Julie Burchill: Armchair revolutionaries: be careful what you wish for in the Middle East

Thursday 03 February 2011 01:00

During a long hard winter, nothing warms the cold blood of the Western armchair revolutionary more than the sight of a bunch of attractive dark-skinned people out on the streets having a right old revolution. In a country where public schoolboys swinging on the Cenotaph passes as righteous insurrection, the sight of so many ordinary people protesting is understandably exhilarating. The recent 95-page report by Human Rights Watch, "Work on Him Until He Confesses": Impunity for Torture in Egypt, shows how the Mubarak government has consistently failed to investigate and prosecute police accused of the most vicious attacks. Whereas the only wounds one can imagine Charlie Gilmour sustaining would be if he fell off his pony and landed face down on that silver spoon he keeps secreted in his gob.

Nick Clegg has just popped up on breakfast TV gushing on about how "exciting" events in Egypt are, with all the wide-eyed wonder of a tweenager experiencing Bieber Fever. Even me, as an evil Zionist cheerleader – I find it hard not to cheer at the thought of Mubarak being toppled from his perch. This alleged friend of democracy and Israel has overseen a rotten time in the country he dictates to, during which persecution of Christians and silly slanders against Israel – the Zionist sharks of Sharm el Sheikh – have flourished.

It would be wonderful to think that what replaces Mubarak will be better. But here's the thing about Middle Eastern regimes: they're all vile. The ones that are "friendly" are vile and the ones that hate us are vile. Revolutions in the region have a habit of going horribly wrong, and this may well have something to do with the fact that Islam and democracy appear to find it difficult to co-exist for long.

It's hard to believe now, but I recall being 19 and delighted when the Iranian Revolution happened. As a good Communist kiddy, I'd grown up with my dad's fairly accurate horror stories of how SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, burned the arms off of opponents, leaving them as "human snakes". I remember how disgusted I was when Andy Warhol said "It bothers me that people are being tortured in Persia – but the Empress is a personal friend" as an excuse for hanging out with the Pahlavi family.

And now look at Iran. It's not strictly Middle Eastern, but its Islamism brings it into the orbit of the region, so much so that – naughty! – WikiLeaks recently revealed that certain Muslim countries actually want Israel to attack it and wipe out its nuclear potential. And its revolution has led to it being run by an even more vile regime than that of the late, unlamented Peacock Throne. As reported in this newspaper earlier this week, Iran now executes an average of one person every eight hours.

On 30 June 2009, the journalist Hengameh Shahidi was arrested in Iran, following the post-election protests. Suffering from a serious heart condition, during the early days of her imprisonment, a false trial was set up, in which she was "sentenced to death" and taken to the gallows for a mock execution.

Hengameh Shahidi was subsequently charged with "gathering and colluding with intent to harm state security" and "propaganda against the system" and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. By the end of October 2010, her health was in decline and she was sent for treatment but the treatment was not completed and she was returned to prison, against the recommendations of her physicians.

On 27 December 2009, Zahra Bahrami was arrested in Iran, during the Ashura protests. In July 2010, she came to the attention of the Dutch government as she had a Dutch passport. However, consular access was denied because Iran does not recognise dual citizenship. In August she was charged with belonging to a monarchist group, setting up an anti-government organisation and spreading anti-Iranian propaganda. The charges described her as a Mohareb, an enemy of God, which carries the death penalty.

On 4 September, her lawyer, the respected human rights defender Nasrian Sotoudeh, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of "propaganda against the state" and "conspiracy to disturb order". A few days later, it emerged that drugs had been "found" in Zahra Bahrami's house, an offence which also carries the death penalty but is treated as high priority. On 6 January, her lawyer confirmed she had been sentenced to death and she was transferred to the same cell as Hengameh Shahidi.

On Saturday 29 January 2011, while the eyes of the world were on Egypt, Zahra Bahrami was taken to the gallows and hanged without the knowledge of her lawyer or the Dutch government and before her trial was completed.

Hengameh Shahidi remains in prison. On 8 March, there will be an international day of protest calling for her release. Don't let's allow the vicarious thrills we are currently getting from the events unfolding in Egypt to blind us to the effects of what happens in the Muslim world when revolutions go wrong.

The best food is like the best sex: anything but pure

For a long time, I've noticed that if I hear a woman referring to any sort of food as "crap" or "rubbish", she is invariably unhappy with her sex life, her career or both, and finds what she puts in her mouth a handy scapegoat on which to project her disappointment. Yes, some women do this with men, but more often it will be a Big Mac.

The British Dietetic Association names over-concern with food "purity" and avoidance of imaginary "toxins" as "orthorexia": an obsessive compulsive food disorder which may well be the upmarket cousin of anorexia. Personally, whenever I hear anybody going on about "purity" of any kind, I reach for my Whopper.

Nine times out of 10, they're going to be twisted types seeking to pin the shame/blame on something/someone else – be they Muslim paedophile pimps marrying virgins while grooming "white trash" girl-children for prostitution, or Catholic schools such as St Benedict's in Colchester telling pupils off for holding hands while their Church rapes children with indecent enthusiasm; or the rich eco-hypocrites recently fingered by the Irish film-maker Philem McAleer, who plans to make a series of films about celebrities who fail to practise what they preach. "There seems to be something about the environmental movement that attracts hypocritical people," he says.

It'll be the bogus idea of purity. Make mine mucky!

Jodie Foster — madness gone politically correct?

Lesbians have a reputation for being PC, so it's interesting to look at the case of Jodie Foster. She is one of Mel Gibson's few remaining supporters – "an amazing actor, an incredible friend... truly the most loved man in the film business." And now she's making a film with ROMAN POLANSKI!

At a time when women are being ceaselessly accused of being too hard on men because they object to being called "it", a lesbian icon who throws her support behind first a racist, wife-beating man and then a child-raping man is surely a beacon of tolerance in a world of political correctness gone mad. Either that, or a nutter.

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