Mark Steel: For the Iranians, this is a version of 'Big Brother'

Even if the boats were on the Iraqi side of the line, the only reason it's 'ours' is that we've occupied the place
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This is a possibility everyone's missed - maybe the Iranians, in an effort to show the West how modern they've become, thought they'd put our marines in a house they couldn't escape from and show them each day on television in an Anglo-Iranian Big Brother. Now we've seen all of them, it will be time to start voting them off. The next broadcast will start with a voice telling us: "It's 4.57pm and Faye is still smoking in front of the map."

This could be used to recruit young people into the armed forces in a celebrity culture. Billboards will be put up showing the captives making their statement, with the slogan: "Join the Marines and get your own slot on TV." Maybe a deal can be reached with Ayatollah Khamenei, that the next lot have to perform their statements in a show called "Hostage Academy".

So a marine will say: "The Iranian Academy are looking after me well, and I apologise for fishing the wrong side of a designated border." Then a panel of experts go: "I'm afraid that lacked conviction, it lacked animation; quite frankly, love, it lacked any purpose", and the crowd boo the experts for making the Marine cry. But eventually there's a winner, who sings: "I am prostate with humility for my heinous act of trespass" to the tune of "Papa Don't Preach", which becomes No 1 in 27 countries.

Instead, the incident has sparked them all off. To start with, the Daily Telegraph is full of letters such as "Dear Sir: With regard to the unsavoury events currently unfolding in the Gulf, may I suggest that in place of the ineffective 'diplomacy' favoured by our Foreign Office, we deploy the more robust methods of my grandfather Field-Marshall Whittingtonberry-Whittington, in the Sudan during the battle of Tiger Creek. When a young fusilier was discovered to be missing, my grandfather spared no time in rounding up the entire village and feeding them to a ravenous Venus flytrap, which had been specially starved in preparation for just such an occasion. Readers will be pleased to know the fusilier then re-emerged; it seems he was behind a tree but had lost his compass!"

Some people have been driven to such patriotism they're condemning the Marines as not patriotic enough. So Richard Littlejohn complains: "They don't seem to have been tortured, yet they have 'confessed'", and he asks: "What must Second World War veterans make of this demeaning spectacle? The British stiff upper lip has been replaced by a trembling lower lip."

Clearly Richard is wasted as a columnist. If only he'd been out there he'd have asked for his cigarette, then stubbed it out in President Ahmadinejad's eye and growled: "All right, Abdul, who wants some?", before using the pen they'd given him to dig a tunnel and escape, having distracted the Revolutionary Guards with a hilarious joke about how you can't get a job in Camden Council unless you're gay. Then there's the ones who explained how the woman's confession proved women weren't fit for combat. As if the reason she was first was down to her own choice, having cracked up through going two days without her honey and lime skin lotion. If she'd been last, these people would have gone: "Typical. All the others have read theirs out and she's still getting ready."

Piles of experts have analysed the mannerisms of the captives, concluding they've not made these statements through their own free will. Which makes you think: "Well done, Cracker."

Maybe now someone will employ similar techniques for the captives who make confessions in Guantanamo Bay: "The spasmodic shivering, uncomfortability of the orange boiler suit and screeching in pain indicate he may have been subjected to some duress. And from carefully studying the body language, we can note that while he reads his 'confession', he clutches it between the second and middle finger, which may be because these are the only ones he has left."

Similarly, the discussions about whether HMS Cornwall was in Iranian waters misses the point. Even if it was in the Iraqi side of the line, the only reason that's "ours" is because we've occupied the place. But this has been ignored, as if the dispute is over a technicality. Maybe the Royal Navy will present a document to the Iranians proving they're in the right because they've had that bit of water registered at the Post Office.

I suppose they're thinking: "What difference does it make which side of the line we were, as that side will be ours as well once we've invaded you?" The Iranian government may well be shady and crazy and corrupt, but you can't blame them for being jittery when British and American gunboats are floating about nearby.

If you told someone: "We never trusted the people who used to live next door, what with them going to war with us and causing half a million deaths. But then the new lot moved in, hanged the old bloke, and now they've caused half a million deaths as well. And they keep telling us they want our place. In fact, they've always had their eye on it, killing the man who used to run it and putting in place a madman so he'd give them his petrol." Then you'd have a pretty good case for going on daytime TV above a caption: "I keep having trouble with my neighbours."

In any case, the Iranians can't be that much of a threat. If they'd really been on the ball, they could have scored a bigger propaganda victory by nipping out a few days earlier and capturing Freddie Flintoff off his pedalo. They could have told him anything they liked, and he'd have been up before the cameras going: "Dunno 'ow it 'appened, like, just high spirits and drifted 'cross border. So sorry for embarrassment caused, like."

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