In June 2009, I found myself glued to the TV set, watching the crowds in Tehran protesting the rigged reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. I was amazed that things seemed to be falling apart so quickly for the motley crew of thugs, thieves, killers and millenarian fantasists that run the country. After all, their despotic regime was only 30 years old, and at that age the USSR was in the full, terrifying flower of Stalinism. It would be another four decades before it collapsed due to institutional senility and internal decay.
Even so, the revolutionary Islamists in Iran were still virile enough to repress those protests. And as the fists and boots hammered down, and young girls were shot dead in the street, there was precious little light relief until the Iranian authorities declared the British responsible for all the unrest.
Like most Britons, I long ago accepted that our island home is a small, increasingly insignificant place, populated by a mild-mannered people who meekly submit to the highest degree of government surveillance in the Western world. Our public services are mediocre and our TV is largely rubbish. The notion that the ineffectual clique of ex-public schoolboys running this minor power could mastermind an uprising in Iran- or would even want to- was definitely worth a chuckle or two.
What I had forgotten, of course, is that in the Middle East people have very long memories. The Iranians recall the days when Britain had an empire, and stern, ascetic men fond of a good spanking liked to fiddle with the internal politics of faraway places. To the Iranians, apparently, Albion is still perfidious, the “Little Satan” manipulating the oafish Great Satan of America into doing its bidding: a bit like the Elders of Zion, only even more devious.
Jeez, I thought, those Mullahs have got to catch up with the times… watch a bit of UK reality TV or something. Those imperial guys might as well be aliens for all they have in common with their descendants. Didn’t the Iranians notice that the last time they kidnapped a bunch of British soldiers some of them burst into tears?
On the other hand, I thought, this should make those “experts,” who doubt that Ahmadinejad & co. are serious about all the apocalyptic stuff, think again. If the Iranians can believe this about the UK, then the notion that the Hidden Imam is about to return any day now and usher in the End Times is eminently plausible by comparison.
Of course, it’s very likely that the regime didn’t really think Britain was responsible, but was merely indulging in the usual scapegoating that occurs whenever rotten, tyrannical regimes seek to explain to their people why living/political/economic conditions are so awful: it’s the Jews! It’s the Americans! No, wait, it’s the Jews and the Americans! And the British!
Thus, when I learned on Tuesday that a mob had stormed the UK Embassy in Tehran I assumed that the Mullahs had been whipping up yet another anti-British frenzy to cover their own wickedness and incompetence.
And yet, as I read commentary on the rampage, I discovered that this time the Masters of Iran might actually have genuine cause to be angry at Britain. Apparently, following the latest report from the UN stating what has been obvious to everyone for, oh, the last eight or nine years or so (that Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons) the British government banned all Iranian banks from trading in London, which, according to people who understand economics better than I do, will have disastrous consequences for Iranian access to European markets.
Now that does sound annoying, especially as the Iranian economy is already a disaster area. Of course, there’s not much behind the threats of “serious consequences” that were made by the small bald man who purports to be Britain’s foreign secretary. But the real attack on Iran has already been launched.
What next? I don’t know, although I suspect that the system built by the Ayatollah Khomeini will totter on for a while, before it collapses in on itself, or perishes in fire and blood. Given that Iran is home to a truly ancient civilization, and was (probably) the birthplace of the prophet Zoroaster, who may have been the inventor of linear time, the idea of apocalypse and many other concepts common to Judaism, Christianity, Islam (and by extension much of mankind)… I kind of have high hopes for the place. Certainly the Iranians deserve much better leadership than is provided by the current crop of bearded obscurantists.
Meanwhile, I find myself struggling with a strange stirring in my breast. It’s not quite pride, but it’s definitely a sensation of surprise, possibly even pleasure. For some time now, the UK has been a world leader in meaningless gesture politics, particularly when it comes to environmentalism and the developing world. But this action on the Iranian banks, well it just might have actual consequences for that most pernicious of regimes. Certainly the Mullahs are peeved.
Rule Britannia! Hail (The Little) Satan!