At the end of July and beginning of August 2007, in less than a week, over 50 people were executed by public hanging in Iran’s islamic republic. There are unconfirmed reports that student political activists were amongst those executed as ‘delinquents’.
This has taken place against the background of a campaign entitled ‘enforcement of national security’, under which over one million Iranians have faced questioning. Meanwhile, the state claims that it has arrested 4,000 ‘delinquents’ and detained 43,000 accused of drug offences. Just as alarmingly, anti-war, anti-imperialist activists such as Mansour Ossanlou and Mahmoud Salehi, as well as many workers and students, are held in prison on trumped-up charges.
According to government figures, 150,000 young women have been apprehended for wearing a ‘poor hijab’ (their fringe or a few strands of hair had been showing under their headscarf). There are also reports that a young woman was stoned to death, the second in two months, in mid-July. The Iranian media reported that Maryam Ayyubi, in her early 30s, was put to death at dawn on July 11.
Of course, as we had predicted, US pressure on Iran, the threat of war, sanctions and plans for regime change from above, Bush-style, will only lead to further repression, executions and detention of the very activists who lead genuine anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist struggles – while Iran’s islamic regime is busy negotiating with the US and UK governments over the terms of all three parties’ interference in the internal affairs of imperialist-occupied Iraq.
Public hangings and mass arrests are part of this government’s efforts to impose an atmosphere of fear and terror at a time when large sections of the working class are protesting against low wages and lack of job security. Many young people (over 70% of the population is under 25) are also rebelling against the religious state’s interference in every aspect of private and public life.
It is ironic that, for all the prohibitions imposed by the shia clerics in Iran for the last 28 years, the generations born since the islamic revolution show no acceptance of religious rules and regulations. In fact, having witnessed the hypocrisy of a ‘religious state’ that bans alcohol yet turns a blind eye, or even contributes, to drug addiction, prostitution, re-sale of confiscated alcohol, etc, the young in Iran rightly associate the ‘pious’ islamic state and its organs of power with double standards, corruption and bribery.
The open rebellion of youth against religious diktat and the brutal way the regime has resorted to public hangings and lashings also exposes the shallowness of the argument of apologists for the islamic regime who imply that workers’, democratic and women’s rights are ‘western values’ that should not be ‘imposed’ on muslims. On the contrary, these are basic, universal rights won through decades of struggle throughout the world.
Last week in an internet TV studio I watched a short film depicting the public hanging of two men and a women in Iran with Peter Tatchell and Mark Fischer. The fact that I was born in a ‘muslim country’ did not mean that I felt less horror and revulsion at the barbaric scene of painful and slow deaths than the two UK comrades. In such matters we share a common humanity and those living in islamic countries are equally entitled to democratic rights as those living in the west.
If we take the figures published by the Iranian regime for those arrested in the last few weeks for ‘un-islamic’ behaviour it is clear that a sizeable portion of Iranian youth openly flaunt religious regulations regarding every aspect of day-to-day life: clothes, music, hair cover, length of hair … The physical punishments regularly meted out by ‘morality’ police have not only failed to change the attitudes of Iranian youth: it has made them more determined to rebel against the state’s interference in their private lives.
Of course, the main victims of islamic ‘morality’ law and recent punishments have been the poorer sections of the population. Throughout the rule of the shia government, the rich and the upper sections of the middle classes have paid their way out of islamic regulations and restrictions either through bribes or through selecting venues and districts where the ‘morality’ police are known to turn a blind eye.
The difficult conditions faced by ordinary Iranians are exacerbated by the direct and indirect interventions of the international and Iranian forces associated with regime change from above. In early summer a wide spectrum of the Iranian opposition met in Paris in a gathering funded and supported by the Bush administration. They included royalists, constitutional monarchists, republicans, nationalists, Kurdish separatists and some smaller ‘left’ parties. They had little in common with each other except their eagerness to benefit from the $80 million budget approved by the Bush administration for the ‘velvet revolution’ in Iran.
Of course, the kind of regime change they seek (a pro-US, neoliberal capitalist regime, as opposed to an islamic, neoliberal capitalist regime) will not improve the plight of Iranian workers. However, because the working class has been at the forefront of recent struggles against the regime, rightwing forces inside and outside Iran have suddenly become very keen on defending Iranian workers.
From CIA radio stations such as Radio Free Iran to rightwing trade unions with a long history of loyalty to imperialism, such as the International Transport Workers Federation (remember Chile and the strikes organised by the ITWF against the Allende regime, as well as other activities arming and supporting rightwing forces in Latin America), all the forces of regime change from above are claiming to be on the side of Iranian workers.
It is no surprise that in the absence of any mass support from genuine anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist forces defending Iranian workers, and unaware of the history of these organisations, many internal and exiled Iranian groups have embraced this ‘support’.
The saddest aspect of all this is that the calls issued by trade union leaders fearful of damaging their cosy relations with capitalist leaders avoid ‘controversial issues’, such as war and imperialism. In these international union organisations claiming to represent millions of workers, very few of their members are even aware of the calls for ‘solidarity’ made in their name. That is because such they are gestures totally unconnected with any genuine campaign to win support for Iranian workers amongst rank and file trade unionists.
Events inside Iran and on the international arena are forcing us to be ever more vigilant regarding our political stance, as well as the kind of solidarity and support we seek for the revolutionary, anti-capitalist forces inside Iran. Quite clearly we cannot achieve this by confusing pro-imperialist forces with genuine defenders of the Iranian working class.
In Hands Off the People of Iran we have insisted on maintaining a clear distance from defenders of US-style regime change from above, and from social-imperialists who claim that the presence of US-UK armies in the Middle East will help workers obtain trade union rights.
The exceptional support we have gained amongst anti-war activists, as well as amongst academics, artists, writers, etc, gives us hope that it is possible to show principled solidarity with the struggles of the Iranian people while opposing imperialist war, sanctions and regime change from above.
Yassamine Mather Deputy Editor of Critique, Journal of Socialist Theory, published by Centre for the Study of Socialist Theory and Movements, Glasgow University.