attempts at regime change from above and others are financially dependent on the Iraqi Kurdish government. There are some 30-40 Iranian political organisations of the radical left mainly in exile. Some have no more than a handful of members and supporters, a name and out-of-date website, others are more active.

PF: These days it seems more possible for different currents to speak to each other, people who in the past would have been totally hostile to each other.  What sort of discussions go on among the various Marxist currents in Iran and/or in exile?  What sort of collaborative work is possible between what is left over from the groups of the 1960s and 1970s?

YM: That is true there have been a number of attempts at setting up ‘left unity’ or alliances of the left amongst various organisations and the current effort unites around 20 organisations, groups. Some are political parties, organisations, others are local committees (groups of like-minded individuals supporting working class struggles in Iran with a Marxist perspective). Previously such alliances have failed because the existing differences on essential issues such as socialism and democracy do not allow any alliance. The current effort coming after lengthy discussions might have a better chance; however, at this stage, it is difficult to see how it can go beyond coordination and cooperation of a number of groups and individuals.

PF: Why do you think the theocratic regime has been able to last so long?

YM: The regime had a huge income at its disposal and managed to buy sections of the population, impose repression and wage wars on national minorities. It also benefited from inept opposition. Royalists and the right were clearly discredited long before they became part of the US regime change plans. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not led to the coming to power of democratic, stable governments and this has helped; the Islamic regime has benefited from this, not only because of the failure of US-style regime change from above but also because two of its worst enemies (Saddam’s Iraq and the Taleban in Afghanistan) were removed from power.

The reformist factions of the regime have also helped it survive, in that every few years a new candidate for presidency or a campaign by ‘reformists’ has created the illusion that the regime can be ‘reformed’. While the reality is that in power the ‘reformists’ have done very little to challenge the religious state, repression etc. On economic issues there is little difference between the various factions.  

PF: Could you tell us about the state of the economy in Iran at present and the state of the class struggle there?

YM: The economy is in free fall. In the first three years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, between 2005 and 2008, Iran experienced a period of growth. Since then the rate of GDP growth has fallen considerably and this was before the latest round of sanctions in 2011.

1999 2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
1 3 6.5 6.1 6.3 6.9 4.3 6.2 6.5 1.5 1 2

In 2012 the real GDP growth rate was -0.9%.

High oil prices in early-mid 2000s had enabled Iran to amass US$97 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

In recent years capitalists in Iran – and defenders of finance capital everywhere – have complained about the Revolutionary Guards’ accumulation of vast fortunes through the acquisition of privatised capital, precisely the pattern seen in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Those in power, often with direct connections to military and security forces, are in a position to purchase the newly-privatised industries. That is the case with many US allies in the region and an inevitable consequence of this type of ‘economic restructuring’.

According to the theocratic government’s own statistics, by 2009 one third of the state assets had been privatised (US$37 billion out of US$110 billion), 78 per cent of which occurred under Ahmadinejad’s  presidency following the IMF model for structural adjustment, while the Iranian president is eager for Iran to join the World Trade Organization.

In many ways, this dismantling of the public sector resembles Russia and other East European privatisation plans in the 1990s, which turned over vast sections of the economy to oligarchs at bargain-basement prices. In Iran it is the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran (RGCI) and its subsidiaries* followed by individuals associated with the Supreme Leader who have benefited from relentless privatisations. In the last year alone, tens of billions of dollars in state assets were handed out to the RGCI in no-bid secret deals. Before the sanctions hit in 2010, in the stock market’s largest transaction ever, an $8 billion purchase was made of the country’s telecommunication industry in a deal that is costing the RGCI next to nothing.

The sanctions are supposed to hurt the Revolutionary Guards or close associates of the Supreme  Leader and senior clerics but these people own everything as I explained earlier so the so-called ‘targeted ‘ sanctions haven’t affected them.

The current sanctions have impacted oil export (down by 46%), banking, finance, insurance – including insurance of oil tankers – gold bullion. The US has now also imposed heavy penalties on sanction-busting. The goal is to create “a chilling effect on all non-humanitarian commercial trade with Iran,” noted Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy, who added that trying to target only parts of the Iranian economy was a “game of whack-a-mole that the United States could never win.”

The annual rate of inflation was estimated at 30% in 2012; current month to month inflation is about 70%.

Beef, which used to cost 120,000 rials a kilo a year ago, is now more than 200,000. A bag of rice has nearly doubled to 70,000 rials. A can of beans more than twice what it was last January.

Unemployment amongst the young (15 to 35 years old) is estimated at around 60 per cent. In recent years, the cost of housing in most major Iranian cities rose by 1000 per cent. According to Mohammad Reza Shalgouni: “Contrary to the illusions of some leftist groups outside Iran, Ahmadinejad’s so-called ‘pro-disinherited’ policies played an important role in worsening the structural crisis of Iran’s economy. It is sufficient to remember that in the first three years of his presidency, cash reserves trebled, rising from 60,000 billion tomans (around US$60 billion) to 180 thousand billion tomans.”

Although a relatively large part of the population engages in farming, agricultural production has fallen consistently since the 1960s. By the late 1990s, Iran was a major food importer, and economic hardship in the countryside had driven vast numbers of people to migrate to cities.

Of the labour force of 27.05 million, 25% are in agriculture, 31% are in industry and 45% in services. (These are June 2007 figures.)

Every year the Iranian government announces what the new minimum wage rate would be: 21 March 2010 – 21 March 2011, US$303 per month (that’s about $NZ370 – PF). Yet for that year the government’s official poverty line was an income of US$800 per month! Most workers know that US$303 did not even pay for accommodation for a family of three or four people. However, we also have to remember that Iranian capitalists use non-payment of wages as a systematic method of increasing profits.  During this Iranian year (ending 21 March 2013) millions of workers faced delays of six months to a year waiting for the payment of the official minimum wage. Most workers’ protests in the last few months have focussed on the single slogan “we are hungry”.

Corruption across the regime has contributed to the economic crisis. In 2012, the Islamic Republic was perceived as one of the most corrupt in the world, according to Transparency International. It ranked 133rd, tied with Russia, Kazakhstan, Honduras and Guyana, out of the 176 countries and territories that were ranked from least corrupt to most corrupt.

The sanctions have also had consequences for people’s health.  Patients with cancer, muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as motor neurone disease) are among those most at risk. The death of a 15-year-old with haemophilia last November was the first to be directly attributed to sanctions. But hundreds of thousands of Iranians with life-threatening illnesses are unable to get the treatment they need. The rich are travelling abroad for any basic health issue but medics warn of an impending health crisis unless essential drugs become available.

PF: What is the position of women’s rights and the rights of national minorities in Iran?

YM: On March 8, 1979, tens of thousands of Iranian women took part in the first major demonstration against the newly-established Islamic Republic of Iran, following the forced imposition of the hijab. The women’s slogans were: “I say it every moment, I say it under torture: either death or freedom!” “Freedom is neither eastern nor western: it is universal!” “Death to censorship!” “In the dawn of freedom, the place of women is empty: revolution is meaningless without women’s freedom – we do not want the hijab!”

Since that day and for over 30 years, hard-line fundamentalists have tried to impose their rules on Iranian women and youth. However, even these clerics agree that they face a cultural crisis. The majority of the youth and the women’s movement openly reject fundamentalist Islam, and the generation born after the Islamic regime came to power is amongst the most secular sections of Middle Eastern society, campaigning for the separation of religion from the state.

With the exception of a minority of the middle and upper classes, Iranian women have traditionally suffered from patriarchal laws and practices both within the family and at work. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, however, the plight of Iranian women has worsened, the rigid imposition of the veil (hijab) has reinforced discrimination and prejudice against women. Many families refuse to send their daughters to high school. In higher education girls are discouraged or prevented by the state from studying or working in fields and activities considered ‘masculine’, such as engineering, mining, the judiciary. . . It is in opposition to the state that many women pursue such studies.

There is discrimination against women in sport and recreation. Participation in some sports is discouraged, and in recreation most facilities are rigidly segregated and rarely available to women. Many have called this a system of apartheid against women. The Ministry of Education in the Iranian government recently reported that 94% of schoolgirls were unfit, as they did not participate in sport or physical education.

The combination of enforced hijab-wearing and segregation is used to limit women’s access to state education, sports and other facilities. In other words, the system is geared to institutionalise women’s confinement to the home. These policies facilitate the objective of turning women into second-class citizens.

As they become teenagers, girls are driven more and more into a world dominated and manipulated by their male relatives. They can be given away in legal marriage without their knowledge or consent while still in their childhood. The legal age of marriage for girls is nine.

Discriminatory Islamic laws govern the private and public life of women: they have to follow a very specific and restrictive set of dress codes – a full veil or complete headscarf and long overcoat are the only accepted forms of dress. The law discriminates against women in inheritance, giving them at most half of the share of their male counterparts. According to the laws of Hodud and Qessas, the life of a woman is worth half that of a man, with the implication that a man killing a woman and sentenced to death may only be executed if the victim’s family pays the murderer half of his death dues. Article 6 of this law states that the bereaved family has to pay the murderer’s family to get “Islamic justice” (a life for a life). Article 33 of the Hodud and Qessas states that women’s testimony is not valid in homicide cases unless it is supported by at least one male witness. According to Iran’s Islamic laws, women are considered generally unfit to be witnesses; their power of observation is considered half that of a man. And women have officially been considered too emotional and irrational to be judges.

Of course, in other religions equally anti-women rules and regulations are to be found. What differentiates Iran or US-occupied Iraq from other Islamic states, however, is that the Qur’an dictates civil and judicial law. In other words the basic democratic demand of separation of state and religion does not apply – quite the opposite.

Additionally, Islamic marriage laws as applied in Iran are amongst the most repressive in the world in terms of discrimination against women. While men are allowed to marry up to four wives at a time in permanent marriage, plus an unlimited number of women in what is known as “temporary marriage” (siqeh), women who do not adhere to strict monogamy are considered criminal and may be brutally and savagely stoned to death in public. This legal Islamic punishment for extra-marital affairs is carried out regularly in Iran.

Men control the lives of their wives, their daughters and their unmarried sisters. In Islamic societies women need a male guardian throughout their lives, to give them legal permission to travel, to study, to marry, etc. As no consent is required for sexual relations inside marriage, wife-rape is common and even wife-beating is tolerated in the process (with a Qur’anic verse that legitimises wife-beating in the case of “disobedient women”). Abortion is illegal, but the rising number of terminations is testimony to its use as a form of contraception.

Until 1996, as far as divorce was concerned, the man had almost a free hand to divorce his wife, while the woman had only a limited recourse to the legal system. Even after reform of the laws regulating separation, a woman can only file for divorce in exceptional circumstances. The extent of this discrimination was best exemplified by reports recorded by the Iran Human Rights Working Group: a court had taken 14 years to approve a divorce request from a woman who complained she was tortured by her husband. She was reporting new incidents of abuse every year. She had agreed to drop all financial demands against her husband, and finally had to contact Iran’s prosecutor-general directly (who reported that she “shivered violently” whenever her husband was mentioned) to get her divorce. In another case, the process took eight years.

The divorce law is also designed to punish recalcitrant women, bringing them poverty and destitution, and leading them to resort to unusual tactics in order to obtain minimum maintenance for their children. In most cases women have to forfeit financial claims in order to obtain divorce, even if the proceedings were initiated by the man. Iranian law states that a male child above the age of two and a female child over the age of seven must live with their father. Even the father’s father is given priority over the mother in custody matters.

In marriage, discrimination against women goes still further. A virgin woman (whatever her age) has no right to marry without her father’s consent (or her paternal grandfather’s, in the absence of the former). A Muslim woman has no right to marry a non-Muslim (a right her male counterparts have – with some limitations). And a divorced woman has to wait for a set period before remarriage (but there is no waiting period for a divorced male). These Islamic practices and laws have created a suitable environment for widespread abuses and atrocities against women.

Most women do not report incidents of rape outside marriage because the victim has more to lose. First she will be accused of bringing dishonour to her own family and in some cases might even be killed by family members. Second, she fears prosecution under the morality laws: the punishment for “unIslamic” behaviour is to be flogged or stoned to death, especially if a woman is judged by the court as being a willing partner.

While the laws of Hodud and Qessas prescribe “equal” punishments for men and women, it is women who suffer from these barbaric measures. A married man having an affair with an unmarried women can always claim they were “temporarily married”. But a woman in a parallel position has no such defence and would face the horror of death by stoning.

The discriminatory laws regarding women’s rights cover a wide range of areas in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, in addition to the anti-women labour laws and social policies. These have had devastating results, causing economic deprivation and the social isolation of women and their children. Iranian women have been fighting hard against these injustices, but have had very limited success in the face of the overwhelming power of the religious state and its many institutions.

Whatever interpretation of Islam we take, the Qur’an is quite specific that women who disobey their men may be beaten. Should we accept this on the pretext of respecting Islamic values, and in order to combat racism? To do so would be to ignore what has been done to secular women in Islamic societies – to women who choose not to obey the rules. In Tehran teenagers who do not abide by the full Islamic dress code (showing a fringe under their headscarf, for example) are regularly arrested, flogged and made to sign a statement saying they will cease to “behave as a prostitute”.

Iranian women have fought against every one of these policies and it is to their credit hat they have forced the regime to retreat from some of the worst.

PF: Iranians I have spoken to have mentioned different strands within the regime.  Can you tell us about what internal conflicts there are in the Iranian establishment?

