Iran’s ‘useful idiots’ turn on the West
There was a minor story in the British media last week about an organization call the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC); minor in that most of its readers won’t have heard of the organization, but nevertheless quite revealing. The gist was that the IHRC is mostly funded by a separate charity (the IHRC Trust), which through its charitable status can reclaim tax on donations — and by this means, the IHRC has obtained £250,000 in reclaimed taxes.
That all seems quite innocuous; when I give to charities in the UK, they claim the tax back on what I have given. The problem, though, is that IHRC is not the well-meaning human rights organization that one might deduce from its name. Of its four directors, one is secretary to Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. Two others have boasted of their “radicalization” to “Islamism” and their support of Hezbollah. Its “campaigns” page is curiously favorable to Iranian foreign policy.
The most generous conclusion is that IHRC is one of the Iranian regime’s “useful idiots” — parroting lines, taking offense when Iran wants offense to be taken, ignoring genuine human rights issues when they are inconvenient. Unlike the Cold War, when organizations linked to the Soviet Union would have drawn close security service monitoring and media suspicion, Western policy and social attitudes toward the Middle East and politicized Islam are often shaped by willful ignorance and a lack of appreciation that ideas matter.
Little critical thinking is applied to the motivations of such groups, so that when claims about “human rights abuses” meet the public’s general perceptions, they are often accepted without question. Couple this with the growing dominance of grievance-based politics, and the same techniques can be applied on domestic policy; see, for example, IHRC’s disgust that Britain’s Jews receive greater security expenditure per head than Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims.
Nor is IHRC Iran’s only “useful idiot” or outright front. Some are more blatant than others. Press TV, to which Jeremy Corbyn was a regular paid contributor, was eventually banned by the British broadcasting regulator for broadcasting a forced confession from a political prisoner; the Islamic Centre of England is led by the Iranian Supreme Leader’s personal UK representative.
Iran has another advantage, which it shares with other countries whose foreign policy is shaped by opposition to the West — the growing power of the unreconstructed left in Western politics. Jeremy Corbyn is a regular supporter of Iran, so it would be hypocritical of the Labour Party he leads to censure candidates who are similarly supportive.
The most generous conclusion is that IHRC is one of the Iranian regime’s “useful idiots” — parroting lines, taking offense when Iran wants offense to be taken, ignoring genuine human rights issues when they are inconvenient
One may think the fall of the Soviet Union would have given pause to its Western cheerleaders, but they simply transferred their allegiances to new forces. It was not the pure communism of the Soviet Union that they backed (to think there was anything pure about the 1980s Soviet Union would require a level of idiocy that was far from useful), but rather the narrative of which it was the strongest proponent; that the world was divided into the forces of imperialism and their opponents, and their opponents were on the side of the good.
By imperialism (of which the Soviet Union was a powerful practitioner) they of course meant capitalism – but even that has fallen by the wayside. The sub-text for all these self-hating citizens was “the West.” They support Iran because it is antagonistic toward the West, and IHRC because its narrative opposes the West. They watch or appear on Press TV because, in a world where facts have little value, why should a state broadcaster controlled by Iran be viewed any differently from the BBC?
This is not a tiny worldview of no relevance. It is impossible to escape for anyone in the least bit attuned to international politics. Any student at any Western university will find political discussion dominated by its proponents. Protests on almost any topic in a Western capital will be hijacked by protesters waving placards that support it. And in election after election, all across the Western world, its backers are winning elected office.
These successes are not directly attributable to Iran. A wave of national self-loathing is sweeping the Western world, surfed by countries such as Iran and its proxies. But it has consequences. If IHRC, Press TV and others are not identified and disrupted, they could change Western politics in ways that ultimately change the shape of the global order.
• Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby