Friday, June 19, 2009

The Shades of Grey in Iran

SUMMARY: There is no justification for killing unarmed demonstrators, vote rigging, torture or jailing people without trial – and many Iranians justifiably want greater democracy and an end to political abuse of the law by Khameini and Ahmadinejad’s government. However it’s impossible to be certain that Ahmadinejad couldn’t have won without the rigging, though he would have been unlikely to win by so much or in the first round. Iranians may be as divided in their views as Americans were in 2004. Ahmadinejad certainly has much support among the poor, especially the rural poor, but it’s not clear that Ahmadinejad and Khameini are less free market in their policies or more likely to protect the interests of the poor than Mousavi. The current government's claims that they are financially clean while their opponents are not are dubious given the government's close links with wealthy ‘bazaari’ merchants and persecution of those who tax them. While the divisions in Iran make another 1979 style revolution less likely they may yet lead to progress towards democracy and a reduction in political killings and torture. They may also show that Muslim countries and democracy are not necessarily incompatible, as senior dissident Ayatollahs such as Montazeri have said; and that peaceful reform from within may be far superior to ‘regime change’ by force with hundreds of thousands of deaths and continuing civil war, as found in Iraq.

It's pretty obvious that Ahmadinejad does have a lot of support in poor rural areas, among the working class and the unemployed and among hard-line nationalists and fundamentalists. Ahmadinejad is popular among these groups because he has campaigned on a theme of economic and social justice and a fair distribution of wealth, as well as food and money subsidies for the poorest. The economy may not grow as much under such policies, but the poorest will be guaranteed enough to live on, while under a less regulated, more free market, system the economy might grow and benefit many people while the poor get worse off. It’s also pointed out that many of Mousavi’s supporters are from the wealthiest tier of Iranian society, who would benefit more from a more free trade economic policy. One pre-election poll found the only groups Mousavi had as much or more support in than Ahmadinejad in were “university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians” with Ahmadinejad having a two to one lead among others (1), (2).

However Mousavi himself has often clashed with Khameini in the past because he is for more regulation of the economy and a larger public sector than Khameini – actually being to the left of Khameini’s (and previously) Khomeini’s relatively free market policies (which benefit the bazaar merchants – more on them later). In fact Khomeini sacked Mousavi and abolished the post of Prime Minister over a dispute with Mousavi’s more left-wing economic policy. Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who is now backing Mousavi, has actually been closer to Khameini on economic policy in the past. (3)

However in more recent statements during the election campaign Mousavi has suggested a greater role for the private sector and controlling inflation partly through monetary policies and making subsidies “targeted” (a euphemism for scrapping many of them?) (4), (5). This could suggest he has become a free marketer, but his past record makes it possible he would have a balanced economic policy with a regulated private sector and public services and some nationalised industries.

Another of Ahmadinejad’s challengers, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai, campaigned on a platform of privatising Iran’s nationalised oil industry (6).

Even if Ahmadinejad’s policies were better for the poor it certainly couldn’t justify manipulating election results or killing unarmed demonstrators, or torture, or killing dissidents - but the large section of Iranians backing Ahmadinejad makes a 1979 style revolution much less likely.

Ahmadinejad’s opponents also claim that his hand-outs to the poor are mere token charity and election bribes that don’t really reduce poverty, while inflation and unemployment are both high an rising, neither one benefitting the poor.

Ahmadinejad is far from the only person to accuse Ayatollah Rafsanjani and some of the other ‘moderate’ clerics of financial corruption. Rafsanjani’s wealth and the rumours of his means of acquiring it through his political connections are notorious in Iran. Rafsanjani is also very influential though, so his support for Mousavi is both a benefit and a potential vote loser for him.

The polls taken before the election don't prove anything either way but suggest Ahmadinejad could, possibly, have been on track to win heavily. Ahmadinejad had twice the percentage Mousavi did in them, but on the other hand more people were either undecided or refused to answer than chose a preference for any candidate (7).

If it's true that turnout exceeded the number of registered voters in a lot of towns, but people like the brave and honest Robert Fisk who suggest that it might have gone to a second round without rigging but Ahmadinejad may well have won anyway even if there hadn’t been election rigging may be right (8). (Fisk, despite his detractors, is scrupulously even-handed in his analysis of all sides and actually reports from the middle of the most dangerous situations, rather than repeating his own governments’ press releases or press briefings. This does not, of course, mean that this is certain or that vote rigging is acceptable or that it should not be challenged)

The fact also remains though that the current system of government in Iran is basically similar to that under the Shah with a different ideology and different economic and social policies. Khameini’s powers and his brutal methods of securing his power are much like Khomeini’s and the Shah’s before him. In that respect he’s little more than a Shah in a turban. (He also lacked even the learning in Islamic texts to become an Ayatollah, having to be given that as an honorary title on succeeding Khomeini).

