March 31 the President of the United States made a statement pertaining
to the 15 British sailors and marines unfortunately detailed in
Iran: "The Iranians must give back the hostages. They're innocent.
The Iranians took these people out of Iraqi waters. It's inexcusable
since the American people don't trust George W. Bush, let's seek
a second opinion. A credible authoritative one.
ask the top Iraqi military officer in charge of guarding the Shatt
al-Iraq waterway where the Brits were actually apprehended. This
man is working for the U.S.-backed regime and probably not inclined
to make up stuff to embarrass the U.S. president, who gives him
his paycheck. So his opinion should be relevant here. Let's ask
Brigadier General Hakim Jassim.
good general told Associated Press the day after the March 23
incident: "We were informed [about the British troops' arrests]
by Iraqi fishermen, after they had returned from sea that there
were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control.
We don't know why they were there.'"
Jassim - again, working for the Anglo-American occupiers of his
nation - does not sound outraged by the Iranian action. And notice
how the Iraqi client-state apparatus, which for some time has
been telling Washington, "Don't drag us into your anti-Iranian
projects" is not calling the detained Britons "hostages." It has
indeed (with much of the world) protested the illegal U.S.
detention of Iranian diplomats in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
particular instance of "inexcusable behavior" hasn't gotten much
press in this country. Nor has the subdued Iranian response to
Jassim would agree that the Shatt al-Arab river where the Brits
were seized has no clearly marked boundary and has been the focus
of past quarrels between Iraq and Iran. (Commodore Peter Lockwood
of the Royal Australian Navy, commanding the Coalition task force
in the waterway last October, said as much: "No maritime border
has been agreed upon by the countries.") Craig Murray, once head
of the British Foreign Office's maritime section, writes that
Prime Minister Blair "is being fatuous" in stating that he is
"utterly certain" the British ship was seized within Iraqi territorial
limits. Murray, best known as the former British Ambassador to
Uzbekistan (who exposed British complicity in torture in that
country) writes as follows:
is no agreed boundary in the Northern Gulf, either between Iran
and Iraq or between Iraq and Kuwait. The Iran-Iraq border has
been agreed inside the Shatt al-Arab waterway, because there it
is also the land border. But that agreement does not extend beyond
the low tide line of the coast.
that very limited agreement is arguably no longer in force. Since
it was reached in 1975, a war has been fought over it, and ten-year
reviews - necessary because waters and sandbanks in this region
move about dramatically - have never been carried out."
Jassim might privately agree that this border issue in any case
is the business of Iraqis and Iranians - rather than British and
American imperialists popping up in the region at no one's invitation,
on false pretexts, slaughtering people and expecting as they do
so that the conquered locals will say "Thanks, boss!"
is trying to depict the March 23 incident as a "hostage crisis,"
stoking memories of the 1979-81 Iran Embassy episode. (Younger
readers may need some reminding. After the overthrow of the U.S.-backed
and universally despised Shah of Iran, in the most genuine mass-based
revolutionary upheaval in the history of the modern Islamic world,
the Carter administration allowed the Shah refuge in the U.S.
and refused to extradite him to Iran to stand trial. This prompted
Iranian students to seize the U.S. embassy and detain its personnel.
Those seized were released as Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as
Carter's successor in January 1981. The incident unleashed much
bigotry, hatred and war fever in this country, to the delight
of those wishing to shock the U.S. public out of the "Vietnam
as the seizure of the Americans in 1979 needs to be understood
in perspective, the detention of these Britons has to be understood
in the context of the crime of the Iraq War itself. Whatever
the actual coordinates of the vessel boarded and seized by
the Iranians, why are the British policing the Shatt al-Arab waterway
there fighting an imperialist war. That war is going badly. The
neocons still in charge in Washington (and building bridges to
the resurgent Democrats led by opportunists competing to convey
deference to AIPAC and embrace a hard line against Iran) wish
to expand it to include the Islamic Republic. They work overtime
organizing that project. That much should be
obvious to anybody paying attention.
about spinning this as a hostage crisis?" some fine
neocon might have said the other day, around the water cooler
in the hallway outside the Pentagon's Iran Directorate offices.
