I've signed up to a couple of things he's recommended in the past. And if you're familiar with my blog you'll also know that I support the Iranian protests, for what it's worth, and have been avidly following what's been going on there. Believe me, I would like to do more to show my support and hate being dog-in-manger on this issue especially. So what's not to like?
The approach of the Iran Solidarity campaign seems to me to be seriously flawed, in that it's based on a militantly secular and liberal world-view. From what we know of Iran, I feel sure such a view would not be subscribed to by the majority, probably the vast majority, of the protestors and their sympathisers. The calls of Allahu Akbar from the roof-tops are just one staggeringly clear indication that this is the case. Unfortunately, couching support in the terms chosen by Iran Solidarity negates the validity of its assumptions and intrudes destructively into its stated demands
The opening proposition is tendentious in that Iran Solidarity states that it stands with the people of Iran in opposition to the Islamic Republic. I think it's clear that Moussavi and other leaders of the protests are most definitely not calling for the end of the Islamic Republic. This may or may not be justified, or even genuine, but surely suggesting otherwise is potentially damaging to the opposition's appeal to the widest possible constituency. It's their protest, and we have no right to misrepresent it.
Of Iran Solidarity's ten demands a few in particular are likely to be of doubtful appeal to the majority of Iranians and, for that matter, to people in many countries that are a long way from being beyond the pale. A few examples:
Part of the fifth demand calls for the abolition of the death penalty. What makes anyone in the West think that this could be a pertinent and legitimate demand in this instance? It forms part of the judicial system of the United States and I understand it has majority support in opinion polls in the UK.
Until a few years ago the death penalty was legal in Turkey, a country that Iran would do well to imitate but is a long way from catching up with on the road to liberal pluralism. Personally, I oppose the death penalty but in the world we live in it provides no sort of sine qua non of civilisation, or even democratic pluralism. It's just beside the point, a distraction and irrelevant to the protests.
Part of the sixth demand calls for the unconditional freedom to strike, something we don't have in the UK and, surely, even more besides the point.
The second demand, in part, wants the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for killings and atrocities committed during the last thirty years. What business has anyone in the West to ask for this? It's certainly not the road chosen by South Africa and most of Eastern Europe in trying to heal the wounds inflicted during their periods of dictatorship. Indeed, such a demand if consistently applied could well cover members of the opposition who had served in previous governments, including Moussavi, who was Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s, during which time many Iranians were executed. So quite a bizarre, meddling demand and surely self-defeating.
The final demand wants the complete separation of religion from the state, something our own established Church of England would take issue with.
A good number of the demands seem to me, then, tendentious, irrelevant, unreasonable, insensitive and unhelpful. So why make them? Far from empathising with the protestors, Iran Solidarity appears to want to impose on them the values of a vocal group of Western secularist radicals. Why isn't it enough to support them in their demand for a representative, tolerant government and a state that's under the rule of law? That's going to be difficult enough, without shoe-horning the rest in.
I suspect that for signatories such as AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins the situation in Iran presents an opportunity to further their overarching project to get us all to stop believing in God and become as modern, liberal and free-thinking as them. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with having this as your goal. But choosing this moment and this means to advance your cause seems self-indulgent and cynical. Given the largely religious basis of Iranian society it's also, of course, tactically counter-productive. This consideration doesn't seem to weigh in the balance when there's a bigger crusade to be preached.
In short, Iran Solidarity's platform is spoilt by a form of instrumentalism carrying a strong whiff of a sort of colonialist, know-better-than-thou attitude. Sadly, this approach reminds one of nothing more than those missionaries to the developing world whom the secularists would surely deplore. It's with a heavy heart I write this, but it's necessary, chiefly because I believe Iran Solidarity's campaign will prove counter-productive.