The major difference is that the ‘Islamic Republic’ provides for the poor of Iran and don’t squander the whole country’s wealth on a vast military as the Shah did. This does not justify a brutality similar to the Shahs against the opposition – and though there was probably greater corruption under the Shah it is not unknown among the Ayatollahs, nor in their favour for the Bazaari market traders – with many families sending one son to the religious schools and another to the bazaar so one can provide political connections for the other (9). When the Mayor of Teheran introduced a tax on rich bazaaris he was arrested and jailed by the Khameini government (10). So perhaps Khameini and his allies are not such great protectors of the poor and social justice as they claim to be.

Some senior Iranian Shia clerics, such as Grand Ayatollah Montazeri and intellectuals appointed to committees by Khomeini – such as Hussein Dabbagh (or Abdel Karim Soroush) have criticised the excessive powers of and even the position of the ‘Leader’ established by Khomeini and Khomeini doctrine of ‘velayat e faqih’ (‘rule of the jurisprudent’), saying it has no precedent and no justification for a single man or even all senior Shia clerics to have absolute power. They say clerics should merely advise other Shia Muslims with every Iranian having an equal say in the government of the country, rather than one or a few clerics ruling with absolute power. Montazeri was initially Khomeini’s favoured successor, but on expressing these views he was replaced by Khameini and later placed under house arrest for over a decade. He has now come out in favour of Mousavi and the demonstrators, saying no person with a “sound mind” could believe the election results were valid (11), (12), (13), (14), (15).

Mousavi, as Prime Minister under Khomeini in the 1980s, was a member of a government with a lot of Iranian dissidents’ blood on it’s hands, just as Khameini and Ahmadinejad are now.

So this is not a simple good versus evil or democrats versus dictators or people power versus theocrats, still less western democracy versus the Ayatollahs . However the fact remains that so far it’s Khameini and Ahmadinejad who have killed protesters using the Basij militia and Iranian Hezbollah (a separate group from Lebanese Hezbollah) to make direct responsibility for the deaths more easily deniable.

What can we do about this? Not a great deal, since any support from the countries which backed the Shah’s dictatorship in the 60s and 70s, armed Saddam as he launched an unprovoked invasion of Iran in the 80s and threatened to invade Iran from 2001 on risks allowing the regime to paint all its opponents as the agents or allies of foreign powers and ‘traitors’ to their country. However we can call on the Iranian government, as our governments and Amnesty International have, not to allow unarmed demonstrators to be attacked, killed, jailed without trial or tortured (see this blog post and sources for it.

While the 1979 revolution may not be recreated in exactly the same form it’s possible that this crisis could still lead to significant progress towards democracy in Iran and show that Islam and democracy are not incompatible; that allowing other countries own people to progress towards democracy by peaceful means may be a better and less bloody way than ‘regime change’ by force (compare the eight dead in Iran so far to the hundreds of thousands in Iraq); and that the attempt to link democratisation and free trade as if it benefits the poor as much as the wealthy (when it clearly doesn’t) may make democratisation less rather than more likely.

We should resist any calls for “regime change” by force which would kill hundreds of thousands and could lead to ongoing civil war as in Iraq. Henry Kissinger suggested in a recent BBC Newsnight interview that “regime change” in Iran “from outside” through unspecified but not “visible” means could become US government policy if Ahmadinejad is not replaced by Mousavi (16). Does Kissinger perhaps mean covert actions by US Special Forces as begun under Bush in Iran, much like those that preceded the US invasion of Vietnam and the Vietnam war? ABC News and Seymour Hersh have reported on Bush administration and Saudi co-operation to aid Sunni extremist groups similar in ideology to Al Qa’ida and oppressed Arab separatists to carry out attacks on Iranian officials and soldiers (17), (18), 19), (20). Kissinger, however, may mean something else and might well not speak for Obama. Obama has reportedly sent Kissinger on low key diplomatic missions before, but has never suggested war on Iran (21) .

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2009

email me


(1) = BBC News 16 Jun 2009 ‘Profile: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’,

(2) = Washington Post 15 Jun 2009 ‘The Iranian People Speak’,

(3) = Hiro, Dilip (2005) ‘The Iranian Labyrinth’, Nation Books/Avalon NY, 2005; chapter 6, esp p169

(4) = Financial Times 13 April 2009 ‘FT Interview: Mir-Hossein Moussavi’,,dwp_uuid=36de51b2-4611-11de-803f-00144feabdc0.html

(5) = Reuters 11 Jun 2009 ‘Iran's Mousavi seen as main threat to Ahmadinejad’,

(6) = BBC News 03 Jun 2009 ‘Iranian poll rivals clash on live TV’,

(7) Times 18 Jun 2009 ‘The evidence that points to Ahmadinejad stealing Iranian election’, ; Also see (2) above

