band annie's Weblog

I have a parallel blog in French at



“Iran the Protector”


Robin Yassin-Kassab


Iran executes more people than any country except China. Many victims are Ahwazi Arabs or from other minorities. Many are political dissidents. And many, of course, are Shia Muslims.

This was published at al-Araby al-Jadeed/ the New Arab.

I recently gave a talk in a radical bookshop in Scotland. The talk was about my and Leila al-Shami’s “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, a book which aims to amplify grassroots Syrian revolutionary voices and perspectives. My talk was of course critical of the Iranian and Russian interventions to rescue the Assad regime.

During the question and answer session afterwards, a young man declared: “You’ve spoken against Iran. You’ve made a good case. But the fact remains, Iran is the protector of Shia Muslims throughout the region.”

In reply I asked him to consider the Syrian town of al-Qusayr at two different moments: summer 2006 and summer 2013.

During the July 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese fled south Lebanon and south Beirut – the Hizbullah heartlands where Israeli strikes were fiercest – and sought refuge inside Syria. Syrians welcomed them into their homes, schools and mosques. Several thousand were sheltered in Qusayr, a Sunni agricultural town between Homs and the Lebanese border.

It made no difference that most of these refugees were Shia Muslims. They were just Muslims, and Arabs, and they were paying the price of a resistance war against Israeli occupation and assault. That’s how they were seen.

Their political leadership was also widely admired. The kind of people who would resist the pressure to pin up posters of Hafez or Bashaar al-Assad might still raise Hassan Nasrallah’s picture. During the 2006 war, very many Syrians of all backgrounds donated money to the refugees and to Hizbullah itself. The famous actress Mai Skaf was one such benefactor.

How quickly things changed. By 2012 Mai Skaf was embroiled in an online war with Hizbullah. “I collected 100,000 liras for our Lebanese brethren who fled the July 2006 war to Syria,” she posted on Facebook, “bought them TV sets and satellite dishes to follow what was happening in their countries, and bought their children shoes and pajamas. Now I am telling Hassan Nasrallah that I regret doing that and I want him to either withdraw his thugs from Syria or give me back my money.”

Which brings us to the second moment for comparison: summer 2013. Throughout May, hundreds of Hizbullah fighters led a devastating assault on Qusayr. Because they were local men defending their homes, the Free Syrian Army were able to resist the onslaught for weeks, but were finally defeated. A Shia flag was then hung over the town’s main Sunni mosque, a signal of sectarian conquest. Shortly afterwards the regime burnt the Homs Land Registry, and Alawi and Shia families were invited to occupy homes abandoned by the families of Qusayr.

So a militia designed to resist foreign occupation became an occupier itself. The supposed assistant of the oppressed became the fighting arm of the oppressor. In Shia symbology, Hizbullah, rather than defending Hussain, was serving Yazeed.

The backlash hit fast. Qusayr fell on June 5th. On June 11th 60 Shia, most civilians, were massacred at Hatla in Deir al-Zor.

Why did Hizbullah intervene against the Syrian revolution? Various excuses were offered up: to protect the Lebanese borders, or to protect the shrine of the Prophet’s grandaughter Zainab outside Damascus. None of them explained Hizbullah’s participation in battles as far afield as Hama or Aleppo. Why would Nasrallah choose to infuriate Lebanese Sunnis, to make Lebanese Shia targets of sectarian revenge attacks, to deplete and downgrade his anti-Zionist fighting force?

From a Lebanese perspective, it makes no sense. And as a community, the Lebanese Shia could have taken a very different line. In 2012, for instance, the respected Shia leader Sayyed Hani Fahs called on Lebanese Shia to “support the Arab uprisings… particularly the Syrian [one] which will triumph, God willing… Among the [factors] that guarantee a [good] future for us in Lebanon is for Syria to be stable, free, and ruled by a democratic, pluralist and modern state.”

But still Hizbullah steered its constituency away from revolutionary solidarity and into a deadly embrace with the Assad regime. Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, who led Hizbullah between 1989 and 1991, blamed Iran: “I was secretary general of the party,” he said, “and I know that the decision is Iranian, and the alternative would have been a confrontation with the Iranians. I know that the Lebanese in Hizbullah, and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah more than anyone, are not convinced about this war. … Iran and Hizbullah bear responsibility for every Syrian killed, every tree felled, and every house destroyed.”

Iranian counter-revolutionary policy not only uses Arab Shia as cannon fodder, but bears huge responsibilty too for the anti-Shia backlash on the Syrian battlefield and in regional public opinion. The Iranian state, therefore, is not a protector of Arab Shia but a threat to their security and wellbeing.

