Corbyn, Tehran and fake news
Yassmine Mather shows that the mainstream media have little or no regard for the truth
Labour’s anti-Semitism debacle and the story of Iran’s interventions in the Middle East are both examples of fake news, spread deliberately and constantly by the mainstream media. This is done to such an extent that false information replaces facts. In both cases the inability of those accused to put forward a clear, comprehensive rebuttal to such fake news has contributed to it becoming part and parcel of ‘real news’, or ‘fact’. In this article I will deal with both cases.
As someone who is not a member of the Labour Party, looking it at from the point of view of an Iranian, the story is a very simple one: criticising the state of Israel has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. After the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader a large number of anti-war leftwing ex-members of the party - many of whom had left because of Blair’s Iraq war - rejoined. A younger generation of voters, concerned with social inequality, who were opponents of war - the generation that saw hope in the Arab spring, the generation that grew up with the continuing aftermath of the Iraq occupation, the rise of Al Qa’eda and Islamic State - welcomed the new leadership.
Suddenly a social democratic party (of the type that seemed doomed in most of Europe) had more than 500,000 members. The ruling class was rattled, but the attempts to get rid of Corbyn failed. So far the story had nothing to do with Israel or Palestine and in fact that issue remains very much a sideshow. The fear had little to do with Corbyn’s support for the Palestinians - rather it was the anti-war character of the new Labour leadership, as opposed to the pro-US, pro-imperialist New Labour; the party they headed might become a headache when pro-Israeli, pro-Saudi lobbies tried to gain support for Salafi/jihadi aggression or civil wars in the Middle East. The election of Donald Trump and the gradual move towards the Washington-Riyadh-Tel Aviv axis made the issue more pertinent.
That is when the whole subject of ‘anti-Semitism’ was raised. First I saw it was in the Financial Times, picked up by Blairite MPs, including deputy leader Tom Watson. The response to such accusations should have been simple and straightforward: ‘Criticising the state of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.’ Did Corbyn and John McDonnell ever make such a statement? The answer is no - I cannot find a single instance where either of them made such a clear, emphatic declaration since the fake-news propaganda and allegations began. Noam Chomsky, Moshé Machover and Avi Shlaim (all from a Jewish background) and a number of other prominent Jewish academics, as well as Jewish Voice for Labour, have in the last two years made the clarification understandable for even the thickest of journalists, but has anyone in the BBC, ITV or Sky newsrooms listened? The answer is no.
In April 2016 the BBC published a page explaining the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which surprisingly is still there.1 However, it does not look as though the organisation’s own reporters refer to it when allegations of anti-Semitism are thrown left, right and centre. A deliberate attempt to merge two quite separate concepts has helped create the atmosphere of witch-hunt and fear we are currently witnessing. If you speak about ‘occupied territories’, if you support the Palestinians’ right to existence, if you criticise Binyamin Netanyahu or anyone in his government, you are immediately accused of anti-Semitism if you do so too forcefully. By shutting you up, the ruling class - helped by Labour’s leaders, who keep apologising and compromising on this issue - have made sure the anti-war movement is in constant retreat.
The dominant line is that, irrespective of who is in power, the United Kingdom is the main ally of the United States and no real dissent regarding its foreign policy is allowed - even if it is Donald Trump who is making the decisions in Washington: the man who in the words of the UK ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, is “clumsy and inept”. The foreign office’s man in Washington thinks: “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.” But who cares? Let us make sure there is no serious challenge to US foreign policy from the Labour Party.
Corbyn and McDonnell have constantly retreated on this subject - they have constantly apologised, without offering any political explanation. It is difficult to know exactly what they are apologising for. Should no-one criticise the state of Israel? Should we accept a ban on mentioning ‘occupied territories’? Should everyone shut up about the plight of Palestinians? Should we not mention the fact that Israel possesses atomic bombs? Should universities stop research on the Balfour declaration? Should we stop revisiting the history of the Middle East because it doesn’t suit the administration in the United States?
What upsets me most is that because of the Labour leadership’s incompetence we are reaching a stage where serious, accurate comment about Israel is branded anti-Semitic. I have some questions for those who keep telling us that criticising the state of Israel is ‘anti-Jewish’ (let us put aside the fact that the most hardline opponents of the Zionist state are often actually of Jewish origin or Orthodox Jews). Is criticising the Islamic Republic of Iran anti-Persian? Is criticising the policies of Saudi Arabia Islamophobic? Any sane person will tell you that is not the case. So why is it different when it comes to Israel?
The other fake news that has become ‘fact’ these days concerns Iran’s ‘foreign interventions’. From Washington to London, from Paris to Berlin, western leaders keep telling the world that Iran’s ‘interventions’ in the region have to stop. I remain a staunch opponent of the Islamic Republic and I have written extensively against its foreign policy. Far too often the Shia state has tried to maintain a level of crisis outside its borders in order to divert attention from internal issues. I also believe that a country practically bankrupt as a result of sanctions, a country that claims it does not have sufficient money to pay its state employees, should not be involved in foreign adventures.
