I attended the Hands Off the People of Iran AGM on Saturday which was really excellent. Apologies for the slight delay in the report - I've been having a wonderful weekend of Green Party admin getting out the first conference agenda (which members can now access from the SOC page on the members site - along with the online prioritisation ballot, wooo). You can read other reports here and here.
For me the arguments of Hopi are simple. We should be opposed to the killing and oppression of innocent people in Iran whether it is done by Western powers or by the Iranian regime. We need a campaigning organisation that guards against war and provides solidarity to those who are at the wrong end of injustices meted out by the government of Iran.
For an organisation with such simple and clear aims it has managed to provoke not a little controversy. The unfortunate fact is that there are some who think that if somebody objects to one set of killings then they must implicitly be for the other. In the eyes of the war mongers opposing interventionist regime change makes you a supporter of the murder and imprisonment of ethnic minorities, gay people, trade unionists, etc.. To others, criticise those killings and you are "objectively" on the side of the war machine, itching to obliterate a nation.
Those people are wrong and Hopi is right. The other thing Hopi provides is a place where you can hear an extremely high level of debate and where disagreements are conducted in possibly the most cordial and fraternal manner on the left, outside of my own living room of course. I suspect the one fact is related to the other.
It's very instructive to hear well informed and well considered political discussion on Iran particularly if, like me, you're starting from a reasonably basic level. In terms of my report I think I'll confine myself to two main aspects of the AGM. Solidarity work and the likelihood of war.
There were a number of Iranians who spoke throughout the day some from the floor, some giving presentations, and one thing that struck me - apart from the useful content - was that these are people like us. I don't mean that in the faux anti-racist sense - but in the sense that political activists in the UK will recognise in themselves the political activists of Iran. We fight for the same reasons, we use the same methods, we are identical despite all the differences between us and our circumstances.
Bus workers who organise a union in Tehran do it for much the same reasons as a bus driver in Norwich. Students who demonstrate and stick their fingers up at the authorities are expressing exactly the same rage and frustrations there as here, our movements are of a piece. Whilst, for sure, there are many serious issues they face that we do not (and, I guess, vice versa) it is entirely to the point to reassert that those we give solidarity to are not "foreign" to us - but our brothers, struggling in circumstances often more difficult than our own.
As we recognise the same virtues and vices, the same mannerisms and justifications I think it helps us cut against the prevailing stereotype, where Iran is simply the place of a theocracy and its victims, and shows the other Iran where people live their lives as we live ours. I don't know - perhaps that doesn't make sense - but what I'm trying to get at is that solidarity is not an act of charity but assistance to those who fight our fight but in another place.
The most contentious motion of the day was on the threat of war. The steering committee had submitted a motion outlining various aspects of the political situation and where Hopi was going as an organisation.
Supporters of the magazine Permanent Revolution put forward an extremely clear minded amendment addressing themselves to a rather poorly worded section that claimed that, after Obama's election, the "US regime" was likely to become "even more belligerent, thus increasing the threat [of war]."
PR sought to reverse this and pointed to the likelihood of a new approach from the US which will prioritise diplomatic measures and the possibility of tightening of sanctions over the threat of war. Eminently sensible stuff frankly.
The arguments against this (and I'm not trying to simplify them but I did have a little trouble making sense of them) was that a) the Democrats are identical to the Republicans and we shouldn't get sucked into Obama-mania by assuming he isn't going to nuke everybody, b) we are against war on Iran so we must ensure we don't take it lightly and c) sanctions are a weapon of war in themselves and bombings will simply be an escalation of current policy rather than a new phase.
All of these points I disagree with and, on this, PR weren't just correct they seemed to be correct for the right reasons too.
Firstly, being opposed to war does not mean you have to pretend that a war is imminent. That only sows distrust in your judgement. The boy who cried wolf doesn't get proved right when the wolf eats him, he just proves himself ineffective at giving warnings. There are some people who I know who have, literally, been telling me for five years that Iran is about to be invaded. Well, they've been wrong for five years and let's hope they'll continue being wrong.
Secondly, for US strategy to become more belligerent than the Bush years it would have to make a fetish out of war, torture, the smashing of civil liberties, and the demonisation of its "enemies" - and then top it! Nothing points to this being the case, not because we're all in love with Obama (but he does have dreamy eyes) but because they understand it's a failed strategy and are not going to continue to pursue it out of a stubborn refusal to lose face.
- If Obama wants to get elected again he will not invade Iran in the next four years. He wants to get elected again.
- The logistics of escalation are simply daunting. An attack on Iran is not just another thing to do, it makes their job in Iraq and Afghanistan harder too. They don't want that - and they certainly don't want the repercussions such an attack would have in Pakistan. In their terms it doesn't make sense.
- The political realities on the international scene are that the US would have next to no allies for another war and it would undermine Obama's current arguments about "reboot"ing the relationship with the Middle East and asking for extra allied forces to bolster the Afghan presence. The US will not invade without allies, and they don't exist.
Anyway, in a room with about sixty people only seven of us thought the US trajectory was not an upping of the neo-con stakes. It's kind of weird being in a minority in one room, when you know you'd be in the majority in almost any other room on the planet... oh well, I shall console myself with the fact the motion to decenter the organisation away from London, just a wee bit, was won with a handsome majority.
All in all I was pleased to have gone and feel that Hopi is an organisation that, generally, understands some pretty basic principles that, for whatever reason, seem to have alluded others in the progressive movement. Let's support the people of Iran in their desire not to be killed by their masters at home or their would be masters in the darkened boardrooms of the West.
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