Saturday, 31 March 2007

Iran hostage crisis demonstrates that national self interest trumps European solidarity

Two articles from the UK's loopy left The Guardian newspaper caught my eye today. One is surprisingly moderate while the other demonstrates the cultural malaise that has descended upon Western Europe and the depths to which intellectual honesty have fallen.

Timothy Garton Ash has a piece Europe must show real solidarity in which he begins:
Last week, while the European Union celebrated 50 years of peace, freedom and solidarity, 15 Europeans were kidnapped from Iraqi territorial waters by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. As I write, those 14 European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged "confession", clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what's it going to do about it? Where's the solidarity? Where's the action?
That's exactly the point. Why aren't Germany and France as a minimum condemning in the strongest possible language what Iran has done and letting the world know that it stands alongside its European partner even to the point of saying they're prepared to join them in whatever military action needs to be taken?
Even if you regard the Anglo-American presence in Iraq as foolish and illegitimate, and the American seizure of Iranians in Iraq as an escalation of this illegitimate folly, that would not for a moment excuse the Iranian action. The British forces were operating as part of a multinational force under an explicit UN mandate, to protect oil installations and prevent the smuggling of guns into Iraq - guns with which more Iraqis would otherwise be killed. According to the sophisticated GPS instruments which the British service personnel had with them, they were more than three kilometres inside Iraqi territorial waters when they went to search a suspect vessel.
That's right, folks, they were part of a multinational force operating under an explicit United Nations mandate. The anti-West Left will be tying itself in knots trying to work out how to blame firstly the UK and then the US and maybe even Israel for Iran's provocative act of war.
But there is something Europe should do: flex its economic muscles. The EU is by far Iran's biggest trading partner. More than 40% of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis. Much of it is underpinned by export credit guarantees given by European governments, notably those of Germany, France and Italy. According to the most recent figures available from the German economics ministry, Iran is Germany's third-largest beneficiary of export credit guarantees, outdone only by Russia and China. Iran comes second to none in terms of the proportion of German exports - in recent years up to 65% - underwritten by the German government.
Ahhhhhhhh, there's the reason those countries are silent. See? At the end of the day, national self interest trumps European Union solidarity. One would expect nothing else from the world's worst country, France, but from Germany and Italy it is somewhat disappointing.
So here's a challenge for the German presidency of the European Union: will you put your money where your mouth is? Or are all your Sunday speeches about European solidarity in the cause of peace and freedom not even worth the paper they are written on?
Is that a rhetorical question? Seriously. Is it?

On the other hand, Robert Tait has a truly disgusting blame Britain first piece A Bitter Legacy, the intro to which is:
The seizure of 15 British sailors by Iran is only the latest incident in a long and troubled history between the two countries. As Robert Tait reports from Tehran, most Iranians see Britain as an old colonial power that's still meddling in their affairs
And he begins:
If the 15 British sailors currently held by Iran's revolutionary guards are shocked by the hostility to Britain shown by their captors, it will be less surprising to British diplomats engaged in the delicate process of securing their release. Hostility to all things British is, as every foreign office mandarin knows, the default mode of Iran's staunchly anti-western political leadership. From its perspective, Britain - along with America - is in the vanguard of "global arrogance", Iranian political shorthand for the contemporary western interventionism whose alleged goal is to dominate and control the resources of developing nations such as Iran.

But this is not just President Ahmadinejad. The antipathy goes back to colonial times, and the long and tortured history of British intervention in Iran.
It has been many years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that ushered in one of the world's most despicable regimes and, in the process, erased the political positioning of every country hitherto involved with it. For Tait to make a connection between colonial antipathy and modern Iran is an incredible failure of logic and reality.
This anti-British sentiment is shared by ordinary Iranians. Its resonance defies boundaries of age, education, social class or political affiliation. In the eyes of a broad cross-section of the population, Britain - as much, or even more than, the US - is the real enemy. Four decades after the sun set on its imperial might, the Machiavellian instincts of the "old coloniser" are believed to be alive, well and still acting against the interests of Iran. For every mishap - whether a bombing, rising living costs or simply the advent of an unpopular government - a hidden British hand is often thought to be at work.

I first became aware of this conviction 18 months ago on a visit to Ahvaz, capital of the south-western province of Khuzestan. A bomb attack - the latest in a series - had killed six people in the city's main street. The incident seemed to be linked to Arab separatists in the mainly Arabic-speaking province, but the Iranian authorities blamed Britain, pointing to the British military presence across the border in southern Iraq. Eulogists at public mourning ceremonies organised by the revolutionary guards railed against "criminal England".

When I visited Ali Narimousayi, whose 20-year-old daughter, Ghazaleh, had been blown up in the blast, it became clear that the message carried a wider currency. "We know they want to come here and take our oil for free and we won't let them," he said. "Why is Britain so against our nuclear programme? Have we ever mistreated their ambassador or their people? What have we ever done to them? Go back to Britain and tell [the politicians] to be in good relations with Iran."
Did Tait discuss the reality of the supposed oil theft or does it comport so strongly with his own belief that he accepted it as reality? Did he ask about why Iran needed nuclear weapons and about Ahmadinejad's threat to blow Israel off the map?

So Iran's taking of 15 hostages is rooted in some colonial humiliation, is it? That's what Tait has written if you boil it all down.

Do people in Britain actually believe this stuff? Is there so little truth telling in the media now that Tait can write such rubbish and not get called on it by anyone? For a society that supposedly believes in freedom of expression there seems to be remarkably little free political debate going on at all in Europe.

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