(8) = ABC News ‘Extraordinary scenes: Robert Fisk in Iran’,

(9) = Hiro, Dilip (2005) ‘The Iranian Labyrinth’, Nation Books/Avalon NY, 2005; chapter 1, pages 1-23

(10) = Wright, Robin (2001) ‘The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran’ (2nd edition) , Vintage Books/Random House, NY, 2001,chapter 3, pages 104-106

(11) = Wright, Robin (2001) ‘The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran’ (2nd edition) , Vintage Books/Random House, NY, 2001, chapters 1-2, pages 35-6 & 49-52

(12) = Hiro, Dilip (2005) ‘The Iranian Labyrinth’, Nation Books/Avalon NY, 2005; chapter 6, pages 160-162

(13) = Guardian 13 Jan 2000 ‘Iran's banned cleric breaks silence’,

(14) = Guardian 31 Jan 2003 ‘Freed Iranian cleric refuses to be cowed’,

(15) = Guardian news blog 16 Jun 2009 ‘Iran's post-election unrest: live’,

(16) = BBC Newsnight 18 Jun 2009 ‘Kissinger: 'Iran at turning point'’, and

(17) = Young, Marilyn B. (1991) ‘The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990’, Harper Perennial, London & N.Y, 1991

(18) = New Yorker Magazine 5 Mar 2007
, ‘Annals of National Security : The Redirection’,

(19) = ABC News 03 Apr 2007
, ‘ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran’,

(20) = Telegraph 17 Jan 2006
, ‘'We will cut them until Iran asks for mercy'

(21) = Telegraph 05 Feb 2009 ‘Cold warrior Henry Kissinger woos Russia for Barack Obama’,

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Those Who Live like the Shah, will go like the Shah

If Iran’s government keeps behaving like the Shah’s dictatorship it will go the way the Shah did – in shame, at the hands of it’s own people

Past wrongs against the Iranian government by past British and American governments must be acknowledged, but can’t justify the current Iranian government killing, torturing and jailing Iranians and putting all real power in the hands of one unelected man, the same way the British and American backed dictatorship of the Shah which Iranians overthrew did.

In 1953 the British and American governments were shamefully involved in the overthrow of the elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq, who attempted to nationalise Iran’s oil industry after the British government and Anglo-Iranian Oil (which later became BP) refused to pay fairer taxes on oil revenues or pay it’s Iranian employees, who lived in shacks without water or electricity, a decent wage. For 26 years the British, American and French governments armed and supported the Shah’s brutal dictatorship as it killed and tortured Iranians and squandered the country’s oil revenues (1) – (3).

After the Shah was overthrown in the 1979 revolution the US, British, French, Chinese and Soviet governments armed and funded Saddam as he launched an unprovoked invasion of Iran and used poison gas on Iranians and Iraqi Kurds , as historians such as Professor Efraim Karsh have recorded (4).

Military action against Iran would kill more people than it would save and threats of it would let Iran’s government paint opponents as agents of foreign powers, so Obama is right to have ended Bush’s constant and counter-productive threats. Making another Iraq war out of Iran would benefit no-one and kill hundreds of thousands at the least, probably millions.

However the past cannot justify the Iranian government treating its people the way the Shah did; torturing them, jailing them without fair trial and allowing Basiij militias to murder them for exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly (5) – (7). Many Islamic scholars including former Iranian President Khatami say democracy and Islam are compatible, but since Khomeini’s faction hijacked the 1979 revolution most real power in Iran has been held by the unelected ‘Supreme Leader’ (now Ayatollah Khameini) with elected officials like the President having little real power (8).

Mousavi in his election campaign said that if elected he would transfer control of the police and security forces from the Supreme Leader to the elected President, allow private television stations (currently only the state TV station can broadcast) and disband the brutal religious ‘morality’ police (9).

An unelected ‘Supreme Leader’ holding real power, while holding elections in which only candidates approved by him can stand for offices without real power, echoes the Shah’s rule. Attacks on unarmed and mostly peaceful protesters bring shame upon the Islamic republic. These are the methods of the Shah and if they continue they can only result in Supreme Leader Khameini and his aides being overthrown by their own people the same way the Shah was, or in massacres which will shame the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the Muslims and non-Muslims alike around the world.

(1) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition, pages 27-140

(2) = Curtis, Mark (1995), ‘The Ambiguities of Power : British Foreign Policy since 1945', Zed Books, London & New York, 1995 paperback edition, pages 87-96

(3) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran', Times Books , New York, 2006, pages 83-96

(4) = Karsh, Efraim (2002) ‘The Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988’ Osprey, London, 2002, p20 US & Soviet Union supplying arms and military advisers to Saddam, p42-44 USSR, France and Egypt Saddam’s main arms suppliers, p 44 1984 -1985 Reagan admin doubles financial aid to Saddam ‘for food products and agricultural equipment’ from $345mn to $675mn. 1988 US govt extends $1bn credit to Iraq, largest amount of US annual credit to any country in that year; p44-45 Israel along with N.Korea, Libya and Syria armed Iran. Last three complete armaments, Israel spare parts for jets and tanks (own note – doesn’t count Iran-Contra arms?); p53-55 Gassing of 20 Kurdish villages in 1987 by Saddam to prevent them aiding Iranians; p55 Karsh says “Saddam was the favoured son of the West (and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union), the perceived barrier to the growth of Islamic Fundamentalism. Consequently, apart from occasional feeble remonstrations (notably after Halabja), western governments were consciously willing to turn a blind eye to Iraq’s chemical excesses.”

