CULTURAL EXCHANGES

Iran 2Despite ‘The Sopranos’ and Scorsese movies, most Italian-Americans are not slaves to their inherited heritage, though they are selectively proud of it; like Irish-Americans, their affinity with an ancestral homeland they’re considerably distanced from by several generations and more than 100 years is really a sentimental ideal rather than something rooted in the lived experience of its realities. First and foremost, what they feel more than anything is American, probably because their immigrant forefathers didn’t want to be regarded as ‘others’; they wanted a piece of the American action and wanted to be integrated; their destination was a blank slate, unlike the homeland that had evidently offered them nothing. Some initially clung to the comfort blanket of the culture they’d left behind, but this gradually shifted into the background, only occasionally exhumed for a sporting event or a saint’s day. Descendants of Jewish communities in the US and over here have undergone a similar transformation; they too followed the same pattern, with each successive generation one further step away from those who coped with an alien environment by seeking solace in the religious symbolism, the mother tongue, and – perhaps the most enduring legacy – the food.

Likewise, distinctive dishes remain one of the most notable elements of a West Indian culture that has survived amongst a community with deep roots in the UK stretching back to the first decade after the War. The original pioneers of all these groups, but particularly the Afro-Caribbean, often found their new countries bewildering and occasionally hostile places to settle, yet they were eventually absorbed into their chosen home to the point whereby their children and grandchildren are today as native as the descendants of the indigenous population. Indeed, all the examples given could be regarded as ‘multicultural success stories’, for however strong the romanticised image of the original homeland remained as a badge of identity, it was to be gradually superseded in significance by the new society in which the first wave fought hard to have a stake. Slang has sometimes been adopted as a verbal nod to the old country, albeit purloined and twisted by youth; and sub-Jamaican patois eventually morphed into the standard lingo of adolescents of all colours attempting to cultivate a ‘street’ image, the one mercilessly parodied in the comic creation of Ali G. Innit.

Nevertheless, the rise of the hardest-working immigrants and their offspring up a social ladder to eventual acceptance succeeded because it eschewed ghettoisation, isolation and separatism. Sure, keep those cherished relics of granddad’s birthplace up in the attic or in the memory, but don’t weaponise them and let them hold you back from being a contributor to the society he fought to be a member of; instead, let those artefacts and those oral stories serve to show you how far you’ve come. That, surely, is what multiculturalism should mean? Not social apartheid, with self-contained, cocooned communities cut off from their neighbours of different races, inhabiting an imaginary facsimile of the homeland most have never lived in, having little or no contact with anyone beyond that community and being patted on the head by the white middle-classes for being so wonderfully ‘ethnic’.

The ‘Muslim Community’ is such a ghastly, catch-all term that lumps together many disparate groups who happen to share the same faith (regardless of its myriad forms), though it tends to operate in one context where the ruling cultural and political elite are concerned. And Muslims of a certain strain are the adopted pets of the elite – infantilised victims forever at the receiving end of this hideous, institutionally racist country that immigrants from numerous Muslim nations mysteriously decide to set up home in. Don’t even think about integrating to the point whereby you can progress all the way to holding one of the four Great Offices of State like a socially mobile opportunist! Stay in your lane.

What may well begin in cosseted faith schools and end in the industrialised grooming and raping of vulnerable ‘white trash’ children has been left to fester due to fear – fear harboured by the graduates of a system now entrusted with authority and reluctant to enforce it. Events in Leicester last weekend – and the East Midlands city itself is often held up as a multicultural success story by the usual suspects – showed the consequences of turning a blind eye. The kind of ancient sectarian hatred that has scarred the Indian Subcontinent for centuries – or has indeed done likewise via a different religion just across the Irish Sea – has now boiled over in the middle of England, with gangs of young Hindus and Muslims clashing like Mods and Rockers with God on their side. As police seemingly stood by and declined to intervene, the multicultural fantasy of the chattering classes went up in flames that have been fanned by decades of non-interference and appeasement.

