Saturday, 15 March 2014

the old fox

BBC Persia is on the telly. The programme "Later with Jools Holland" comes on.  Jools is dubbed into Farsi.  The BBC started broadcasting this satellite channel at the start of 2009. It was originally funded directly by the UK government so it's no surprise that the Iranian government sees it as a propaganda tool.  So annoyed, they've tried to jam the signal.  The BBC claim editorial independence and the insurrectionist Jools is still being watched in Iran.  Satellite TV is illegal in Iran but prevalent.  Dishes are discreetly tucked away behind parapets on every roof.  In addition to BBC Persia, there's the Voice of America (which was broadcasting in Farsi back in 2008 when we last visited), and Manoto, a private channel from London. Manoto has a Spitting-Image style satire which regularly features the Foreign Minister using Facebook.  They also feature real footage of ageing mullahs drivelling utter nonsense.

I ask Zahra about the BBC and she tells us that when the election protests sprang up in 2009 she was in Turkey.  She felt let down by the BBC coverage because after a few days it stopped featuring on their news.  She feels that this was a deliberate policy of the British government.  In my view this is a sympton of international rolling news programmes like BBC World and CNN - flitting about from one crisis to another.  Overdosing on one story with picture-driven stories.  One problem about reporting on Iran is that the government here has banned all foreign reporters.  (Ironically, the BBC Persia service was recognised for its coverage of those protests - but I assume Zahra would not have seen this in Turkey.)

But what strikes me most is Zahra's notion that the BBC is just a tool of the British government.  Instinctively I disagree - but how to change her opinion? Or mine? She is not the only Iranian to tell us that the revolution in 1979 was orchestrated by the British government, to protect BP's oil business.  Why else was Khomeini, a little-known cleric in exile, broadcast on BBC World Service in the build-up to the revolution?  There's a sense of blame being attached to outside forces here, specifically the British, a sense of injustice.  It still confounds me.  Last time we were here, someone referred to Britain as The Old Fox.  Of course, when you look at the history of the country then the British have been meddling significantly.  Back in 1920, as the Bolsheviks finally wrestled control of Russia, and the Qajar Shah was increasingly unpopular in Persia, a Rasht local, Kuchik Khan, declared Gilan province the Persian Socialist Soviet Republic.  The British feared losing their oil concessions in Iran and supported an army general in defeating independence movements in the Azeri and Kurdish areas, and the Bolshevik-backed Gilani province.  This general was Reza Khan.  In 1925 he became Shah.  Iran was often caught in between British and Russian interests - and more recently between the US and Russia (these were famously described by Khomeni as The Great Satan and The Lesser Satan).  Then there was the forced replacement of Shah Reza with his son in 1941, to allow the British to supply Russia during the war, and the assassination of the Prime Minister in 1953.  So in light of all this, maybe the British were meddling again in 1979.

And don't forget, Khomeini was British. Yes, that's right.  He wasn't Iranian at all.  He was born in India, son of an illicit affair between his mum and a British army officer.  Don't believe all that stuff about him being born in Iran........

But ultimately, it was the Iranian people who voted in a referendum to end the shah's rule and create the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Zahra shows us photos of her mum and dad from the 70's.  Both educated, middle-class Persians in modern western-style clothes and hairstyles - they could be American.  But they too voted in support of Khomeini. It took less than a month to realise their mistake.  Zahra's dad later lost his teaching job because of his support for an opposition party. 

"in some cases"
Zahra is  onlyone of many Iranians who still mistrust the British government.  Who can blame them?

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