(5) = Independent 14 Jun 2009 ‘Robert Fisk: Iran erupts as voters back 'the Democrator'’,

(6) = AP/Independent 16 Jun 2009 ‘'Seven killed as protesters launched attack'’,

(7) = Independent 16 Jun 2009 ‘Claims of student massacre in Tehran spread’,

(8) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran', Times Books , New York, 2006 ; chapter 2, pages 44-51

(9) = Washington Post 07 Apr 2009 ‘Ahmadinejad Rival Calls For Increased Freedoms’,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Send a message to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Amnesty International

At least eight people have now been killed by Basij militia-men in Iran for demonstrating against election rigging and the arrest of opponents of the government in Iran

Amnesty International UK have a page where you can send a message to the Iranian government asking them not to torture or kill Iranians or jail them without fair trial at

It includes a sample letter but it's better if you type in your own if you've got time. The best approach I could think of was to express shame that in the past my government helped overthrow the elected government of Mossadeq and backed the Shah, but to then say that the Islamic Republic's government cannot justify using the same methods the Shah used against their own people and that if they continue to they'll lose respect worldwide among Muslims and non-Muslims and go the way the Shah did. I've pasted what i wrote in below, but, again, better to use your own words.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran and its people are respected worldwide and I would like to say that I feel shame for my country's past involvement in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq and its government's support for the Shah's dictatorship.
However it cannot be right or justified for the Islamic Republic's government to treat it's own people the way the Shah did - to torture them, jail them without fair trial, allow Basij militias to murder them for exercising their democratic rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

I know that, as many Islamic scholars point out, democracy and free speech are not in conflict with Islam.

The actions being taken against unarmed and largely peaceful protesters bring shame upon the Islamic republic, as does the manipulation of election results. These are the methods of the Shah's dictatorship and if they continue to be used they can only result in Supreme Leader Khameini and his aides being overthrown by their own people the same way the Shah was, or in massacres which will shame the reputation of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the Muslims and non-Muslims alike around the world.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Holding a ‘Public’ Inquiry into the Iraq war in private is a bad joke

The Prime Minister’s announcement that the ‘public’ inquiry into the Iraq war will be heard in private is ludicrous double-think; so much for greater openness and accountability (1).

As long as Prime Ministers can choose what issues public inquiries can address, what evidence they can hear and who writes their final reports their conclusions will be worthless propaganda anyway. It’s like letting the accused in criminal courts appoint their friends as judges and decide what charges they’ll face and what evidence can be heard. The verdict will never be in question.( The judges appointed to head this inquiry include Sir John Chilcot and Baroness Usha Prashar, both of whom already owed jobs and titles to the ‘New Labour’ government of Brown and Blair (2), (3))

However the testimony of witnesses at public inquiries often gives the public vital information on what has actually happened and who was responsible for what. Holding hearings in private prevents that.

The reason is fairly obvious ; as Chancellor Gordon Brown voted for the Iraq war and pledged “whatever it takes” in public money for it (4), (5). The Conservatives call for another Franks’ Inquiry with private hearings has similar motives – they were even more eager than Blair and Brown to send British troops to die and kill based on the interests of American and British oil and arms firms, at any cost in British and Iraqi lives.

Brown in his statement also boasted that violence in Iraq was lower than at any time since 2003, which ignores the fact that on any figures, for instance Iraq Body Count’s, far less Iraqis were being killed violently before the March 2003 invasion than at any time since it (6).

(1) = Prime Minister’s Office 15 Jun 2009 ‘Statement on Iraq’,

(2) = Review of the Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,
‘Rt Hon Sir John Chilcot GCB’,

(3) = House of Lords Minutes and Order Paper - Minutes of Proceedings26 Jan 1999,

(4) = House of Commons Library, ‘Commons divisions on Iraq 26 February and 18 March 2003’, page 7,

(5) = Independent 15 Mar 2003 ‘Brown promises to expand war chest to meet Iraqi threat’,

(6) = Iraq Body Count database,

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Democratic Revolution in Iran? Why Khameini rigged the Presidential election against Mousavi

Rioting in the streets in Tehran has greeted the unlikely claims by the government that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the first round of voting in the Presidential elections with almost two-thirds of the vote, meaning there’ll be no second round. Presidents in Iran have no power and ‘Supreme Leader’ Khameini, like his predecessor Khomeini, wants to keep it that way.

