If people were free to choose, they would choose to be free

This is a guest post by Nora Mulready

Over the last three years I have had hundreds of conversations with people about life in Iran. I have long believed Iran’s to be a deeply repressed society in which freedom is curtailed in the name of religion and by an assortment of ‘holy men.’ I was initially bemused when talking to people about this, good people with solid left wing principles, and having my criticisms dismissed as those of a ‘cultural imperialist,’ ‘a neo-con,’ ‘an islamaphobe,’ to name a few terms thrown my way. As time went on and I realised that these weren’t, sadly, the views of the odd person here and there on the left, but those of the left’s mainstream, I moved from bemused to shocked, to saddened and then to angry.

Looking at a society where it is codified into law that a woman is worth half a man, where the morality police prowl the streets arresting men and women for such ‘unIslamic’ behaviour as holding hands, where stoning is still an allowed punishment for adultery, where children can be hanged, where being gay is a crime, I found the stance of my so called comrades on the left to be unforgivable. I also found it ridiculous. I honestly could not believe that anyone could look at this society and say that people had chosen to live like this – but it became clear that is exactly what they believed. And worse than that, despite the desperate cries for freedom we are seeing now, some of them still do.

The increasingly objectionable Seamus Milne (Guardian) has dismissed the protests as being led by ‘Mousavi and his western-backed supporters,’ the ultimate criticism from the Milne-esq ‘left.’ The Socialist Worker Party website contained nothing at all about the events in Iran until over a week after people took to the streets. In fact, until their conspicuously delayed, mealy mouthed piece about ‘people power,’ their top story was a report of an anti NATO protest in Strasbourg in April. The popular protests in Iran don’t quite fit their ‘all-repression-is-the-fault-of-America-and-Britain’ narrative, you see. Socialist Unity, a left-wing blog, talked of the protesters being seduced by Hollywood. Again, note the reference to the insidious American influence. I have heard friends of mine dismiss the protests as an attempt by middle class, pro western Iranians to stage a coup against a ‘man-of-the-people’ president – a coup that, if it is proved Ahmadinejad did win the election, deserves to be repressed.

How can these people look at Ahmadinejad, look at the religious conservatism, the stifling repression, the arbitrary arrests, the lashing, the stoning, the people crying out for the freedom to be themselves, and turn their backs? It is truly appalling.

Arguments in favour of universal principles are condemned as culturally imperialist by the parts of the left represented above. How many times have you heard people who profess to be left-wing say such things as, ‘what right do we have to judge other cultures?’ I say, we have every right. In fact, those of us who are free to say what we think have a responsibility. But with these people arguments about the fundamental instinct, desire, and need of people to be free have no impact. Arguments about compulsion undermining the notion of free choice have no impact. Arguments about the fact that these culturally relativist leftists would not be able to live the lives they enjoy in the UK, or in the US for that matter, if they were living in Iran have no impact. ‘It’s not our place’, they maintain, ‘and anyway, Ahmadinejad is a friend of Chavez, our darling, and he hates America, as we do, so he can’t be completely bad.’

‘It’s not our place’ has got to be one of the most despicable abdications of morality, of socialism and of internationalism that has ever been concocted by anyone on the left. They refuse to demand the same justice and equality for people living in Iran as they demand for those of us living in the west. From CND inviting the Iranian Ambassador to speak at their conference last year, to the Stop the War Coalition manhandling Iranian protestors who demonstrated again Islamism (and Militarism) at anti war demos, to the (frankly preposterous) coalition between the British ‘far left’ and members of radical Islamist group hizB ut Tahir in the political party, RESPECT, – the hypocrisy of so many on the left is there for all to see.

Usually, those of us who argue that fundamental principles are universal and should therefore be applied and argued for universally are basing our arguments on a belief that, if people were free to choose, they would choose to be free. The cultural relativists have long said that we have no basis for our claims and challenge our presumptuousness; in doing so, they – so they say – are defending the culture of, in this case, the people of Iran. But now they are being presented with the evidence that huge numbers of people of Iran are no more culturally wedded to repressive theocracy than are the people of Britain. In full view of the world, people in Iran are turning out in their millions to protest against the flagrant disregard for their will, their desire, their overwhelming need to be freer than they are.

And the parts of the left who have so far, so singly failed to live up to their duty of internationalism with the murdered and maimed trade unionists, socialists, feminists and other dissenters against this Iranian regime, are faced with a very real choice, one which will tell us everything we need to know about their commitment to a truly universal struggle against global injustice.

That choice may be academic – it will have no material impact on their lives here in the West; it may make little difference to those clamouring for their rights in the streets of Tehran, but it is a choice as clear as crystal: Do they join the calls for gender equality and greater personal freedom, or do they support a theocratic, deeply conservative regime?