It is sometimes hard to know whether as Iranian you should feel proud, ashamed, embarrassed or bemused.
Having closely followed the current impasse which has dominated the news cycles over the course of the last eleven days, I have come to the conclusion that in this particular instance it is a combination of all of the above.
In the profound words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates”; and as Ali Larijani implied in an interview yesterday (with John Snow, on the Channel 4 news), if a foreign power strays into your territorial waters, you do not offer them “chocolat”!
The Iranians have been accused of violating international law, which would be a valid point if those who were pointing the finger weren’t equally guilty of flaunting it. However, there is one law that no Iranian is above and that is the law of hospitality. Yes, they captured the sailors at gun point, paraded them on television and got them to write confessions in really bad English, but they also fed them chelo kebab, rice and khoresht. The 15 British sailors have to be the most well fed hostages (a contentious term if ever there was one) in history and I am willing to wager that they will return to Blighty safe, sound and several pounds heavier.
The diplomatic crisis has dragged on now for over eleven days, there are many theories and conspiracies regarding what drove the Revolutionary Guards’ actions. Some believe that it was in response to the American capture of the five Iranian officials from Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, others believe that it was done with British acquiescence so that they could use the situation to extract themselves from the quagmire that is Iraq. It has also been rumoured that the capture was in retaliation towards the three hundred Spartans that slew the relatives of several of the Revolutionary Guards.
However, the most outrageous theory thus far is that a powerful record company orchestrated the entire incident to promote their latest signing, Nathan Summers, who bares an uncanny resemblance to Justin Timberlake. It is believed that Iranians and the unnamed record company are in negotiations over who owns the rights to the footage and who will receive money for any merchandise sold.
With so many theories floating around, it is hard to know what the reasons for the capture of the sailors and marines were. Was it in order to boost oil revenues, distract from UN Security Council sanctions or merely as a warning to more hawkish elements that still have an appetite for further military adventures?
All of the above are within the realm of possibility, but the truth is a lot simpler. The Revolutionary Guards were bored, all their family and friends were making the most of the holiday period and they were stuck patrolling., They saw that their British counterparts were also away from home and patrolling, so they did what any self respecting Iranian with a sense of hospitality would do: they invited them (albeit at gunpoint) to indulge in some Iranian hospitality.
After all, even the British and the Germans stopped for Christmas during World War II, so why should Norooz be any different? Of course, once the British guests (or hostages – depending on your perspective) were in Iran, the government couldn’t just return them to the British. That wasn’t because they wanted to save face or use them to negotiate for useful concessions from the British. It was simply because it would have been rude to send them back before Sizdah Bedar.
Imagine what could have happened if the Revolutionary Guard had decided to dump all their sabzeh innocently into the Arvandrud (Shatt al-Arab) without inviting the British to share their hospitality first. It might have been misinterpreted as a hostile act and could have resulted in war.
In addition to the obvious good will and hospitality that the Revolutionary Guard wanted to show the sailors and the world, I have a sneaking suspicion that they may have been moonlighting on behalf of the Iranian tourist board and I would not be the least surprised if the footage of the hostages feasting finds its way into a promotional video of Iran.
Now that Sizdah Bedar is over, I have a feeling that the release of the hostages will be forth coming., Unless of course Ahmadinejad follows Larijani’s statement with “DOROUGH-E SIZDAH”