Added to the combustible mix is a divisive dose of Identity Politics, whereby a single (and usually irrelevant) characteristic of the individual is multiplied across the group and thereafter utterly defines them all as one homogenous racial tribe pitted against another. And if it’s reported at all by the MSM, it’s seen through the manufactured prism of Islamophobia, with good guys (Muslims) being victimised by bad guys (Hindus). Ironic in a week which saw the majority of the nation feel more united than it has in a long time that this ugly side-effect of Identitarian separatism should erupt. Moreover, it’s equally ironic that this desecration of a cornerstone of the Woke manifesto should come at a moment when an actual Islamic State is seeing an angry uprising against the symbols of oppression the Guardianistas refuse to countenance as dehumanising at all. Young Muslim women are cutting their hair and burning the hijab, and they’re doing this on social media sites for all of Iran to see.

What sparked this wave of incredibly brave protest against the strictest interpretation of Islam’s doctrines was the death in ‘morality police’ custody of 22-year-old Masha Amini, who was arrested in Tehran for the heinous crime of displaying her hair in a public place. Within hours of being arrested, Amini’s State captors informed her family she’d fallen into a coma following a ‘heart attack’ and had been hospitalised; within three days, a perfectly healthy young woman with no history of heart trouble was dead. One imagines this is not an uncommon occurrence in Iran, yet the sudden death of Masha Amini has ignited tensions that have been simmering for a long time; dissatisfaction with severe measures that uphold Iran’s brand of Islam as dictated by the country’s rulers seemingly needed one grotesque incident to provoke civil unrest – and Iran now has it. Upwards of a dozen people have been killed during these violent street protests; riot police have opened fire on protestors, yet still the female population of a country that views them as second-class citizens are defying the weight of the State and tossing their hijabs en masse onto bonfires. One would think the democratic land of the free that is the West would celebrate and support this valiant rebellion against the ultimate repressive regime, no?

Well, unlike the disproportionate response to the admittedly brutal killing of a career criminal by a Minneapolis policeman, there have been no widespread Western protests over the death of Masha Amini or symbolic gestures of solidarity with the fearless female rebels of Iran; no, you won’t see footballers taking the knee for Masha or wearing shirts with Amini’s face plastered all over them. Sadly, unlike George Floyd – whose death nicely chimed with the Woke ‘White Supremacist’ narrative – Masha Amini was the ‘wrong’ kind of victim and the rigid league table of the Oppression Olympics doesn’t recognise the hijab as something that suppresses women’s rights, just like the misogyny of extreme Trans activism isn’t acknowledged. The twisted logic of the dogma in which all our institutions are indoctrinated is confronted by an insoluble conundrum when it comes to events in Iran, hence all those heads currently buried in the sand. One would like to think evidence all the way from Tehran to Leicester would highlight the gaping holes in the argument; but don’t hold your breath. Or burn your hijab.

© The Editor

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FREE TIME

Zaghari RatcliffeHow many Foreign Secretaries does it take to change a light-bulb? Not entirely certain, but probably not as many as it took to secure last week’s joint release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori after they’d served six and five years respectively in Iranian detention. When Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on trumped-up spying charges in 2016, Philip Hammond held the post of Foreign Secretary; during her detention, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has watched the revolving door at the Foreign Office from a distance and observed Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and – finally – Liz Truss all pass through it. It’s no great surprise that she has expressed a degree of understandable bitterness that it took until the incumbent holder of the post before she managed to be released and returned to the UK. But her release – and that of Ashoori – was achieved through brokering a deal that can be seen as a last resort on the part of the British Government.

And the deal wot dun it? Repaying a debt stretching all the way back to the Shah of Iran during the last years of his reign in the 1970s, that’s wot. This was the period when, despite being an unelected Absolute Monarch running a ruthless regime fairly intolerant of any opposition, the Shah was the West’s man in the Middle East. Photos that routinely pop-up online of the stylish Western fashions worn by pretty Iranian girls who could’ve just as easily been in Milan as Tehran are often used as pre-1979 evidence of sartorial freedoms being exhibited without fear of condemnation, assault or imprisonment. What we now tend to think of as the characteristic (and considerably less uninhibited) standard uniform issued to all members of the female sex in Iran is conspicuously absent from images that portray the country as an exotic and glamorous destination for the beautiful people. But Iran experienced its own Industrial Revolution during the last Shah’s modernising 38-year reign, creating a prosperous and educated middle-class; the country also capitalised on the energy crisis of the mid-70s, placing it in a strong economic position during its dealings with the West.

