With typical hypocrisy Tony Blair has complained about “captured personnel being paraded and manipulated” in Iran. George Bush has joined in the attacks.
How dare the architects of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay torture centres lecture Iran on the treament of prisoners?
Blair does not have a word to say about the five Iranians seized in Iraq by US forces in January, who have disappeared into the black hole of the US military’s detention and torture network.
There is no evidence that the British personnel were on a spying mission, but it is no surprise that Iran is jumpy. The US has ratcheted up its threats against Iran in the last few months as its occupation of Iraq has gone badly wrong.
The US neoconservatives want to blame Iran for this, and are building up the US military in the region in preparation for an attack.
The media has used the capture of the sailors as an excuse to to caricature Iran as a brutal and backward country run by a dictatorship of “mad mullahs”.
These stereotypes are part of the Islamophobia unleashed by George Bush’s “war on terror” to justify the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both these occupations are now sinking into a pit of blood. This, combined with the defeat of Israel’s army at the hands of the Lebanese resistance last August, has pushed the imperialists into focusing their warmongering rhetoric against Iran.
They are trying to build a coalition with pro-US Arab regimes – including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – against Iran. They are whipping up more lies about “weapons of mass destruction” – this time over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The truth about Iran is very different from the picture painted by pro-war propagandists. In contrast to absolute dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Iran’s political system is a limited form of democracy, with power distributed between a clerical elite and elected politicians.
This complex system arose out of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Iran’s ruling class and Iranian politics are split along a host of fracture lines.
Iran has a strong and powerful civic society. Ordinary people in Iran are engaged in a variety of radical movements demanding economic and political rights.
This combination can produce unexpected results, such as when Iran’s president, the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected in 2005.
Ahmadinejad promised to tackle the corruption, unemployment and inequality that has characterised Iran’s economy since the introduction of neoliberal reforms in the 1990s. But he has by and large failed to deliver.
The key civil rights movements in Iran involve women, students and workers. Around two thirds of Iran’s 70 million inhabitants are under the age of 30. Some 64 percent of the country’s students are women.
These movements demand more democratic rights, especially for women, but they also want jobs and an end to economic inequality. They are adamantly opposed to US imperialism in the Middle East.
This is because of the bloody history of US and British meddling in Iran.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution involved vast numbers of ordinary Iranians mobilising against the hated regime of the Shah of Iran – a US ally who had been installed as absolute ruler in 1953.
The US ruling class reacted with fury when the Shah was overthrown. It had lost a strategic linchpin in the Middle East – and has been seeking to get it back ever since.
It is the desire for oil and power in the Middle East that is fuelling today’s US-led war drive against Iran. It has nothing to do with “promoting democracy” or “opposing Islamic extremism”.
That is why the global anti-war movement must stand by the Iranian people against the US’s threats and smears. We need to build links with the Iranian movements against war and neoliberalism and their global counterparts.
This will not be easy. Bush’s sabre rattling has allowed right wing elements in Iran’s ruling class to crack down on the country’s mass movements under the pretext of “national security”.
Moreover, many leading figures in Iran’s reform movement argue for more democracy, but also favour neoliberal capitalism.
This weakens the movement by generating hardship and poverty among the mass of ordinary Iranians – thereby discrediting “democracy”.
There will also be pressure on the global anti-war movement to side with Western governments against the Iranian regime, which has persecuted left wingers and civil rights activists.
All these pressures must be resisted.
It is only the power of grassroots movements against imperialism and neoliberalism that can bring peace and human rights to the Middle East.
We also have to demand that all British forces in the Middle East, including the 15 captured Royal Navy personnel, must return home.