Leading article: We must keep our counsel over Iran for the time being

Tehran must not be allowed to claim that the West is behind the protests

Share
Related Topics

Iran stands on a precipice. The opposition demonstrators have lost all their old fear of the authorities, as the escalating protests of recent days show. But the regime shows no sign of giving in either. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

What the ultimate result of this clash is, and how it will unfold chronologically, no one can predict with any accuracy, though it seems that the writing may be on the wall for the men in power in Tehran.

What we do know, meanwhile, because the authorities have confirmed it, is that at least eight people died in a series of clashes in the capital and elsewhere, which erupted following the death of a prominent opposition cleric.

The official death toll is almost certainly a considerable understatement, which means the burgeoning pro-democracy movement in Iran already has a fairly lengthy roll call of martyrs.

Spilled blood is a powerful and energising symbol in any country. It is especially so in Iran, where there are strong memories of the police shootings that became the catalyst for the final push to overthrow the Shah.

The government knows this all too well – hence its relative restraint in using force to contain the protesters until now. The arrest yesterday of several aides to the opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi – whose nephew was among those shot dead on Sunday – may mark the beginning of a much tougher course in coming days. If the gloves come off, things could turn bloody indeed, for one factor that has really emerged in recent days is the mutual hatred that now exists between the regime and its disparate foes.

For us, standing on the outside and looking in, there are feelings of anguish and helplessness. The sympathies of almost all of us lie with those who, to borrow from the events of the 1960s in Czechoslovakia, would like to see a "Tehran spring"; an Islamic regime, perhaps, but with a more human face.

President Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has forfeited his claims to legitimacy as head of state, having benefited from what everyone suspects was a falsified election result in June.

Now he clings on to his high office, decked out in the rags of ultra-nationalism and irresponsibly courting collision with the US and Israel with belligerent grandstanding over nuclear power and even more belligerent rhetoric about annihilating Israel. Posing as the great patriot, his claim to be defending his embattled country against a coalition of Zionists and imperialists is his only remaining card.

We must bear that in mind when considering what our own governments should do in response to what may be a protracted, possibly agonising, struggle between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on one hand, and the alliance of clerical reformers and more secular-minded liberals on the other.

We must recognise that there is nothing anyone outside Iran can actually do physically in this situation to assist the opposition. This isn't Kosovo, a postage-stamp-sized land in Europe's own backyard that Nato can handle with a little air power.

All we can do, in fact, is talk; that is, offer verbal support to those who, whatever their agendas, seem a lot more democratically minded than their opponents. Even in the realm of talk, however, we must be careful not to provide President Ahmadinejad with a pretext for claiming that Western powers are trying to meddle in Iran's internal affairs. For now, silence may be the best course.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...