YM: The reformist leaders of the 2009 presidential elections, Moussavi and Karoubi are, as you know, under house arrest and that ‘faction’ of the regime is very much in retreat. I have always argued that they never wanted to challenge the Islamic regime and we would not have seen any genuine ‘reforms’ even if Moussavi had come to power. In many ways, as I said before, the existence of factions and the illusions they create help the regime’s survival.

As we predicted in HOPI’s interventions, once the reformist faction was marginalised in terms of government executive power, conflict between Ahmadinejad’s government and the parliament, or majlis, deepened. The main parliamentary group, known as the principlist faction, is headed by the speaker, Ali Larijani. The conflict has paralysed the state, with Ahmadinejad angrily withdrawing a number of bills presented by his government, claiming that they had been changed beyond recognition as they passed through various majlis committees. Ahmadinejad and Larijani are currently involved in a major battle.

One can also talk of another faction – the ‘pragmatists’ led by former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Rezai – has also been critical of the government. The  majlis is accusing Ahmadinejad supporters in banks and a major industry of being involved in multi-billion tomans corruption  and Ahmadinejad is making counter-accusations against the Larijani brothers.  The Revolutionary Guards, which control large parts of the economy, are also reportedly corrupt. The most powerful military organisation in Iran has charitable foundations (bonyads) that are tax-exempt and largely free of government scrutiny. The Guards have also been linked to illicit smuggling and narcotics trafficking. Some veteran officers have reportedly amassed significant wealth as the factional fighting intensifies and various factions are keen to expose their rivals.

PF: What sort of social base and popular support does the regime still have?

YM: The regime has a base mainly amongst those whose survival depends on payment from the regime, a vast religious militia (the Bassij) and the Islamic guards. Probably 3-5 million, including families of members of these forces. They have no social base amongst the poor, shanty town dwellers, peasants and they never had a social base amongst workers.

PF: Can you also tell us about what different strands there are in the opposition, especially in the democratic movement itself?  Also, the democratic movement of several years ago seemed to run into the problem that the regime was prepared to unleash violence on it and the movement had no means of dealing with that.  How do you think a mass progressive democratic movement can deal with this?

YM: It is true that the regime unleashed repression on the democratic opposition, however the mass movement was betrayed by the leadership of the Green movement who were more interested in negotiations with the leaders of the regime and kept calling for restraint and retreat. They called on demonstrators to “remain silent” during some of the largest protests and they refused to address workers’ demands for better wages. They distanced themselves from the more radical demands put forward on the demonstrations, yet that did not save them from house arrest. A mass movement can defeat this if it is a truly revolutionary movement with no illusions about sections of the regime and if it addresses workers’ demands.

PF: My impression is that younger opponents of the regime tend towards left-liberal politics.  Are Marxist ideas making any headway among them?

YM: That was true in the 1990s and early 2000s. An inevitable consequence of the triumphalism of the West at that period. The economic crisis not just in Iran but thoroughout the world, US wars in the region has change dtaht considerably.

In more recent years we have seen a radicalisation of the student movement and many would describe themselves as Marxist.  In addition the  defeat of the reformist movement (the Green movement) has also led to a situation where  young Iranians have began to challenge the entire regime from a leftwing point of view .

PF: HOPI has campaigned strongly against US measures against Iran and the threat of an American military assault on the country.  Do you think a US attack on Iran is really likely given the quagmire Washington found itself in both in Iraq and Afghanistan?

YM: I don’t think the quagmire will stop Washington; in the midst of a serious economic crisis war can present a way out. However, right now, the US and its allies seem to be confident that they can bring down the Iranian regime and judging by the devastating effects of the escalated sanctions they might be right.

PF: Some people on the left in the West argue that defence of Iran against threats and various measures by the US and other Western powers means defence of the existing regime in the Iran.  Some even argue that the regime is a product of a revolution and so is at least partly progressive.  What is your view of these things?

YM: The coming to power of the Islamic government signalled the defeat of the Iranian revolution, there was nothing progressive about it in 1979 and there is nothing progressive about it now. It is a ruthless, religious dictatorship with misogynist ideology, it tried to impose Islamic behaviour in the private and public life of a population who refused to accept this. Hence the duplicity and the reality of Iranians living two separate lives: one pretending to be religious outside the house with increasing disillusionment with religion in private. All this was before the corruption scandals and accusations of the involvement of senior clerics in prostitution and drug rackets made a mockery of the “pious, moral” Shia Ayatollahs.

PF: One major reason for the rise of so-called political Islam, or Islamic fundamentalism, appears to be the compromises made by secular nationalism with imperialism, for instance the case of the PLO and others.  How would you analyse the current state of political Islam, in terms of its popular support, and what prospects do you see for either rebuilding, or creating a new, secular left in the Middle East?  Have the Arab Spring movements strengthened secular progressive forces?

YM: Political Islam is popular in the countries where pro-Western, secular forces are in power, so with the exception of Iran that is true of most of the Middle East and North Africa. However this is partly because the population still have illusions about political Islam, partly because even under repressive circumstances, religious groups had more room to manoeuvre than left-wing or secular-nationalist forces and partly because the religious groups benefit directly or indirectly from extensive funds originating in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries.

PF: What do you think progressive people in the West can do that would be of most assistance to the working class and oppressed of Iran?

YM: They should show solidarity with the Iranian working class by promoting their demands, while campaigning against war and sanctions. Sanctions have caused mass unemployment, spiralling cost of living. The current conditions of poverty and destitution make it difficult for workers to mobilise and organise against the regime.

  1. Don Franks says:

    Great post.

    Explains such a lot of things and also puts today’s revolutionary struggle in perspective.

    Here in New Zealand we may be seeing layoffs as acts of god and are a way off “I say it every moment, I say it under torture: either death or freedom!”

    We can learn a lot from comrades closer to the front lines.

  2. Phil says:

    I was enthralled by her earlier article covering her own experiences in the early 1980s too; the one we ran under the title “Marxism and the Iranian revolution”. I have a couple of Iranian friends and they have found her stuff really useful. One of them is running a course on Iran and incorporated some stuff from the interview. We may not be seeing it much in NZ at present, but humans have an incredible capacity for resistance to oppression and exploitation. However dismal things here may be, there’s always somewhere in the world where things are moving forward, even if it’s an inch at a time.

  3. My experiences of the “Islamic Republic” are not entirely in accord with the picture presented by Yassamine Mather. (I assume that the translation of “hijab” to “veil” was the interviewer’s interpolation and misunderstanding of the meaning of hijab and how it applies in the IRI).
    All personal experiences and all personal perspectives on those experiences have value, but they can only take us so far in understanding the realities.
    Yassamine and the interviewer conceive the situation in Iran as a conflict between religious and secular values, and religious and secular political regimes, overlaying a conflict between the ideologies of capitalism and Marxism.
    To consider the secular versus religious argument first, secularism has a bad record in the Islamic world. Shah Pahlavi headed a secular regime. So did the Turkish military, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, General Suharto and a bunch of other brutal pro-western dictators in the Islamic world. In Iran and Turkey expressions of religious belief, such as hijab, were banned, and believers faced discrimination, imprisonment, torture and death. I personally would not wish to see secularists faced with any kind of discrimination, and on the whole they enjoy considerable freedoms in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and other formerly secular or presently quasi-religious states, but it would be unrealistic to assume that the secularists will be fully trusted and accepted by the people of those societies given their horrendous record of crimes and abuses.
    Secularism is also the official ideology of leading imperialist states, including the United States, France, New Zealand, and, for all practical purposes, the United Kingdom, and secular imperialism is a brutal business, even when its brutality is exercised through surrogate regimes (such as Afghanistan) in hidden corners of the world (Guantanamo Bay) or by robotic means (drone strikes).
    So the suggestion that secularism is good, and clericalism bad, is not easily sustained by a cursory review of the evidence at hand.
    However, true understanding of the conflict between secularism and religion requires us first to proceed beyond personal experience, and then beyond empirical evidence of the various political manifestations of secularism and religion, to a more fundamental consideration of the social roles of religion and secularism, something which the Marxists, to their cost, have never seriously attempted.
    I will not attempt to do that here and now, except to say that if protestant Christianity provided the ethic of capitalism in its origin western European form, secularism provides capitalism in its final phase with freedom from all ethical restraint. This is not to suggest that all secularists are unethical, and all religious believers are morally upright. It is to assert that the state and capital in the final phase of capitalism believe that they should no longer be subject to the ethical restraints of religion, and I cannot see how there could be any serious disagreement on that point.
    The whole question of how religion interacts with the state, capital, and the working class is a complex one, but it is a topic which can be revealing of a reality to which the secular ideology is stubbornly and wilfully blind. Objective analysis is the only way forward. Simplistic condemnation of religion, and glorifications of secularism will not cut the mustard.

  4. Phil says:

    re hijab and veil – she said veil. The interview was in English and I didn’t change any of her words.


    • My apologies Phil. I didn’t imagine that Yassamine would suggest that hijab in Iran required the wearing of the veil. One does see some veiled women in Iran (particularly in the south of the country) just as one does in New Zealand, but it is not the norm, and it is certainly not required by law.

  5. Karim says:

    I may disagree with Geoff in several points. First, as a matter of fact, the conflict between religious and secular values or tradition vs. modernity is the most obvious conflict within the Iranian society since 1906 when different sectors of the society (started by the intellectuals) successfully conducted the constitutional movement.
    This conflict reached its maximum level after first decade of the post- 1979 revolution, particularly in the late 1990s when the reformist discourse came back to the Iranian political arena after its absence since 1906-1907 and 1947-1953.
    Second, what Geoff said about the role of secularism in the Middle East is generally true. Secularism is not very popular in most, or even all, of Arabic states that experienced brutal secular governments. However, Iran is an exception among the other states as in contrary its people experienced a brutal and irrational Islamic regime. Both Turkey and Iran could also share similarities and being excluded from the former category given that unlike the Arabic states their nationalism is not linked with Islam but it has a separate identity which is closer to secular values.
    Third, Geoff rightly mentioned that there is criticism against secular systems. As a matter of fact we still did not witness a perfect system. However, and generally speaking, a secular system can cover and tolerate different ideologies including religious ideologies within its framework. This can be achieved by a parliamentary or any form of democratic system. But, a religious system cannot tolerate any other ideologies as the reference of its laws is not the human needs but the God.
    Finally, the discourse of secularism in current Iran is not based on Marxist principles as Marxism is no longer popular among Iranian intellectuals as it used to be in the 60s and 70s.

    • There are degrees of toleration. In Iran Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians and Sunni Muslims are tolerated by the Shia regime. The Bahai are generally not. The previous secular regime was tolerant of religion (and even friendly to the Bahai) but only up to the point where religious believers resisted the imposition secular values. So there were some silly attempts to stamp out Islamic dress and customs, and more sinister efforts to eradicate troublesome clerics.
      Having said that secularism has solid foundations within the middle class in Iran as it does in Turkey. Iran is basically a middle Eastern country with a European culture, language and ethnicity. The dominant Shia Islamic faith was adopted from the Arabs but developed in ways which parallel the development of European Catholicism. So I do acknowledge that one has to be careful when drawing comparisons between what is happening in Iran and what is going on in other middle eastern countries.

  6. Phil says:

    I think the point Karim makes about a secular regime being fine about people practising Islam but the Islamic republic not being happy with people who have a different world view (are, say, atheists and/or Marxists) is important.

    Thousands of opponents of the regime have been killed – far more than under the shah for instance. I attend a course run by Karim and one of the things he mentioned in the last lecture was that Khomeini was determined to learn from the ‘mistakes’ of the shah – the shah never came anywhere near wiping out the opposition from his left (Tudeh, Fedayeen, Mujahedin, Maoists, Trotskyists etc). The Islamic Republic, however, has been very successful in extirpating all these currents *within* Iran, although, as Yassamine noted in the interview, there has been a spread of Marxism among the new generation organising the democratic movement.

    Of course, we have to be careful about democratic movements as well. Because the questions arise – “democracy for whom and for what purpose?” At the end of the Cold War, and in the context of serious economic problems in capitalism, the Western powers found a swathe of old dictators now surplus to requirements and were happy enough to see them replaced with “democratic” regimes that opened up their economies much more to the rampages of western corporations and more “free market” economics. (I realise, Geoff, this is a genuine concern of yours and this is part of why you are rather hostile to certain social reforms. . .) The one that we’ve probably dealt most with on this blog is South Africa, because of the mass character of the old anti-apartheid movement here and that anti-apartheid activity was part of the formative political activity of a number of us.

    In the case of Iran, the issue for us in the West is to oppose attempts by the United States and allies to bring about “regime change” from above (sanctions, coups, invasions), while supporting the Iranian people trying to bring an end to a very repressive and corrupt regime from below. This is the perspective of HOPI, of which Yassamine is chairperson. I think it is thoroughly deserving of support.


    • The Shah’s regime was not at all fine about “people practicing Islam”. You have to go back to Mossadeq to find a secular regime that was fine about Islam, and, as we all know, the US was not fine about Mossadeq, so a tolerant secular regime remains very much a theoretical concept in the Iranian situation. Curiously, the representatives of the regime that I dealt with did not have a problem with atheism, or at least agnosticism. “It is better to have no beliefs than a wrong belief” was the way they put it. I visited scientific institutions where scientists were quite free to study and hold to Darwinist evolutionary theories, so there is a good deal of pragmatism. I really think that twentieth century Marxism screwed up badly on the question of religion, and that was, I believe, a factor in its ultimate collapse. No doubt there were other factors, and other people have other explanations. The Cubans seem to take a more pragmatic approach than the Soviets and the Chinese, which may serve them well in the longer run.

    • So why do you think that the IRI succeeded where the Shah failed?

      • I should have been more specific. Why do you think the Islamic Republic succeeded where the Shah had failed in eradicating the Marxist opposition? I suggest it is vital for the Marxists to have an answer to that question, and would be interesting for the rest of us.

  7. Admin says:

    I think because they learned the lesson from the shah period. Namely, that while the shah’s regime was very repressive, it simply wasn’t repressive enough to exterminate the left. It was unable to wipe out the left once the left went underground. The Islamic Republic leadership was far more determined that they would chase the left and exterminate them wherever they went – urban underground, mountains, wherever.

    Sometimes, from the way you write, it’s almost as if you think the Islamic regime has done some stuff they shouldn’t, but they’re not too bad. Actually they are murderous as well as intensely corrupt. They have tortured and exterminated thousands of people, including left-Islamic opponents. It wasn’t just the secular left who got annihilated, it was more progressive Islamic elements as well.

    I think the Marxists were so concentrated on how awful the shah was and that a progressive regime would issue forth from his overthrow that they vastly underestimated the Islamists and what they were capable of. Khomeini was far, far shrewder than most of the left. But also the Khomeini forces had advantages right from the start. For instance, the left had to be underground, whereas the Islamists always had the partial protection of the mosques. However hard the shah made it for them to organise, it was still a lot easier for them than for the left. They also had links with the bazaar merchants and other social forces, including in the countryside. The left was largely middle class and urban, although some of the left had some infuence in the working class.

    Taking Karim’s course has helped me understand more about the nature of iranian society in the 20th century leading up to 1979. Also I have a book of documents by the left in Iran in the first half of the century, which is very interesting. Islamic fundamentalists have a long record of opposing progressive social change of any sort in Iran.


    • Phil seems to be suggesting that the more repressive a regime is, the better its chances of prevailing over its opposition. If that was the reality there would be extremely repressive regimes everywhere and social change would come to a grinding halt.

      In fact, repression is never very effective in the long term. The Marxists should have learnt that from their Stalinist experience. The Iranian Islamists are not so naive. They know that they they cannot maintain their regime simply by being more repressive than the Shah. The Iranians are also a politically aware and active people who would not tolerate a purely repressive regime. The fact is that the Islamists are still capable of giving the mass of the Iranian people a quality of life which is more than they would expect from a return of the old regime, or from the establishment of a new Marxist regime.

      The maintenance of political power is a much more complex exercise than the Marxists seem to think – which may be why they have not been very good at it.

      Khomeini also made mistakes, but in the circumstances his ideology proved superior to that of the Shah, the imperial powers, and the Marxists.

      Yassamine had some good observations to make, but, although it is now 15 years since I was in Iran, I think that Phil’s assessment of the state of the nation of Iran lacks objectivity, and without objectivity the Marxists will continue to be politically ineffectual.

  8. Admin says:

    The regime ultimately rests on repression. It obliterated not only the Pahlavi state apparatus, but the liberal and progressive nationalists, the Fedayeen, the Tudeh and the left-wing Islamic movement, the Mujahedin. Geoff, they murdered thousands of people. That was how they stabilised their position. But you’ve omitted that I also pointed out that they had a series of advantages over the other political forces.

    You say they “are still capable of giving the mass of the Iranian people a quality of life” greater than a return of the old regime or a Marxist regime could. However, the quality of life of the mass of the Iranian people right now is pretty poor. In the past couple of years, medical charges have risen 400%. Many basic subsidies have been removed, while inflation is running at 70% a month. Lots of workers aren’t even getting paid. While the official poverty line is an income of $US800 a month, the minimum wage set by the government is a meagre $US200 a month. It doesn’t even cover accommodation for a family – certainly not in Tehran.

    I think your analysis starts from a defence of the regime because it is devoutly religious and appears to be in conflict with imperialism rather than from an objective view that takes into account things like the amount of repression and murder they have visited on the country.

    Ever since the constitutional revolution of 1906, the religious hierarchy in Iran have been fighting to hold onto their privileged position in Iranian society. They didn’t oppose the shah because they were interested in the rights of the oppressed, but because his reforms were undermining their ability to exercise social control.

    Since 1979, and the physical annihilation of their opponents – religious and secular alike – they have had all the social control they ever desired – control of all the dominant media and the education system, the courts, the political system, as well as a total monopoly of armed force. They’ve also been involved in considerable election-rigging. That’s how they’re still in power.


    • The references to the Islamic Republic of Iran as “extremely corrupt” raise an interesting point. Should a social system be judged according to the degree of governmental or private corruption? By definition corruption is a deviation from the prescribed rules of a socio-economic order. Corruption strictly defined can be dealt with while retaining the socio-economic system more or less intact. You do not condemn a system on account of corruption unless you can show that corruption is a natural consequence of the normal and proper functioning of the system itself.

      A couple of my young people have just returned from Venezuela and Cuba, and they report extensive corruption in Venezuela, particularly among the military, far exceeding anything that I saw in Iran. Yet the redline collective continue to support the Venezuelan revolution, and I see no reason why they should not.

      Having said that, corruption and repression should be deplored, not least because they tend to survive changes of regime and become endemic. Corrupt and repressive capitalism gives way to corrupt and repressive socialism which in turn gives way to a renewed era of capitalist corruption and repression.

      All I am arguing for is objectivity, and a cautious approach to the claims of Iranian exiles living in Britain and the US. Many hundreds of thousands, not just thousands, died in the course of the revolution and the imposed war which followed. Which of those deaths would you characterise as murder, and who would you categorise as the murderers?. Yassamine has acknowledged that many Iranian Marxists in exile chose to ally themselves with Saddam Hussein and the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Islamic Republic. They killed hundreds of thousands. If they had attained power they would have killed thousands more. They gambled and lost their lives.. I can feel sympathy, but I cannot accept that they acted correctly.

      Times may be tough for Iran and the Iranian working class under the sanctions, just as conditions were difficult in Cuba when burdened by a similar set of sanctions, but that is not in itself an argument for dismantling either the Cuban or Iranian system.

      I have at least seen the IRI, and I know that the reality is different to that portrayed by many Iranian exiles. No doubt redline has reasons for involving in the exile cause, but you would be better to devote its energies to what is going on here in New Zealand, where you are in a position to more accurately gauge the real state of affairs.

  9. Admin says:

    The corruption in Iran is very much institutional. There has been a programe of privatisation, with members of the religious hierarchy enriching themselves through the process.

    In terms of repression, the Islamists killed, imprisoned and/or forced into exile virtually every other political force in the country, from left to right, including progressive Islamic currents.

    Our main priority is writing about New Zealand, but internationalism and anti-imperialism is vitally important.


    • I don’t think that Phil and I will ever come to a common assessment of the situation in Iran, but Phil should remember that I participated in mass demonstrations involving tens of thousands (by some estimates hundreds of thousands) of Iranian opposition activists in 1998. The opposition was alive and well then, as it is now. It was never eradicated, as Phil maintains it was. I was also caught up in a standoff between the Teheran police and the Sepah Pasdaran, who had intervened to protect a woman who was being treated harshly by the police. Incidents of that type, which are not uncommon, makes a nonsense of the claim that the Islamic regime is a repressive monolith.

      Phil’s idea that there is “no opposition” left may arises out of a Marxist puritanism which is evident in Yassamine’s latest post, where she criticises other Iranian opposition figures as not being “real opponents” of the system. Her role as a political exile adhering to a pure strand of Marxist thought and rejecting everything happening in Iran as some kind of betrayal of the proletarian revolution makes interesting reading for some, but does not change the realities.

      Those realities are not in accord with the perceptions of the Iranian political exiles with which redline associates itself. I happened to work with an Iranian engineer who was granted political asylum in New Zealand and who returns to Iran every couple of years to catch up with friends and family. He enjoys the “freedom” in New Zealand, and the absence of what he regards as petty restrictions on the individual, but he is realistic about the Iranian regime. He does not see it in the same black and white terms as Yassamine and Phil. If he did, he would probably be fearful of returning to Iran as often as he does.

      In wars and revolutions all sides tend to commit excesses. The Iranian Marxists also made horrendous mistakes, encouraged by their “internationalist” friends abroad. Some of fhem have learnt little from the experience. You need to have objectivity and understanding of the regime you oppose. You need to have a realistic view of how it came to power, and how it has remained in power for over thirty years, and how it might lose that power.

      You also need to consider how your political demands appear to others. You are opposed to the regime and say that it is being destabilised by imperialist sanctions. That is all most people want to know. You want the regime to go, and you believe that sanctions will have that effect. Therefore imperialists will see you as a small but useful ally, because you are endorsing their view of the Iranian regime, and giving practical endorsement, if not explicit approval, to the policies they have put in place to undermine that regime.

      You also say that you are opposed to sanctions, which would confuse some people. You want the regime gone, you say that sanctions will have that effect, sanctions are a non-violent means of exerting pressure, so surely you must really believe that sanctions are the preferred option for removal of the regime? What is more, everyone knows that Marxist internationalists can and will do nothing to remove those sanctions, and that their talk of opposing sanctions amounts to nothing more than a theoretical position. If there was the slightest possibility that you could block the sanctions – say by industrial action – people would listen seriously to you, and accept your good faith. As it is, they know that the only material influence the Marxists have in the situation is through providing rhetorical support to the imperialist campaign to bring down the Islamic Republic.

      I am not going to denounce the Marxists for taking the position they have. I am only going to suggest that your rhetoric should be commensurate with your actual ability to determine or influence the course of events. If you are to be nothing more than a commentator, you don’t need rhetoric and you don’t need Marxist principles, whatever they may be, all you need is objective analysis and understanding and I am not persuaded that you have achieved that in the present case.

      Finally, may I suggest that little good comes from suffering angst over what the other fellow is doing – whether the other fellow is capitalism, imperialism, Islamism, Marxism or whatever. Our attention should be on what we ourselves are doing to strengthen our own position in material and practical ways. In matters of judgement, we should also focus on the things that we are doing wrong, rather than the wrongs that we, or our side, have suffered. No good will come of agonising over the misdeeds of others.

  10. Karim says:

    “Many hundreds of thousands, not just thousands, died in the course of the revolution and the imposed war which followed”. According to the inaccurate numbers that the clergies have told us while I was in the mid and high school, the number of people that Shah murdered was 1,600 during the 1979 revolution. I would say the number is less than this. As a matter of fact, Shah left the power by facing probably one third of protest that Iranians made against the IR in 2009-2010. It’s also important to mention that the protesters in 2009 were much peaceful compared to those in 1979 revolution.
    Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters misused the imposed war as much as they could and took it longer and longer as they refused any form of cease fire during the entire 8 years of that war to consolidate the Islamic Republic of Iran which is not republic at all, some Islamist expert describe it as not being Islamic at all (the number of Ayatollahs in prison probably support this view) and clearly it does not act toward Iran’s national interest. During the war, clergies get rid of their rivals. According to Robert Fisk who was The Independent reporter in Iran at that time, the regime executed some 600,000 people only during the first year of the post-1979 revolution.
    Khomeini did not accept the cease fire in 1988 unless 13,000 of the Left-wing prisoners were massacred by his order while they were in prison in that year! Ayatollah Montazeri, who supposed to be Khomeini’s successor, was the only person who disagreed with this order and he was kept under house arrest until he died in 2009. Here is one story about how this regime was eliminating his rivals. Some university girl students who were imprisoned and faced death sentence because they were supporting the Mojahedin in Shiraz city were raped a night before their execution because they were virgin and this regime believes that if a virgin dies she might go to heaven!
    I agree with Geoff that the Left in Iran had confusion in strategy and they acted unrealistically in several occasions, yet, it is not enough excuse to justify their murder. So, some may argue that this regime is not only a murderer but also sick and backward as well.
    Thanks to the IR, there are some 6 million Iranians in exile at the moment. This is a new phenomenon in Iran as it appeared after the establishment of IR by Khomeini. Some of these Iranians who left the country around the 1979 revolution still believe that Iran remained as they left it. So, Geoff is right about this group of the Iranians in exile as their information is so outdated and limited about Iran. However, this notion is not applicable on all of the Iranians in exile as you can find Navid Mohebbi who is the youngest blogger (was prosecuted because of his blog) in the world, among them. He left Iran toward Turkey after he was temporarily released under bill. Communicating with Iranians inside Iran is no longer difficult as the Internet and now smart phones eased this communication. Finding news from inside Iran about how Zahra Bani Yaqub, a medical student, was raped and subsequently killed by the Basij militia in Hamedan city which is a small city in Iran is not difficult.
    Geoff, your Iranian engineer friend probably got his refugee application approved fraudulently. I’m sorry to say that, but there are many people coming to other countries, making up a refugee case in order to acquire a permanent residency in these countries. After getting the citizenship they go back to visit the countries they came from. So, if your friend can freely go back and forth to Iran is not because the regime is tolerant and it is a good regime but your friend cheated on both side just to live in hypocrisy. If you want to see whether it is safe to go back to Iran while you are in black list search Mansour Asanlo who was arrested in the airport as soon as his feet touched the Iranian soil. Search the Iranian-Canadian Zahra Kazemi who was not in the black list but she was a journalist who was arrested because she was taking photo around Evin prison in Tehran. She was killed by judge Mortazavi during the investigation! You may also want to search Haleh Esfandiari and Roxana Saberi (both Iranian-American) and also Alaaee brothers who are medical professors in the US came to Iran to help Iranian doctors to establish a centre for HIV treatment. All these people and thousands of others were and are being arrested under the regime’s paranoia of somebody is making a ‘soft revolution’ against them.
    Assassinating Iranians in exile in the 80s and early 90s is a separate and another horrible story. Also taking a family member as a hostage in order to put some Iranians in exile under pressure is another tactic implemented by this regime. You can search Yashar Khameneh who is an Iranian student in Netherland in this regard. He is a blogger and facebook activist who was using a fake name for his activities but that did not save him from taking his father as a hostage in Tehran.
    If you took part in a rally in 1998 in Iran you must also know that those protests were conducted by the student movement who were demanding actual reform from President Khatami at the time. Ayatollah Khamenei and his hard liners did not tolerate them at all. The nice Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) attacked their dorm in Tehran campus, slaughtered them by knife and thrown some of them from the top of their high dorm building. So, many of them were killed as a result of the protests in late 90s.
    I don’t know whether this Islamists in Iran are naive or not but I can tell that there is nothing rational about this regime. Let me quote some:
    “Raping the prisoners is permitted if that was for defending the IR” (Ayatollah Mesbahe Yazdi while giving fatwa, 2009) this guy has no official position in the regime but somehow hold more power than a president in the IR.
    “The women who do not wear their Islamic hejab properly are behind the earthquake that happening in Iran” (Ayatollah Jannati, 2010). This guy is in charge of the powerful Guardian Council since the 80s until now.
    “It is forbidden for the women to watch men swimming sport on TV” (Ayatulah Khatami, 2011). This guy is one of the most influential Ayatollahs in the Experts Council.
    There are three generations appeared after the 1979 revolution but until now the IR was not able to bring one single person from these generations in the system or in the position of decision making. As a matter of fact Ayatollah Khamenei is one of the youngest unelected rulers among the others. Some of these rulers come to their office by wheelchairs. Some cannot even speak Persian properly and the smartest person among them seeking the strategy of 1,800 years ago in that pure Islamic society to implement it for the current Iran society. No Geoff, this regime is very ideal for the imperialism as it is disastrous for the Iranians.
    You don’t have to believe me, I’m one of these Iranians in exile, but almost all of what I said is available on Google, the sources also from inside Iran not Iranians in exile. You can also watch the quality of the Iranians life that this regime provided for them on YouTube. Watch how some of the Iranian families selling their kidneys for living in Tehran.
    If I want to describe the Iranian situation I would say that Iranians weave the most precious carpets in the world but they have to live on straws. The IR is the first responsible party for this situation and then comes the imperialist. Nobody can serve the imperialist as the IR did. If there was some respect for Islam in Iran, Khomeini destroyed it by his freak IR.
    There are some Sunni countries in the Middle East which spend billions of dollars in order to keep the Sunni block strong in that region (which it is another delusionary strategy). In order to sell billion dollars of weapon to these countries the imperialists need a Shia threat against this block and here where the IR plays its role. Think of Syria and why the imperialists are so reluctant in interfering in that country until now. This regime is burning Iran for purposes that Iranian people give no crap about.

  11. Karim, you know nothing of my Iranian friend’s history or character but conclude that he must be dishonest, apparently on the presumption that any political refugee who reaches a modus vivendi with the Islamists must ipse facto be a liar, fraud and hypocrite. You and the redline collective would do better to base your judgement upon the actual facts, not so much out of the need to be fair to others, as to be fair to yourselves. When judgements are made with prejudice rather than after due and careful consideration of all the available evidence they risk being deeply flawed, as they are in this case.

    • An email that I sent seems to have got lost in the ether. Yes Geoff, the opposition is alive and well *today*. I meant that the opposition at the time of the takeover by the Islamists in 1979-80; that was basically annihilated. I thought this was clear in the context I was writing about; sorry if it wasn’t.

      Marxists oppose the sanctions on Iran because they impact on the working class and poor the most. The hierarchy get by fine, sanctions or no sanctions.

      But opposing sanctions and ‘regime change’ by the US – as we did in the case of Iraq too, where there was a brutal secular regime – doesn’t mean giving credence to the regime as some sort of anti-imperialist or liberatory force.

      Karim is a fairly recent exile and, like many political exiles, is very well-informed of the situation in Iran because, these days, it’s relatively easy to keep in touch. He listed a substantial body of evidence about the repression and the scale of the murders by the regime. To pick out one comment he made about one individual and from that say that he and the redline collective “would do better to base your judgement on the actual facts” ignores the substantial amount of easily available facts that Karim cited. Objectivity would require those facts to be carefully considered.


  12. Of course, but Karim has compromised his credibility by making extraordinary and untrue allegations against a fellow Iranian. So I for the time being I will consider all his the to be unsubstantiated allegations.

  13. Karim says:

    Geoff, I don’t represent the Red Line. So, it will be more appropriate if the Red Line not being judged based on my comments.
    I don’t know about your friend but here what I know which is more important than knowing a character: based on NZ law, a refugee will be granted asylum based on such fundamental assumption that he/she cannot go back to his/her country. And, if that person goes back, he/she will be in danger.
    The process in NZ taking place as such: when a refugee application is approved he/she will be granted a permanent resident for 5 years (it used to be 2 years). After this period the person has the right to apply for citizenship. However, if it appeared to the Immigration NZ that this person visited his country while he has his residency based on refugee status, this act will be legally considered by the INZ as “fraudulent” act and the residency will be declined immediately. If INZ cannot take action against former refugees who visit their countries by NZ passport that does not mean that their primary refugee application is not questionable but it means that the INZ has no legal jurisdiction to take action against NZ citizens.
    The EU immigrations witnessed same and similar problems in much larger numbers. The approach they took was to make granting asylum process much more difficult to prevent taking advantage from the system. These things happen by various nationalities around the world, not only by some Iranian nationals. Unfortunately, these things have negative impacts on people who relay and desperately need asylum.
    No, I don’t know your friend personally but I closely worked with Amnesty International, I have been and I’m still in touch with many Iranian refugees in refugee camps in several locations of the world (Turkey, Denmark, Germany and Netherland), and I’m familiar with many similar cases.
    After all, the issue is as simple as this: if a person can go back to his country then he does not need asylum.
    Making deal with the Islamists is no longer a taboo for the opposition. Almost everybody supported the reformists, who are also Islamists, since President Khatami came to office until 2009 and even until now. But we are talking about a regime that eliminated even half of its Islamists. These reformists that we are talking about are either in the exile now or in the prison. So, the country is not safe even for the Islamists who are in disagreement with these few extremists who hold all the county’s resources. Your friend cannot make modus Vivendi with the Islamists, simply because he is not more powerful than the former President Khatami or Mussavi and Karobi who could not reach a modus Vivendi with that people in power.
    There is a famous reformist author in Belgium, Ebrahim Nabavi, he is one of the revolutionaries since 1979 and he held several high position offices in the regime including the head secretary of the Internal Affairs Ministry. The guy used to express his willing to go back to Iran every day in his articles until he became totally disappointed because he could not make an agreement or take guarantee for his return. He is still in Belgium.
    For the Iranians who are in exile, it is a common sense that people who can go back to Iran are either not in black list or they haven’t done any activities to be afraid of.
    I didn’t mean to offend anyone here, I just tried to genuinely explain the actual situation on the ground.

    • Karim: I don’t know about your friend but what I know which is more important than knowing a character: based on NZ law, a refugee will be granted asylum based on such fundamental assumption that he/she cannot go back to his/her country.

      You cannot infer knowledge of a person’s character from class, political persuasion, religion, or legal status. You can only judge people on their actions and words. So knowing New Zealand law is no substitute for knowing the person and their history when it comes to making a character judgement.

      New Zealand law is administered by officials whose decisions reflect the political imperatives of the day. In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution the United Nations was anxious to boost the number of political refugees from Iran in order to discredit the Islamic regime, and New Zealand was willing to do its part to implement that policy. The Iranian regime recognises that reality, and is accepting of political refugees who have not been guilty of any serious offence. Obviously the armed opposition who were setting off bombs in Teheran while I was working there, and who killed hundreds of Shia pilgrims in the infamous bombing of the Imam Reza shrine in Mashad, would not be welcomed back.

      But my friend had not killed anyone. He had not placed bombs in public buildings. He had not advocated killing people. He had stowed away on an Asian merchant ship from Bandar Abbas, ended up in a UN refugee camp in Africa, was invited to apply for political refugee status in New Zealand, where he now works at his trade as a welder.

      Just a case of one Iranian deciding he would rather live in a western nation than in the Islamic republic, the United Nations and the New Zealand government assisting for reasons of their own, and the Islamic republic accepting the outcome with a degree of equanimity. No fraud, no lies, no hypocrisy.

  14. Geoff, Karim provided sources for his allegations re the regime. I think it’s untenable to therefore say “I will consider all his the to be unsubstantiated allegations”. Your claims seem to be much more subjectively based – they’re what *you personally* saw when you were there *15 years ago*, during a period in which reformers were in power, and on what one person who is actually allowed back into the country has passed on to you.

    I also think you are mistaken in comparisons between Iran and Venezuela, because you’re not comparing like with like. For instance, while not denying corruption in Iran, you say this: “A couple of my young people have just returned from Venezuela and Cuba, and they report extensive corruption in Venezuela, particularly among the military, far exceeding anything that I saw in Iran. Yet the redline collective continue to support the Venezuelan revolution, and I see no reason why they should not.”

    OK, so corruption in the Venezuelan military. But the Venezuelan military is *not* the regime and corruption in the military goes against the general trend of movement in Venezuela, where there is a revolutionary process occurring, where the working class is inching forward to more power and where the regime is encouraging this.

    In Iran, the religious hierarchy, who are the chief power, over and above the elected parliament, are carrying out the *opposite* process – they are privatising parts of the economy and enriching themselves in the process. The corruption in Iran is actually *inside* the *very heart of the top of the power structure itself* and is completely in tune with the way things are headed – privatisation always involves this kind of corruption, as it did under Labour here in the later 1980s.

    Moreover, you mention what you saw in Iran 15 years ago. But the current privatisation programme wasn’t running then, so the corruption probably was less in Iran then that it is now! You’ve never addressed the current privatisation programme and what it means.

    In addition, far from encouraging the politicisation and radicalisation of the working class, as in Venezuela, the Iranian government, and the unelected religious hierarchy which stands above the government and the parliament, are opposed to – and fear – the politicisation and radicalisation of the working class.

    Your political outlook is as wedded to a fairly fundamental religious world-view as our political approach flows from our Marxist world-view. On a number of issues to do with economic and political power in New Zealand, we are on the same side; but it also means that your religious world-view and our Marxist world-view explains our differences on Iran. It’s not caused by lack of “objectivity” on our part (or even on your part, for that matter). It’s not really a bridgeable gap *on this issue*.


  15. Phil: Geoff, his provided sources for his allegations re the regime. I think it’s untenable to therefore say “I will consider all his the to be unsubstantiated allegations”.

    My apologies for the garbled sentence. I meant to say “I will consider all his claims to be unsubstantiated allegations”. No apologies for the decision to scrutinise Karim’s claims closely. Do you deny he has made extraordinary, untrue and potentially very damaging allegations against a fellow Iranian and now fellow New Zealand citizen? Does that not cause you some concern about the general reliability of his evidence?

    Phil: Your claims seem to be much more subjectively based – they’re what *you personally* saw when you were there *15 years ago*, during a period in which reformers were in power, and on what one person who is actually allowed back into the country has passed on to you.

    Personal observations are crucially important. On going there, I discovered that much of what New Zealanders had been told about Iran was plain wrong. Personal experience is a litmus test, which I use to distinguish truth from propaganda. Objectivity consists of weighing up and balancing a whole range of experiences, my own and others. I sense that Iran today is not fundamentally different to the way it was when I was there in 1998, eighteen years after the revolution. Then Mohammed Khatami was popularly elected head of government, but Ayotollah Khamenei was religiously elected Supreme Leader, as he remains to this day.

    Venezuela: You say that the military is not at the centre of power and imply that its conduct is of no great concern. That will be a surprise to my folks who were repeatedly shaken down by gun-toting Venezuelan military. It should also worry the Marxists, and not just for the general reason that corruption is pernicious in any social context – Islamic or secular, capitalist or Marxist, it makes no difference.

    If Venezuela has a Marxist government and a corrupt non-Marxist military establishment which is “not at the centre of power” the more particular concern is this: How many months before there is a military coup and a bloodbath on the Chilean model which places the military very much at the centre of power? Your portrayal of a corrupt military safely sidelined from “the centre of power” while a Marxist government is “encouraging the working class” to “inch forward to more power” is tantamount to encouraging the Venezuelan working class to “inch forward” into its own grave.

    Back to Iran. Privatisation does not conflict with the prevailing ideology in Iran, anymore than it does in New Zealand. Personally I do not regard state ownership as being inherentlly preferable to private ownership. Generally I prefer private ownership, based on my “subjective personal experiences” of New Zealand state organisations, not least the circumstances in which I was seconded to the Jihad-e-sazandegi. However if the process of privatisation in Iran is as corrupt as it was in New Zealand, then Iran will pay a price. No argument there.