Likewise in Iraq, where before the 2003 invasion and occupation a third of marriages were cross-sect Sunni Shia. Today, after the civil war’s ethnic cleansing, and with ISIS facing not a unified Iraqi army but a collection of Iran-backed Shia militias, it’s hard to see how the country’s sectarian relations can ever be healed. The Iranian state’s undue influence on Iraq’s military and political life has helped strangle both communal coexistence and the possibility of democracy. And Iranian officials openly boast their imperialism. “Three Arab capitals have today ended up in the hands of Iran and belong to the Islamic Iranian revolution,” Ali Reza Zakani, an MP close to Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei, said last year (he was referring to Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad).

Of course, more players than just Iran are responsible for Iraq’s dysfunction. The United States must be blamed for the occupation, and the Saddam Hussain regime which fanned sectarianism to divide and rule, specifically to put down the 1991 southern uprising. Sectarian TV channels from the Gulf don’t help. And historically, the British and French states did their fair share of damage (and sectarian engineering) during the post-Ottoman carve-up.

None of these states protected people. And this is because they are states.

The young man who spoke up for Iran wasn’t a Shia Muslim. He was a Catholic, he said, who’d grown up in the Gulf. And he was also a leftist.

But this is something that leftists, when they were internationalists, once understood: states are designed to protect the property, position and privilege of the various elites which run them, not to safeguard the interests of ordinary people. This means Iran is not the protector of the Shia, Saudi Arabia is not the protector of the Sunnis, and Israel is not the protector of the Jews. Need it be said that the Assad regime is the deadliest enemy of Alawis?


Tehran Symphony Orchestra Leaves Stage rather than Bow to Demand to Ban Female Members

DECEMBER 2, 2015


The Tehran Symphony Orchestra cancelled a performance that had been planned for the closing ceremony of an international wrestling event on November 29, 2015, after the authorities objected to the presence of women musicians among the orchestra members.

The Iranian Student News Agency’s (ISNA) report of the incident suggested that the women musicians had not fully observed the hijab, or female head covering.

“I said all of us will perform together or we will leave the hall,” ISNA quoted Ali Rahbari, the orchestra’s artistic director. “Some tried to resolve the problem but eventually they said the women cannot be allowed to perform, so I said we will not perform.”

Rahbari described the treatment of women musicians as “embarrassing” and added, “The women musicians were going to perform the country’s national anthem. Why shouldn’t they? I have said many times that I was born in this country and I know very well where the red lines are. As long as I’m the director of this orchestra, I will not allow this kind of treatment.”

The head of the Wrestling Federation, Rasoul Khadem, wrote a letter to Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Ali Jannati, indicating that his organization had not opposed to the concert, and he issued a new invitation for the orchestra to perform the national anthem at another international wrestling event in Tehran in January.

“This incident has left a negative impact on public opinion and among art lovers in the country,” Khadem added.

During the past year there have been several concert cancellations, mostly in the provinces. But on January 15, 2015, Shahrvand daily reported an incident in Tehran, involving Alim Qasimov and his daughter Ferghana, prominent singers from the Azerbaijan Republic. They were planning to perform a duet in Tehran for three nights. The first two nights went by without any problem. On the third night, the police refused to allow Qasimov’s daughter to perform publicly, only allowing the concert to proceed without her.

“I respect Iran’s laws but nowhere in the world are women artists treated in such a way,” Alim Qasimov told the audience in an expression of apology on stage.

Afterwards, Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry Spokesman Hossein Noushabadi said the Qasimov concert had all the necessary permits. “Unfortunately when undue interferences happen on the margins, it will have security implications,” he added.

A week before the Qasimov concert, the prominent musician Majid Derakhshani was stopped airport security forces at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran on his way to Dubai and told he was banned from leaving the country. He had previously been interrogated by Iran’s Intelligence and Public Security Police about his formation of an all-female musical group, the Mah Banoo Ensemble.

On September 2, 2014, the Shargh daily reported that the presence of women musicians at live performances had been banned in 13 provinces. Pirooz Arjomand, who was at the time in charge of the music department at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, opposed the ban and said it went against the Ministry’s policies. “Separating women is a kind of gender segregation. Other institutions may have a problem with women on stage but this does not reflect the view of the Guidance Ministry,” he stated.

During President Rouhani’s term in office dozens of concerts have been cancelled despite having permits from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The cost has not just been monetary: the citizens of Iran have been deprived of these many musical performances by renowned and beloved artists.