In the golden age of OPEC, when the ruling elites of Arab nations belatedly began to take control of their natural resources and recognise the advantage they suddenly had over the struggling European powers, the figure of the chauffer-driven sheik buying up large chunks of London became a familiar one in popular culture. At a time when the Arabs appeared to be in possession of the strongest hand, pro-Western Middle Eastern countries were courted by Europe and America, and the Shah of Iran was one of the favourite rulers to flatter and enter into business with. When the British economy was making one of its perennial journeys up Shit Creek, the mouth-watering prospect of the Shah ordering UK military hardware for the princely sum of around £650 million was a nice little earner for the beleaguered sick man of Europe, and the first batch (185) of an intended 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 Armoured Recovery Vehicles was delivered to Iran.

The full payment for the entire order was received by a MoD subsidiary company, International Military Services, and then the Iranian Revolution occurred; the Shah was deposed, and the rest of the tanks remained on home soil; the rest of the money, however, was not returned when the tanks failed to be delivered. Selling arms to a hardline Islamic Republic that seized American hostages and held them against their will for 444 days wouldn’t have been seen as a good move, and the economic sanctions imposed on Iran also served as a convenient excuse for not repaying the debt from a British perspective. Iran’s efforts to recoup the money owed then dragged on for years; at one point, the International Chamber of Commerce found in favour of Iran, though the agreed payment of £328.5 million from IMS was prevented from being dispatched due to the ongoing sanctions. And this has been the stalemate position for over a decade – until now. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe claims that her captors once offered the unpaid debt as a reason for her detainment; in 2021 Jeremy Hunt also raised the possibility the two cases may be connected, though Boris Johnson denied this. Considering the absolute bloody mess he made of resolving Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation during his own disastrous stint as Foreign Secretary, his denial must have added further fuel to her despair over the diplomatic failings of Britain to secure her release.

Relieved that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release at least took place on his watch (if not the watch he was on when her plight was his responsibility), the PM enthusiastically praised Liz Truss for managing to achieve something he himself failed miserably to do when in her job; but the freed prisoner herself was less complimentary and asked why any of Truss’s immediate predecessors couldn’t have done likewise. ‘I have seen five Foreign Secretaries change over the course of six years,’ she said in a press conference on Monday. ‘How many Foreign Secretaries does it take for someone to come home? We all know how I came home. It should have happened exactly six years ago.’ Zaghari-Ratcliffe gave more credit to the ceaseless campaigning of her husband Richard, and her lack of ‘gratitude’ towards the UK Government was at least accepted as reasonable by Jeremy Hunt, who tweeted ‘Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation.’

Like Anoosheh Ashoori, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has dual British-Iranian nationality, and the 43-year-old London-based charity worker was visiting family in Iran with her infant daughter in 2016 when she was arrested as a spy and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The sentence became one of house arrest when she was allowed to switch from a prison cell to her parents’ home courtesy of Covid in 2020, though a year later she was the victim of a fresh albeit equally dubious charge of planning to topple the Iranian Government and was sentenced to a further five years. She lost her appeal against this additional conviction and it has taken until Foreign Secretary No.5 before Zaghari-Ratcliffe has finally been able to leave Iran and return home to her husband and child. Her case has been one of the most high-profile over the past six years – thanks in the main to social media campaigning and the ineptitude of the UK Government in negotiating her release; but she wasn’t alone.

There are dozens of holders of dual nationality passports currently behind Iranian bars, many of whom are American-Iranians, though one – Morad Tahbaz – has British-American-Iranian citizenship, something of a double-whammy where the Iranian Government is concerned. The 66-year-old wildlife conservationist was arrested along with seven colleagues in Iran in 2018 on espionage charges whilst they were in the country to track and film endangered species. Although he was released from prison ‘on furlough’ the same day as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, he was back inside within just two days and remains there, despite British Government assurances to his family. In reference to this particular case, the ever-active Jeremy Hunt has said Iran is ‘using an innocent person as a pawn in a diplomatic game’, adding he felt the American element of Mr Tahbaz’s nationality was a major factor in Iran’s reluctance to release him before some bargaining can be concocted.

The welcome freedom Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe can now enjoy after six years is something which a good deal of behind-the-scenes work has undoubtedly ensured, though her captivity was ill-timed in that it has taken place during the most woeful era of Ministers in living memory. Few of us would place our trust in Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, let alone put our lives in their hands, yet Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had no choice but to do precisely that. In short, she’s bloody well earned her freedom.

© The Editor

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