When Iranians stormed the British embassy in Tehran, it was reported that they had burned the British flag, yet the truth is that they actually burned the Israeli and American flags along with the British one. This should have told observers something.
It should have alerted them to the ideology at work there, an ideology that singles out Western democracies less for what they do and more because of what they are and what they represent in the world. And, just as the British media has so often gotten it wrong on Israel’s attempts to defend its civilians, so too this error of judgment seems to extend to Britain’s own international efforts.
Seeing members of a mob brandishing a portrait of England’s Queen Elizabeth II as they stormed her embassy in Tehran, with the Iranian police initially appearing pretty impassive, you would have thought it would be clear to the British media which side they ought to be on. After all, with the Iranian parliament having voted to downgrade diplomatic relations to the sound of some of its members chanting “death to Britain,” many suspected that the ‘student’ riot was anything but spontaneous and, indeed, far from independent of the Iranian authorities’ influence.
Yet for some, this was not an occasion to rally to Britain’s defense, but rather to chastise its government for its policy on Iran and its nuclear program. A flurry of opinion pieces appeared, mostly in the liberal press, arguing that Britain had brought this on itself through its harsh dealings with Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime. This reaction, however, only reveals the extent to which some commentators in the West refuse to recognize that people in other cultures also have agency in their actions, that they are not simply reactive to our alleged geopolitical mismanagements.
In one opinion piece for The Guardian, former British Minister of State Mark Malloch-Brown argued that Britain had acted as a “ringleader of efforts to squeeze Iran” and, as such, has made itself an American proxy in the eyes of the Iranians, a cardinal sin in the view of Britain’s liberal circles. The Independent’s Middle East editor Robert Fisk went further still, arguing the case that the recent sanctions are just a small part of a long history of reasons “that makes Iranians hate the UK.” Fisk has dismissed former Bristh prime minister Tony Blair and British governments for “raving” about “the necessity of standing up to Iranian aggression” and what he calls “the supposedly terrorist nature of the Iranian government”. These commentators seem to possess short memories, choosing to ignore the Iranian kidnapping of three British naval personnel in 2007.
Perhaps none of this should surprise us since the IAEA report was
published last month, which provided the clearest evidence yet that Iran
is pursuing nuclear weapons, sections of the British media rushed to
Iran’s defense, either calling into doubt Iran’s activities or warning
that all intervention, military or otherwise, would be futile and
damaging. Predictably these writers tended to chastise Israel and the US
for allegedly risking an escalation in the situation and a leading article
by The Independent went so far as to allege that “America’s Jewish
voters” were driving US policy on Iran. More startling still was British
journalist Simon Jenkins’ Guardian piece
in which he coldly stated that “No one seriously supposes that
Iran, under whatever ruler, would seek to wipe out Israel – and anyway
that is Israel's business”.
All of this appears to indicate a stark failing in moral judgment on the
part of sections of Britain’s media. The automatic assumption seems to
be one of an irredeemable West committing unceasing aggression against
the ever innocent developing world. Ultimately, it has been the very
same people who fail to recognize the values that the Jewish State
stands for who have similarly proved unable to maintain any kind of
moral clarity when it comes representing the dealings of liberal and
democratic Britain with the belligerent and terror sponsoring Islamic
The writer is a researcher and analyst
at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy where he heads the Centre
Transatlantic Affairs project. Tom currently lives in London where he
is completing a Doctorate at UCL.