    Phil: Your political outlook is as wedded to a fairly fundamental religious world-view as our political approach flows from our Marxist world-view. On a number of issues to do with economic and political power in New Zealand, we are on the same side; but it also means that your religious world-view and our Marxist world-view explains our differences on Iran.

    That is stating the obvious (if I overlook the use of the term “wedded to” which has negative connotations). The difference is that I have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Marxism, while you have a rather poor understanding of religion in general, and Shia Islam in particular. In its century and a half of existence, revolutionary Marxism has been beset with catastrophes, mainly because Marxists have a good understanding of how capitalism works and not much else. The one thing Marxists don’t want to be is capitalists, but, ironically, capitalism is the one thing they really excel at, which may be why so many Marxist regimes have ended up returning to capitalism.

    For myself, I confess to some surprise that the Islamic Republic has survived the past 15 years largely intact. I was acutely aware of the social divisions in Iran, the strength of secularist sentiment, the lure of materialism, and the potential for corruption within the political establishment. But the regime has proved itself to be resilient, and that resilience has little to do with the reasons advanced by Yassamine or yourself. The regime may survive another fifteen years, or it might not.

    In New Zealand your take a defeatist attitude towards the possibility of radical social change, while you evidently consider it to be imminent for Iran. It could be that your “Marxist world view” is distorting your perception in both cases.

  16. Admin says:

    Geoff, you can’t say something like “Personal observations are crucially important” and then dismiss personal observations when you disagree with them. You still haven’t answered *any* of Karim’s points about the vast weight of material indicating the repressive nature of the regime. As Karim noted, you don’t even have to take his word re his personal observations, there is a welter of material from a wide range of on-the-ground sources, all much more recent than your time spent there *15 years ago*.

    In the case of Venezuela, my point was not that corruption is of no great concern. It was that the regime is moving in the opposite direction in Iran and whereas in Venezuela corruption undermines the general direction, in Iran, corruption is at the heart of the regime and is in sync with the general direction of the regime.

    However, your response to my point is yet another shifting of the goalposts. Rather than dealing with my point about the qualitative difference between the two countries, you say “Your portrayal of a corrupt military safely sidelined from ‘the centre of power’ while a Marxist government is ‘encouraging the working class’ to ‘inch forward to more power’ is tantamount to encouraging the Venezuelan working class to ‘inch forward’ into its own grave.” Firstly, you’ve read enough by me over the years to know full well that I don’t believe the military forces of a capitalist state will stand idly by indefinitely, so this looks like a straw man argument. Secondly, as you are also well aware, the Venezuelan working class doesn’t read, let alone take its cue, from what I, you or anyone else writes on Redline so accusing any of us of writing stuff that is “tantamount” to encouraging the Venezuelan working class into its own grave is rather silly!

    (You often seem to ignore substantive issues, pick one small thing from a post and then go into a digression on that. I’ll recap at the end of this post.)

    The difference between Iran and Venezuela is not that one is privatising and one is nationalising. It is that in one a revolutionary process is taking place, however slowly and uncertainly, and in the other a counter-revolutionary process already took place. That gives a different marking to the nationalisations in Venezuela than SOEs have in NZ. (And even in NZ there is a difference between SOEs and the old state sector, which was not profit-driven.) (Your comment about me helping the Venezuelan working class inch forward into a grave is just a bit silly, so I’m not going to respond to it, other than to note that you seem to be relying on a lot of digressions from the topic at hand, rather than addressing the kind of stuff that Yassamine and Karim have noted. There’s also another article by Yassamine about the actual condition of the working class in Iran at present, which points up the anti-working class nature of the regime.)

    The survival of the regime in Iran, at the end of the day, is based on violence. The masses can come onto the streets and the regime, which has a complete monopoly of weaponry and other powers of coercion, then beats them off the street. The democratic movement is then in a cul-de-sac. (And I’m not here saying they *only* rely on repression – they have a monopoly of the media, education system etc too.)

    In terms of religion, I have an understanding of how it operates, both as a reactionary force and as a sometimes progressive force, and why chunks of the oppressed embrace it. I lived in a very strongly religious country for about 7.5 years and was involved in a secular political movement of some size throughout that time. So I had to do a considerable amount of thinking about the hold of religion over people, what it gave them that made them hold onto it and so on. So you are simply wrong to claim that you know more about Marxism than I know about religion. Fortunately, the hold that particular church had over the mass of the population there has considerably weakened.

    Geoff, we’re now 25 or 26 comments into this discussion and you still haven’t addressed the fact that there is a vast amount of sources which are available in relation to claims about Iran. Instead, you keep writing as if it is just Yassamine Mather or myself who are making claims. When another Iranian comes into the discussion, you simply avoid his mass of sources and firsthand information, which is far more recent than your own, and focus instead on one comment he made about some people seeking refugee status.

    Now, for the recap. The article is an interview with an Iranian Marxist, who has continual contact with people min Iran, including people in the democratic movement and in working class organising. The interview is about her life and experiences and her analysis, coming from a Marxist standpoint. She looks at the incredibly repressive nature of the regime, how and why the mullahs ended up in power in 1979, the position of women, workers and others in Iran today. You haven’t yet produced any evidence that what she said isn’t true, although you have taken us around the houses quite a bit.


    • When I was in Iran the armed opposition was setting off bombs in mosques and public buildings inTehran. Are you suggesting that this same armed opposition should be given equal shares in the “powers of coercion”? If not, exactly what are you proposing?

      Karim says “half the Islamists” in Iran were eradicated by the regime. Is that claim based on personal observations? What is an “Islamist”? How many “Islamists” were there in Iran before the revolution? How many are there now? What exactly became of the missing “Islamists”?

      Yassamine told you that the veil was obligatory in Iran. Why would she say that when it is demonstrably untrue? I suggest because it fits with a certain hostile western view of Iran. It makes for “good” propaganda but it happens to be untrue and if Yassamine is Iranian she must know it is untrue.

      If Karim or Yassamine have cited facts, and I have not challenged them, you are welcome to assume that I accept them as facts. If they have made vague, meaningless, unverifiable and frankly extraordinary statements such as “the regime eliminated half the Islamists”, then you can only assume that I am so mystified that I don’t know how to respond except with a barrage of questions.

      You are on more solid ground when you say that Iran is privatising, and Venezuela is nationalising. However not everyone will share your assumption that nationalised industries are good, and privatised industry is bad. The mass of the working class, from the UK to Russia to China, Venezuela and New Zealand have had as much as they can take from officious, arrogant, selfish, privileged and grossly overpaid state officials who have destroyed the reputation and standing of socialism around the world.

      Marxism has failed to address the problem of greed. It deplores capitalist greed but not greed per se. That is why you can draw a tenuous distinction between corruption in Venezuela and corruption in Iran. Venezuela is going your way, the Marxist way, so there it is not a problem. Iran is going the other way, the capitalist way, so there it is a problem. You are really just saying that capitalist greed and corruption is a serious problem, while Marxist greed and corruption is not. By the way, I am not a capitalist. I own a sawmill, but I pay myself at the same hourly rate as any other mill worker and I take no return to capital. When I lend money, I do not charge interest. I am not being charitable, I simply choose not to be part of a system of exploitation. Marxists, unfortunately from my point of view, do not think like that. They set up societies in which capitalist exploitation is outlawed, but not greed as such. So the Marxist managers of the state start to look after themselves rather better than they look after the ordinary worker, and after a few decades of this wake up and say to themselves “Hell, why don’t we make a proper job of it and re-introduce capitalism?” Which is exactly what they do.

      I have never believed, and never argued, that all is rosy in the IRI, but I do object to the false claims and misleading allegations you have posted. However, in the end it matters precious little whether you or I have an objective view of what is going on in Iran or Venezuela. We can only have a material influence upon events at home, and that is where I suggest that you focus more of your attention.

    • Hi Phil

      Karim writes QUOTE: “Raping the prisoners is permitted if that was for defending the IR” (Ayatollah Mesbahe Yazdi while giving fatwa, 2009) this guy has no official position in the regime but somehow hold more power than a president in the IR. UNQUOTE

      Thank you for bringing this to my attention. If, as you claim, the words “Raping the prisoners is permitted if that was for defending the IR” were spoken or written by Ayotollah Yazdi, I have a duty to issue my own fatwa. Can you please supply me with your sources.

  17. Admin says:

    Geoff, you were there 15 years ago when armed groups were doing as you say. This is *clearly* not the case now, so this is a straw argument. There have been mass peaceful protests for democratic rights and these have been severely repressed.

    Karim has provided a load of sources for his arguments, your sources are your own stay there *15 years ago* and one Iranian you know who is allowed back to visit (so clearly is not engaged in dissident activity).

    The stuff about greed is a bit silly. The Iranian *regime* is corrupt – the hierarchy are personally enriching themselves through privatisation. You tried to draw a distinction between that and some of your young folk being “shaken down” by the military in Venezuela, while producing no sources other than their personal experience to make a rater wide-sweeping claim about the entire Venezuelan military. I merely pointed out that the military is not the *regime* and that things are moving in a different direction in Venezuela than Iran.

    You also have a habit of putting words in my mouth, such as “You are really just saying that capitalist greed and corruption is a serious problem, while Marxist greed and corruption is not.” C’mon, you’ve been familiar with my political views far too long to say that!

    The bottom line is that the Iranian regime is corrupt and intensely repressive. There is no shortage of information about this, as Karim has noted.

    You’ll also be aware that our coverage of Iran is tiny compared to our coverage of things here, in part because we agree that this is where we can have some small material influence. Then again, of course, part of the influence we wish to have is to encourage workers here to think of themselves as part of an international class, one in which “an injury to one is an injury to all”.


  18. Admin says:

    Geoff wrote: “Marxism has failed to address the problem of greed. It deplores capitalist greed but not greed per se.”

    Actually, Marxists have spent quite a lot of time dealing with this. Lenin even noted before his death that the Soviet Union looked more like state capitalism than socialism and proposed ways of dealing with this.

    It’s not about greed per se, however. I think this might be a difference between Marxism and Christianity. Marxists see specific human problems and characteristics as rooted in the organisation of society rather than rooted in human nature. In a capitalist society, greed is endemic because of the social structure, although individuals can certainly escape it and many do. In fact, most people aren’t greedy – if anything they want too little.

    To get to socialism requires a change in human consciousness – which is also where stuff like internationalism comes in and stuff like gay marriage too for that matter. The new consciousness involves a collectivist view, a consciousness that sees all of us – and the treatment of all of us – as being thoroughly interconnected. It means seeing that, unless we happen to be the ruling class, it’s actually in our own interest to view the world through that consciousness.

    That excludes greed.

    Moreover, if we have real institutions of popular power – if the mass of the people actually rule – there’s not an opening for individuals who may carry over greed from the previous (capitalist) society.


    • Hi Phil
      Wikipedia, which has a hostile commentary on Yazdi, never-the-less makes no reference to
      Karim’s claim that Ayotollah Yazdi is advocating rape and sodomy.
      I suggest you check out Wikipedia, Yazdi’s personal website, and the website which Karim gives as his source.
      Then consider how this will look to all the people who read your blog, and those who have attended your courses, when the full truth inevitably emerges.
      In dissociating yourself from Karim’s claims you can retain all your present opinions concerning the Islamic Republic, while maintaining some measure of political credibility for yourself and the redline collective.
      If you don’t act, at best you will be left looking gullible, at worst a willing participant in a stupid political fraud.

  19. Karim says:

    Hi Geoff,
    The Islamists in current Iran are divided into three fractions: the extremists (or as they call themselves the Right-wing), the pragmatist and the reformists.
    Ayatollah Khamenei is the head of the fundamentalists/extremists. Of course they have the revolutionary guard and the Basij militia in their side.
    The former president Rafsanjani is the head of the pragmatists. And the former president Khatami is known as head of the reformists. Unlike the pragmatists who remained limited to a political party the reformists created a movement. So, they are/were several groups formed by politicians, intellectuals, journalists etc.
    Except Khatami and some few individuals most of the reformists are either in the prison now or exiled. The long list includes Khatami’s advisors and former ministers as well as former MPs.
    The pragmatists were also dealt similarly by the extremists. At the moment Rafsanjani holds no effective political position and his daughter (Faezeh) and his son (Mehdi) are in prison.
    Therefore, if we have three fractions of Islamists and two of those were eradicated we may conclude that more than half of the Islamists were eradicated. So, I was very careful when I said “half of the Islamists” are eliminated.
    You wanted me to provide you a source for Ayatollah Yazdi’s fatwa. Yes, I can do this easily. I actually interpreted very short statement of Yazdi’s fatwa from Persian to English, this English source provide you much more detailed and nastier statements of his:

    • Phil

      You have published many untrue statements concerning the IRI on redline. Yassamine’s claim that women in Iran are forced to wear the veil; Karim’s false allegations against an Iranian/New Zealand engineering worker; and now false and absolutely vile allegations against Ayatollah Yazdi which you have lifted from an extremist Zionist website.

      No mainstream media will touch these allegations, for the simple reason that they have some measure of credibility which, so far as possible, they wish to retain.

      Your own credibility is now pretty well shot. Your campaign against the IRI, based on the testimony of political exiles and Zionists, is in tatters.

