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Ayatollah Khamenei's Uncle Napoleonism

By Nasser Bani Assad, British Ahwazi Friendship Society

The Iranian government has expelled two British diplomats after it accused the British government and the BBC of stirring up opposition rioting and ethnic unrest.

In recent days, Ayatollah Khamenei has used the 1953 British-American-backed coup against the government of Mohammad Mosaddeq to arouse anti-British sentiment and suggest that those opposing his puppet president Ahmadinejad are part of a London-based conspiracy to destroy Iran itself.

For many outside Iran, the claims appear deranged. But this is the paranoid psychology, amusingly described in Iraj Pezeshkzad's novel "My Uncle Napoleon", that has been sustained in Iran long after the demise of the British Empire. The only section of Iranian society that has ever had a problem with Pezeshkzad's "My Uncle Napoleon" is the religious establishment. After seizing power, the mullahs banned the book, ironically claiming it was the work of British intelligence intended to destroy Shi'ism and the Iranian nation. They failed to get the joke. This immature reaction is rooted in a deep lack of self-confidence.

In his attempt to appeal to the suspicious minds of the Iranian public, Khamenei is using the last resort of the despot: blame all Iran's internal problems on the British. While the British Empire did historically intervene in Persia/Iran as it did in most parts of the world, its current influence over events in Iran is, at best, about as strong as its influence in former colonies such as India, Kenya or South Africa. That is, it has little influence beyond the normal cultural, diplomatic and economic intercourse between two different countries/

The Iranian regime blames BBC Persian service for its ills. As a global media corporation, the BBC broadcasts in many languages across the world providing objective commentary on a range of countries. Yet, only Iran says that the BBC is seeking regime-change by broadcasting videos of brutality by its security services. It is as if the British are wielding the batons themselves or using some form of mind control over the Bassij fanatics to shoot dead Neda Soltani and the countless, nameless others murdered by this cruel government.

Unsurprisingly, the Iranian regime has not voiced anything about the useless and amateurish yet expensive American anti-regime propaganda exercises, VOA Persian and Radio Farda. Perhaps this is because they are afraid that the BBC is regarded by Iranians as trustworthy and without a party line to pursue, while the US efforts are run by a small band of ageing and embittered exiles who barely have a grasp on reality. The regime fears truth more than it fears any ideology.

It is a sign of extreme political backwardness that a regime has to invent conspiracies involving "Satanic" foreign governments in order to protest itself from the truth. Moreover, it demonstrates how little faith the regime has in its own people that it believes they will behave like sheep by betraying their country and obeying the dictates of foreign governments.

The youth of Iran, a country where 70 per cent of the population is under 30, have no interest in these fantasies about British imperialism and are disinterested in what happened more than half a century ago. They want decent jobs and education, they want equitable economic development, they want to express their opinions, they want freedom to enjoy themselves without religious sanctions and, for minorities, they want freedom of worship, freedom to learn and speak in their mother tongue and the devolution of power from the centre. The youth of Iran want to look forward, not backward.

Khamenei's conspiracy theories could very well backfire. It evident to Iranian youth that the hidden hand of British imperialism is not behind everything that goes on, nor do they feel brainwashed by dark forces emanating from London. The portrayal of the British as the regime's greatest enemy could very well embolden them and many now see the British as their best friend.

The mullahs know that without invented conspiracies and extreme state terror, their rule would crumble. Now the conspiracies and terror are no longer working and the truth is chipping away at the regime's feet of clay. It is not a matter of 'if' but 'when' the edifice of the Islamic Republic will topple and a new generation gets power.

The role of the international community should be simple: let the people tell their truth and let them be heard.