Blame the British for the problems of Iran
Behzad Farsian | 01-12-2003
The Tehran taxi driver's knowing remark is unsurprising: "The British are behind everything in Iran."
After all, we have been riding in Iran's national car, an adaptation of the old Hillman Hunter, past British-built buildings and finally dropped at the vast British embassy compound in Teheran.
His remark reflects a national consensus. Everyone, from shoeshine man to entrepreneur, has conspiracy theories to offer about Britain and its influence in Iran over the past 100 years.
Ingilis'eh kalak, or Tricky English, is a common phrase. There is a widespread notion among anti-clerical elements, for example, that Whitehall conspires with the Islamic leadership, or that London organises attacks against itself.
When the British embassy came under fire in recent attacks, newspapers suggested it was the work of the British themselves. Few seemed to believe that elements close to the theocratic government might be seeking to convey a message about the arrest of a former Iranian diplomat in Britain.
"Whoever shot at the embassy was a madman," said Hojatoleslam Fazel-Maybodi, a middle-ranking cleric. "The shooting definitely does not represent the government's line towards the British and from what I have seen from the public, they also condemn the shootings."
At the Café Naderi, a well-known gathering place for intellectuals and philosophers before the 1979 revolution, many of the older crowd who meet to discuss politics echo the sceptical tone.
"It is plausible for the British to have attacked their own embassy," said one customer. "The shooting gave the British a reason to halt trade. Less trade with Iran shows no British commitment to the stability of our political system, similar to what happened in Iraq before the current occupation."
A businessman who did not wish to be named partly agreed with this theory. "Our (British) goods were not released from Iranian customs during the whole affair (over the ambassador, who has since been freed). We were not given a reason why. We were just told we have to wait," he said.
Dr. Fardanesh, professor of political science at Teheran's Beheshti University, said: "It is in the blood of Iranians today to blame everything on the British.
"But it is not their fault. The press are mostly to blame. They constantly bring up the memories of British political involvement in Iran. As long as the public are reminded of past events, they will always blame the British for anything."
The cleric, Fazel-Maybodi, explained: "There are some things the British have done in Iran that we can't forget.
"They elevated Reza Khan to power (in 1921). Then they abdicated him in favour of his son Mohammad Reza Shah (in 1943), and of course, the unforgettable coup d'état against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (in 1953).
"Because of these past covert events the Iranian people believe Britain and America are still up to their old tricks."
The presence of British troops on Iran's borders, in Afghanistan to the East and Iraq to the West, is never mentioned. Nor is the permanent presence of Royal Navy vessels in the Gulf. Instead, Iranians see a far more subtle influence, a hidden British hand deep within their own country. They point to the past for inspiration.
Fazel-Maybodi is part of Iran's reforming circle. Based in Qom, he believes Iran should not dwell on the past. "The Islamic Republic has come to a juncture where we should have relations with every country in the world, regardless of what they have done," he said.
Yet the old Iranian beliefs persist. The five visits of Jack Straw, Britain's Foreign Secretary, over the past two years are the latest target. "Newspapers and people wonder whether Jack Straw is a puppet for the US, and is yet another joint conspiracy against Iran," said the professor. http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/Opinion.asp?ArticleID=104246