      It is not too late for you to admit your error and retract, but the longer you prevaricate, the further you will fall in the estimation of all decent people.


  20. Phil says:

    Geoff, if anyone’s credibility is shot it is your own. You have persistently defended a regime which has murdered thousands of leftists. When these murders are brought up, you treat them as if they’re a trifle. You are much more worried about what you see as a smear of one particular extremely nasty and reactionary member of the theocracy than you are about the murders of thousands of leftists, the attempt to push back women’s rights, the persecution of homosexuals, the repression of workers’ struggles and the repression of the movement for democracy.

    When confronted with the corruption that is endemic in the theocratic dictatorship, you again merely wave your hand. You claim that some of your young people reported extensive corruption in the military in Venezuela. What? The whole Venezuelan military? Or does this refer to one or two soldiers who tried to get a bribe? You then make gratuitous insults about Marxists being opposed only to capitalist greed not greed per se, when the discussion was about corruption and Marxists are opposed to corruption per se. In fact, we’re probably even more opposed to it in workers’ organisations than we are opposed to it in capitalist institutions because in workers and progressive institutions it has an utterly debilitating effect.

    You accuse Iranian left-wing opponents of the regime of being subjective, and then when it comes to yourself, subjectivity is suddenly fine. You were in Iran *15 years ago*, and you say you worked with or had some involvement with the Jihad-e-sazandegi. But these were involved in construction and relief programmes, the acceptable face perhaps of the Islamic Republic and this during a period when the reformists were in office, so different from today. A few years later the Jihad-e-sazandegi ceased to exist as an independent organisation. Since your direct experience was with them, and there is no indication that you tried to make contact with the left which was facing repression, I’d say this undermines, at the very least, your claims about the need to be objective. You are essentially playing the part of an apologist for a repressive, murderous regime.

    My credibility is not in the slightest bit “shot”. I’m not an apologist for repression, murder and corruption and we don’t suppress people posting stuff in the Comments section, which is an open forum, even when some of us might find some posts highly objectionable, like yours defending the indefensible – the theocratic dictatorship – and lining up with the bigots over gay marriage.

    This is a progressive blog and you are stuck with the problem of having one foot in the progressive camp (on some issues) and the other foot planted very heavily in the reactionary camp, due to your religious beliefs. Your religious beliefs continually lead you to political positions which undermine your progressive commitments and integrity.

    Your religious belief are clearly behind your opposition to gay equality. But since this is not a very religious country – thankfully! – you can’t come out and say “Marriage was created by God for man and woman and not for people of the same gender”, so you try to give a non-religious gloss to your antipathy to gay equality, which simply ends up looking ludicrous (at best) or dishonest (at worst).

    You fulminate against the “absolutely vile allegations against Ayatollah Yazdi” but never use this kind of language to describe the regime’s murders of thousands of leftists, their treatment of women, homosexuals etc. The thousands of murders of leftists are never criticised by you as “absolutely vile” etc etc. Those murders of leftists and others don’t unduly trouble your selective conscience at all.

    I lived in a country where a particular religion had a great deal of power and this kind of moral hypocrisy and double standard was displayed continually. Religious authorities were allowed to get away with all kinds of abominations and that was OK, but if anyone talked about their activities, that was a major sin. It’s disappointing to see you exhibit the same behaviour.

    Thankfully growing numbers of people, especially young people, have had enough in Iran. Now when your chums try to enforce oppressive dress codes on young women in the streets, they’re increasingly likely to be met with people telling them to go away and mind their own business, sometimes with a kick up the backside for good measure.

    Unfortunately, you also simply make up stuff. Stuff like this: “absolutely vile allegations against Ayatollah Yazdi which you have lifted from an extremist Zionist website”. The post is addressed to me personally and the word ‘you’ is used. Of course, this is totally untrue. I did not lift anything from any website, let alone a Zionist one. The way you use these kinds of distortions does you absolutely no credit.

    But here is an interesting article on the dynamics of what was happening in Iran in 2009 in response to workers’ protests and the eruption of a democracy movement. It’s from a prestigious independent left site, Counterpunch:

    In relation to Yazdi, I’m sure Karim is perfectly capable of responding. This is an open forum, so he can argue his case around Yazdi, just as you can. We don’t “publish” either Karim or you. People simply post to the Comments section. The fact that you can’t differentiate between Redline, me as an individual and what anyone posts in the Comments section, tends to suggest that you have difficulty understanding the concept of free speech.

    Moreover, in relation to Yassamine and the veil/hijab, here’s what wikipedia says: “Wearing of the hijab was enforced by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and is enforced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Hijab is a *form of veil*, as you must be well aware.

    I know several young Saudi women in Christchurch who chose not to wear any sort of veil and they are continually abused by young Muslim males in shopping malls etc, the same devoted young Muslim men who drink alcohol, get pissed, do drugs, go to brothels, etc etc etc. (And I know they’re the *same guys*, coz I work in a place where they study.) In one sense it’s not even those guys’ fault – they are brought up and socialised in a fundamentalist state where misogyny is intrinsic. Some of us are just sick and tired of all the hypocritical sanctimoniousness of religious zealots of different stripes and their apologists, whether it is the theocrats who preach morality at young people in Iran while busying themselves in the plunder of parts of the Iranian economy or the Christian bigots in NZ trying to prevent equality for gay women and men.

    Furthermore, while querying Karim’s use of the terms “Islamists” you use the term “exiles” as a catch-all, although the exile community is actually divided between left and right, and liberal-left and radical-left. Yassamine, for instance, played an important part in exposing the recent Iran Tribunal as a stalking horse for imperialism. Leftists who took this stance got denounced as apologists for the regime by liberal-bourgeois opponents of the theocracy. So being attacked by both actual regime apologists like yourself and by pro-capitalist/pro-imperialist opponents of the regime puts her on pretty solid ground. Moreover, she is the chairperson of Hands Off the People of Iran, which refuses to work with people and groups who accept any sort of funding linked to imperialism, including liberal-imperialist funding, and refuse to join in campaigns that want regime change imposed from above.

    In Iran, Marxists are imprisoned and executed. And, of course, this would be our fate if we were there. Meanwhile, you would be sitting in the comfort of NZ, telling people not to defend our rights, just bother about issues in New Zealand. If you think this is a position for “decent people” you have a very strange concept of decency.

    When the theocratic dictatorship is finally gone, as it will be, and they start going on trial for their already well-known crimes, like Pinochet and Videla, you will be in a very awkward position as an apologist for them. Don’t wait until then; just stop defending the indefensible now.


    • Hi Phil

      Please get your facts straight. I never worked with or was involved with the Basij, except to cross paths with them once on a route march. I was seconded to the Jihad-e-Sazandegi which is a completely different organisation. I do not defend corruption or murder as “trifling”. I have not murdered. I have not mistreated prisoners. I have not corruptly enriched myself. I have never told anyone “not to defend their rights”. I do not condone corruption or murder anywhere. I have only suggested that people should focus their attention on matters close to home, where they have accurate (as opposed to “aqurette”) knowledge and can have a real influence upon events. There is a difference.

      I have not accused the entire Venezuelan militiary of being corrupt. I have cited very recent first hand reports of repeated cases of military corruption in the Venezualan hinterland. I don’t use the word endemic, as you do. I reported the facts, and will let others make judgements.

      I do not “support” the clerical regime in Iran. I recognise an obligation to tell the truth about what I saw there, which was a far more complex situation than the one you have portrayed. Fifteen years ago, as you have pointed out, more than once. What happened 15 or even 30 years ago is still relevant, and a true assessment of that period is of greater value than the much more recent fabrications of a shonky Zionist website.

      However when you published alleged statements by an “extremely nasty and reactionary member of the theocracy” I decided that if the allegations were true, I must absolutely condemn Yazdi. Then I looked into your allegations, found no evidence whatsoever to support them, and discovered that they originated from a Zionist website which is hardly a neutral or reliable source. If Yazdi is “extremely nasty” as you claim, you would not have to use fabricated evidence to justify that charge. By doing so you actually have the opposite effect – you make him appear to be the innocent victim of malicious propaganda.

      You have defended your judgements by referring to your sources, Yassamine and Karim, who have both been proven to have made misleading or dishonest statements. It is quite proper for you to now distance yourself from them, but it would be better if in doing so you were to acknowledge that they have mislead you, and all your readers. Until you acknowledge that their allegations have been false, you have not really separated yourself from them.

      I can differentiate yourself, and redline. However Redline gives you the right to post, whereas the rest of us comment. Therefore because of your position and status in the collective, your conduct in debate will have its effect upon redline, for better or worse. You have clearly associated yourself with Yassamine and Karim, and have yet to clearly dissociate yourself from them.

      Your comment that “Marxists are opposed to corruption per se. In fact, we’re probably even more opposed to it in workers’ organisations than we are opposed to it in capitalist institutions because in workers and progressive institutions it has an utterly debilitating effect.” is insightful. It reinforces what I have repeatedly stated: that if corruption is endemic within the IRI, or any other regime, it will inevitably fall.

      I am a social conservative. That does not mean that I oppress women or persecute homosexuals or murder leftists, or condone any of those things. My focus has been upon introducing some honesty into this debate.

      I respect your commitment to free speech, which is unusual and commendable. If you matched that with a commitment to honesty, it would be even more commendable. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and we can have a constructive dialogue. What is so hard about saying “We were wrong. Women do not have to wear the veil in Iran. Your Iranian welder friend is not a fraud, a liar, and a hypocrite. We accept that Ayotollah Yazdi did not say that Islamists should rape women prisoners and sodomise the men”?.

      Why stick so stubbornly to falsehood? Where will it get your?


    • Phil wrote: Unfortunately, you (Geoff Fischer) also simply make up stuff. Stuff like this: “absolutely vile allegations against Ayatollah Yazdi which you have lifted from an extremist Zionist website”. The post is addressed to me personally and the word “you” is used. Of course, this is totally untrue. I did not lift anything from any website, let alone a Zionist one. The way you use these kinds of distortions does you absolutely no credit.

      When Phil was asked for his sources, he cited Karim and Yassamine. I assume from what he is now saying that he had not checked out Karim’s sources, but took Karim, and his sources, on trust. However it turned out that Karim’s own source was a highly suspect Zionist website. In short, the allegation made by Karim against Yazdi was false. Phil was then invited to dissociate himself from Karim’s allegation. He could have issued an immediate retraction once he knew the origins of Karim’s claim. Instead, he prevaricated. Therefore I was quite justified in linking Phil with Karim and the allegations against Yazdi which were taken from the Aqurette website. It is silly of Phil to say that I made stuff up, or that I was guilty of distortion. However now that Phil has finally distanced himself from Karim’s allegation, I will consider that link to be broken.

      I will also accept that Phil is ignorant about the meaning of hijab and the way it is applied in Iran. Hijab is not, as Phil says, a “form of the veil”. Quite the reverse. The veil is a form of hijab, and one which is not imposed and is rarely worn in Iran. Yassamine knows that. Phil perhaps did not, but he does now, and he should be circumspect about taking Yassamine’s word on trust in future. Karim is now giving the impression he does not know the meaning of “veil” in English (niqab) versus “headcovering” (which is an element in the Iranian hijab or modest dress code). The niqab, or veil is not imposed in Iran. Hijab is.

      Phil’s implication that I am “an apologist for repression, murder and corruption” is excessive and emotive. It shows a lack of balance and detachment. He says that I am “heavily in the reactionary camp, due to (my) religious beliefs. (my) religious beliefs continually lead (me) to political positions which undermine (my) progressive commitments and integrity”. Phil claims to know more about religion than I know about Marxism, yet these statements demonstrate a serious lack of understanding. I trust that other readers will take a more balanced view.

      He has also extended his criticisms to a wide range of people such as the Saudi students at his own educational institution and what he calls “Christian bigots” in New Zealand who have no connection to Iran. It looks more like a general onslaught against religion than a specific concern with the clerical regime in the IRI. He can take that line, but when he associates himself with claims that are manifestly false, he seriously undermines his own argument.

      • Admin says:

        Geoff, hijab is a form of veil. Enter hijab and veil in a google search and it will turn up both. What Yassamine said is true.

        Re your Iranian friend. You claimed he was a”political refugee” and *explicitly* used this as an argument against Yassamine and Karim on the issue of how repressive the Islamic Republic is. You used him as a counter-authority. Yet a few posts later you described him as this: “Just a case of one Iranian deciding he would rather live in a western nation than in the Islamic republic”. In other words NOT a *political* refugee. So you can’t use him in the way you did.

        You oppose “officious, arrogant, selfish, privileged and grossly overpaid state officials”, yet in the Islamic republic there are whole armies of officious and arrogant officials running around telling people how to conduct their lives, what to wear in the street and on beaches and so on, and that doesn’t unduly trouble you and you can’t see the double standards in what you write.

        A classic case of unfreedom in relation to women is the gear that the Iranian women’s soccer team is forced to wear. Firstly, they had to fight for the right to compete, against the hardline Islamists. However, they were forced to wear the hijab and be covered up from head in foot in attire. Anyone can check this out for themselves. See for instance: for a picture of what they were forced to wear. And for what women who went to matches had to wear there is plenty of evidence of youtube, for instance:

        Are you seriously going to pretend that officious, arrogant flunkeys of the Islamic republic don’t enforce these dress codes?