Having said that, the current fake news about Iran’s foreign policy should be exposed, as once more it is becoming ‘real news’ repeated ad infinitum by Iranian exile commentators and media pundits! It is the equivalent of the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign.
In 2001, according to some US military leaders, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Iran’s Islamic Republic offered to help the United States to destroy al Qa’eda - a Sunni jihadi organisation set up by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Afghanistan, gives us a vivid image of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards commanders handing him a map of where to bomb Taliban forces in 2001. So the United States benefited from Iranian intelligence against their common enemy. However, soon afterwards Iran was labelled part of the “axis of evil” by George W Bush and clearly no-one in Tehran (reformist or hardliner) was in a position to advocate rapprochement with the United States.
But when it came to 2003, the Shia Republic could not believe its luck. Contrary to all advice, Bush and Blair decided to invade and occupy Iraq, the west’s ally in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. If senior clerics in Qom and Mashhad had been drinking alcohol (I know they do not) it would have been champagne, as that idiot, Alastair Campbell, produced his dodgy dossier and Tony Blair allied himself with George W Bush in committing British troops to an attack on secular/Sunni Iraq.
The outcome was predicted by any academic worth his salt, by any commentator or news analyst looking beyond her/his nose. Of course, many pro-US reporters in the UK missed these basic facts, but the BBC’s mild criticism of the Iraq war was comprehensively silenced by the Blair administration and superficial judicial reviews, such as the one produced by Lord Hutton in 2003, helped ensure that future reporters and commentators toed the line, when it came to the UK blindly following US foreign policy. No wonder they cannot get beyond White House propaganda when it comes to the Palestinians and Israelis.
However, Iran’s celebration of the overthrow of its arch-enemy was short-lived. Saudi Arabia and the rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf became hysterical about Shia dominance of the region. Suddenly the isolated Islamic Republic of Iran (considerably weakened by the war and continued animosity with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) became a major regional power. We all know how the Saudi/Persian Gulf revenge took shape. There was genuine dissatisfaction with the Iraqi Shia state’s sectarian attitude towards religious and national minorities (as everyone had predicted and Bush and Blair had purposely ignored). However, without Saudi/Emirate support for Salafi/jihadi groups, it is unlikely that al Qa’eda and its later offshoot in the shape of IS would have gained such prominence in the region.
By 2014 the brutal Salafi groups were in control of large parts of Iraq and by 2015 they also controlled a considerable part of Syria. Those wonderful US allies, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, were supporting one section of the jihadists, while Qatar was supporting another. Ironically, at a time when jihadi brutality was at its worst - the lives of many civilians across Europe as well as in the Middle East were taken - they somehow did not have much to say about Israel. Yet IS had already declared Tehran as its destination with the slogan, ‘Damascus today, Tehran tomorrow’.
I am not a nationalist. Nonetheless, as an internationalist I certainly did not want IS controlling Tehran, or for that matter anywhere else in the Middle East. They follow a more idiotic, murderous brand of Islam than anyone else. In this respect what do we think Iran’s Islamic Republic should have done? I am posing this question in particular to Iranian nationalists, royalists and republicans - the exiled Iranian press and media who are happy to accept Saudi and US funds for ‘regime change from above’: Would you have wanted the jihadis of al Qa’eda or IS in your beloved ‘Persia’?
I do not think Iran’s Islamic Republic had much choice but to fight IS in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. By all accounts it did so effectively - hence the renewed animosity of Saudi Arabia and a number of Persian Gulf countries.
I have previously quoted Olivier Roy’s book on Iran’s foreign policy - Sous le turban, la couronne: la politique extérieure - and I make no apologies for doing so again. Roy wrote that Iran’s foreign policy under the mullahs is not that different from that under the shah. However, the hopes of Persian expansionism have rarely matched actual achievements.
So, yes, Iran intervened in Syria and used its Shia allies in Iraq and Lebanon to defeat IS. Is the mainstream media telling us now that this was a bad idea? Should Iran have left IS to its own devices? Would the world be a better place if it had won? Let us be very clear, however: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar were not fighting IS or al Qa’eda. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence of citizens of all the above countries helping to finance those organisations. Even if we take at face value the assurances of these states that they did not actively participate in supporting and funding jihadi groups, we have every right to ask what they did to oppose IS.
So, for all its faults - and primarily in its own interests - Iran’s Islamic Republic fought against IS. But now the facts are presented in a distorted manner. According to Trump, Macron and (to much lesser extent) Merkel, Iran’s Islamic Republic must refrain from such ‘interventions’ in future. Fine, but what would you do if there was a revival of Salafi/jihadi groups in the region, supported by your main ally, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose crown prince is implicated by everyone from the CIA to the United Nations fact-finding missions in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi?
No doubt historians will look back at these two bizarre episodes of ‘fake news’ in our era and recognise them as the equivalent of the Iraq war’s ‘dodgy dossier’. However, for the time being the media bubble is having a great time. The real victims of this episode, like last time, are the peoples of the Middle East: Palestinians, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese …
None of this has anything to do with Christians, Muslims or Jews: it has everything to do with contemporary imperialism. Those who keep apologising are on the wrong side of history