could mobilize public opinion. Victims in custody on TV,
making 'forced propaganda statements' in violation of the
Geneva Conventions and stuff like that."
that could help. We have the moral high ground and all that.
to have Brits seized. If it were Americans, there'll be
all these charges that it was contrived, to justify war,
seems nastier if it's them, not so connected with Bush,
because he's y'know"
know. People won't link this to him, or to us. They'll think,
'There they go again, taking British hostages this time.'"
white people just there doing their job, trying to help
us out, not trying to provoke anybody."
hm. So our approach will be: Iran's killing our troops with
order to exterminate the Jews"
Holocaust. Works very well. And Islamist Iran's collaborating
with Islamist al-Qaeda -"
Taliban escape through Iran, or something like that."
work. But I'd say, for talking points: IEDs - Iran killing
our boys; nukes; holocaust plans; support for terrorism
- Hamas and Hizbollah; and this British hostages thing."
Nice to have their faces there on screen. So obviously in
the enemy's control."
you angry. Nice English people in the custody of evil. This
Brits making statements, under obvious duress."
lady having to wear a headscarf and being told she'd be
freed, and then she wasn't."
Yes. We can use the torture thing I mean, that's perfect.
Tortured young hostage mother, in Iran, under a Muslim head
headscarf, forced on her by the terrorists. Good concept,
good plan. Let's see what the VP thinks!"
he's the man."
conversation is, of course, imaginary, But I do believe this is
how the warmongers reason. The key issue on their minds is: "How
can we cause the American people to agree (or at least not disagree
to the extent that they might impede our agenda) to an aggressive
campaign to topple the Iranian government?" And "How can we get
this heroic deed done before our boy is out of power or this administration
crippled by political scandal?"
intelligence predicting a U.S. strike against Iran April 6. This
is a nation that has not attacked a neighbor in modern times,
has sought improved relations with Europe and the U.S. and enjoys
good relations with Russia, China and Japan.
did not provoke the present situation. It did not ask to be surrounded
by U.S. forces in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the Persian
Gulf. It did not ask to be included in Bush's bizarre "Axis of
Evil" concept, a statement of hostility as categorical as diplomatic
discourse allows. But Bush wants regime change in Iran. He wants
revenge for the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979. One
should see the British "hostage" situation, and interpret Bush's
rhetoric about guilt and innocence in that light.
6, by the way, is Good Friday, the day Christians believe Jesus
died on the cross for the sins of the world. Muslims disagree.
Jesus (Isa), according to the Qur'an (4:157) was not killed. Rather,
the Jews crucified somebody else, with his "likeness," in his
place and then lied about it while God raised Jesus up directly
Two different versions of the tale of Jesus' unusual departure
from this world, equally implausible from my point of view but
embraced by half of humankind. Beautiful harmless comforting myths
perhaps. But among their believers a minority believes with absolute
conviction, and these can be dangerous, especially if they wield
political and military power and think that the God who sent Jesus
wants them to smite his enemies.
if they think that a great war centering around Jerusalem (foretold
in the Book of Revelation) must precede the Second Coming of Christ.
if they believe that, as that New Testament book indicates, "kings
of the East" (Revelation 16:12) will attack the Euphrates region
(modern Iraq) before the apocalyptic battles take place in Armageddon
borders Iraq to the east. Military leaders predict that any U.S.
or Israeli attack on Iran will produce Iranian action against
the U.S. in Iraq's Shiite south.
are religious fundamentalists in Iran to be sure, fanatics who
can be dangerous. But again: Iran has not attacked another country
in its modern history. Meanwhile there are religious nuts at the
highest levels of power in Washington, capital of a country which,
as the (devout Christian) Rev. Martin Luther King once put it,
is "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
will not prophesy that the evil, dangerous persons (including
fundamentalist Christians and secular Jewish neocons) responsible
for the war on Iraq will purvey a Good Friday assault on Iran.
But I won't be surprised if it happens, with apocalyptic ramifications.
Perhaps only in the aftermath will redeeming regime change come
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct
Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants,
Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male
Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan;and
Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women,
1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless
chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial
here to order books by Gary Leupp.
can be reached at: [email protected].