        You were there in 1998, when Khatami was president and there was a slight loosening of the bonds. However, anyone who tried to take advantage of the small democratic opening was viciously suppressed, mainly by the ‘hardliners’ who still held a lot of power. Not only were student protests opened fire upon, but students were shot and stabbed to death in dorms.

        No, of course, you haven’t killed anyone. You just act as an apologist for the regime with the blood of thousands of leftists and other opponents on its hands and try to smear left-wing exiles.

        Your posts about what you saw in Iran remind me of a certain type of people who went to South Africa during apartheid and came back with tales of how essentially good it all was; sure there were some problems, but it was basically pretty good and the blacks were doing OK. You saw what they wanted you to see and you heard what they wanted you to hear. You aren’t in the slightest bit objective – you’re an apologist for a dictatorship. You are far more hostile to left-wing political exiles than you are to the dictatorship.

        Lastly, a small technical point. If you read my email you will note I said you were involved with the Jihad-e-sazandegi not the Basij. What has happened is that you are probably subscribed to the comments and so an early version of my comment would have gone to you, but I relaised soon after it was posted that it was the Jihad not the Basij you were involved with and corrected it. Pity you haven’t corrected the designation of the Iranian friend whom you used as some kind of counter-authority to Karim, when he is no such thing.


  21. Karim says:

    Geoff, you are talking about credibility more than anyone here. Therefore, please advise me that where Redline published my statements? Do you mean commenting when you say “publish”? I’m repeating this for a second time; I DO NOT represent the Redline. Just like you, I’m commenting on a post here. Neither Redline nor Phil is responsible for what I’m saying here and please address me when you have issues with what I’m saying. I have a name and you don’t have to blame anyone else based on my conversation here.
    Remaining on the credibility subject, you think you know about Iran more than the Iranian Yassmine while you don’t know simple facts about the IR, you challenge this active and involved lady about her statement of veil is mandatory in Iran without even bother yourself to look at the IR constitution and the bills that passed from the Islamic Majles of the IR in 1981 and 1984 to make the veil compulsory for women in Iran.
    Well, let me challenge you, forget about the IR constitution and the credibility that only you and the IR enjoy it, let’s take it simple: I challenge you to bring me or give me a URL from one single photo to show me one single Iranian woman that is unveiled in one of Iran’s streets. The challenge is open until anytime you prefer. Please don’t tell me that there are no photos from the Iranian’s streets, because there are millions of those on internet and if veil is not mandatory we should be able to see at least one unveiled women.
    About that Iranian friend of yours, I gave my further explanations. Instead answering me with at least half amount of the sources that I mentioned you chose to attack Phil and the Redline!
    About Mesbah Yazdi, by the way, if you had this Ayatollah here in NZ he would be in jail for life time. But of course it is OKAY for Iranians to be raped, because you don’t live in Iran and you do not have to struggle for a kilo of chicken. Don’t bring me this anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist discourse while you can’t see the reality of obvious murderers.
    This is not the first time that Yazdi gives fatwa to purge the opposition in a most savage manner. He was also the moral justification behind series of assassinations against intellectuals, activists and former politicians in 1998 when you were seeing this regime there as a utopia.
    Neither the 1998 nor the 2009 fatwa came on paper or on a tape recorder. Simply, because they are illegal and criminal justifications for murdering and assaulting other people. Such fatwa are also not for the public but for the loyal forces. Please do some research about names such as Said Emami, Taeb and Ghazi Mortazavi so you will have clue what kind a forces we are talking about here. Therefore, feel free to reject any source I provided in this regard but do not look for such fatwa in the Yazdi’s website because Yazdi’s fatwa to rape prisoners, Khomeini’s fatwa to massacre about 13,000 of the left in the prison in 1988 and Khamenei’s fatwa to show no mercy to the protesters in 2009 are not published.
    If you want to know about how Mesbah exactly was involved in all of these stories without having an official position in the regime and from where he gained and exercise his power refer to works of Akbar Ganji:
    Masod Behnod
    Dr. Alireza Nourizade
    (URLs are to introduce their personalities not to describe their works)
    There was news about Mesbah Yazdi permitting rape in 2009 and series of rapes took place against prisoners in the same year exactly as it was described in the allocated fatwa of Mesbah Yazdi (of course you consider it false).

  22. Hijab is mandatory in Iran, niqab (the veil) is not. I assume that you have a good knowledged of Farsi, Arabic and English, and therefore it is barely conceivable that you could be simply mistaken in this matter.

    The idea of a secret fatwa is nonsense. Clerics issue a fatwa because they want their opinions to be heard by the entire Muslim community and the world at large.

    It is very convenient for persons such as yourself and David Aqurette to promote the oxymoronic myth of the secret fatwa, because you can then ascribe any vile opinions to any cleric to whom you take a dislike. However the mainstream western press won’t have a bar of this nonsense, and neither will any secular judicial system or Christian or Muslim religious authority. If you are going to denounce a cleric for his secretly held opinions, you need to have a handwritten document, a tape recording, a reliable independent witness, or an admission. You have none of those. You are simply engaged in an ugly defamation, in which you have managed to embroil Phil Ferguson and the redline collective. Phil is responsible because, sadly, he endorsed you as his authority.

  23. Admin says:

    Actually, I have never “endorsed (anyone) as (my) authority”. But I certainly regard Karim as a much more reliable witness to events in Iran than you. You really can’t stand left-wing critics of the dictatorship. You ignore the vast majority of what they say, which is simply unanswerable, and try to find one small thing and then take moral offence at it, while taking no offence at all at the rperessive policies – including the murder of thoiusands of leftists and progressive secular nationalists in Iran. It has turned out that you know very little about the realities on the ground in Iran, while continuing casting aspersions on victims of the repression.


    • I asked a couple of Muslim women for their interpretation of the words hijab and niqab. They said that hijab was modest dress, in total, particularly the head covering while niqab was the veil over the face. That is the way I have always understood it. However, I now acknowledge that “veil” is used in English to refer to the head covering as well, so I retract what I have said about the veil and all comments critical of Yassamine.

      Every society has dress standards, which are enforced. The Iranian dress standards are relatively strict, those in New Zealand relatively lax, but every society has dress standards. You draw the line somewhere on dress, just as you draw the line somewhere on marriage. You allow homosexual marriage, but you don’t allow polygamy or incestuous marriage. That decision is always based on balancing the virtues of freedom against the possible anti-social effects. Freedom is never absolute. Not in NZ or the US or the Soviet Union or Venezuela or the IRI. Neither will Marxists allow absolute freedom in anything where they come to power. Basically, you are saying that your standards are better than their standards without going through the exercise of considering all the ramifications.

      Thousands of Iranians from the diaspora freely return to visit their homeland, Some of those are legally speaking political refugees. That is the point. The regime takes a pragmatic.approach to refugees in the diaspora. Not all are in the same category as Yassamine and Karim. Neither are they frauds, liars and hypocrites as Karim argued.

      I, and all other subscribers, read your email claiming that I worked with the Basij, and I responded to that. Your retraction and correction is welcome.

      When you were asked for your sources, you said that “Karim has provided loads of sources” Any reasonable person might take that as an endorsement of Karim’s sources.

      When I looked at one of Karim’s most damning allegations, the one which would have caused me to publicly denounce the regime, or at least Ayotollah Yazdi and his supporters, I discovered it was a fabrication. Yet you still consider Karim to be a “reliable witness”. His explanation for the claim that “half the Islamists were eliminated” seems to come down to the fact that one faction of the leadership came to dominate two other factions. Not quite wholesale murder that the word “eliminate” might suggest. I can work through all your other allegations looking for evidence to support them, but if you are making the allegations it is your job to provide the evidence.

      You don’t achieve much by labelling me as a bigot, apologist for murder, corruption etc. Provide proper evidence, not unsubstantiated and inherently implausible claims from Zionist websites.. Acknowledge the political reality that members of the regime and many innocent Iranians have also been murdered by members of the left-wing opposition. You are promoting a bitter conflict between secularism and religion in Iran, which may not play out exactly as you expect. That was the mistake of the Shah and the Communists in the events leading up to the Islamic revolution. I suspect that a large proportion of ordinary Iranians still look to Islam for their moral compass and material security, and the Marxists have not provided a credible alternative on either count.

      • Phil says:

        Geoff, thousands of leftists have been murdered by the regime. You have little or nothing to say about that. The information that thousands of leftists were killed does not, as you very well know, come from Zionist websites. You simply ignore the fact that much of the left was butchered by the regime, because it doesn’t fit your necessary fictions about the regime.

        I didn’t retract that you worked with the Basij; I had corrected it *before* your next post because I realised soon after I sent the initial version of that post that I had got the name wrong.

        You also now seem to have admitted that your friend was not a political refugee in the sense of being someone who was being persecuted for opposition to the regime. Since I support open borders, I have no problem with whichever ways people enter this country. However, people who were political dissidents in Iran are often going to have a much more critical view of people who come here under political refugee status when they are just moving country for a better life, as you put it about your acquaintance (after having originally presented him as a political refugee who could return to Iran for visits and therefore represented some kind of counter to Yassamine and Karim’s arguments).

        While you object to being labelled an apologist for the dictatorship, you have cast aspersions on the credibility of political exiles ever since you showed up in this discussion. You have one rule for yourself, unfortunately, and a different rule for others – especialloy if they are mere Iranians who disagree with your rose-tinted view of the dictatorship. You also continually contradict yourself – from saying someone is a political refugee to a few posts later saying they just moved country for a better life and from claiming we can only effect things in NZ to accusing me of saying something tantamount to leading the Venezuelan workers into a grave. You demand sources from others while never providing any sources for your claims.

        For instance, you said early on that you took part in a huge oppositional protest in Iran in 1998. Where and when specifically was this? What were the demands of that protest? Where are the sources I can check regarding that protest. After all if it was an oppositonal protest and was as big as you claimed – you used this to indicate things in Iran were more liberal than was being suggested – then it would definitely have gained substantial media coverage. I’m not saying there was no such protest – I’d just like to see the evidence.


  24. Karim says:

    Geoff, any time I tell myself to stop replying your comments because conversation with you is pointless, the very limited knowledge you have from current Iran and the extremely strong claims you make about knowing what is going in Iran stops me from not replying your comments. So, I’ll give it last try, although I know it is still pointless.
    You know I can bring you references. And you know that you are holding into defending a person (Yazdi) that only bringing up his name is enough to shake any average Iranian citizen from fear and horror, while you ignore the main thing and the crime which is the rape and the murder that took place against innocent Iranians who either were demanding reform or wanting their stolen vote back. Consequently, you are defending an unelected minority of a 10% of the Iranian society who are working against the will of the rest of society including raping and murdering them, and somehow you don’t consider your ideas as ugly ideas!!!
    Well, you had the chance to read about Yazdi in Wikipedia and still all you could come with is that “Wikipedia is hostile to Yazdi”. Let’s forget about Wikipedia and the Israeli website. Do you accept an English source updated from Iran and related to the non-violent Green Movement? Here it is:
    Please note that there are thousands of Iranian websites (Persian and English) that covered Yazdi’s nasty justifications which he cowardly denied later after numerous of rapes and murders took place in 2009-2010.
    Do you acknowledge a political prisoner from Evin prison? He is not an ordinary one even, his father was in charge of the central cleric school (Hozeh) and this family are part of the regime. However, the son (Roholah) joined the protest in 2009. He wrote 6 letters from Evin prison to the supreme leader, Khamenei. Here is one of those, perhaps the sixth one, I’m not sure:
    Please read it and do not jump over it to take one shallow thing and argue about it in 10 pages. In Roholah’s second letter to Khamenei (from Evin prison) he mentions Yazdi’s permission to rape the prisoners. I couldn’t find an English website for the second letter but here is the full letter in a Persian blog (from inside Iran not from Israel). I assume you don’t know Persian so a Google translate or an Iranian friend will be helpful:
    Your definition from fatwa is also outdated. Unfortunately, you sit in two continents away from Iran and read the definition of fatwa from google or a book ignoring important facts such as the religion is mixed with politic in Iran. No, fatwa can be given to a team of assassins who head to Yazdi to take religious permission because in a religious state such as the Islamic Republic everything should be done through religion, even dirty things, even high level of crimes. Please at least read the two first short paragraphs of this source. It is from a primary source such as Akbar Ganji while he was brought into the court:
    I know you are going to ignore the core of our conversation which is why the regime that you defend should rape and murder people? And, instead, you hold on the innocence of the poor Yazdi, relying on Wikipedia, which is still “hostile” to Yazdi but I should provide evidences, which I did over and over…
    Geoff, your ideas are very offensive to millions of Iranians inside Iran. Just show some respect. This good people deserve not to be raped, starved and murdered by few unelected autocrats who hold all the country resources to bring nothing but destruction for the others. What kind a religion is this you are talking about?!!!

  25. Phil says:

    Geoff writes: “Every society has dress standards, which are enforced. The Iranian dress standards are relatively strict, those in New Zealand relatively lax, but every society has dress standards. You draw the line somewhere on dress, just as you draw the line somewhere on marriage.”

    But this hardly explains the dress codes in Iran. They are not just part of life’s rich tapestry – “every society has dress codes” – they are about the oppression of women. There are no codes which require men to use covering in any way similar to the hijab.