Pan-Arabists and the Iran “deal”

The Pan-Arabists of the Middle East are celebrating the US-Iranian deal along with all the Progressives of the world. Every spin is being put on this deal to make it look like a guarantee for peace in our time, that somehow the Iranian regime’s desire for a nuclear bomb has been curbed. In exchange, however, the world has offered Syria to Iran on a platter. We’re told by reasonable people that of course, “no deal is perfect”. What they won’t say is that the “imperfect” bits are Syria, and that the millions of people who can’t go home anymore, and the hundreds of thousands who have died in the last four years, are directly a result of Tehran’s actions.

I didn’t always used to think like this. You’re reading the blog of a bitter and disillusioned man who once cheered for Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 war and believed that Tehran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’ was the region’s only hope. I changed my mind because Syrians were being murdered by the thousands, their legitimate claims dismissed, and their uprising brushed off as a terrorist uprising by a tinpot dictator who would not have survived had it not been for the help of Tehran and Hezbullah. The pan-Arabists were blasé about the news. We were brutalised and the world did nothing. We were tortured, and the world did nothing. We were starved, and the world did nothing. The world looked away when Syria started.

Whilst I write this I am thinking about a young Syrian boy I shook hands with in Turkey. Well, we didn’t shake hands. He shook my hands, I shook the stump of his arm because his hands were blown off by a Syrian regime missile strike. The Iranian deal means more bombs, more bullets, and more militias will be sent to Assad, and the easing of sanctions means more money will be used to prop up his economy and keep him in power. That’s why I’m not enthusiastic about the deal with Iran. That’s why I’m angry and biased. I don’t know, maybe I’m not thinking straight; I’m too ’emotional’.

I’m sorry that Syrians are inconvenient, that we’re not being killed by the right type of enemy for you people. I’m sorry we haven’t received your stamp of approval. Pan-Arabists are cheering a deal with Iran, because, as they keep reminding us, Israel is the real enemy; Palestine the real goal. Never mind the untold misery, guts and excrement that we are being forced to crawl through in the name of this mythical liberation that hovers on our horizon like a promised paradise for the wretched of the world. Syria is “complicated”. Syrians are only to be felt “sorry for”, like the victims of some flood or an earthquake. From your glass towers in Dubai you intellectual pan-Arabists can toast a deal with Iran, and celebrate the fact that nothing has been allowed to deviate your attention from the lofty goal of “liberating Palestine”.


But I Knew That He Knew That I Knew He Knew Too


Posted: 28 Nov 2013 08:32 AM PST

Iranians welcoming the Geneva delegation back home, Serat News, Nov. 25
Iranians welcoming the Geneva delegation back home, Serat News, Nov. 25
According to Sheera Frenkel, Israeli officials were made aware by Saudi Arabia of the backdoor talks between the US and Iran detailed in depth by Laura Rozen at Al Monitor this past weekend, which culminated in the interim Geneva agreement. In brief, the deal will see Iran recoup some US$7-8 billion in sanctions relief through 2014 if, in exchange, Tehran does not enrich any more uranium over 5%, allows for new IAEA site inspections, and downgrads its remaining enriched-to-20% uranium stockpile. Some outstanding issues, like the Arak heavy water reactor under construction and Iran’s “right to enrich,” remain to be discussed in talks down the road. Saudi Arabia would not have been a venue for these talks, of course – nor would its closest GCC associate, Bahrain, given the Al Khalifas’ mistrust of the Islamic Republic – but other Gulf states were. Namely Oman — which the US uses as a third party to approach untouchables like the Taliban and the Islamic Republic — and perhaps the UAE as well (unlike its Saudi neighbors, the Emirati Cabinet very quickly  welcomed the interim accord). News of the meeting went from these states to Riyadh and then probably got to Tel Aviv, obviously infuriating the Israelis because they were not told up front about the talks.

So, if the Israelis did know weeks in advance, that makes Netanyahu’s intransigence this past Fall more explainable. Appraised of the progress being made in the talks outside normal channels, he was nonetheless unable to make public Israel’s foreknowledge of the deliberations. He is not so reckless as to think he could get away with letting the cat out the bag like that; doing so really would cause significant damage to US-Israeli relations. He had few options to confront a process leading to a deal he opposed because it did not dismantle all Iranian nuclear capabilities. He and his supporters leaned on the most receptive audiences they had: the US Congress, the French Foreign Ministry, and the Sunday talk show circuit, making the case that no deal would be better than a “bad deal”.

Some officials gave Yedioth Ahronoth and Channel 10 details of US-Iran meetings that showed the backdoor to Iran was in place for at least a year. These reports, however, did not affect the pace of the negotiations or public opinion. Netanyahu now has to worry a lot more about the home front, where he faces members of the security establishment expressing support for the deal, politicians outside his coalition criticizing his criticism of Obama, and his reappointed Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, breathing down his neck. Even the Israeli stock exchange seems to be weighing in against him: its ongoing rally, which began days before Sunday, was not adversely impacted by the deal.

