Wednesday, March 19, 2008

GB: Potkin Pisses off Baroness Shirely Williams

Foreign Policy Centre Meeting in the Parliament

I was debating with myself whether I should go to a Chaharshanbeh-Suri party, the Iranian fireworks night leading to the Iranian New Year, or to this meeting in the Parliament organised by the Foreign Policy Centre and Progressive. At the end I decided there will be plenty of Iranians at the party, but I should attend the meeting.

The title of the meeting was 'The Left and Iran: A progressive approach'. The panel consisted of Baroness Shirley Williams, Nazenin Ansari - Diplomatic Editor of Kayhan -, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Professorial Fellow, RUSI and former Special Adviser to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Mark Fitzpatrick, Senior Fellow for Non-proliferation, International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Chair was former MP, Stephen Twigg.

I missed Nazenin Ansari's part and got there towards the end of Mark Fitzpatrick's speech. Somehow I was hoping that the Left are beginning to see the light and have become more realistic about the Islamic Republic of Iran, but Baroness Shirley Williams's talk soon dashed my hopes. She ranted on painting this image of the Islamic Republic of Iran having felt constantly threatened which justified her desire to obtain nuclear weapons. Although she also said this is not to say executing gays and other human rights abuses should be condoned.
She also made a strange comment that she has three Iranian friends and each give her a different picture making it difficult for her to make a judgement on Iran.

I thought Shirley Williams clearly displayed the kind of naivety we have seen in the British administration in the past years regarding Islamic extremism, the kind of naivety that granted Omar Bakri political asylum in Britain, to sow the seeds of terror in British universities, colleges and mosques that led to the 7/7 bombings of the London transport.

All I remember from Professor Malcolm Chalmers, former advisor to Jack Straw, was that in typical fashion in these meetings, he brought up the 1953 coup again as if the Ayatollahs were the victims of what happened in 1953. This 1953 event seems to be a must to mention amongst British academics, I think they then feel like they know about Iran.

Another speaker who said he had contacts with the British-Iranian businessmen, complained that by restricting business with Iran, Britain was reducing its source of information from Iran and all it meant was that the Chinese were moving in instead. He thought it was important to maintain contacts with the Islamic Republic, and gave example of how in meetings with the Iranian ambassador he had told him executing gays in Iran is not good. Although he doubted himself if that did any good.

There was so much to ask about what was said, but as the central theme was that the Islamic Republic feels under threat, I thought I concentrate on Shirley Williams. I refuted her suggestion that the Islamic Republic has been under threat for the last 28 years from America and Israel and co. I started with the Carter administration, and the grand overtures that the administration made to the Ayatollahs. I gave examples of figures in the Carter administration referring to ayatollah Khomeini as a saint and as Iran's Gandhi, the Irangate affair when Iran obtained weapons from the US and Israel, President Clinton calling the Islamic Republic a democracy, and Madeline Albright apologizing to the Ayatollahs for the 1953 coup against Mossadiq!! and so forth, and I carried on saying 'yet the chants of death to America has never stopped during the Friday Prayers, in the last 28 years, except once just after 9/11, when the Ayatollahs were really scared." I finished my question by asking "has anyone in the panel actually read the Islamic Republic constitution or Ayatollah Khomeini's books to see what the Islamic Republic is really about?"

Shirley Williams wasn't really answering my question and I reminded her again what my question was, amidst Stephen Twigg's objection, but I am sorry, I asked a question and I wanted my question answered not her going on about another topic. Shirley Williams then reiterated that the Islamic Republic has justifiably felt under threat, and gave the example of Iran-Iraq war. I interrupted her again saying 'but the Islamic Republic was in a position to end the war and demand substantial concessions very early on during the war but continued to choose war with zero gains at the end costing hundreds of thousands of more lives'. Again Stephen Twigg told me to let Shirley Williams answer. My question as to whether any of the panel had actually read Ayatollah Khomeini's books or the constitution of the Islamic Republic was left unanswered.

An English guy sitting next to me in a pinstripe suit also said in his question that the Islamic Republic felt under threat. He said 'If I was the Iranian president, I would get nuclear weapons too' and he listed just about every other country in the region who were aspiring to obtain nuclear weapons which justified the Ayatollahs also to obtain nuclear weapons.

I noticed he had scribbled Coca-Cola on his notepad in Arabic letters. I was curious to know who he was and how he knew to write in Arabic.

The Kayhan diplomatic editor had the final say, and I must say she did a fantastic job which earned her much applause from the audience. She said its not that negotiations with the Islamic Republic have not taken place in the last 28 years, they have. Time and time again Islamic Republic has been given assurances and incentives but has refused to accept them. When Hassan Rowhani, the Islamic Republic representative at the nuclear negotiations was close to a deal, he was removed from his job, and similarly when Larijani was close to reach a deal, he too was removed. May be not directly by Ahmadi-nejad but by those who really run the Islamic Republic.

She added 'and lets not forget the students and the women and the gays are not the only victims of the Islamic Republic', She mentioned the Sufi sect, the traditional Iranian clergy like Ayatollah Boroujerdi who is only asking for a separation of state and religion are also victims of this regime and finished amidst much approval from the audience and the panel, by saying
'Would it not be better for the Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of asking for Sharia to be implemented in the UK to express concern for Ayatollah Boroujerdi, who has been in solitary confinement since his arrest two years ago and make a humanitarian plea for Boroujerdi's release so that he can be amongst his family for the Iranian New Year?'

It was time I find out who the guy sitting next to me was. I asked him how was the Islamic Republic under threat in the first year of the revolution and yet they were already intending to export the revolution?

'The Shah was a puppet government propped up by the US' he replied.
I failed to see how that had anything to do with what I said, and realising the futility of arguing with him, I asked him what his profession was, but he asked me why I wanted to know?
"Because your arguments are so warped that I think you have a vested interest in the things you say" I told him.
He left while visibly shaking. I think I had made him quite angry.

Outside the committee room, I bumped into Shirley Williams. I shook hands with her but I had one more question to ask her. 'You know you said you had three Iranian friends who each said a different thing which made your judgement on Iran difficult, did you expect all Iranians to say the same thing? Should you not make your judgement based on for example reading the Islamic Republic constitution rather than on what your three Iranian friends say?"

She looked annoyed, "Well I didn't mean just three friends, I have lots of Iranian friends, excuse me I have to go to the wash room" and left without much enthusiasm for a good bye.

It was too late to go to the fireworks party, I missed the traditional jumping over the fire and all the singing and dancing and instead ended up upsetting a few "progressives".

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