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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'