    In Iran, there were two types of opposition to the Shah. The progressive opposition – which was certainly not entirely secular, there were progressive Islamic currents – and the reactionary opposition. Ever since the early 1900s the religious hierarchy have been a reactionary force, fighting against the modernisation and democratisation of Iran. They weren’t against the shah because he was a tyrant – they were against him because he wasn’t *their* tyrant. (Similar, although in a more extreme form, to the social reactionaries in New Zealand who rail against what they call liberal social engineering and political correctness not because they are against social engineering per se, but because they are no longer in charge of social engineering. And, of course, a chunk of what they call liberal social engineering is no such thing – it’s simply the removal of conservative social engineering. For instance, allowing adults the freedom to marry is the removal of social engineering in relation to marriage, not the imposition of some new form of social engineering.)

    The religious hierarchy in Iran fear modernisation because it tends inherently to undermine their power and privilege. They have fought every inch of the way against democratic constitutions over the past century, the expansion of women’s rights, the expansion of the rights of workers and peasants.

    Ultimately, however, they have created their own nemesis. By vigorously promoting the need to massively expand the population and thus bringing about the baby boom of the 1980s, they created a generation whose rising expectations – especially in relation to freedom – they could never meet. The new baby boom generation were a crucial driving force in the democracy protests of the late 1990s and their younger brothers and sisters (figuratively speaking) have been the driving force in the mobilisations of young people for freedom in 2009 and since.

    Who knows how long the dictatorship will last? Maybe they will beat down and demoralise this generation into subservience. However, while they have certainly been able to unleash significant repression, they haven’t managed to get on top of the situation and restore the kind of stability they had before 1998. And while the conditions of workers worsen, while the population watch the men of god dipping their arms into the public purse, the moral authority of the dictatorship weakens. The other problem that the dictatorship has is that it is intensely divided internally, with some of the moderates being locked up by the most reactionary elements who are temporarily back in the saddle, but by no means secure.

    The dictatorship does have some things going for it, however. For instance, the opposition is relatively dispersed/divided itself politically – some want an end to the arbitrary rule of the most reactionary religious autocrats but not an end to the Islamic Republic, some want an end to the Islamic Republic but the imposition of a more market economy, and some want political freedom and an economic system which meets people’s needs (as opposed to capitalism). Marxism is slowly re-emerging as a political influence, especially as the liberal oppositionists are continually found wanting.

    The role of progressive people in the West is two-fold. Opposing imperialist actions against Iran and the Iranian people and opposing the religious dictatorship. I think HOPI has it right, that the two things go hand-in-hand. You can’t build an anti-imperialist movement in the West while apologising for the dictatorship; and getting rid of the dictatorship and having an imperialist solution simply subjects the people of Iran to further misery.

    Liberal pro-imperialism and reactionary pro-dictatorship positions are just the mirror image of each other.


  26. Phil enquires about the opposition protests in Tehran in 1998, date, place, and demands.
    The rally which I joined was on May 23 (Western calendar). I don’t recall where it began, but it ended inside Tehran University. I can’t definitively say what political demands were being made, but the chant was “Mard bar Yazdi” (Death to Yazdi). I can’t say whether this was the same Mesbah Yazdi that Karim and Phil have denounced.

    I gave a first hand report. Therefore, it should be obvious that I myself am the source. I would be very surprised if other sources of information could not be found relating to this rally. It was a significant political event, even in Iran, where mass rallies by all sides were common.

  27. Phil writes

    I didn’t retract that you worked with the Basij; I had corrected it *before* your next post because I realised soon after I sent the initial version of that post that I had got the name wrong.

    I gave Phil credit for retracting an untrue comment. Now he says it was corrected, and not retracted. I don’t understand how a wrong statement can be corrected without being retracted. Perhaps he can explain the distinction. Phil did not just “get the name wrong”. He got the wrong organisation in mind, because he made specific allegations against the basij which could not have applied to the jihad-e-sazandegi.

  28. Political refugees cover the range from armed oppositionists and counter-revolutionaries to people who simply prefer living in a western democracy to living in an Islamic republic. I have always stated that my friend is towards the latter end of the scale. He had not engaged in or advocated violence. He has legal status as a political refugee. That is all. An ordinary Iranian who has publicly dissociated himself from the IRI, and is still considered persona grata. Karim has tried to discredit him as a fraud, liar and hypocrite. That is silly. I don’t see any point in debating this further.

  29. I have been called an “apologist for the regime”. Taking things a step further, Phil has implied that I am “an apologist for repression, murder and corruption”. He has compared me to apologists for apartheid and claims that I have “lined up with Christian bigots”. In his mind I am associated me with repression, murder, corruption, racial discrimination and religious bigotry, entirely on the strength of my refusal to join in his judgements.

    Some people gain psychological gratification through their judgements of nations, political tendencies, religious persuasions and racial groups as well as individuals. We all possess a natural urge to judge others, and judgement is an essential characteristic of the human being, but we can become carried away by the urge to judge. We wrongly come to believe that in judging the world we exercise power over it, but however psychologically gratifying our individual judgements may be, they do not alter the material reality.

    Judgement should not be used as a means of self-vindication. Its only real value is as a guide to action, and a to judge others in the absence of the power to act is merely self-indulgent. Judgement should also be used responsibly. We can make judgements in principle, such as “murder is wrong” or “corruption is wrong”. We can make rhetorical judgements such as “freedom is good” and “repression is wrong” but that is to ignore the reality that everyone believes in some kind of freedom and also that there are some circumstances in which freedom should be restricted or repressed. We can also judge individuals, but should only do so in respect of specific actions and on the basis of material evidence.

    I am willing to judge the Iranian regime on the basis of its stated principles, because to the extent that I agree or disagree with those principles I am able to apply them to or exclude them from my own life. I am not willing to join in rhetorical judgements which imply that on the one hand we believe in absolute freedom and that on the other hand the Iranian regime is absolutely repressive. I am generally unwilling to judge a collective of persons without discriminating between factions or individuals. I am willing to judge the actions of individuals but only on condition that there is a specific charge and convincing material evidence to support that charge, and ideally a credible means by which I can call that person to account for his actions.

    The charges against Ayotollah Yazdi met none of the conditions and that is why I refuse to make a judgement against him. I refrain from making a collective judgement against the Iranian regime, just as I refrained from making a collective judgement against the Venezuelan regime, on the evidence of corruption. An institution must be judged on its guiding principles, rather than the failures of those who hold office. If there is the widespread malfeasance among the office-holders, the guiding principles need to be re-examined, which is why I have suggested that the guiding principles of Marxism require re-examination.

    Phil pressures me to condemn the Iranian regime using the same terms that I used to condemn the slander against Yazdi, which I called “absolutely vile”. I consider that those words were apposite to the case. To wrongly accuse a man who deplores rape and sodomy of secretly encouraging rape and sodomy is, to my mind, “absolutely vile”. Others may disagree. That is a matter of personal judgment. I will not call all the Ayotollahs collectively “absolutely vile” because the charges against them are neither specific nor proven.

  30. Karim used a Zionist website as his source for his allegations against Yazdi. Some Zionist websites may be a source of accurate information but they are not neutral vis-a-vis the IRI, and the website cited by Karim is in my opinion “shonky”. Others can go to the website, using the link provided by Karim, and make their own judgements.

    I know Karim has other sources for his other allegations. But he still stands behind the David Aqurette website, and if I found his other sources to be equallly suspect, I assume he would continue to stand by them. Credibility is indivisible. I have acknowledged an error, and retracted my criticism of Yassamine. Phil and Karim refuse to retract a false allegation against Yazdi. That is their problem, not mine.

  31. Don Franks says:

    This debate has produced a lot of interesting information along the way, but is becoming increasingly repetitious. My feeling is that it’s now drawing to the close of it’s useful life.

    • With apologies to Don.

      Phil has made an ideological connection between apartheid and treatment of women in the IRI. I think it fair to remind people that from its inception in 1979 the IRI was a staunch opponent of apartheid, at a time when progressive states such as Israel and New Zealand were providing moral and material assistance to the apartheid regime. To leftists, the position of the IRI on apartheid is anomalous, but in fact it is theologically based. The clerical regime regards distinctions of gender as fundamental and eternal, and distinctions of race as merely incidental and transient. By way of illustration, I have Indian, Chinese and European grandchildren, but in another two or three generations that distinction may have become irrelevant. I also have grandsons and granddaughters, and that distinction will persist to the end of time.

      Like Don, I don’t really want this discussion to be prolonged, and I will just say that these issues are too complex to be dealt with according to a simple formula such as “we are all the same and should all be treated the same”. From the perspective of capital that formula is true. For progressives of both the left and right it may also hold true, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. Men and women are sexually distinct, and different rules continue to apply on account of their sexual differences – not just in Iran, but everywhere, even in New Zealand. When the differential rules are taken out of the body of state law, they continue to be applied by grass roots social pressure. Maoist China is the only society I am aware of which enforced an identical dress code upon men and women, and I personally would have been comfortable with that, but for the men and women of China it has the status of a failed and abandoned experiment.

  32. Admin says:

    I agree Don. The reason I haven’t suggested stopping it is that the comments section is only open for a limited time anyway, so would automatically shut in a few days time.

    Geoff, no-one is denying men and women are different, but that difference does not at all automatically suggest they should be treated differently. The treatment is socially-constructed. A society that is truly human/e, doesn’t treat people differently based on skin colour, religion, gender, sexuality, or any such things.

    The Islamic Republic is built on oppression; it represented the triumph of counter-revolution within a revolutionary process.

    Re the Yazdi stuff. The first link Karim gave was to Aqurette’s blog and Aqurette is a Zionist (he’s also a gay man married to another man, so that might colour your view of him just as it probably makes him even more anti the regime in Iran). However, the *source* of the story is *not* Aqurette; it appeared in a number of places. Despite what you say about the mainstream press not touching stories about organised rape of Iranian prisoners, it’s quite easy to do a google search and turn up such stories. Here’s an extract from the Guardian (Feb 16,2010), for instance:

    “Early one morning in 1981, I arrived at the middle school where I taught in Tehran and was informed by two guards from the notorious Evin prison that one of our students had been arrested and would not be returning to school.

    “I knew that his father was a drug dealer, and supposed that he had been arrested on similar charges. It was the height of the post-revolutionary struggle between Iran’s revolutionary democratic front led by then-president Abolhassan Banisadr, and the dictatorial front led by the Islamic Republican party and its allies. A few months later, Banisadr was ousted in a coup and I was fired from my teaching post.

    “Later on I learnt that on the same day my former student had been released and recruited as a guard in the same prison. I also learnt from his grandmother that he had not been involved with drugs, but had raped his sister and made her pregnant. At the time, stories of women and girls being raped in prison became so rife that Ayatollah Montazeri sent a team to investigate. They only verified the rumours. Male prison officers – many of them psychotic like my former student – were tasked to rape women, and extensively; one was even nicknamed “hamishe daamaad” (the forever groom).

    “In other words, rape is nothing new to this regime, which even now tries in vain to hide itself behind Islam. However, after last June’s uprising, we are observing the emergence of a more widespread form of rape, and one that is also extended to men. This is not to say that it did not exist before, but now we are observing its systematic use. There is little public information about this to date.”

    Note: *systematic use*.

    The article also reports that on Feb 12, “Fatemeh Karubi, wife of Ayatollah Karubi, wrote an open letter to Khamenei detailing the arrest of her 38-year-old son when his father’s car was attacked at a demonstration on the 31st anniversary of the 1979 revolution. She described how her son was viciously abused, both physically and verbally, in a mosque. The guards threatened to rape him.”

    Arrests, detentions, torture and even rapes – and the threat of rape – are all quite arbitrary, in the sense that anyone who falls foul of the most reactionary elements of the regime can be subject to them. The Guardian article finishes:

    “This regime is now fighting for survival, and has no red line left to cross. Since Ahmadinejad’s appointment to president and the encroachment of the Revolutionary Guard’s generals into the state and the economy, it can safely be considered a military-financial mafia. And like any other form of totalitarian state, it has sought and trained the most dehumanised individuals to become decisive, efficient and effective weapons in this struggle.

    “They are, of course, culpable. But others must be brought to account. Khamenei, as the supreme leader with absolute power over – according to his ideologues like Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi – every Iranian person’s life, property and honour, and as the person who openly declared war on protestors after the election, bears ultimate responsibility for these crimes. He has already been accused of murdering his opponents into submission by a German court in the Mykonos trial, and has received numerous letters calling him to account for other crimes and abuses.”

    Of course, I don’t know for sure whether Yazdi made those comments – given what he has said openly, it’s certainly *possible* he could support such rape. Of course, it is also within the realms of possibility that Israel disinformation services made up the story. Neiother of us *can know for certain*. But what we do know is that this is a truly appalling regime Geoff, that it does oversee rape in prisons and that Yazdi is implicated up to his eyeballs in all the forms of rperession used against opponents.

    As the regime’s stability is shaken more, the repression is likely to intensify. Moreover, the activities of the regime make it easier for the imperialists to intervene in Iran and impose their solution. So defending the regime is not helping defend Iran from such intervention.

    Because of the nature of this discussion, it has inevitably focused on what’s wrong with the regime. But it shpould be kept in mind that we are opposed to the West establishing courts to try members of the regime, we are opposed to the Western sanctions and we are opposed to any western intervention. Only the people of Iran have the right to try these folks. But we should certainly solidarise with the struggles of the oppressed and exploited in Iran. The work of Yassamine Mather and the other comrades of HOPI deserves respect and support.