More importantly, though, is what this episode says about the response of certain American allies to the interim deal. The Saudis are unhappy, and Netanyahu even more so. But their leverage going forward is limited, even though it would not take much to trip up the agreement if Iran is found to be in non-compliance. The Obama Administration has thrown its entire political capital behind the deal, which will be very hard, even for AIPAC and Democratic hawks, to handle. There is very little the Saudis can do after already protesting the US handling of the Syria crisis with their refusal of a UN seat and their minister-princes’ complaints in The Times, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal. As an al Quds al Arabi editorial put it, “[i]n order to reach this agreement, Iran has played the many cards it has been working to prepare for decades, and also the cards it has acquired from the mistakes of the United States and its European allies after the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and from the accumulation of the mistakes of the Arab regimes, which do not have a single balancing pillar that presents a real strategy for confronting the real danger surrounding the Arab region.”

But worst of all from Netanyahu’s perspective, is that in offering sanctions amelioration, Iran seems to gain legitimacy in international affairs (for Saudi Arabia, this fear is also felt, and directly connected to the outcome of the Syrian civil war). This deal is a stopgap measure meant to halt Iranian activities while negotiations continue, so it is not an economic godsend. Chip away at the sanctions regime, and Iran’s economy could start to see results, which is especially important for the leadership if this deal leads to a lasting agreement. But it is the prospective dilution of these sanctions (not their financial bottom-line) that deeply disturbs Netanyahu, whether you believe he is serious about it being 1938 all over again or not, because it raises the possibility that Europe and the US will defer less and less to his demands to keep Iran diplomatically and economically isolated.

The public mood in Iran is mixed between caution and acclaim. The returning negotiating team was feted, and did not seem to draw the sort of hecklers who came out to greet President Rouhani when he returned from the UN. As Golnaz Esfandiari reports, crowds waiting for Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Tehran chanted “Kayhan, Israel, Condolences, Condolences” (Kayhan is a hardline newspaper, which like other conservative outlets close to the Supreme Leader emphasized the “flexibility” aspect of the interim deal, downplaying Iran’s concessions – in part because the deal is  vague on recognizing the “natural rights” of Iranian nuclear work – and the impact of the sanctions thus far). But overall, the reception in the media was positive and the deal is a loss for the ultraconservative arm of the Islamic Republic’s leadership, which would like to pretend the Revolution is still ongoing. By agreeing to the terms of the deal, Iran is electing to participate in the international system on that system’s terms (unlike fellow nuclear pariah North Korea). And if economic relief can develop further, even more Iranians, perhaps, may begin to wake up to the fact that the sanctions have been exploited inside Iran to greatly enrich not just certain businessmen and politicians, but the twin pillars of the state itself: the Supreme Leader’s office, and the Revolutionary Guards.


Documentary on IRAN: Rageh inside IRAN (July2012)

Why Do Some Countries Hate America?

An excellent DN show



The Think Tank Clown

October 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment

by William A. Cook

Clowns befuddle a crowd. They appear a pretense of the normal but caricatured to evoke laughter, surprise, at times derision, but always in context where they absorb self-deprecation, become the butt of jokes, become the audiences’ self, a make believe self, receiving the jibes, jests and buffoonery never allowed when alone. Thus do they become vessels of deep seated self- ridicule, inhibited expression, personal inadequacy, a self-conscious parody of the normal.  They are used images, commodities to be bought and sold for the purchaser’s benefit, set amidst their fellows as manikins to be pinched and probed, facsimiles of all, but receivers of ridicule to protect their brethren.

full article here

Iran Said to Send Troops to Bolster Syria

BEIRUT—Iran is sending commanders from its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and hundreds of foot soldiers to Syria, according to current and former members of the corps.

The personnel moves come on top of what these people say are Tehran’s stepped-up efforts to aid the military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with cash and arms. That would indicate that regional capitals are being drawn deeper into Syria’s conflict—and undergird a growing perception among Mr. Assad’s opponents that the regime’s military is increasingly strained.

A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, appeared to offer Iran’s first open acknowledgment of its military involvement in Syria.

ReutersSyrian Speaker Mohammed Jihad al-Laham, left, and Alaeddin Boroujerdi of the Iran parliament’s national security committee Saturday in Damascus.

“Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria and a cultural one as well,” Gen. Salar Abnoush, commander of IRGC’s Saheb al-Amr unit, told volunteer trainees in a speech Monday. The comments, reported by the Daneshjoo news agency, which is run by regime-aligned students, couldn’t be independently verified. Top Iranian officials had previously said the country isn’t involved in the conflict.

full article here

Blog at

Up ↑