No to US aggression, no to Iranian regime

The tasks of the anti-war movement are twofold, argues Mehdi Kia, co-editor of Iran Bulletin - Middle East Forum

The wolves are howling once again. An escalating crisis, ostensibly over Iran's nuclear programme, has explosive potential.

For much of the left, and for a good number of all those who oppose the looming war, the issue superficially appears straightforward. An aggressive US, with some lesser allies, is bent on an imperial project of restructuring the Middle East. The aim is to totally subjugate this strategic region, with its rich oil and gas deposits, to US will. Any government not directly a US vassal - one of the so-called 'rogue states' - has to be swept away.

Afghanistan and Iraq were acts one and two of this new colonial model. At its most ambitious lies the project for a 'greater Middle East', where larger and potentially more powerful political units such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia will be split up, Balkanised into smaller, more manageable entities. And the pretext for this grand design is 'terrorism', weapons of mass destruction, and now nuclear weapons. Act three is Iran and if nuclear weapons were not an issue - and they clearly are - they (or something else) would have to be invented. Clearly any sane person must oppose such a project.

The islamic regime has indeed been following a trajectory towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons, although it is probably five to 10 years away from making one. Despite the rhetoric coming out of some western media, these weapons are not a threat to the US. Nor does the islamic regime have plans to nuke Israel. For this crisis-ridden regime, nuclear weapons are ropes to stop them drowning. And this reactionary regime will be drowned by its own people, if they are not thwarted in their efforts by the aggressive policies and machinations of the US and its allies. Or, just as importantly, if the people are not frustrated by the mistaken policies of well-meaning, if misguided, friends.

I will explain what I mean by this later, but first I need to digress and recap on some recent history. Understanding the roots of the islamist movement is critical to both analysing the current events accurately and for developing a meaningful policy and response.

Roots of islamism

Islamism is a response to the global capitalist restructuring of the Middle East. Faced with a failed and discredited nationalism, and in the absence of a credible left, the people of the region were offered no alternative but to flock to the banner of the newly emerging islamists. In this sense the islamist movements - which go under a variety of names, such as 'political islam', islamic fundamentalism, etc - are a new creation, a response to capitalist uprooting and pauperisation of huge sections of the population of these countries. But the islamists' programme was, and is, utterly reactionary, repressive and deeply anti-democratic (see the article in Critique, 'Political islam and its relations to capital and class', by A Mehrdad and Y Mather - www.critiquejournal.net/islam.html). And for that reason islamism is a feeble bulwark against the global capitalist project.

In Iran the islamist victory, resulting in the first islamist government in the Middle East, was achieved in a brutal contest with an equally vibrant anti-imperialist democratic movement of the Iranian people.

Over the ensuing quarter of a century the people of Iran have shown again and again that they do not want this regime which has tried to completely stifle its every democratic right. And the resistance continues to this day in the numerous movements active inside the country today: the many women's movements for rights and equality, the nationwide labour movement for independent association and other demands, the struggle of the national minorities for their basic rights, and many others. Iran is alive with activity - all of which reject the islamist straitjacket imposed on them. Remember, two third of the voting population rejected the current president, Ahmadinejad - and the competition was the universally hated Rafsanjani. Given the choice, most Iranians chose to stay at home rather than vote (see M Kia and A Mehrdad, 'New conservatives, regime crisis and political perspectives in Iran', www.iran-bulletin.org/IB-MEF-3/presidentialelections_edited.htm).

It is against this backdrop that the dark clouds of war are gathering on the horizon: an imperialist aggression targeting an ultra-reactionary government rejected by the majority of its people. And the new Iranian president has explicitly enunciated his threat to use force to put down dissent, and is relying on the US war drums to help in this task. We saw it when the regime violently crushed the Teheran bus drivers' strike, beating and arresting most of its leaders, alongside 1,200 workers, and even wives and small children in January. The bus drivers were labelled the "enemy within" - jog any memories? They showed it by attacking women who demonstrated on International Women's Day. They did so again by publicly hanging two young Iranian Arabs from Ahwaz, accused of being foreign agents, after a kangaroo court this month.

At the international level too this regime is stoking tension with quixotic statements, denying the holocaust, claiming to want to push Israel into the sea and such like. With this backdrop, to focus on the warmongering policies of the US without also directing some arrows at the islamist regime will emasculate the anti-war movement. Why?

Because regimes like the islamic republic of Iran are themselves part of the problem. By repressing their own people, they make it easier for imperialist aggressive policies to be realised. At the very best an anti-democratic regime, like the one ruling Iran, leaves its people passive and indifferent to foreign attack. At worse, they welcome the US in the mistaken belief that it will relieve them of their current misery - the 'it can't get any worse' mentality. We saw elements of both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By raising regional tension, as well as by their repressive policies at home, regimes such as those ruling Iran make it easier for the imperialist powers to justify their aggression to public opinion at home. Thus the current crisis with Iran is two-sided: a Pax Americana with clear colonial designs on the country, and an ultra-reactionary government that makes their task easier. For the anti-war movement the responsibilities are therefore not as simple as we made out above.

Two-pronged attack

Clearly the anti-war movement must reject any and every interference or intervention against Iran in any shape or form. The movement needs to mobilise the widest and broadest spectrum of people from across the world in order to put real pressure on their governments. They can only achieve this end, however, if they also make it clear that they oppose the Iranian regime's repression. Specifically the anti-war movement must support the people of Iran - the workers, including the teachers, the nurses, etc, the women, the national and religious minorities - in their day-to-day struggles for their basic and legitimate rights. These two tasks of the anti-war movement are inseparable.

To conclude, then, in order to stop the warmongers in their tracks the anti-war movement cannot ignore the islamic regime that is suffocating its people. The warmongers' greatest asset in the region is a people alienated from their government and without hope of changing it from within.

If you want to make war less likely, you not only have to stop the warmongers nearer home, but you also need to strengthen those within Iran who are the natural dam against foreign aggression. A strong, independent civil society is the best guarantee against US designs. The US is well aware of this.

The US, and its allies in the Iranian 'opposition movement', such as the monarchists and the Peoples Mujahedin of Iran, were among the first to support the Tehran bus drivers' strike. Radio Israel was the first to report the attack on women on March 8. Do either the US or the Zionist state care one iota about the fate of the labour or women's movement in Iran? If the progressive and left movement fails to vigorously support the people of Iran in their democratic struggles they will be abandoning them to the clutches of the islamic state or the imperialist vultures in their attempt to control the Middle East.

The choice for the anti-war movement is clear: target both simultaneously or sink into impotence.