Posts Tagged ‘Damien Hirst’

Vox Political on Salmond being Denied Official Help by British Diplomats in Iran

January 25, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has this story from the Groaniad, http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/25/salmond-v-hammond-and-the-constitutional-crisis-caused-by-a-diplomatic-dinner/. When Alex Salmond of the SNP flew to Iran just before Christmas on an official visit as the SNP’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, he expected to have the facilities of the British embassy in Tehran made available to him. When he got there, he was told by the ambassador, Philip Hammond, that he was not entitled to them, and so ended up hosting the event himself back at his hotel, paying not just for his own delegation, but for the staff from the embassy and the Iranian guests, who attended.

Salmond makes the point that this politicisation of the Foreign Office is absolutely unacceptable. It is the British Foreign Office, not that of the Tory party.

It’s an attitude of which the Conservatives, their SPADs and Philip Hammond should be ashamed. Firstly, it’s a disgraceful way to treat fellow Brits, especially in front of foreign dignitaries like the Iranians. It truly shames Britain.

And it’s especially embarrassing because this was done in front of the Iranians. The Iranians are deeply suspicious of Britain. This stems partly from their experience of British colonialism during the late 19th and 20th centuries, when Britain tried to draw them unofficially into the sphere of the Empire. British financial control and constraints were put in place following a series of colossal, and unrepayable loans, made to the Qajar Shahs, who were finally over thrown by the father of the last shah in 1920. After oil was discovered in Iran, the oil industry was effectively controlled by BP, who were then Anglo-Persian Oil. We seized the oil fields again during the Second World War, to prevent them falling into the hands of the Germans. About this, Churchill said, ‘In tempus belli leges silent’ – ‘in times of war, laws are silent’. When Mossadeq nationalised the Iranian oil industry in the 1950s, the CIA and Britain organised a coup to oust him. This led eventually the establishment of complete autocratic rule by the Shah during the White Revolution. And that, in turn, was the cause of Islamic Revolution and the Shah’s overthrow in 1979. During Britain’s control of the Iranian oil industry, Iranians were paid much less, and worked in poorer conditions than the British workers.

As a result, there’s a level of deep distrust in Iran towards us. John Simpson in his book on Iran states that there’s an Iranian proverb that runs, ‘If you see a stone in your path, it was put their by an Englishman’. Many Iranians also blame us for the Ayatollah Khomeini. In the 1990s there was a rumour going round that Khomeini was the son of a British oil worker called Williams. It’s completely untrue, but widely believed. And the subject of a number of jokes.

It was quite an achievement in the 1990s when diplomatic contact between Britain and Iran was finally restored and relations ‘normalised’, especially after the Ayatollah placed the fatwa on the head of Salman Rushdie. This, incidentally, hasn’t been lifted. It is much to the credit of Obama that he has prevented the Iranians getting nukes, and enabled the sanctions to be lifted and trade with Iran to begin again.

Britain can benefit from this. I can remember back in the 1990s Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili and other Young British Artists flying to Iran when the regime put on an exhibition of some of their works. Quite how that happened, I honestly don’t know, as the strains of modern, Western-influenced art, was one of the cultural issues the Iran revolutionaries were particularly reacting against. What is shocking to us is probably just as shocking to them. If not more so. But there you are.

Hammond’s fit of pique in denying official services to Salmond therefore seems to me acute counterproductive. It appears to show the Iranians that British politics between Scotland and Westminster is acutely divided, and that the British delegation have a strain of petty spite. This is not an image to project to potential business partners or allies in the common fight against terrorism and genocide in the Middle East.

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