Ahmadinejad’s main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former Iranian Prime Minister (before the ‘Supreme Leader’ Khomeini abolished that post to keep power in his own hands too), said in his election campaign that if elected he would have control of Iran’s police and security forces transferred from the unelected Supreme Leader to the elected President. That will be why Khameini decided to rig this election in favour of Ahmadinejad (1).

Just as the Bush clique rigged the 2000 and 2004 US Presidential elections the ‘Supreme Leader’ and his cronies have rigged the 2009 Iranian Presidential election, but unlike in the US in 2000 they didn’t even have the sense to try to rig it in a barely convincing way, going for a massive rigged majority of votes rather than a narrow majority. Mousavi has called the result “a dangerous charade” (2).

As many Iranian Ayatollahs have pointed out the office of ‘Supreme Leader’ has no basis in the Q’uran, Shia Islam (or any other kind) or Persian or Iranian history. It was purely a device invented by Khomeini to hijack the 1979 dictatorship of the Shah, cracking down on liberals, socialists, communists and environmentalists who had taken part in the revolution. It has no place in any country. As Mousavi says freedom and democracy are not in conflict with Islam – only the current regime is – a regime which violates the constitution it approved (3) – (6).

The fact that the regime has arrested over 100 senior members of the opposition, including the brother of former President Khatami, another reformer, shows that it fears revolution – and , if it keeps rigging elections and crushing the resulting dissent by assassinating it’s Iranian critics and killing unarmed demonstrators and students, as it did in 1999, sooner or later it’s going to be overthrown by one. In practice Khameini is no less of a dictator than the Shah was (7), (8).

However western governments are right to say little on the subject and stay neutral. It was a CIA and MI6 backed coup which overthrew Iran’s last democratically elected government , that of Mohammed Mossadeq, in 1953, after he attempted to nationalise Anglo-Iranian Oil (now BP) when it refused to pay a fairer share of its profits in taxes or increase wages for grossly underpaid Iranian employees. It was the US and western governments who were also the closest allies of the brutal corrupt dictatorship of the Shah installed by that coup, which led to the 1979 revolution (9) – (11).

Almost every government in the world also funded and armed Saddam Hussein ‘s regime during the Iran-Iraq war while it invaded Iran and used poison gas on Iranians and Iraqi Kurds.

So any intervention by western governments, even verbally, will allow the regime to paint all its opponents as agents of foreign powers and backfire badly.

Another problem is that most candidates backing democratic reforms also back free trade – which is not in the interests of many poor Iranians. However democratic reforms and and end to political violence, torture, jail without trial and killings by the regime are necessary for any kind of progress and necessary in themselves (12), (13).

Sooner or later though, if Khameini doesn’t allow power to be transferred to the elected President and parliament, the theocrats will face a reckoning like the one the Shah faced – and unlike him they may find it hard to escape into exile in time to avoid the Iranian peoples’ anger if they crush dissent by killings again. They would be best advised to allow a peaceful transition to democracy while they still can instead.

copyright©Duncan McFarlane2009


(1) = The Nation 14 Jun 2009 ‘Ahmadi bye bye?’,

(2) = ABC News 14 Jun 2008 ‘'Dangerous charade': Iran sparks international concern’,

(3) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004),‘The Persian Puzzle’, Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition – chapter8, pages 144 - 146

(4) =Hiro, Dilip (2005) ‘The Iranian Labyrinth’, Nation Books, NY, 2005, chapter 6, pages159-162; Ayatollah Montazeri , chosen by Iran’s religious scholars to succeed Khomeini, was vetoed as a choice by Khomeini for questioning Khomeini’s velayat e-faqih or ‘rule of the jurisprudent’ ideology and the excessive powers of the office of Supreme Leader. Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari also criticised the powers Khomeini gave himself.

(5) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran', Times Books , New York, 2006 ; Chapter2, pages 46-50

(6) = Washington Post 07 Apr 2009 ‘Ahmadinejad Rival Calls For Increased Freedoms’,

(7) = BBC News 14 Jun 2009 ‘Crowds gather for Ahmadinejad victory rally’,

(8) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition , Chapter 12, especially pages 330-336

(9) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004),’The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition - pages 27-140

(10) = Curtis, Mark (1995), ‘The Ambiguities of Power : British Foreign Policy since 1945', Zed Books, London & New York, 1995 paperback edition; pages 87-96

(11) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘’Hidden Iran', Times Books , New York, 2006 - pages 83-96

(12) = Amnesty International 2009 world report – Iran,

(13) = Human Rights Watch 2009 world report – Iran,>

copyright©Duncan McFarlane2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How to beat the BNP

Stop pandering to racism on immigration policy and provide jobs instead by making companies provide apprenticeships, public investment in green energy technologies and trade bans on repressive governments that exploit their people for cheap labour

What doesn’t work :
being ‘tough on immigrants’, attacking ‘multiculturalism’ and promoting ‘Britishness’

As the news that the BNP had won two seats in the European parliament came in newly appointed government ministers suggested that listening to voters’ concerns on immigration was the way to win voters back from the BNP.

