Hands on

Meet political campaigner Benjamin Lewis. On Saturday, the 23-year-old Sheffield university graduate will be taking part in the launch conference of Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi) in London. Hopi is being set up in response the fact that there is currently no anti-war organization in the UK that stands opposed to both the policies of the US government and the Islamic Republic. In an age where the naming of teddy bears causes a national outcry, a sober, secular peace organization has its place. And Hopi’s list of supporters is impressive. It includes author of No Logo Naomi Klein, comedian Mark Steel, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, Baloo, Bungle, Yellowstone Park’s Yogi, and other members of the Secular Bears United Front. Below, Lewis, who has little time to joke at present but admits to a fondness for bears, explains more about what Hopi hopes to achieve. [POSTER & PHOTOS]

On Saturday you are taking part in the launch of Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi). Why? Britain doesn’t look like it might attack Iran does it?

I don’t think there is any room for complacency on this question. In light of the precarious balance of forces between the US and Iran within Iraq and the pressure being put on Iran itself, even the smallest of events could trigger a bombing of the country.

Sure, while it’s still possible that the US and Iran will carve out some deal on the future balance of power within Iraq, this does not detract from the fact that the situation is a highly unstable one.

Britain, as the military junior partner of the US, may not necessarily directly be involved in any attack or strike on Iran, but this misses the point. The UK would allow the US airspace, access to its bases and so be complicit in any bombing campaign against Iran. In many ways, the war has started already in the form of sanctions against Iran — these sanctions are fully supported by the British government. Far from helping the working class and poor people in Iran, these sanctions actually impoverish them even more. In this sense the sanctions are also to be seen as a tool of war and must be opposed. People forget that the Clinton-led sanctions on Iraq killed almost as many people as the Bush-fronted invasion, and ongoing occupation of, Iraq.

The Iranian bodies currently affiliated to the UK’s Stop the War Coalition both appear to be on friendly terms with President Ahmadinejad’s government. As such they are considered by many to be kowtowing to Islamists. Does Hopi plan to do that too?

Not at all. HOPI was set up by Iranian exiles that have seen the reality of the regime’s “anti-imperialism” for themselves. We in HOPI point out that the Iranian theocracy has never been a consistently anti-imperialist force — not during the times of the Irangate scandal and certainly not today where it uncritically imposes the agenda of the International Monetary Fund and oversees the brutal oppression of national and religious minorities in Iran. We also understand that the Iranian regime is cynically using the pretext of war to justify its increased repression of radical movements for democracy within Iran — labelling trade unionists such as Mansour Ossanlou or student radicals like Bijan Sabbagh “American conciliators.”

HOPI is unique in the sense that it is campaigning on two fronts — resisting the war plans of imperialism and looking to build support for — and active solidarity with — the burgeoning radical and secular movements in Iran. These are consistently anti-imperialist because they have no illusions in the project of imperialism and also reject the idea that political Islam — a force that has not delivered its promises of prosperity and wellbeing in the past 30 years — would consistently uphold their interests in any military conflict. As you know, some leading mullahs have already prepared themselves for war and new sanctions by shifting their assets to East Asian banks.

Why hasn’t Hopi joined Stop the War Coalition?

Our affiliation was rejected. Its leadership used the most wafer-thin political arguments to exclude us, saying that we were “opposed to the aims” of the StWC’. This is odd given that HOPI, like the StWC, is opposed to war and sanctions on Iran — and for the unconditional withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

We think these crassly bureaucratic shenanigans [which resulted in the rejection of HOPI] drew a clear line of apology for the Iranian regime. On numerous occasions we have stood accused of being pro-war for simply highlighting the struggles of the Iranian people against the Islamist government.

This is worrying considering this is exactly the same political argument used by Ahmadinejad and his cronies to crush any movements for real, progressive change from below in Iran.

Do you think Iran’s nuclear programme should halt or do you think that like Iraq’s WMD, it offers the US an excuse to bomb?

I am against nuclear weapons in general — their very existence underlines the lunacy of a society where the knowledge and wisdom of humanity is used not to free people but to enslave them and threaten them with extinction. It is not at all clear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons — a recent CIA report concluded for example that it isn’t. Whether it is or not, we cannot be indifferent to the rank hypocrisy of the US’s allegations. After all, for all of the talk of WMDs in Iraq, none were actually found. The US may talk about a stable and nuclear-free Middle East, but is more than happy to arm subservient governments that bow down to its agenda with huge amounts of nukes —- namely Israel and the military dictatorship in Pakistan. The real reason that the US and Iran are currently at odds is that the US occupation of Iraq has given the Iranian regime unprecedented power over the region as a whole. Despite whatever nonsense the US may say about nuclear weapons or its supposed commitment to ‘democracy’ in Iran, this forms the basis of the current tensions.

Your slogan is ‘No to Tehran, No to Washington’. What is Hopi’s line on Israel — do you feel it should sit back and relax and not worry about the threats posed by Iran?

I do not buy into the idea that the Iranian regime is part of the wider forces of “Islamo-Fascism” in the Middle East that could bring about a “second Holocaust” if the West does not intervene in Iran. This rhetoric merely reflects an attempt to provide some sort of moral justification for the rotten plans of imperialism within the region. Indeed, even a brief sketch of history undermines the idea that Iran and Israel are eternal enemies — they have always secretly struck deals with each other — especially in terms of weapons and armaments. HOPI is unequivocally against Israeli expansionism in the Middle East, and in relation to the last point, this also means that we are opposed to Israel’s nuclear weapons — a crucial point considering that much has been made of an US attack on Iran coming under the auspices of the Israeli government. [POSTER & PHOTOS]

HANDS OFF THE PEOPLE OF IRAN CONFERENCE IS AT 10am, Saturday December 8. Somers Town Community Centre, 150 Ossulston Street, London NW1 (nearest tube stations: Kings Cross and Euston. Click here for a map)

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