In Iran, the masses are stirring against the undemocratic ruling class. It’s a movement that combines elements of everything deserving of left-wing international solidarity: revolt against a cruel elite, a feminist uprising against a deeply misogynistic regime, and a push to ultimately overthrow the Islamist regime.
But in the eyes of many western left-wing commentators, it appears that democracy and self-determination belong only to white people. The secularists, liberals, socialists and democrats of Iran must accept their bitterly cruel status quo because there’s always a worse alternative.
Last week Emily Thornberry broke the Labour Party’s silence with a speech that was ignorant. She dismissed Syrian rebels as terrorists, and failed to distinguish between women, students and working-class people fighting against the barbaric Iranian state.
To the west, protesters should pack up and retreat because the police state, a theocratic fascist dictatorship, is prepared to be violent and make the protestors 'pay the price'.
Anyone surprised by this approach should familiarise themselves with the Labour leadership and what it really stands for. At best it substitutes one imperialism for another - condemning American aggression but never mentioning Russian. At its worst, it is actively complicit in the crimes committed by these regressive regimes, so far as sharing platforms with their supporters, appearing on state propaganda channels such as RT and Press TV ,and then using the awful fence-sitter “condemn all acts of violence” whenever an anti-western police state attacks the protesters.
There are genuinely understandable reasons to fear another political upheaval given what happened in Syria. There are no guarantees as to how the protests in Iran will play out. There is, though, a wide gap between being fearful of a bloody war and regarding every political uprising in an anti-American state within the Middle East as simply a social unrest organised by imperialist interests.
Certainly, the west will interfere and seek to create a trade-friendly Iran who do not threaten their geopolitical interests. And it’s worth pointing out that years of sanctions on Iran have hurt their economy and played some part in building economic resentment. On the other hand, some could legitimately point out that Iran’s elite hoard their wealth - sanctions are more likely to affect the poor than the ruling elite.
But warnings about dystopian futures, whilst definitely a risk, are not reason enough or alone to silence the protests. That is poor solidarity on the part of people who should instinctively be supporting any overthrow of fascistic theocracies.
In 2015 Iran executed 977 people, and 743 in the year before that. The hijab is mandatory for women and they face stoning for adultery. Dissidents, purged after the Islamic Revolution, are silenced and for most parts the liberal secularist movement within the country is a young, underground one.
The barbarism of Iran is as bad, if not worse, than Saudi Arabia. And yet our attitudes towards the countries are markedly different. If the people of Saudi Arabia rose up there would be support for them to overthrow the religious fascism policing their lives, yet it’s not found in the case of Iran.
The argument that people should refuse to support regime change in order avoid loss of life shifts the responsibility away from the regime and onto the people, encouraging them to simply accept their oppression.
There’s a hint of sneering racism to all of this: that somehow the Iranians, just like the Arabs, are passive slaves to dictatorship and cannot comprehend democracy. This ignores the fact that the state can use violence as an instrument of oppression to maintain their status quo, but cleverly manage to win the support of the anti-imperialist left by parading themselves as the little guys sticking it to the West. It often means parts of the left will ignore whatever atrocities they participate or orchestrate because the end goal is to end western hegemony itself.
The silence over Iran, broken belatedly by Emily Thornberry's terrible speech, simply underlines the poor internationalism of the modern left, one where we extend our solidarity to states rather than the actual people. This applies not only to Iran but also North Korea, Russia, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela.
The irony is that many support Corbyn because they believe he truly campaigns for peace, yet he is rather silent when anti-western dictators are in danger of being toppled by protests (as in the case of Iran and Venezuela). His silence speaks volumes.