They couldn’t be more wrong. For the last 12 years the leaderships of the Labour and Conservative parties have been in a competition to pander to tabloid myths about Britain being a “soft touch” on immigration. Immigrants have become the scapegoats to deflect any criticism of the government or the Conservatives, as well as conveniently distracting attention from massive tax avoidance by the billionaires and companies owning the newspapers.

Britain now has one of the harshest immigration policies in the world.

Arbitrary targets for the number of people to be deported each month have resulted in thousands being sent back, many to their deaths, to such “safe” destinations as Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Zimbabwe (1) - (7). Families including children, who have committed no crime, are held in “detention centre” prisons while waiting for appeals or deportation (8) - (9). Last year the Medical Justice Network produced evidence of hundreds of assaults on deportees by private security guards on contract to the Home Office, including fractured bones and cigarette burns (10), (11).

Another myth is that most asylum seekers come here to live on generous benefits. In fact while waiting for their case to be heard most are not allowed to work and if they’ve no savings get benefits 17% to 35% lower than unemployed British citizens get through Jobseekers’ Allowance (12) - (14). If their application for refugee status is granted they get the same amount as citizens and if it’s rejected and they appeal they get nothing. Nor does the UK take more refugees or get more asylum seekers than other countries. It has 3% of the world’s refugees and less asylum applications per person each year than the EU average – and the number of asylum applications to the UK each year has fallen massively since 2002 (15) – (17).

Immigrants, like some British Asians and foreigners accused, without evidence, of terrorism, are jailed or deported despite having harmed no-one (18). Meanwhile convicted serial killers like Thomas McCulloch will be released, having “done their time”, because they’re white and were born here (19); So much for Nick Griffin’s claims that all the racism in Britain is against white people like him.

Persecuting asylum seekers has not reduced support for the BNP – it’s increased it.

New Labour’s quest to establish a single definition of “Britishness” or “British national identity” which everyone living in Britain must conform to and “integrate” into won’t work either. Many historians point out that any attempt to impose a single identity that everyone must conform to has been part of a trend towards extreme nationalism and authoritarianism and away from democracy.

Letting immigrants learn English if they want to and integrate if they want to is fine – telling them they must is the road to fascism.

The attack on ‘multiculturalism’ by the Conservatives is just as counter-productive. Tell someone they can integrate and merge their traditions, culture and beliefs with those of others if they want to and debate with them and you’ll get new ideas produced and give people new ways to see the world. Tell them they can’t have their identity and must adopt yours and they will rebel and adopt a more extreme form of their own identity – exactly what has happened with a minority of British Muslims and Asians when told they must conform or that they aren’t British despite being born here. How can we tell everyone to conform and claim to be a democracy? I’m not about to conform to New Labour’s definition of ‘Britishness’ or the Conservatives’ one and there’s no single definition that everyone would be happy conforming to.

Natural and human history should also tell those who are against ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diluting’ our culture or ‘genes’ that cultures which become isolated from outside influences end up dying out and populations that inter-breed with others become more adaptable and healthier, while inbreeding leads to inherited weaknesses becoming more and more crippling. Diversity is strength. Uniformity is weakness.

Since most of the BNP’s voters are in the North of England, where there are few immigrants but lots of British born Asians, it follows that for them “multiculturalism” is a code-word for racism, which can be used to get round laws banning inciting hatred (which are themselves counter-productive as they encourage the BNP to present itself as more moderate than it really is).

So support for extremists, sectarians, bigots and racists can’t be based on immigration policy not being “tough” enough, nor on people not ‘integrating’, nor on losing a sense of national identity.

The real causes of extreme politics – not immigration but poverty and unemployment

The real cause is poverty and unemployment. That was the case in the 1930s during the Great Depression when governments failed to provide jobs, resulting in mass support for fascist, extreme nationalist and Communist parties across the world. The vote for the Nazi party in Germany rose and fell as unemployment did.

While governments and parties – liberal, conservative and socialist - failed to provide public works programmes to provide jobs the fascist parties offered to – and got support as a result.

Many conservatives, governments and businessmen thought they could do a deal with the fascists too, to repress socialists, trade unions and communists. In 1937 Churchill told the House of Commons “I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between communism and nazism, I would choose communism.” (20). He also said that Mussolini had “rendered a service to the whole world” by showing “a way to combat subversive forces” (by using thugs to murder political opponents and crush trade unions). During the Spanish Civil War the Royal Navy was ordered to prevent arms reaching Republican held ports, but allowed German and Italian troops and arms to enter the country on the side of the fascists (21) .President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 talked of Mussolini as “that admirable gentleman” and said “I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy.” Roosevelt also notoriously said that Somoza, the brutal fascist dictator of Nicaragua “is a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch”.

In Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan the root cause of sectarian conflict and the rise of extremists has been the same – poverty and unemployment caused by American demands for deregulation and privatisation in return for loan renegotiations in the case of Yugoslavia ; and by sanctions and war in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the North of England in the late 1990s the policy of deregulated free trade begun by the Conservatives and continued by Labour in government led to the last textile mills in the UK closing down as British firms outsourced to factories in the third world. Developed world governments have acted on behalf of big multinational firms by backing repressive governments that crush trade unions and keep wages down in the developing world. Combining this with deregulated free trade forces even responsible firms to outsource for cheap labour abroad to manufacture products for export back to the UK, or else be driven out of business by the big multinationals which do. Unemployment rose rapidly in Northern towns such as Bradford and Burnley as a result and there were race riots between white and Asian youths. BNP councillors were elected and Islamic fundamentalism among British Asians rose as they were subject to racist abuse and attacks (22), (23).

The credit crisis and the resulting recession combined with deregulated free trade, unfair taxation and the failure of the government or the main opposition party to offer measures to reduce unemployment on a big enough scale have led to increased sectarianism. Brown scrapping the 10p tax rate for low earners and putting them back on to the basic 20p rate combined with the recession to hurt low earners and increase unemployment. This was especially inept as it was Brown who had introduced the 10p rate in the first place and it had been popular.

The main parties’ use of immigrants as scapegoats has helped the BNP spread its lies about how ‘British people’ (by which they actually mean white people) are losing out to immigrants and ‘ethnics’ (non-whites), when in fact poverty and unemployment has increased among all these groups.

The Solution

Providing jobs through apprenticeship laws, massive investment in green technology and trade bans on repressive regimes to reduce unemployment and increase wages

The solution is to provide jobs on a large scale for the unemployed. The government has begun a voluntary scheme of subsidising companies to provide some apprenticeships, but this is barely denting the problem. Under the Callaghan government there was a law under which all firms over a certain size had to employ a number of apprentices based on their number of employees, or else pay a tax, to prevent some just training no-one and just poaching apprentices from those that did. That’s what’s needed now.

We also need massive public investment in green energy technologies and green car manufacturing in order to provide jobs, modernise the economy and reduce climate change and the massive flooding it will cause.

We also need a ban on trading with repressive regimes such as China, Russia and Colombia, where trade unionists are jailed or murdered and the only trade unions allowed are ones controlled by the government, which is allied to the big companies and billionaires. As long as these countries can exploit their people on poverty wages the majority of people both in their countries and ours will only suffer by trading with them.

The BNP has also adopted some socialist policies such as renationalisation of the railways in order to take votes from Labour. The semi-privatised, state subsidised railways have given us the worst of both worlds, with all profits going to private firms while taxpayers pay much of the cost of investment and maintenance. People travelling by train pay again as the private firms have increased rail fares at between twice and ten times the rate of inflation.

If we don’t get these reforms and instead pander further to racism and bigotry while allowing unemployment to keep increasing the BNP will gain more support among unemployed and low income white people and Islamic fundamentalism will spread among British Asians and black people in reaction to racism against them.

BNP racism – the evidence

The BNP will often deny they are racists or bigots, but a look at their two MEPs and their party’s constitution shows they’re both. Andrew Brons was a member of the British National Socialist Movement which was deliberately founded on Hitler’s birthday and used to chant “death to the Jews.” (24). He now pretends to be more civilised but told the UK’s Channel 4 News this week that he wants to “persuade” all black, Asian and Muslim people living in Britain to “go home”, including all the ones who were born here, have lived all their lives here and have parents and grandparents who were born here and live here.

In the 1990s Griffin wrote in a far right magazine of the “courage” and “sacrifice” of the Waffen SS who ran the concentration camps in which 6 million Jews and gypsies were killed (25). In 1998 he told a court that the Holocaust never happened and was a mixture of “lies” and “propaganda” (26). Ten years later the opportunist demagogue has switched from spreading hate against Jews, black people and Asians to spreading it against Muslims, black people and Asians.

The current constitution of the British National Party on the BNP website says "The British National Party stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples. It is therefore committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948." (27).

That's not just nationalism. That's racism. It defines only white people as British and aims to force people who were born here and have lived here all their lives and who may have British born parents, grandparents and great grandparents to leave the country because they're not white. Meanwhile white immigrants are welcome in the BNP's eyes, while even genuine refugees fleeing genocide in Darfur will continue to be sent back to their deaths for being black.

As in South African apartheid until the 1990s and American segregation until the 1960s the BNP talk of races being kept “separate but equal” to try to cover the reality.

When i quoted Griffin, Brons and the BNP’s constitution to a BNP member on the Independent’s website after he claimed the party wasn’t racist he provided a link to a video by KKK member and holocaust denier David Duke, claiming that Barack Obama was a racist. As ludicrous as that is there are some black people who are racist against whites, but the BNP when confronted with evidence of their own racism stop denying it and argue that if some black people are racist against all white people this justifies white people being racist against all non-white people. Logic has taken a holiday. Two wrongs are now meant to make a right.

copyright © Duncan McFarlane 2009


(1) = Independent 14 Feb 2001 ‘Home Office intends to deport 57,000 a year’,

(2) = Independent 14 Sep 2003 ‘Secret quotas target children for deportation’,

(3) = BBC News Feb 2007 ‘Asylum applications reduced by 9%’, ; 8th to 10th paragraphs read “Across 2006 the government hit its target to deport more failed applicants than the number of "unfounded" cases arriving in the same period...The "tipping point" target was introduced in 2005 by Prime Minister Tony Blair.”

(4) = Independent 16 Apr 2004 ‘Deported Colombian is shot after losing plea to stay in Britain’,

(5) = Independent 14 Dec 2008 ‘Home Office to deport Zimbabwean family who fled Mugabe's regime’,

(6) = Independent 17 Mar 2009 ‘Sent back by Britain. Executed in Darfur’,

(7) = Independent 05 Nov 2008 ‘Britain closes door on 80,000 asylum-seekers’,

(8) = Guardian 14 Apr 2009 ‘In detention: Schools in immigration removal centres’,

(9) = The Independent 31 Aug 2008 ‘'Alarming' rise in self-harming at detention centres’,

(10) = 14 Jul 2008 4p.m BST update ‘Asylum seekers assaulted by private security teams, says report’,

(11) = Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns Jul 2008 ‘Outsourcing Abuse - The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers’,

(12) = UK Border Agency ‘Cash Support Amounts’, ; Qualifying couple (married or in a civil partnership): £66.13; Single parent aged 18 or over: £42.16; Single person aged 25 or over: £42.16; Single person aged 18 or over, but under 25: £33.39; Single person (not a member of a qualifying couple) aged 16 or over but under 18: £36.29;Single person under 16: £48.30

(13) = UK Border Agency ‘Asylum support agreement’,

(14) = Direct Gov ‘Jobseekers’ Allowance’, ; Single people aged 16 - 24 £50.95; Single people aged 25 or over £64.30; Couples and civil partnerships (both aged 18 or over) £100.95 ;Lone parents (aged under 18) £50.95 ;Lone parents (aged 18 or over) £64.30

(15) = UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2007 , Chapter II - POPULATION LEVELS AND TRENDS, pages 25-26 gives the world’s refugee population at the end of 2007 as 10.3 million and the UK’s refugee population as 299,700 – roughly 3% of the global total , and

(16) = ICAR Feb 09 ‘Key Statistics about Asylum Seeker Applications in the UK’,, page 14 shows that the UK has 0.46 asylum applications per 1,000 population, below the EU average of 0.48

(17) = Home Office Statistical Briefing Aug 2008 ‘Asylum Statistics
United Kingdom 2007’, page 7 ,
And ; “Sweden received more asylum applications than any other European Union country in 2007 ... followed by France the 2nd highest....The UK was 3rd highest (13 per cent of the total EU27). However, when the relative size of domestic populations is taken into account, the UK ranks 11th amongst European Union countries in terms of asylum seekers per head of population.”

(18) = Independent 23 Apr 2009 ‘Police and PM in dock over arrest of terrorist suspects’,

(19) = Lennox Herald 15 May 2009 ‘Thomas McCulloch latest: Moves made to try and stop axe killer coming to Dumbarton’,

(20) = Guardian 28 Nov 2002 ‘The Churchill you didn't know’,

(21) = Anthony Beevor (1982) ‘The Spanish Civil War’ Cassell, London, 1999, Chapter 11, pages 158-169

(22) = BBC News 19 Feb 2004 ‘'Slow recovery' after race riots’,

(22) = BBC News 02 May 2003 ‘BNP becomes Burnley's second party’,

(24) = Telegraph 09 Jun 2009 ‘European elections 2009: BNP Andrew Brons profile’,

(25) = Daily Mail 25 May 2009 ‘Family of Winston Churchill slams BNP over far-right party's attempt to hijack wartime leader's legacy’,

(26) = BBC 25 Nov 2000 ‘Panorama : Under the Skin’, ; Griffin told a court in 1998 that “I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that 6 million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat... I have reached the conclusion that the 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria."

(27) = CONSTITUTION OF THE BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY, 9th Edition, 2005, from the BNP website 2009, Section I article 2b, page 3, and

copyright © Duncan McFarlane 2009